Miranda July Opens London’s First Interfaith Thrift Store—Inside Selfridges
The artist's latest participatory artwork was commissioned by Artangel.
A bustling luxury department store on Oxford Street is one of the last places you’d expect to encounter a zany interfaith charity shop run by a celebrity artist. But for the next six weeks, Miranda July has set up a functioning retail store on the third floor of Selfridges in London.
The shop—commissioned by Artangel, which funds the production of art in surprising places—is the UK’s first interfaith secondhand store. Proceeds will be split among four religious charities chosen by the artist.
July tells artnet News that the idea for the store-within-a-store developed out of her previous interactive artworks, such as an app that invited strangers to personally deliver messages to one another. She says she zeroed in on the store as “kind of the perfect participatory artwork—if you could come up with a store that was meaningful enough that it could be a work.”
From the dropped ceiling to the plastic hangers, July’s shop emulates many similarly modest stores across the UK and touts standard fare: secondhand clothes, books, and stuffed animals. (These particular knickknacks just so happen to have been selected by an artist whose work has been shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and in two Whitney Biennials.)
Proceeds will be split among four charities, each of which will also pay it forward by donating 2.5 percent of their share to another charity of their choice. The participating organizations are Norwood, a leading UK Jewish charity that supports children and families; the London Buddhist Centre, which teaches classes on meditation and mindfulness; the Spitalfields Crypt Trust, which serves the homeless in East London; and Islamic Relief, an international organization that serves the poor.
The title of the work is a mouthful: “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.” But July notes that it intentionally places additional emphasis on Islamic Relief. “If you’re going to go to the trouble of having anything be interfaith, the point would be to support the religion that is most vulnerable at that moment, so that’s why the name is what it is.”
The Los Angeles-based artist was struck by the diversity of the UK’s secondhand stores; at home in the US, she says, she has only encountered Christian charity shops. “The mundaneness of this [Islamic Relief] charity shop in the UK [indicated] a level of comfort that, for the most part, people don’t have in the US, which in itself was worth celebrating,” she says.
To choose the objects in the store, July developed idiosyncratic criteria. For one thing, she decided to include only books and films made by women, an “intimate” choice that she admits no one, so far, has really noticed.
July—who, as a filmmaker, has taken home prizes from Cannes and Sundance—likened putting together the store to building a movie set. Both processes involve “building something very ordinary from the ground up and stocking it with very ordinary things to create a space that, in a sense, both is real, and isn’t,” she says.
The store’s location offers both the typical department store shopper and the typical charity shop customer an equally dislocating retail experience. “You might think the idea of getting a good deal or being excited by cheap prices is not that deep, but we all grew up with some specific socioeconomic background and I think those feelings around money are laid pretty deep and often intersect with all kinds of shame and yearning,” July says. “I think this store in this place kind of strikes that nerve.”
Miranda July’s interfaith charity shop runs August 31–October 22 at Selfridges on Oxford Street.
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