Sales Talk: a ten-second artwork for electronic billboard
In January 2016, I joined around 100 other artists, writers, provocateurs and troublemakers in taking over Europe’s biggest digital advertising screen, located in the heart of Liverpool. The project was called Four Words. Our mission was to subvert – or at least to question – the annual consumerist sales season by means of truncated, over-sized sloganeering.
The giant advertising screen that dominates the view from Liverpool’s Lime Street station has been aggressively pumping pixels into the city’s air space for well over a decade. Measuring upwards of a gazillion metres long, its relentless illuminated sales chat is a hilariously ill-judged companion piece to the adjacent splendour of St George’s Hall.
But on 20 January 2016, the screen’s non-stop commercial breakage was interrupted for sixty stupendous minutes. The Four Words art project – devised by the artist Alan Dunn in collaboration with Metal Liverpool – allowed around 100 creative thinkers and do-ers to each contribute a ten-second, four-word animation of their own choosing.
I was one of them.
The brief we were given was simple. We were invited to select four words to “act as a counterpoint to the sales season and the invisible pressures of this time of year, with ruminations on value, money and exchange.”
For one whole hour on that overcast afternoon, the animations played to the passing Liverpool public, and once they’d all been seen three times each, the regular adverts resumed. Capitalism’s edifice did not crumble. But the words on our street had been witnessed, and commerce had briefly given way to our art.
My ten-second contribution was a piece called Sales Talk, and like all good contemporary artworks, it came complete with an artist’s statement written by my own fair hand:
It’s sales time, so it’s time for a sales talk. The most startling sales talk I know is the one delivered by the actor Alec Baldwin in the film ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’.
The film’s screenplay is by David Mamet based on his stage play of the same name. Alec Baldwin, playing Blake, is a hotshot sales guru from downtown New York; he deigns to visit a small-time real estate office for one night only to present the sales force with an ultimatum: compete for your jobs or be fired. His speech is visceral and deadly; he toys with his prey. But though he is heartless and apparently unfeeling, his words have been taken as gospel by red-blooded salespeople the world over. For many, he is a movie villain turned real-life hero.
“Put. That. Coffee. DOWN!” he says to Shelley Levene (Jack Lemon), an ageing ex-super-salesman whose powers are fading fast. With these four words, he demands attention, action, results. And with real-world salespeople swallowing his message whole, it is time for the rest of us, as consumers, to beware.
But can we beware? Are we in a position to do such a thing? Last time I checked, I’m afraid that I and my fellow citizens seemed to have been sapped of our strength, seduced by the over-priced, under-powered corporate coffee vendors whose outlets clutter the high street like tiny temples to wasted time. We elongate our shopping trips with leisurely, latte-fuelled coffee stops, sipping expensively-caffeinated hot water at regular intervals and turning the weekly smash-and-grab for necessities into a languid legal retail mugging.
Alas, it seems that if we are ever to resist the relentless pummelling of the big business sales pitch, keeping our hands tight round our wallets instead, we might all just have to:
Text © Damon Fairclough 2016-2020
Images and video © Damon Fairclough 2016
Four Words took place in Liverpool on 20 January 2016. It was devised by Alan Dunn in collaboration with Metal Liverpool, and included contributions by: Douglas Coupland, Nina Edge, Paul Morley, Jamie Reid, Gerhard Richter, David Shrigley, Andy Warhol, and shit loads more. And me.
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