exclusive: miranda july’s inter-faith art project, in her own words
Ahead of her public Frieze talk this evening, Miranda July shares a global exclusive film of her Artangel project and tells i-D about the journey so far.
About a year ago, Artangel and I invited four religious charity shops (Jewish, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim) to create an interfaith charity shop with us on the third floor of Selfridges – the massive luxury department store on Oxford Street in London. The invitation was really more of a conversation, since none of us had ever done anything like this. Even Selfridges, with its venerable history of initiating collaborations with artists, had never been the site of a work presented by another organisation. But in 1909 Harry Selfridge had declared his store "open to the world"; perhaps it was just a marketing ploy, but I ran with it – we all did.
Until last year I had spent my whole life shying away from religion with a liberal vagueness that had come to feel provincial. So now I was working alongside people who were openly driven by faith — in a very capitalist context. We would be selling cheap, second-hand goods amid luxury clothes costing hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds. What would shoppers make of that? Would money and value suddenly seem as constructed as art? Or would it simply be about deals, deals, deals?
Week by week, as Artangel and I learned how to work with the charities and Selfridges, the political climate became more and more polarised. I watched the Brexit vote and then became an American living under Trump. I witnessed and protested new levels of islamophobia and fear-mongering; shopping and luxury became even stranger than they had always been. Like all of us, I wondered how my work spoke to any of this.
Now the store has been open for 48 days and this much is clear: people feel safe in the interfaith charity shop — all different kinds of people. So they stay for a long time and talk to each other and they come back. They bring food to the shop assistants — biscuits and chocolate mini-rolls — and behave as one might in a community center, chatting about their families and upcoming job interviews. Keep in mind that we are neighbours with Yeezy and Vetements, so this is an impossible space to hold. A completely constructed, six-week utopia: not reality. And yet it's real. Every day we earn real money, which is divided equally between the four charities and supports real people living with disability or addiction or struggling to survive in a war-torn country.
I've been making art that relies on the audience's engagement for decades now — sculptures, performances, even a messaging app. But participating in art can be hair-raising; it's a form that longs to be inviting but is inherently alienating to most people. Somehow the interfaith charity shop doesn't suffer from this problem. Selfridges' demographic is wildly international, with an emphasis on Middle Eastern and Asian customers, many shoppers participate comfortably and are even emotionally stirred by the store within a store, without ever thinking of it as art. And if they do have questions, they ask the shop assistants, who are ready for conversation and are themselves participants.
I'm not alone in this ambiguous space between fiction and reality, frivolity and charity, art and not art — everyone I know is here too: every writer, activist, designer, musician, artist and filmmaker. We're responding to crisis every day — how could we possibly be just one thing? This is creative life now; #opentotheworld.
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
Monday - Saturday 09:30-21:00, Sunday 11:30-18:00 until 22 October.
Miranda July will giving a Frieze speech at the charity shop tonight at 7.15pm. It is free and open to the public.
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 (2017). An Artangel commission. Photograph: Stuart C. Wilson/Stuart Wilson/Getty Images