Out of stock
In Madison, Wisonsin I went into a store called Pop Deluxe to find a vending machine that was selling art. This was after a talk at a conference I was at that outlined the history of these new art-o-mat vending machines – machines made redundant from selling cigarettes repurposed for dispensing art. Set up by artist Clark Whittington of North Carolina, the numbers of these machines have grown and now there are 90 machines across the United States, with over 400 artists contributed mini pieces of art that go for five dollars a piece.
This is less about everyone being an artist and more about everyone owning a little, consequential, possibly gimmicky piece of art. But after discussing the implications of this little invention at the conference I felt I had to give it a go, and after stumbling about in the chic, fairly expensive store (with electric guitar shaped cheese graters and craftsy things like that) I found the machine on the mezzanine level.
Now, I put in the token that I bought for five dollars at the cash desk. Down it went and I was experiencing the joy of machine operation. However, once I had decided on my art piece, something about Paris and photography (the allure was too strong) the lever that should have released the package in true vending machine style did not work. After a series of yanks it did not yield and presuming that it was not working I pulled at another lever, releasing a pinhole camera device. The cashier had said when I decided on a piece I should let her know what I chose. When I said that my first choice was not available she merely said: “Yeah… we’re running out of a few of them.”
This little story draws attention to the limitations of participatory consumerism: you can only make individual choices that reflect inner preference if they have the item in stock. How often does Argos, or any other store, not have the thing you need? This deficiency of capitalism in mind, I recalled the easyjet puzzle discussed in the first blog of this research trip to the USA.
The easyjet advert left blank jigsaw shaped pieces on show. The presumption is that us, the consumers, fill in the gaps to create the perfect holiday but so often, as shown by the story of the art-o-mat, there just is not enough stock to satisfy our choices and endless wants. The missing piece remains missing and there is nothing capitalism can do about it.