For 2 weeks in July, there was a brand new Sweetgreen storefront in Manhattan’s Dimes Sq.. Throughout its temporary run, it provided longtime Chinatown residents and hipster creative denizens alike a glint at what their lives may very well be, enhanced with the presence of an area Sweetgreen: wholesome, properly, and graced elegantly by a contact of Minimalist aesthetic. If anybody appeared arduous sufficient inside, they could have seen components that had been extra sinister — a supervisor main staff in a repeating chant to the purpose of exhaustion, as an example — however the mere presence of the understated “sg” emblem was sufficient to sign a brand new future for the neighborhood.
The catch is that the now-defunct Sweetgreen didn’t truly serve salads.
From July 12 by way of July 24, “Candy Inexperienced” (2022) was a conceptual artwork set up at Chinatown Soup, a community-oriented gallery centering domestically grounded social practices that has posited itself since 2015 as an inventive intervention in a quickly altering neighborhood. Artist Alexander Si conceived the challenge as an exploration of Sweetgreen as a model.
“I like Sweetgreen — I’m not a hater of it!” he prefaced in an interview with Hyperallergic. “I used to be solely turning into extra crucial of it.”
Outdoors the gallery is Sweetgreen’s recognizable, kale-green emblem, which Si painted by hand and common from wooden and metal. Si additionally constructed the tri-tiered wood seating space, modeled instantly after seating at some Sweetgreen areas, a design which means that its salads must be eaten with an air of spontaneity. A pick-up station populated with bowls was mounted to the wall with wooden planks and a metal body, and Si created a duplicate of Sweetgreen’s “Core Values” plaque, which is displayed at each location.
“To imitate the sort of whiteness, the sort of advertising that’s very engaging to the mainstream urge for food, with my very own hand as an immigrant to this nation — particularly with our historical past of our labor being largely invisible — I needed to embed my very own labor in it on this insidious approach,” Si mentioned.
Along with Si’s work materially duplicating the artifacts of Sweetgreen shops — a Brillo Containers-style maneuver that critiques racism because it operates inside client capitalism — Si additionally staged a 20-minute durational efficiency piece. It was a parody of a huddle that takes place earlier than work begins at Sweetgreen, the place the supervisor provides a pep discuss that ends with a “candy!” “inexperienced!” “candy!” “inexperienced!” call-and-response. In Si’s model, which forged completely individuals of coloration, the group begins reciting the mantra in unison. However by the top, everyone seems to be dispirited, voices raspy and the tempo of the back-and-forth grinding to a halt.
Si explains that his rising suspicion of Sweetgreen paralleled his personal journey of self-reflection on how he had absorbed markers of whiteness to mix in as a latest immigrant to the US. “I spotted it was bizarre, entering into and seeing all of those POC [people of color] staff behind the glass — and in entrance of the glass, in line, is a largely White, largely middle-class sort of clientele, as a result of the value vary is unapproachable,” he mentioned. “There’s one thing amiss there about the entire branding.”
Si’s set up is just not the primary to query what Sweetgreen’s explosively profitable model signifies within the broader context of American tradition. In 2019, Jia Tolentino’s wildly widespread essay assortment Trick Mirror memorably described Sweetgreen as a “refueling station.” Tolentino narrated the excruciating alienation of its expedited salad meeting line, the place clients dictate their preferences and staff comply, an interplay carried out with minimal interplay.
Si reiterated a few of these observations, which he collected surreptitiously within the guise of a buyer at a number of actual areas throughout the town. “I noticed burnout and exhaustion and the monotonous nature of their work: ‘How a lot salad dressing would you like?’ and ‘Would you like bread?’ It’s the identical query again and again. No person actually needs to be there, and the purchasers and the server are attempting to keep away from eye contact, as a result of everybody is aware of it’s awkward,” he mentioned.
However whereas Tolentino targeted her Sweetgreen evaluation predominantly on the issues of ladies who belong to the professional-managerial class — how Sweetgreen catalyzes their workday and retains their our bodies near a cultural excellent — Si’s curiosity lies within the expertise of blue-collar service staff and their place in a system of racial capitalism. Folks of coloration, disproportionately Black and brown staff, are racialized into positions of servility, the place they’re requested to play a repetitive and mechanical half that reinforces white hegemony, Si’s set up suggests.
Si’s set up additionally urges viewers to consider how the creative motion of Minimalism has been co-opted by company outfits in the present day. Minimalism in furnishings and design, Si says, has “turn into linked to energy and cash.” “It’s very costly to gather minimalism,” he provides. That minimalist aesthetic, Si says, is “jarring in juxtaposition to employees carrying that Sweetgreen shirt and the hat.”
Having efficiently deconstructed the Sweetgreen model, “Candy Inexperienced” has been dismantled, although its conceptual provocations stay.
Round 20 individuals got here in asking for salads every single day throughout the piece’s run. Some turned agitated once they had been knowledgeable that no salads had been out there. On opening night time, some “White dude” even steered that he would manage a protest towards Sweetgreen transferring to the neighborhood, Si mentioned. The absurdity of the person’s Sweetgreen NIMBYism compelled Si into an unlikely defensive posture: “Like chill dude! This isn’t even taking place. However that response itself — they’re so not in on the joke.”