December 15, 2009

Trip Without A Ticket: Free Store Variations


The Diggers

I’ll start the ‘variations survey’ with an off-handed proposal by the Diggers, who popularized the free-store as a radical transformation of space and value.  Their free store (above) was realized in San Francisco, 1968.

“A perfect dispenser would be an open Automat on the street…No owner, no manager, no employees and no cash-register…”



Superflex Free Shop

A momentary encounter with free-exchange embedded in an existing pay-store.

Hrag Vartanian: Now your Free Shop project is very challenging, in that it removes the monetary aspect of commercial exchange from the equation by surprising people with a bill for their purchases that always equals zero. Can you tell me about that?

Bjøernstjerne Christiansen: Again, it has to do with that the fact that we are so impacted by systems which are imposed on us. It explores the exchange of value. We want people to explore the value of exchange. It is so part of the structure of our daily lives that we believe in them blindly. Free Shop was a way to challenge that. In stores, the cashier would tally things up and then look at you and say, “the total is zero.” In a way, your world collapses. What is surprising is that very few people went back and took more, even though they could.

The action takes places randomly and in different time intervals, so no one knows when it is in effect. So far it has been happening in six countries, including Japan and Poland. We also did it in a pharmacy which connects the artwork with the issue of pharmaceuticals, regulation, and pricing.



Free Store Chicago

The Chicago free store was first realized on the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) in 2006, at Mess Hall. Given that Black Friday is traditionally one of the big spending days of the year, the Free Store was timed as a response. Following is a suggestion from The Free Store website to organize an informal, community-level, self-initiated free store of your own.

“While it may seem daunting to do a free store of your own, you really don’t need much to start out. Have a party at your house and tell everyone to bring something they would like to give away. Then when all the guests arrive, they can pick out their own ‘parting gift’. Use your kids’ school for a clothing swap. Borrow a meeting room at the library.”

“We believe that every neighborhood and every community can sustain a network of giving. It happens every day without any labels or reports. We can help change the course of our immediate surroundings with the decisions we make — both in the stuff we decide to bring into our lives, and the stuff we decide to remove from our lives.”



Lower Manhattan Free Store
A project by Athena Robles and Anna Stein

I like the idea that this currency, received upon donation to the free store, might demonstrate the symbolic value of printed money. Also, re timing, this free store was launched during a low-point in the recent economic crisis.

“Free Store will distribute World Bills, a global currency that potentially could be used at any free store in the Global Free Store chain. Contributors to Free Store will receive World Bills for goods and services donated to the store. They can then use these bills to trade with other participants or in future free stores in this series.”



Portland Free Bus

Culling items from various free boxes around Portland, makes this scavenger store the aggregate of smaller street-level offerings.

“Determined to save free boxes from the wet weather and to bring the joy of free stuff to others, Ben Aubin gathered a team of bike messengers to pick up Portland’s free fare and bring it to the store, which is open five days a week. Additionally, he fulfills wish lists. Anyone can fill out a wish list, in person or on the Free Store’s Web site, listing any items that they need, from disco balls to bike fenders.”


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