Preview :: The Free Market

May 25th 2011


The free market is a pretty misleading idea really. Take right now, for example. I would like some olive sourdough bread, a long-neck of cider and some shit-hot new boots. If I were to walk into my friendly neighbourhood bread, cider and shoe emporium and lift those items off the shelves I would be met with a withering "bitch please". Nothing is free in the free market.

Artist Lauren Carroll-Harris thinks this is whack, and has crafted a creative response. Next week at Kudos Gallery she'll be running her own free market with items donated by friendly retailers across town. The aim is to deliver an artistic response to the deficiencies of the capitalist system.

FBi: What inspired the project? Did you have some kind of epiphany moment?

Lauren: In 2009, the Free Store by Kim Paton exhibited surplus food donated by local businesses and residents in exactly the same way as a regular grocery shop, but without any prices, and she did it in a disused shop front to make a statement about using empty space creatively.

I wanted to tweak the format by using a gallery space, and not just any space; an artist-run space. And I wanted to install or sculpt all the surplus produce I collected creatively, to capture people's imaginations and expose the waste point in the life cycle of products that is usually invisible. It allows me to talk about the social role of the artist, while diverting stuff from landfill and providing people with stuff they need for free. And then I thought, why stop at food? Waste is an intrinsic part of pretty much every industry at the moment.

Were you brought up with a sustainable conscience? Did your Mum teach you to compost?

Yes! I remember my mum convinced my grade 3 teacher to get the whole class to write letters to the French President Jacques Chirac protesting against nuclear testing! And I have a really cute photo of my little brother when he was about four marching at a rally and holding a home-made sign that says "LIBS OUT!" in kids' writing.

You studied at COFA, right? What was your experience there like?

I loved it. I just painted five days a week. It's a privilege, and I got a studio space. It was challenging – coming up against the limits of my skills everyday and struggling to realise the images in my head, but I loved it.

How have people reacted to this project? What are your favourite donations so far?

It's been a big test of the open-mindedness of business owners. Some just kind of…blink at me when I tell them about the project and ask for support, but other retailers have jumped straight on board. Someone has donated home-brewed beer for opening night, someone else is donating fresh eggs from their backyard! And I've discovered some amazing local Sydney artists from all the radio stations (like FBi and Triple J) that have given me old demo CDs.

What is the long-term function of the project? To point people in the right direction, or are you actually establishing a redistribution system?

The immediate aim is to inspire people to think about alternatives to the current free market model of production, distribution and consumption, of which waste is an intrinsic but unnecessary part. Lots of people talk about the need to recycle more, but a truly sustainable society would actually be waste free. Is that possible under the current economic model? I don't think so.

More long term, we'll see how this show goes, but I'd love to take it to other cities, and because it's an installation which depends on


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