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Drop Until You Shop
Jamais Cascio, 23 Jul 05

shopdropping.jpgAmong the best pranks ever performed were the efforts of the Barbie Liberation Organization, which was supported by the organization ®™ark. In 1989, the BLO purchased hundreds of Teen Talk Barbie dolls (of "Math is hard!" and "I love shopping!" infamy) and Talking Duke G.I. Joe dolls (prone to shouting "Vengeance is mine!"), swapped their voice electronics, replaced them carefully in their boxes, and returned them to store shelves. As a result, Barbie demanded to hear the lamentations of her enemies, and G.I. Joe sought assistance for planning weddings. As the subsequent BLO statement put it, "The storekeepers make money twice, we stimulate the economy - the consumer gets a better product - and our message gets heard."

Not quite as clever -- but in a similar vein -- is Shopdropping, defining itself as (among other things) the opposite of shoplifting. But it's more than that:

Shopdropping is an ongoing project in which I alter the packaging of canned goods and then "shopdrop" the items back onto grocery store shelves. I replace the packaging with labels created using my photographs. The "shopdropped" works act as a series of art objects that people can purchase from the grocery store. Because the barcodes and price tags are left intact purchasing the cans before they are discovered and removed is possible. In one instance a store employee even restocked the cans to a new aisle based on the barcode information.

Shopdropping strives to take back a share of the visual space we encounter on daily basis. Similar to the way street art stakes a claim to public space for self expression, Shopdropping subverts commercial space for artistic use.

Shopdropping is clearly a bit of culture jamming, a technique of arguable effectiveness (the Wikipedia link has a good explanation of critiques of the practice). But even if it doesn't quite have the kind of result that the artist may intend, it does suggest to me one way the future might turn out.

Although the commercial icons on products in grocery stores is by no means the same imposition on public space as billboards and outdoor advertising, efforts of this sort (along with the Viennese "Delete!" project) suggest to me the possibility that, in the not too distant future, the use of RFID tags, mobile-phone based scanners and other electronic tools, able to provide substantially more information than a printed label, would allow for the space currently taken over by commercial use to become civic or artistic space. After all, big ugly logos and labels are ineffectual, primitive ways of getting attention and providing information to consumers; once they are overtaken by better (more appropriate, targeted, informative, entertaining) methods, printed logos and labels become little more than vestigial organs.

(Via Protein° Feed)

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Reminds me of John Kessel's novel Good News from Outer Space, where dadaist punks broke into cars and installed car stereos.

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 23 Jul 05

How is that not illegal behavior?

Posted by: j.d. on 23 Jul 05

Didn't say it wasn't.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 23 Jul 05

Illegal or no, culture jamming does make life interesting.

Posted by: Brian on 23 Jul 05

The Snuggles collective (sort of an online artist "group" that formed around a Negativland mailing list) did a project like 5 years ago called droplift:
The Droplift Project is a compilation of tracks by these audio collage artists. It has been introduced to the public through a technique called "droplifting"; this means that the discs are smuggled in and left in the racks of record stores without their knowledge.

We weren't the first ones to come up with this idea though and I see we're not the last.

You may remember Snuggles other "hit" project, dictionaraoke.

Posted by: Simon Dorfman on 24 Jul 05

If you check out you'll see that there are links to B.L.O. and the droplift project amoung others. I don't claim to be the first to do this kind of work, and would love to hear from other artists who are doing similar projects.

Posted by: Ryan on 25 Jul 05



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