Thursday, June 08, 2006

Today I bought art from a cigarette machine

(or: "Is this blog entry worth $2.00?")

I was reading about Conundrum Press last week, and as one link led to another I discovered their Distroboto imprint:
Conundrum Press was invited to contribute mini-books to an artist's distribution project. Distroboto is a converted cigarette machine, located in the trendy bar/café Casa del Popolo, which dispenses art and chapbooks. It was featured in The New York Times Magazine's "Ideas" issue. Everything in the machine sells for $2 and must fit into a cigarette case.

Well, it happens that we were passing by Casa del Popolo this morning. I'd taken Helena to the doctor to see about her leaky eye. Our day was pretty much free, so we dropped in on our walk home. A handful of student types were having coffee. It seems to be a comfortable space. I noticed a box in the corner collecting books for prisoners. Cool tunes. If I'd been on my own I would've lingered, but Helena had some other ideas about how to be spending our time. So I conducted my business with the machine as efficiently as possible.

I deposited my coins and made my selection. I slipped the cellophane-wrapped cigarette-sized package into my bag with barely a glance. I would examine it closely later.

I'd chosen How I Loved the Broken Things of Rome, based on title, a thumbnail graphic, and, hoping for something booklike, elimination of those things labelled as CDs, photos (I think there was something labelled photos), etc. Inside the packing material, a business-card-sized envelope contained my prize.

JR Carpenter, who has a number of works available in various machines around the city (well, neighbourhood), explains Broken Things; it's not clear to me but I assume that this pamphlet is a byproduct of the web project.

I love this idea. I'm imagining it as the perfect spontaneous romantic gesture: your date comes back to the table with your drinks and drops a small package in your lap, "Thought you might like some art."

I wouldn't mind clearer labelling regarding the form my art might take, but I suppose, at $2, "vending machine surprise" is enough of an attraction to enough people.

From the Distroboto website:
The mandate of the Distroboto project is to provide an opportunity to emerging artists of all disciplines — visual arts, film, animation, music, literature and poetry, crafts etc. — to gain wider exposure by making examples of their work easily accessible to the public.

The low price of the work sold through the Distroboto machines, currently set at two dollars, as well as the original way in which it is sold, encourages the public to discover a whole world of local art that they might not have otherwise encountered.

The fact that the project is administered by a non-profit arts organization allows nearly all sales revenues to go directly to the artists, who are responsible for the cost of producing the work sold.

Since the first Distroboto machine was launched in January, 2001, more than 300 local artists have sold more than 20 000 items through these machines. A major expansion of the project is currently being planned for fall 2006.

The Art-o-mat has been around since 1997. Find one near you.


Tim said...

That's an awesome idea. I'll have to check it out (assuming I can find one locally).

Martha said...

I love this idea! Doesn't it seem a little like a fortune cookie, a little mysterious message just for you? Or a treasure hunt. I think I would be obsessively buying these things, hoping to find my future cryptically revealed.

Anonymous said...

What a charming idea! I love it!

I once walked past a used bookstore in Philadelphia that was selling bags of mystery books. The brown paper bags were stapled shut so you couldn't see what was inside, and each bag contained four books for five bucks. Of course I bought a bag, and it contained a weird assortment. But I still love the concept.

J. R. Carpenter said...

Hey Isabella. J. R. Carpenter here, author of How I Loved the Broken Things of Rome, which is indeed a min-book version of the web art project. I'm so glad you like the book, and Distroboto!

Anonymous said...

Love this idea. Love it. Thanks so much for sharing!

I blogged about it on DRAWN!