Art & Photography / Culture Talks

Miranda July on the Political Power of the Charity Shop

For her newest project the artist has created an interfaith secondhand shop in the heart of London’s favourite department store

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Miranda July inside the Interfaith Charity Shop on the third floor of Selfridges, London 31 August 2017Artangel & Miranda July present Norwood Jewish Charity Shop, London Buddhist Centre Charity Shop & Spitalfields Crypt Trust Charity Shop in solidarity with Islamic Relief Charity Shop at Selfridges (2017). Photography by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

Is there any end to what Miranda July can do? For her most recent endeavour, the artist, writer and filmmaker has opened an interfaith charity shop on the third floor of Selfridges, surrounded by the likes of Vetements, J.W. Anderson and Kenzo. The project is a collaboration between Islamic Relief, Norwood Jewish charity, London Buddhist Centre and Spitalfields Crypt Trust; the organisations’ shop staff are in charge of running the pop-up, which is filled with donated second-hand goods, sold at standard prices. AnOther spoke to the artist about her vision for the project.

On the concept of a store as performance…
“I had wanted to create an art piece as a store for a while. I think that comes from making a lot of participatory work, usually performances and sculptures, one time an app… things where I am inviting the public into the piece, which is always a little bit laborious because people are always self-conscious when it comes to engaging with art.

“From that perspective the idea of a store is so interesting, because you don’t have to tell people how to engage with it. The rules are already clear, they pick something they like for personal reasons, sometimes they take off all their clothes in a little room and put on someone else’s and they have an interaction with a stranger. I like that very mundane interaction and participation. It was just a matter of finding a store that was complex enough to mean anything at all.”

 

On the allure of London’s charity shops…
“Charity shops were the first stores I went to when I started coming to London in my early 20s, because I had no money. I was blown away by how many there are, it’s really unique to the UK. In the US you just have a few big Christian stores, but here every religion, every malady, every suffering cause has a charity shop. I was really struck by the fact that there is an Islamic Relief store. I know they are a global organisation but in the US, quite frankly, they couldn’t have one. There isn’t a colloquial comfort with going into a store that sells hijabs and abayas, but if you go to the Whitechapel branch there is a real mix of people shopping there.”

On an interfaith vision…
“It seemed like an interfaith shop could be meaningful, especially one in which all the faiths were standing behind Islamic Relief at a time when that population is most vulnerable, when simply having the word ‘Islamic’ in your name is asking for a lot of inquiry. The organisation has had to defend itself a lot more than if it had a more general name. We met with a whole bunch of stores and narrowed it down to charities who seemed to understand the project, and that we felt we could work with. We are very lucky that there was a Buddhist charity shop. There wasn’t, for example, a Sikh store, so we were unable to represent that religion. They were somewhat self-selecting depending on who was most passionate and understood the value of the collaboration.”

On questioning luxury… 
“I am interested in puncturing the bubble, the suspension of disbelief that has to exist in order to participate in the luxury economy. To buy a blouse for £3,000 you have to forget that you can buy one for £3. Those economies make no sense, and all meaning goes out the window.”

On working with Selfridges…
“I read an interview with [Selfridges Group deputy chairman] Alannah Weston in The Gentlewoman a few years ago, and I remember thinking ‘she seems interesting, I never think of a woman at the head of a store like this’. Then Michael [Morris, co-director of Artangel] said ‘there’s only one store that will let you do this’. Luckily they already knew my work and were open to a mutual project.

“On the one hand I’m bowled over by Selfridges, and I love clothes, so it’s an incredibly distracting environment to work in. But the main thing is that they are all very smart. Right out of the gate my conversations with these women were just like those I would have with a museum curator. There were questions like ‘what is the interplay between religion and commerce?’ and ‘can you bring something that is to do with faith into a commercial environment?’ They were happy to have an interesting conversation, which really allowed the idea to develop. They had to break every rule in their book to let this happen. We’ve built over their beautiful windows and installed fluorescent lighting!”

Artangel & Miranda July present Norwood Jewish Charity Shop, London Buddhist Centre Charity Shop & Spitalfields Crypt Trust Charity Shop in solidarity with Islamic Relief Charity Shop, at Selfridges, London, until October 22, 2017.

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