In her 2018 installation, Bazar, British-American artist Danielle Dean (b.1982, Alabama, lives and works in Los Angeles) exposes the deeply entangled histories of colonialism, capitalism, and consumer culture. Drawing on imagery from nearly 150 years of retail catalogs produced by the legendary Parisian department store Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville (BHV), Bazar is comprised of a four-channel video accompanied by a series of life-size diorama-like vignettes. Visitors to Bazar will encounter an environment that is part retail showroom, part Disney-fied capitalist fantasy in which parading household goods, live-action film, and animated sequences combine to illuminate the ways in which our relationships to objects can shape our subjecthood. Dean often anchors her projects in specific corporate histories (more recent projects have included the Ford Motor Company and Amazon), with each story offering a point of entry into her overarching cultural critique: the persistence of colonial influence on identity and social dynamics in our supposedly postcolonial age.
Bazar originated out of Dean’s research in the archives of Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, and her work with a group of women from Permis de Vivre la Ville (License to Live in the City), a community engagement organization working to increase social engagement in the Paris suburbs. In collaboration with the young women, many of whom have roots in former French colonies, Dean examined BHV catalogues from 1880 to the present, and together they discussed how the visual and written content served to create a “normative” French consumer who is assumed to be white and upper-middle class. Dean combined elements of these discussions with actual catalog texts to develop a script that, along with some improvised conversation, comprises the film’s dialogue.
Retail catalogs like BHV were essential to the economic and cultural success of France’s imperial project–disseminating not just goods, but notions of citizenship and identity throughout the French empire. “Danielle’s dissection of retail items, their descriptions, as well as the economic channels they travel through makes clear the links between contemporary consumer desire and the long histories of exploitative systems of labor and exchange,” says ICA curator, Jordan Karney Chaim. “The way Danielle combines historical research with the visuals and tactics of contemporary advertising–and of course, wit–makes Bazar a powerful vehicle for ICA San Diego’s continued exploration of systems of consumption and social value.”
Danielle Dean is an interdisciplinary artist whose work explores the geopolitical and material processes that colonize the mind and body. Drawing from the aesthetics and history of advertising, and from her multinational background—born to a Nigerian father and an English mother in Alabama, and brought up in a suburb of London—her work explores the ideological function of technology, architecture, marketing, and media as tools of subjection, oppression, and resistance. Dean received her MFA from California Institute of the Arts and is an alumna of the Whitney Independent Study Program and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She recently worked on Amazon Proxy, a new commission for Performa 21, New York (2021); and Amazon, a solo show at The Tate Britain, London (2022). Other solo shows include Trigger Torque at The Ludwig, Germany (2019), and True Red Ruin at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (2018) among many others.
Danielle Dean, Bazar, 2018, four-channel video with standees, color, sound, 10min 34sec, Edition of 3 plus II AP. Image courtesy of the artist and 47 Canal, New York