In his 1985 novel White Noise, Don DeLillo describes the average American supermarket as a deeply spiritual place. “This is where we wait together, regardless of our age, our carts stocked with brightly colored goods,” he wrote.
In Houston this month, the Swedish artist Gunilla Klingberg treads the same ground with an installation called Wheel of Everyday Life. At Rice University’s Rice Gallery, Klingberg has laminated the floor with a massive black mandala--the Hindu and Buddhist iconographic tradition--that explodes from the white-walled gallery into the arcade outside of it. A close inspection reveals that each ring is made from a different logo, from Target’s bulletpoint to Shell’s seashell. The font of the Fiesta grocery store chain features prominently--mirrored over and over, it takes on an Arabesque glint.
Mandalas, though they take many different forms, are usually a form of meditation--the artist might spent whole weeks drawing a carefully constructed symmetrical depiction of the cosmos, only to have it brushed away in an instant. Klingberg’s replaced the traditional “cosmos” with a self-made version of the universe, populated by slogans like “TASTY!” and lo-res rainbows, stars, and hearts. Klingberg describes the installation as “viral,” saying, “the symbols and patterns in this mandala transform into an image of how our daily rhythm of commonplace doings blends with advertising and enters deep into our lives, homes, and minds.” As one Swedish critic noted, the New Age popularity of mandalas and the feel-good folksiness of the logos aren’t entirely at odds:
Thus, New Age spirituality’s promise of corporal and spiritual wellbeing merges with everyday consumer culture. They both seem to be quite agreed about what they are promising: a state in which nothing rubs or is uncomfortable--the possibility of total, rapid satisfaction of needs, accessible to everyone, all in one go. Whether it be with a new therapy or a new, more-effective washing-up liquid.
Wheel of Everyday Life sits smack-dab in the heart of it all, Houston, a city where Shell and Fiesta are both headquartered. For Klingberg, whose past work with mandalas is also location-specific, the association was completely intentional. “The logos are a link between our public and private spheres,” she adds, “maybe even to the collective unconscious.”
Wheel of Everyday Life is on view at Rice Gallery until March 17.