In 2007, Oakland artist Packard Jennings made headlines when the New York Times cited his sneaky method of placing “battle in Seattle” style Anarchist action figures for sale in local Target and Wal – Mart stores just in time for a holiday season filled with more than a few unsuspecting consumers. In the New York Times, Ian Urbana defined “shopdropping” as the act of “…surreptitiously putting things in stores, rather than illegally taking them out, and the motivations vary.”
Shopdropping is not a new phenomena. It harkens back and refers to past radical socially engaged art movements like Situationism or San Francisco's Suicide Club of 1970’s (which would give way to the Cacophony Society and eventually Burning Man). In recent years it has taken on an increasing prominence as evidenced by the press coverage of British street art prankster Banksy who recently remixed and placed shopdropped copies of a Paris Hilton record.
Now is the time of year, during the frantic and somewhat surreal shopping season, to find shopdropped works meant to tweak your relationship to the things you buy, own and perhaps dismiss. Michele Pred, another Oakland based artist who has been doing this for as long as Mr.Jennings and Banksy, fits the bill. I recently had the chance to speak to the longtime curator, artist and educator about her recent experiences shopdropping and making art for “Black Friday."
For most artists, their first major show happens at an art gallery. For yours, you organized it D.I.Y. style. Tell us about the experience and the work in it?
I was working as a limo driver when 9-11 took place. In its wake, I became intrigued by what airport confiscated items symbolized. I attempted to gain access to the objects for 5 months before I was finally able to see them and then convince the airport to give them to me. I was incredibly excited and inspired when I finally had the objects in my studio and started working with them. I really believed strongly in the work I completed during that time, and after approaching a few galleries and even YBCA with the work, to no avail, I decided to organize my own exhibition. It was after the dot com bust so there where plenty of empty store front spaces in downtown SF. I was specifically looking for a central location close to the galleries, museums and public transportation. I found it by "knocking on doors" and called the real estate offices listed at the empty store fronts. I ended up putting on the show in the 5th and Mission garage. The space had previously been a gallery so it was already set up for an exhibition... lights and all. The garage is owned by the city of San Francisco so I "pitched" them on the idea and they went for it. Since I didn't have much of a budget, I asked for it rent free and they gave it to me! (I did however need to pay for insurance.) I organized everything from A- Z. Printed and sent out cards, organized wine donations for the opening, sent out press releases and gallery-sat on my days off. The show ended up being reviewed by Kenneth Baker. The exhibition was also covered by local TV stations and ultimately on CNN.
This last "Black Friday" you performed an act of "shop dropping" surreptitiously placing one of your interactive works at an IKEA in Emeryville. Tell us about what inspired it and how it all went down?
I come from a very political family, discussions about (excessive) consumerism, feminism and many other topics where common at the dinner table. So you could say these ideas are in my blood... and can be seen in most of my artwork. My father was a professor in Cultural Geography at UC Berkeley (he unfortunately passed away 3 years ago) and excessive consumerism was a popular topic, so I am definitely tipping my hat to my father. His ideas have been a huge influence on me and my art work.
Black Friday is, of course, symbolic of excessive consumerism, so conceptually it seemed like the perfect day to choose in making a comment on the subject. I chose to make the 2D barcode in the Swedish National colors of yellow and blue because I am half Swedish (I speak the language fluently and have dual nationality). I have lived with IKEA furniture all my life and spent summers in Sweden close to the very first IKEA store. Weeks before the shopdrop I went in to IKEA and bought a print, I then duplicated the size of the print, the packaging and altered the IKEA label (but not the barcode) for my piece. On Black Friday I walked into IKEA with the prints in a shopping cart, I then walked to the frame and print area and placed them on the shelf. I also had a friend document the process. I then wanted to make sure that the altered label and duplicate barcode would work at the checkout stand so I ended the shopdrop by purchasing one of my own prints. When I came home I shared my project on Facebook and, to my surprise, started hearing from people that they where heading to IKEA to buy the print. One was a coworker at California College of the Arts who was shopping at a nearby Home Depot.
You've also placed art guerilla - style In NY MOMA, sometime after Banksy’s famed Tate Modern Stunt. How'd it happen? At the end of 2004 I had my first New York solo show at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery. The NY MOMA had just reopened. During that time I was making art work with thousands of car cell phone chargers (one of these pieces is now in the permanent collection at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Honolulu). I had been carrying one of the pieces around with me and taking pictures of it in various locations (Central Park, Saint Patricks Cathedral). MOMA seemed like a natural place to shoot it as well. It was a sculpture, a woven "nest" of the cell phone charges measuring 14" in width and 20" in height. I managed to sneak it into the sculpture garden and take a picture of it. I then put it back in it's bag and checked it in at the coat check so I could see the rest of the museum without having to carry it. I later regretted not leaving it in the garden. However, I was worried that it would upset my gallery and reflect badly upon them if it came out in the press. Months earlier I had brought a similar piece onto the Golden Gate bridge and took pictures there. That time I was stopped by the CHP and escorted off the walkway. They where concerned that the piece looked like a bomb and that it would scare motorists.
You teach art at CCA, create art, curate and are a mother. How do you juggle these roles and how much are finding each informing the other?
I have to say that they all inspire and influence each other. Being a mother to a seven month old baby has certainly made me reconsider working with sharp objects. When I was pregnant with my daughter I was seriously considering birthing her in an art gallery- the ultimate art performance piece, creating life. I was even in conversation with a gallery about this project. I'm now glad that I didn't go through with the plan, I was in labor for a long time.
Regarding creating art and participating in the art world, I obviously don't have as much time as I normally do to create. Luckily my baby is very easy going and has already been to many art openings. She also travels well, we have already been to Sweden and New York. I was also able to go to Miami on my own thanks to my super supportive boyfriend who took care of our baby when I was gone.
You mentioned “shopdropping” at the Miami Basel Art Fair. Tell us about the experience.
The shopdrop at the Miami Basel art fair was a spontaneous act. I did it at the opening night reception-"Vernissage". The event is symbolic of (exclusive) consumerism, several hundred private jets fly into Miami for this event where the "cheapest" booth starts around $50,000 and the prices for artwork go up into several hundred thousand dollars even a million. As I was parking my car it occurred to me that I should shop drop there as well. I grabbed one of my 2D Barcode prints and entered the fair. I walked around looking at the art and deciding what gallery to shopdrop in. I walked past Deitch Projects from New York and decided they where the perfect gallery for this project. I left the piece right beside a Kehinde Wiley painting of Michael Jackson while my friend Hank Willis Thomas shot video of the drop with his iPhone. I walked by the booth again over an hour later and the piece was still there. I'm not sure when the gallery discovered my piece.