Is it worthless or is it art?
The old maxim goes that one man's junk is another man's treasure… But could you take a piece of rubbish and turn it into something valuable? Some might call it alchemy; Josef Valentino calls it art, and he is opening a shop to prove it can be done.
It started with a pun.
When Woolworths became a victim of the credit crunch, 19-year-old west London artist Josef Valentino 'was thinking how funny it was that you could pull out 'worthless' from Woolworths and that was what it had become.'
From the juxtaposition of those two words Josef developed an idea that he will put into practice at a live art installation in Seven Dials, Covent Garden.
People are being asked to bring their unwanted possessions into the 'Worthless shop' during the first week (22nd–29th May) of the installation and have them transformed into pieces of art.
If they like what has been done to their object, they can buy it back – for whatever they think it is worth.
In the second week (1st-5th June) a selection of the 'worthless to priceless' items will be exhibited in the shop.
The shop itself is fitted out to resemble a stereotypical supermarket, complete with shelving, tills, a tannoy system and tacky uniforms for the staff.
In a further nod to Woolworths, Josef has created a tubular installation piece that will resemble a pick 'n' mix counter, albeit one with a marsupial twist. Visitors hoping for a confectionary treat might have a little furry surprise waiting for them.
Art as social comment
Despite the tongue-in-cheek humour, Josef insists that the whole thing isn't a big wind-up.
"This isn't a joke and we're not doing this to be funny. It's a really awful thing that so many people have lost their jobs… I like the idea that people can pull out of this what they wish. It works on so many levels and has so much relevance for today," says Josef.
As well as being inspired by the economic meltdown, the installation can be seen as a comment on rampant consumerism and our lust for 'worthless' products; it also satirises what many people see as the hogwash that passes for modern art.
The 'Worthless' trolleys
A further irony is the shop's location; Seven Dials in Covent Garden, a temple for the trendy shopper where what something is actually worth is highly dependant on the label attached to it.
Aware that traditionalists will also dismiss his installation as 'not being real art' Josef acknowledges that he is 'playing fire with fire.'
Whatever its artistic or intellectual merits, the ambition of Worthless is reflected in the quality of collaborators that will be working with Josef on transforming the public's possessions.
The group of 'creatives' include Zandra Rhodes, McFaul Studios, Andrew Logan and Jon Burgerman, an illustrator that Josef says is 'a bit like Banksy when he started out. He isn't a household name yet but he really is picking up momentum.'
Alongside the established names will be a diverse group of arts graduates and the public will have no say in who works on their piece or indeed, what it is transformed into.
"It's nice to walk in and walk away with a piece that was designed by the PPQ designers. Or you could walk away with a piece that was transformed by a graduate from Central St Martins," says Josef.
"It's an exciting lottery and people won't have a choice."
While the precocious Josef was studying for his A' levels in 2008 at Tiffin Performing Arts College last year he also managed to organise an art exhibition in Carnaby Street called Blank Canvas.
Worthless on Endell St
It featured contributions from the likes of Marc Quinn, Rankin, Annie Lennox and Laura Marling and attracted 1,000 people.
The outlet for his creative energies is Pollocks, an online community that encourages people to submit their own art.
"We're trying to find different ways of making art less 'arty' and stuck up," says Josef.
"Events like this give people who would never walk into an art gallery the opportunity to go out shopping and unexpectedly fall into a gallery."
In spite of his achievements to date, Josef jokes that his parents are still nagging him to get a proper job that will 'put the bacon on the table.'
And it's not all about artistic inspiration.
"I've had to learn so many things. Last week I had to open a business banking account. It's been a gradual progression to doing this event. Renting out the space and getting a team of creatives involved."
Illustration by Matthew Dent
"It's a lot of pressure, but I love it."
Worthless is at 37 Endell St, Seven Dials, between 22nd May to 5th June. The shop will also host live music performances in the evenings, including a planned appearance by Ladyhawke.
An auction of some 'Worthless' items will be held at Octave Jazz Bar on the 4th June with proceeds going to the MS Society.
last updated: 18/05/2009 at 16:48
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