Japanther: Feb 6-Mar 10, 2013

Feb 6 – Mar 10
69¢ Only

Over the course of the next month, Japanther will open a 69¢ Only store at Thank You For Coming in the form of a mid-1930s, art deco-inspired automat that accepts 69¢ tokens. Our build and installation period, which we estimate to take 1-3 weeks, will also serve as a period of experimentation to explore the question: “What is a 69¢ object in 2013?” In a world where music is free, but we must pay for water, how do we value pocket change?

In response, we will present 69¢ offerings in the form of food, songs, adventures and art objects that aim to address a unique consumer structure in consideration of different systems of value and exchange — including but not limited to: innovation and resourcefulness; community and friendship; generosity of strangers; subjectivity in the commodification of art; malleability of labor; and fair (and unfair) practices in food production and manufacturing.

All month long, all are invited to join us in the progress of the automat installation as well as the process of creating 69¢ objects. The 69¢ Only project will employ help from a rotating cast of friends — and the public — as cooks and artists who participate by attempting to make 69¢ objects to replenish the automat through daily experimentation, events, workshops, and ongoing make-and-create sessions that examine the cost and value of food and other objects/non-objects. In addition to on-site opportunities, we also encourage individuals to contribute by bringing in homemade 69¢ objects.

69¢ food and art objects will be available during Thank You For Coming’s regular lunch and dinner hours (Wed-Sun, 11a-3p and 6p-10p) during the construction and installation of the automat. All food and art objects will be crafted in order to attempt to cover both the cost of food/materials used for production and the cost of maintaining a brick and mortar establishment. Japanther plans to take advantage of low-cost, seasonal ingredients and resource limitations to shape the menu and contents of the automat. During buildout, proletariat staples such as soup, coffee and salad will be tested and served in 69¢ portions to help us understand challenges about food costs. Once the automat is operable, it will accept specially-designed 69¢ tokens, sold individually or in bundles of 10 for $6.99. The handmade offerings can then be purchased from the automat with these tokens.
During previous stays in Venice Beach and San Pedro, we grew enamored with Los Angeles’ “99¢ Only” stores for their straightforward thrift and recollection of Andreas Gursky’s colorful photos. We set our minds to wondering, “how low can they go?”, contemplating that 69¢ might be the lowest price an American consumer would pay for an item — and prize it, too.

For us, the imagery of a New York City automat eatery went hand-in-hand with our 69¢ hypothesis. Automats were waiter-less restaurants that offered food through coin-operated glass-window displays in a large cabinet structure. We had heard stories from our parents about trips to the city they took as kids, where they were given a handful of coins to spend at the automat. They would drop a coin (or multiple coins) into a slot and then pull their desired food item or coffee out of a compartment from this vending mechanism. The first automat in New York opened in 1912 (and the last one closed in 1991), but the automats became popular places to hang out in the depression era because the format ensured that everyone could eat and linger with dignity, without breaking their bank.

“The company [that operated the automats — Horn & Hardart] instructed employees to be especially friendly—anyone, despite the amount of money they spent, was welcome in an automat and could stay as long as they wanted. Some customers, unable to afford the nickel meals, were welcome to make tomato soup out of hot water and ketchup for free. In the 1930s automats appealed to both the working class because of their prices and to the upper class for their quality food. During the Depression, the automats flourished with their inviting atmosphere, excellent food, and bargain prices.” (Finn, Catherine. “Only In Old New York: The Automats, Once a Big Apple Institution, Are Dying Out”. Preservation Magazine. Jan 12, 2007)

In our research, we found that a nickel in 1930 is valued, coincidentally, at 69¢ today (U.S. Department of Labor CPI Inflation Calculator). But while automats used to provide public dignity for pennies on the dollar, in 2013, these same questions about value, quality and service are still highly contended. Our intention in creating a 69¢ Only store for a month is to provide a place where people can eat and hang out affordably (cheaply, even) in Los Angeles. We’re challenging ourselves to fully consider the costs and value of things that are too-often omitted in the conversation: labor, modern manufacturing processes, etc. It is without a doubt that we will need to rely on creative resource gathering, careful proportioning, self-manufactured processes, and the generosity of friends and strangers to realize a 69¢ Only store. In the process, we only hope to enter this conversation, and by no means finish it.
Japanther is a Brooklyn-based art project, established in 2001 by Matt Reilly and Ian Vanek, then art students. Japanther was featured in the 2006 Whitney Biennale and the 2011 Venice Biennale and has collaborated with a diverse pool of artists such as Gelitin, Aida Ruilova, Penny Rimbaud, Raymond Pettibon, Gee Vaucher, Dan Graham, Eileen Myles, robbinschilds and Spank Rock. Japanther has made its name with unique performance situations, appearing alongside synchronized swimmers and atop the Williamsburg Bridge; trading meals for stories; and playing with marionettes and shadow puppets, in the back of a moving truck in Soho, and at shows with giant dinosaurs and BMX bikes flying off the walls.