Over the past 20 years, American artist Ian Davis, born in Indianapolis in 1972, has created a body of work that is just as recognizable as it is enigmatic. In highly narrative, darkly humorous and downright surreal settings, Davis chronicles moments of human gatherings, often immediately before or after an event, usually a disaster of sorts. The tension of these pre- and post-apocalyptic situations is always palpable. And yet Davis rarely moves beyond these dystopian snapshots. As highly condensed and finely rendered his compositions are, nothing is revealed about the triggers or the aftermath. The identity of the tall, lanky men, who almost always appear in dark suits or lab coats, also remains obscure. They are faceless, supra-individual figures – placeholders of a patriarchic and bureaucratic society, one could reckon. These bureaucrats never turn up on their own. They come in herds and packs, and as such the artist likes to arrange them somewhat ornamentally. Davis’ societies thus seem like an illustration of the famous essay by the German sociologist Siegfried Kracauer with the telling title The Mass Ornament (1927). In it, Kracauer states that the ornament of masses can always tell us more about a time than any contemporary theory: “The position that an epoch occupies in the historical process can be determined more strikingly from an analysis of its inconspicuous surface-level expressions than from that epoch’s judgments about itself.” Supposedly, if one looks from a slightly elevated angle at people and at how they – as private individuals, professionals, and citizens – are arranged into masses, one could learn everything about their relationships, organization, and dependencies. In this sense, Davis’ “mass ornaments” may be read as mirror images of today’s society and its structures. They reveal something we not yet fully grasp: that our own time is shaped by an extreme division of labor and the resulting interchangeability of “human capital” – while the occurrence of catastrophes, ranging from natural disasters to terrorism, is multiplying.