Cleanup In Aisle 5: Impromptu Art Or Just A Big Mess? A Michigan artist is creating improvised sculptures out of merchandise inside big box stores. He wants to jolt people out of their everyday surroundings. But store workers have to clean up after him.
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Cleanup In Aisle 5: Impromptu Art Or Just A Big Mess?

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Cleanup In Aisle 5: Impromptu Art Or Just A Big Mess?

Cleanup In Aisle 5: Impromptu Art Or Just A Big Mess?

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Cleanup on aisle five - unsanctioned art project.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Don't be alarmed, but this next story is about an art attack.

SHAPIRO: Art attack meaning impromptu sculptures that have been popping up in dozens of big-box stores in Michigan. Artist Carson Brown goes around a store gathering products. He builds something with them, and then he leaves. Michigan Radio's Kyle Norris caught up with him before store employees could.

KYLE NORRIS, BYLINE: It's Wednesday night inside a Meijer big-box store in Grand Rapids. Artist Carson Brown roams the aisles for hours hunting for products that are the perfect shade of blueberry blue, and he's into it.

CARSON BROWN: Oh, this is perfect. Look at this. Bubble Wrap. Blue Bubble Wrap in big rolls.

NORRIS: He loads the carts with blue buckets, a blue ironing board, blue storage bins, blue Listerine, blue loofah sponges and blue shampoo. Then he picks a place in the store where he thinks the color will pop the most. Tonight, it's the school supply section, where he begins meticulously stacking objects on top of each other into a tower.

BROWN: So I'm just kind of taking a step back and re-evaluating how I want to build this thing.

NORRIS: While he works, he keeps his eye out for concerned store employees. Brown snaps photos to share on social media, and then he gets out of Dodge.

Brown has long curly hair, and he's short and sweet and giggly. People often think he's a kid, but he's 30 and a commercial photographer by trade. His goal with his art projects is to stop people in their tracks while they're filling their carts with stuff.

BROWN: I want people to be more aware of their surroundings, to be more critical of their environment, to understand. I think it's easy to walk into these spaces and just to accept it as normal and everyday.

NORRIS: It definitely stopped shopper Molly Fowler, who was at another Meijer location looking for hash browns in the freezer section. She did a double take as she passed Brown stacking orange crates and orange boxes of Bounce and orange extension cords.

MOLLY FOWLER: I was intrigued. Was he - you know, does he work for Meijer, was this some kind of project for school, just some kid having fun at Meijer?

NORRIS: Brown knows he leaves messes for store staff, and he has mixed feelings about that.

BROWN: I'm just kind of, like, owning that I'm kind of being an [expletive] to these people.

NORRIS: He usually takes off before the staff can approach him. Except that one time at Target where he had started to build a lime green sculpture in the clothing department. Two employees angrily came up to him and said he had to buy the things in his cart or leave.

Back at Meijer, manager Dallas Dye has come across several of Brown's art projects. Dye has concerns about safety, contamination and pricing confusion that can all happen when Brown moves products all over the store. The art installation that really stood out for Dye happened in the baking aisle where Brown had re-arranged large bags of sugar on the shelves into a funky pattern. Dye kind of liked it.

DALLAS DYE: It was all really colorful and looked really nice. I mean, it was all faced up perfectly. I'd almost like to hire the guy just to condition my aisles (laughter). But, no, it was really cool.

NORRIS: It took Dye and another employee 10 minutes to clean up, but he says he'd rather clean up Brown's artwork than the random things that people chuck all over the store, like a bag of broccoli in the beauty department. Dye says customers do that all the time. For NPR News, I'm Kyle Norris.

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