Have you ever written your name on something you own, on the label of a tee-shirt perhaps, or on the side of a carton of milk placed within an office fridge? You are not alone; since at least the ancient Egyptians—who would sear unique symbols on livestock with a heated piece of shaped metal so as to mark ownership of each beast—people have been branding animals, and other things. Over time, and through use, these signatures have carried different meanings; besides ownership, they have provided information such as what product might actually be inside a jar, or to let consumers know who made what, and where it was coming from. Said in another way, brands encourage trust. Take for example the “White Rabbit”, a Chinese trademark featuring the image of bunny created during the Song Dynasty to establish Jinan Liu’s Fine Needle Shop as a recognizable entity within the marketplace. Brands are many things, but they are seldom accidental; Jinan Liu’s rabbit wasn’t only meant for recognition, in China, rabbits are lucky. Brands also project associations, qualities, and desires to their audience, who, in the case of clothing, cars, and other luxury goods, may proudly wear and display these icons to announce to the world that they too are lucky. As far as the word is concerned, “brand” is derived from the older English word, “brond”, which meant a flaming piece of wood, or as we now call it, a “firebrand”. And while these torches were used to likewise brand livestock and goods in the middle ages, they were also used to brand slaves.
Paula Crown’s Branded, 2021, sits within this knotty tale to ask: what is packaged into a contemporary brand, and at what, or whose cost? While they may connote dreams, desires, and aspirations, brands can also imply the everyday labor practices of mass production, which often exploit people, animals, and the land. Turning several puns, Branded presents a sculpture in the form of a cow covered, nose to tail, with the logotypes of high-end luxury companies. Typically, these marks are carried by humans as signs of prestige; however, their transposition onto a cow recalls the tortured history of some brands being used to scar living beings for profit. By presenting common things, logos, in an unusual, if not strange way, Crown offers a different angle with which to review histories and conventions we have come to take for granted. Here, the artist, herself, is acting as a different kind of “firebrand”, a passionate activist who requests that you take pause and question your own responsibilities when considering what businesses and practices to promote.
Any trademarks that appear in Branded (2021) are not owned by Paula Crown. Branded (2021) is not affiliated with, endorsed by, or sponsored by any of the trademark owners.
Paula Crown is a multimedia artist with a practice encompassing drawing, painting, video, and sculpture. Crown rigorously incorporates cutting-edge technology, social activism, collaboration, and a commitment to sustainability in her studio practice. Crown earned her M.F.A. in painting and drawing in 2012 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has had solo exhibitions at the Aspen Institute (2013), Dallas Contemporary (2014), Marlborough Gallery, New York (2015), The Goss-Michael Foundation, Dallas (2016), 10 Hanover, London (2017), Studio Cannaregio, Venice (2018) concurrent with the 16th Venice Architectural Biennale, and Fort Gansevoort, New York (2018).
She has participated in several group exhibitions nationally, including For Freedoms (2016); Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, and Mount Analogue (2016), curated by Neville Wakefield, Aspen. Most recently she was a part of IN THIS HOUSE (2018), a group exhibition curated by Michelle Grabner at the Elmhurst Art Museum. Crown’s Public Art Installations include Wall-Space: The Non-Architecture of the Studio Wall EXPO Chicago (2014); TRANSPOSITION: Over Many Miles, Miami Design District, Miami, FL (2014-16); JOKESTER in Aspen (2018) and the Miami Design District, Miami, FL (2018), and FREEZING RAIN, Aurora: Future Worlds, Dallas, TX, and Thoughts & Prayers, with For Freedoms, Chicago, IL (2018).
Born in Marblehead, Mass., the artist lives and works in Aspen, Colorado and Chicago.