Big Store (1999 or 2000)

Just found this blast from the very, VERY distant past. I made Big Store in 1999 as part of Nicola Atkinson-Griffith’s Bulkhead project. It was my first work after graduating from GSA and I got to show with far superior artists Justin Carter, Jess Worrall and Rob Kennedy.

It’s excruciating to read this interview – yet I post it here. Curious.

Bulkhead Interview

More on Nadfly and Bulkhead here.

Here’s the text… Around this time I was jealous of friends who worked part-time in Habitat. And I thought that there was no ‘alternative to capitalist realism’. How depressing, sorry MF.

The BIG STORE will contain Topping’s own branded goods with their inherent relationship to a climate of consumer wish fulfillment. It is here, in a reclaimed retail space, where people could potentially find all their needs satisfied just by looking and touching. Objects/signs have been demystified and pared down to their most basic form mirroring the appetite of the consumer. For it is strange how the sign/object power is constantly lost as it is consumed. An illusion, not a shop or an artist’s shop, but an unsettling environment which is almost recognised by the viewer as familiar.

Nicola Atkinson – Griffith Bulkhead Creative Director : I’d like to talk about how this particular work began.

Jane Topping: I’d already done a stunted version of what this will be, a lo – fi version, about a year ago. I wanted to create something that would reference the everyday. People would recognise what it was, people would understand that it was a shop, a commercial enterprise as far as they could see. But at the same time, it was to be perfectly obvious that, while the shop was branded and for all purposes it looked like a shop, the things in the shop were to be useless but still desirable. I want to create a need in the passing public, to create the same emotions you would get if you were passing Habitat, and yet, for you to realise while you’re experiencing these emotions that they are completely redundant.

N: If you wish these objects to be useless, is this how you feel art is perceived in society, as useless? Or is it the notion of how people don’t acknowledge their consumer desires and understand their relationship to them?

J: Its more the latter. I’m trying to discuss the way that people are not aware that they’re being sold the same product over and over again with a kind of myth of personalisation and creating your own personality, or showing your own personality to other people by buying what is essentially a mass marketed product. Its more about that and less about art being multiples. I think this is why I’ve had trouble explaining to people what I’m doing, because the pieces that will be supposedly for sale aren’t art, in my world.

N: In terms of art and defining it, you’re treading dangerous territory by saying that they’re objects that are aesthetic in a certain way but in a sense are useless – is that the dilemma of it?

J: Yes, because they’re useless but they’re not useless in the way a painting would be, without function, but as a symbol of you’re desire.

N: But then they’re not useless. Because in a sense you are investing, as an individual, into the actual object.

J: True. But most things you buy would not be essentially useless, like these things are. They’re being branded as some kind of electronic, hi-tec line. It’s not a trainer, there’s a use for a trainer, or a vase.

N: Wouldn’t that be a metaphor for art, the idea that they are objects which are useless, because in a sense they are not practical functional objects. Making an object which is a stereo, for example, that doesn’t work but looks great.

J: But that’s not the same as having a painting that looks great. The painting just by existing has a use, whereas the things I’m selling promise a use that isn’t there.

N: And what will they be promising?

J: I’m hoping that will be as wide open as possible. I’m hinting at a lifestyle at the high end of the market. An improvement of the quality of life by buying this object. It doesn’t hint at anything as specific as music. It hints at technology and at a new industry but isn’t specific

N: How will I be convinced, as I’m going there to the shop, that you are selling something if you’re only hinting. How can you hint at something and not grasp it.

J: You’ll grasp it because of the context. You’ll be aware you’re in some kind of showroom, that the products are there to be looked at. There will be advertising literature as well, to thumb through. There will be clues here that will make you understand what is being marketed.

N: And what are those clues?

J: There’s the brand itself – a logo without a name, which I’ve hopefully made as ominous as possible. This will spark off ideas in the viewer about what is being sold. The logo is the first point of sale.

N: Is that something you’ve observed in other things?

J: Yeah, that it has completely taken over. Consumerism has been taken to an extreme and productivity isn’t important anymore. The brand name is everything and the product is incidental. It creates a facade where you can sell anything with a name; put a swoosh on anything and people will buy it. People are wearing silver swooshes round their necks, that is absolutely the same thing, uselessness.

N: Why is it useless?

J: I guess when I say useless, I mean it’s been taken so far away from the original product. The swoosh sells the trainer but of course it sells the brand and the facade.

N: A corporate identity in a sense. I’m interested in that notion – the view of uselessness how you’ve personally did arrived at. But also, I’m interested in how, personally, you arrived at this philosophy, where does it come from?

J: I think its the hopelessness of it all. Demos are happening in Prague – it’s a noble cause. But how do you even start to discuss the idea of disbanding capitalism or changing things? I just get the feeling that its hopeless. We’ve gone so far down the line that there’s no way we can get out of this completely homogenised system of signs. We’ve got everything we need, yet we’re still buying things. I’m as guilty of it as everyone else. I love my stereo to the point where its the most important thing in my room. It’s ancient but it’s got its own personality. I can feel myself getting overawed by it all, just as everyone else. I’m not sure I want to give it up, that I want to go back. You can argue that you can’t get a decent coffee in McDonalds, but you always know what you’re getting – is that always a bad thing? I’m still not sure about that. I’m annoyed at myself for participating but I can’t see any way of not.

N: So this work is, on a personal note, almost your conflict between being drawn and consuming, having lovely new things and your feeling of alienation and not keeping up with what it demands from you.

J: Yes, and the shame you feel of loving Ikea furniture. Look – it’s so well designed and it’s affordable too. That’s what they want you to do.