How do you behave in a place like this? I arrive an hour before my guests and get a seat at a table in the center of the restaurant. It’s a fancy place, where employees open doors to the toilets. The staff act so polite that I’m afraid to ask for service. The arrival of my guests is a relief, since they educate me on how to call for waiters in a polite but effective manner. This evening is my threat. Most of the party already know my plan, and the rest catch the drift soon. My walled is safe at home and I only have a hand-written letter containing a proposal with me. I don’t intend to pay for what we have. We start with cranberry drinks.
Rumors circulating mouth to mouth talk of others, who invited friend for dinner. After a long, moist night, the host noticed he’d “forgotten my wallet home”, and hence could not pay for the bill. This person was an artist, and after some negotiation with the owners, he whipped up a sketch pad, and drew a portrait to cover the expenses with a unique artwork. Such stories make artist proud of being artist. They prove that it’s possible to use creative power to bend the reality of economics. Depending on who tells the story the hero can be a poet, journalist, designer or a composer. As the story goes, these works form the basis of art collections you see on the walls of respectable restaurants. Historians I consulted where unanimous that such trade has taken place in the past, and locally in Helsinki the last time such stories spread was in the 70’s.
Some such stories are mentioned in artist autobiographies, and there is apparently an art dealer, who owns a work by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, which was originally used as payment for restaurant depts. I bet it’s hung on the dining room wall. When asked, establishments rumored to have been engaged in art-to-food trades in the past started by reassuring that they have receipts for all the transactions. Proved true the rumor would reveal that the collection of fine art are based on shady contracts with drunken painters. Respected restaurant remain silent to protect the privacy of those clients and themselves. I couldn’t get any restaurants to confirm any trade of this kind. All speculations would be best tested trough a re-enactment.
Ordering a meal you cannot affair to pay for is like base jumping. After talking the first bite you have to go all in, and the closer you are to the end of the journey, the more delightful everything tastes. The more precise the fantasies of how I would be dragged to the counter, the more sensitive our taste buds. All the excitement made me eat like a horse. When looking at the wine lists we covered up the prices and tried to choose wines based on their names. Judging the wines’ quality is hard without knowing the price. Menus seem to be categories by prices, with the expensive ones at the bottom of the list. With such hints and deduction skills we found something suitable to drink. During dessert I felt humbles every bite is a gift I did not deserve. The dinner was a perfect tragedy – everyone in our company knew how it would end.
I send my friends away to a bar on the next block. I called for the head waiter, and explained the idea of offering art in exchange for the dinner. I briefly recapped the local history of such arrangements. The head waiter smiled until he realized I was for real. He clenched to my letter and read it over and over. My interpretation was that he sympathized with the idea and that we were equally afraid of how the corporate owners would threat the proposal. He explained that its against company policy to invoice, especially as it’s illegal to sell alcohol on credit. He send me on my way and I tipped the guy who opens doors for good karma.
Three weeks later I reviewed an invoice for the sum of 503,40€ printed on fine paper. I framed it.
Selling art is about selling the self. By buying art audiences fulfill hidden desires, take part in exotic adventures and promote politics their own status would not permit. Owning someone’s work is the safest way to participate in their life story. Much like in the stock markets, the brand is in focus and what the artist says in public affects the value. Investments in living artists are risky – we inevitably blurt out something to devalue the brand. The internet makes protecting the personal brand difficult since audiences have access to behind the scenes status updates, which prove people are equally foolish. Because of this, smart netizens on Facebook use clever puns as names that leave the uninitiated out of the loop, while avoiding insults caused by rejected “friendship requests”. As I decided to join this smart class, I had to decide what to do with my existing profile. It’d become socially toxic waste. There is no social etiquette to retreating from social media. I decided to do as all corporation stuck with toxic waste: I started to trade with it.
Selling virtual good like World of Warcraft accounts is an expanding industry, so there definitely is a marked for my product. Imagine a Japanese school girl using a bearded Finnish mans Facebook profile in a live-action role-play scenario. I settled for the price of 1,143€ per friend, so I would get 450 euros for 392 friends. I placed a screen capture of my profile page on the Finnish eBay, Huuto.net, and went to bed fantasizing of profits. In the morning, I regretted what I’d done and told friends about it. Instead of being offended, they liked it and started bidding. The only ones objecting my sale were Facebooks Terms of Service – as a Huuto.net clerk told me after removing my ad. I also found out that creative traders had long been selling Facebook profiles, when I found online threads from early 2007. I dug deeper and got into a conversation with a trader.
Colleenaoanton: so u need profile?
Me: Jep. With some 500 friends. Possibly with EU identity
Colleenaoanton: ya, okey. I will show u now.
Me: Send me a screenshot if you have one. How much?
Colleenaoanton: 5€ per 100 friends.
Me: Ok. I’ll contact you after lunch.
There are possibly millions of virtual characters and identities for sale out here. Because of the quantity, there are bound to be situations where these “virtual characters” played by viral marketing company employees or bots end up selling Viagra for each others. Potent tradesmen.
A surprising consequence of my attempt to sell my Facebook profile was that I gained more friends. My value is rising. My puny attempts is nothing compared to the man who placed all of his belongings on Huuto.net with the promotional slogan: “When the stuff’s sold, I’ll leave were the palm-trees grow”. He eventually sold everything for 44 007€. As people focused on the hero of the story, the guy who bought the other man’s life has remained silent. He simply continued the game where the other logged off.
The world does not need new chairs – Designing new ones only takes time from REPAIRING the ones we already have. Consider this the ultimate sustainable design challenge and an opportunity to promote open design.
We have challenged the designers of the world to NOT design chairs the next year. It’s that simple!
For designers who feel they cant cope with a year of not designing new stuff we have made a tutorial on: “How NOT to Design Chairs”. It is available both as a video and on instructables:
The project has been presented next to design fairs in Helsinki, the next World Design Capital. For the fair presentations we also made an invisible chair to support the cause:
Video “Invisible Chair”:
The campaign is a part of the Alternative Design Capital 2012 project which is hooking urban activist, open designers and artist to host a series of events which run parallel to the official WDC program.
Alternative Design Capital:
The idea here is to make de-growth sexy. Instead of creating innovations to solve current economical and ecological challenges we should merely select which of the cultural practices we are engaged with are worth continuing.
The campaign is run by a small arts and crafts research unit by the name of Ore.e Refineries which has specialized in grassroots urban development projects like “smithing in public spaces”.
Smithing in public spaces:
(Note the vintage look of the website is functional as it only takes some 100kb to load.)
All the best from Finland,
In behalf of Ore.e Ref.
Eero Yli-Vakkuri (Head of management and sails)