Propriety Limited: Shop Pty Ltd
For one week in December, the businesses of James Street will be experimentally remodeled to investigate the way we invest our systems of branding with value and power, while also examining the way we consider art.
The triad of Queensland College artists putting on this show — Karike Ashworth, Cassandra Toscano and Jenna Green — are hyper-aware of the elements of play they are working with under the artist group name Propriety Limited.
‘This kind of idea is going on elsewhere,’ explains Ashworth. ‘This is effectively of the pop-up shop genre, similar to things that are happening a lot in New York and in Melbourne.’
What makes the show intriguing is the mimicry of the capitalist model, in a microcosmic form. Participants choose to engage in systems of exchange and barter, with all the tenets of capitalism, ranging from the exchange of goods and services, to corruption and manipulation.
The content of this show is different to a regular exhibition. By not showing artwork in a traditional, curated manner, people’s engagement in the system becomes the subject. In the same way that the viewer looks at art, participants view the commodities on show and the system in play. They see how they can benefit from both of these.
As the artists recognise, their work lacks value without the participants’ enthusiasm and willingness to play. Ashworth asks, ‘Are we trying to replicate real life? Are the participants going to behave the same in real life as they do in this space? There will be a mixture we feel: the rule followers and the risk takers,’ she says.
Arriving at the show on opening night, the once empty set of two shop areas was transformed into Propriety Limited’s vision: here, participants can sell their body, their secrets and their time to earn ‘units’ of currency.
As a participant, I engaged with all the processes of the system I was capable of. I wore a promotional shirt to earn more units for exchange. I discussed some secrets and my own sources of literary inspiration with Richard Bell, who turned my secrets into part of a chalk board image. I deposited some fingernail clippings for more units. And I bartered for the opportunity to purchase from a number of commodities on the sale shelf (from a Camargue bracelet to a ‘real’ artwork by Luke Roberts).
As I had hoped, I quickly felt a genuine rush at my burgeoning stack of units. Not only was I engaged; I was plotting how to better the position I was already in. As Jenna Green had explained in an earlier conversation, the project partially intends to devalue currency in order to draw attention to the strange phenomenon of the value we place in plastic money. ‘Money has become a shortcut to exchanges,’ Toscano ponders. ‘The system is the form of exchange. The activities we have laid out elongate these encounters and encourage people to be involved with others in an exchange of ideas and commodities.’
This pausing of the system makes the exhibit interesting and innovative. Shop Pty Ltd inspires a contemplative process, an opportunity to be suspended within the capitalist system and consider why we deem the valuable items around us to be so.
The Propriety Limited group are intently concerned with the potential criticism of this show. Fundamentally, there are so many things going on in Shop Pty Ltd. It can initially appear to be overwhelming. However, the elements of the show are no different to those we operate in everyday; we are constantly making choices within the capitalist system. By disrupting the daily activities of this affluent street to consider the process of the everyday, Propriety Limited turns the focus toward a society where value is based more on non-complicity.
Shop Pty Ltd will exist as an expanded research project until next Tuesday. During research week, Propriety Limited will be running a ‘Let’s talk shop’ session on Wednesday the fifth of December at 6pm, as well as one-on-one or group interviews with participants to get a thorough understanding of their experience from the night.
The artists behind Propriety Limited are determined to expand this initial project into other arenas. ‘No matter how the show is received, it will say something about the current climate where the value of art is highly commoditised,’ Toscano says. ‘If it is received well it will mean the possible opening up of more opportunities for Propriety Limited. If not, then it will still make a statement about the local art going public and how art is still seen in a traditional way.’
SHOP PTY LTD runs from Dec 4 to 11 at 65 James Street, Fortitude Valley.
CLAIRE HIELSCHER‘s work has been featured in Australian Art Collector, UN Magazine, Stilts and OffStreet Press. She is also Editor of a new Brisbane street press, GrandioCity.