Michele Pred: Crafty Conceptualist

Michele Pred: CCA alumna (Interdisciplinary Fine Arts 1990), CCA faculty member, collector of confiscated objects, new mom, self-taught technology junkie, and multitalented crafty conceptual artist, recently entered a new phase in her colorful career: shopdropping.

What is shopdropping, you might ask? It's the opposite of shoplifting (although, like its alter ego, it takes place off the storekeeper's radar). Instead of stealing, an agent covertly places items—in this case, signed archival pigment prints—in a store for display and sale as a subtle disruption of normal patterns of commerce. Pred selected IKEA as her target site and packaged her works with perfect replicas of the store's price tags. Her prints, she decided, would ring up at the register for exactly what the other "wall art" was going for: $8. On Black Friday she left 10 prints at the IKEA in Emeryville, California, and a few days later she left five prints at the IKEA in Sunrise, Florida. In Emeryville the prints were snapped up within 24 hours by lucky-but-unknowing shoppers and Pred fans who were tuned in at just the right moment to her Facebook page.

The $8 price tag was a deliberate comment on the affordability of art in the current economy. The very same prints (including the IKEA packaging/barcodes) are available for purchase at Electric Works for $200 each.

Why IKEA? Pred chose the Scandinavian superstore for her virgin shopdropping voyage because she is of Swedish descent and grew up near their first store, in a house full of their furniture. And also, of course, because the company's identification with affordable, accessible art and design clearly ties into Pred's underlying concept for the work. The IKEA in Sunrise was conveniently close to the Art Miami Fair, where Pred was a featured artist with Nancy Hoffman Gallery. (Later she left another print at the Deitch Projects booth; that drop was filmed by Hank Willis Thomas, himself a CCA alum twice over.)

IKEA, when notified of Pred's activities, issued an amusingly corporate non-response.

An even more explicit and subversive economic comment is made by the prints' hidden message. The artwork shows a 2D barcode, which when scanned leads to a Pred-owned website displaying the text message "You are what you buy." These days, of course, that message is fraught with multiple meanings; it would have signified something quite different in, say, the hyperinflated art market of the 1980s or the dot-com boom of the late 1990s.

What are 2D barcodes? They are square graphics, composed of black and white sub-squares, which can be scanned and "read" by a computer camera or a cell-phone camera. (Watch the artist herself give a demo.) The user is then transported to the particular website whose URL is encoded in the graphic. Pred's interest in this technology takes a decidedly artistic tack, leaning more toward the ways in which it can be bent and subverted, translated and transposed. She has been playing with blue and yellow instead of black and white, for instance, because they are the Swedish national colors. And in her quest to determine the outer limits of the code's legibility, she has also been experimenting with letterpress, embroidery, Legos, and fuse beads.

Since the shopdrops, she says, "The project has gone viral on the web. I found an eight-page discussion thread about it on Etsy and numerous comments on Reddit, and after the LAist posted about it my website received thousands of hits. Oakland Local also wrote about it, resulting in their site crashing after the story ended up on the front page of Yahoo News. I'm very pleased, as part of the project was to provoke discussion."

The exploit also received prominent (and thoughtful) coverage in the Oakland Tribune.

You can see one of Pred’s embroidered 2D barcodes at the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Folk Art as part of the exhibition Open Source Embroidery, which runs through January 24.

Coming up: Pred spent five weeks in Sweden in summer 2009 and was inspired to start a new series of art installations about Swedish culture. The first piece will involve more than 100 hand-crocheted pot holders. Tune in to her website for the inside scoop on this and future shopdropping excursions.

Michele Pred is represented by Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York.