As artist Jeanette Hayes aptly puts it in her video, Jeanette’s Internet, “When you put something on the internet it’s mine.”
I teach an internet studio art class at USC. Fittingly, I was lecturing about appropriation and hijacking. A ton of people had been asking me if I was behind Dumb Starbucks, a mediocre coffee shop that popped up in a strip mall in Los Angeles last week, serving pastries and corporate parody. Based on my past work—projects like The National Dinner Tour, in which I infiltrated a Crate and Barrel catalogue by placing my cell number and an invitation to dinner in a product shot, then after thousands of calls, I travelled the country documenting my dinner parties with the curious callers—Dumb Starbucks was on brand.
In class on Monday morning, as an experiment and lesson, I posted a tweet and a Facebook post both reading “My project is causing quite a stir - lol,” and linked to two news stories about Dumb Starbucks. It was too easy. The creators of Dumb Starbucks had left a gaping hole. It was like logging onto someone’s account with the password 123. There was a huge void, and I filled it in 10 seconds.
My wording was careful though: “my project” and “lol” were imperative. What “my project” referred to was appropriation and staking claim. And lol is a gesture at diffusion and joking.
Later that day, I posted a follow-up. “Would love to do interviews about #dumbstarbucks—just waiting for @TODAYshow or @jimmykimmel.” Again, key wording: “about.” If interviewed, I would have talked about my commandeering the situation and taking advantage of the media frenzy around it, like I am now.
It was amusing to see how fast and powerful the trajectory of this one tweet/Facebook post was. As bloggers sought answers, I was inserted into the media narrative (and mentioned by posts on The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, The Huffington Post, Forbes, and Defamer). It blurred authorship and caused confusion within the media hysteria. With this simple gesture, I was able to steer the global media discussion around Dumb Starbucks. I would even say it forced Nathan Fielder—the Comedy Central star who was also using the prank to self-promote—to reveal himself early.
My project is about social media appropriation. In art, there is an entire history of appropriation; from Picasso to Duchamp to Rauschenberg to Warhol to Richard Prince to Jeff Koons to Christian Marclay. So dumb, but so fitting, Wikipedia defines appropriation as “the taking over, into a work of art, of a real object or even an existing work of art.’”
I’m just doing to them what they did to Starbucks. A sort of, Marc Horowitz pranks Comedy Central (Viacom) pranks Starbucks.
I respect the Dumb Starbucks project and its creators. I feel that my contribution only makes the whole thing more complex and widens the conversation around parody, rights, ownership, art, entertainment, and media.
A dumb prank begets a dumb prank.
Oh, and I still think Banksy did it. lol