Ryan Watkins-Hughes: the father of shopdropping

Shopdropping in New York” a 2007 New York Times slide show of Ryan Watkins-Hughes, produced by Thomas Lin & photographed by James Estrin


Another As Real As It Gets participant is Ryan Watkins-Hughes.

If Pete Hottelet is “the reigning King of Defictionalization,” then Ryan Watkins-Hughes is the founding father of “shopdropping.”

He coined and defined the term in 2004:

To covertly place objects on display in a store. A form of “culture jamming” s. reverse shoplift, droplift.

The thing about shopdropping is that, although it’s not as criminal as shoplifting, it’s still alarming to store security and store managers, and is perceived as being generally subversive to the financial interests of the store.

As far as creating social havoc, I’m much more interested in visual chaos and the breakdown of a “sensible” visual environment than any attempt at targeted social change. I have very little interest in creating an overt and direct critique of packaged culture and the consumer system. I’d rather create graphic mayhem within an environment that is usually so mundane. I wholly appreciate it when the unexpected, purely for its own sake, is introduced into a system that is incapable of dealing with it. It may be as simple as that. There are other “shopdropping” projects floating around that are far more politically specific, and I respect their directness, but I am more interested in fucking with the customs of visual language than in spreading a message of anti-consumerism.

from 2009 Ryan Watkins-Hughes interview by Julie Fishkin in ArtCat Zine

But even when there is nothing inherently political or threatening about his re-labeled canned goods, he is still crossing a line that might easily get him arrested.

We tend to think of retail spaces as public places, but if you enter a store and do not shop in the normal manner, the retailer may decide that you’re trespassing on private property. (See also: What Should I Do If Reverend Billy Is In My Store?)

Some have speculated about using shopdropping to test the effectiveness of consumer package design:

… what if branding and packaging designers used the shopdropping method to more practical ends? We always want to know in advance: how do consumers react to more artistic, risk-taking packaging? … shopdropping as a research method (for those without focus-groups and big market research budgets) can make a lot of sense.

Yael Miller, The Dieline, 2008

In my experience, the only acceptable behavior in a retail store is shopping. Having any alternative agenda, tends to makes you suspect. Even if you are a package designer with a professional, pro-consumption motivation—someone who is basically on the same cultural team as the retailer—leaving your own products on their shelves is something they would likely regard as sabotage. (As in: product tampering)

(See also: The Perils of Competitive Shopping and Ron English: Popaganda Shopdropping)

As Real As It Gets runs from November 16 till December 22. It opens on Thursday, November 15: 6-8 pm.

Apexart is located at 291 Church Street , New York, NY 10013 USA

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