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.   hunkin





The project is a collaboration between me, Paul Spooner and Gary Alexander, who were involved in the Meadowhall ‘Ride of Life’ project, and also Max Alexander (Gary’s daughter), Tim Spooner (Paul’s son) and Graham Norgate (who helps with most of my projects). Paul did drawings for the initial presentation, and then produced the Confers Status range, most of the Little Scholar range, Financial Aereldite, and various other products. Gary produced all the videos apart from Rash Cosmetics (a collaboration between Tim  Spooner and Paul). Max produced the gangster range, helped with the website and filled the shelves of the false perspective.Graham helped build the perspective and the electrical control board. 



The psychology of shopping, persuading people to buy things, is a fascinating subject. I realised this a long time ago when I researched a cartoon about supermarkets for the Observer Sunday newspaper.
In 1990, Cabaret Mechanical theatre was invited to build a large feature for Sheffield’s Meadowhall, the first large mall in the UK. Eventually this feature, the ’Ride of Life’ never got installed but it brought together a great bunch of people, and  we had some great parties, thanks to Sue Jackson (Cabaret’s owner). I remember being very excited discovering the concept of ‘retail therapy’. One of my contributions to the ride was a ‘Retail Research Lab’. It included a machine for green-washing products which was at least 10 years ahead of its time.
The other main inspiration for Seriously Solutions is Private Eye (the UK satirical magazine). Every Christmas it features a selection of ‘House of Gnome’ adverts for fake gifts. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes, laughing so much.


The empty TKMaxx window in Bedford's Harpur centre where Seriously Solutions will be situated


Although I’m a keen consumer (I buy lots of tools and parts for the machines I make, mainly online) I never visit shopping malls or supermarkets. I buy my clothes from thrift shops and markets and my food from local convenience stores.

This was an advantage when starting this project. Visiting malls I felt like an anthropologist exploring new territory. It’s much harder to see that anything is bizarre or funny if you’re immersed in it every day. The downside was I was worried about being a snob, laughing at all the people who use malls regularly.

Fortunately I soon started to enjoy shopping in the malls myself. I bought a really cozy winter coat at TKMaxx. Then I got hooked on the £1 shops. My local one in Lowestoft has an infectious jolly atmosphere, full of shoppers and staff all chatting away to each other. On one visit the checkout ground to a halt while two staff and several shoppers tried to help a woman with Altzheimer’s find a product that she couldn’t remember exactly (it took several minutes but they succeeded). People rightly get cross about the closure of post offices and local shops, but it heartening that shopping malls can have similar socially cohesive functions. 



The initial problem designing the look of the Seriously Solutions window was that most shops in malls don’t have any windows. They open up the entire shop front to draw you in.  We couldn’t do that, but it encouraged the idea of a false perspective to give a sense of depth. Fortunately a few health food shops, jewellers and chemists shops still have traditional windows. Jewellers windows only display small glittery things and health food shops are generally dowdy, but chemists’ shops provided a useful role model. They contain advertising for pills with extravagant claims and bottles of perfume displayed to look exclusive.

As I built up the displays, I gradually realised the way to make a product look expensive or exclusive is simply to leave a lot of space around it (‘more is less’). In £1 shops, everything is piled high, crammed together as tightly as possible. The chemists’ perfumes, like the dresses in posh clothes shops, have a generous space around them, often accompanied by large promotional posters. The extreme of this is the contemporary art gallery, which sometimes has only one object in a whole room.

The 1:10 scale model I made to persuade the council that Seriously Solutions was a brilliant idea. 

Leaving space around products


When I started, I had no idea there were quite so many REAL weird products about. I thought it would be fun to have one real product on display, but we kept finding that the silly products we invented already really existed. Paul had finished his Confers Status range when we found the ‘Status’ light bulbs in QD stores. I’d already made my home safety range when a friend told me about the infant safety helmet. Just today, I read about a new motorcyclist’s suit that incorporates airbags. I’m now confident that though you can’t actually buy all the Seriously Solutions products at the moment, you will be able to in a few years time.


When Banksy installed his pet shop in New York and the recession led to several UK art organisations calling for artists to fill vacant shops, I realised that people would be likely to classify Seriously Solutions as art. I met someone who takes art very seriously. She quizzed me in great detail about the project. She decided it was essentially turning things on their head. This didn’t really fit a lot of the products and afterwards I realised it was an art world thing to theorise everything. This comes from conceptual art, but a lot of the intellectualisation is quite feeble and humour doesn’t follow that sort of logic anyway. It doesn’t matter if people call Seriously Solutions art, but I’m a cartoonist and to me the shop is basically just a series of jokes.



The first job I started on was making the false perspective, which I enjoyed. It doesn’t show up well on photos or video but it is very engaging seeing it ‘in the flesh’. No angle is a right angle – many of the angles are really surprising. Nothing needs to be perfect, just like drawing a freehand perspective. The brain makes the best guess at sorting out the discrepancies. 

Having the perspective disappearing to a point looks great, but is too extreme to look completely real. If I’d only reduced it to 50% at the back I’m sure it would have looked completely real. I’d like to experiment to find how smalI it’s possible to go to remain ‘real’.

While working on it, I was often surprised by what worked and what didn’t. I’d really like to do more stuff like it, to make some Ames rooms etc. I want to go back to Epcot to see its scaled down houses of parliament and other world Landmarks.




The site before installation

Testing the sign


I’d recently bought a Makita rail saw, which is gorgeous. I don’t think the false perspective would have turned out so well without this great tool because it made producing all the odd angles so easy. 

Before starting to make the products, I was really worried about the printing fading. Eventually I decided to buy a cheap A4 Epson printer for the job, as I'd proved their prints last much longer than other makes. (The Epson is a predictably horrid printer – after a week or two it slowed down, and ever has since taken over 5 minutes to make each print.) Bigger prints were done on my HP Design jet and laminated to reduce their fading.    

We motorised a few of the products and wanted people to be able to activate them working by touching the glass. I found a ’through glass’ capacitive switch in the RS catalogue which claims to work through glass up to 20mm thick, though my tests suggest 12mm is more realistic. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea anyway –  the glass will get dirty very quickly with lots of people touching it, I just hope it won’t show too much.   

There are 4 screens in the shop. Gary was keen to try HD, but the players and screens are more expensive, so there’s only one HD, the rest are standard resolution. We used Emprex media players, a bargain at £25. They don’t auto play, so I had to hack the remote to send them the right commands to start playing and to repeat. For the HD we used a Brightsign player, about £280. This does auto play and repeat so needs no additional circuitry. 

There was an existing TKMaxx sign, fitted with fluorescent tubes, so my initial plan was to put a new face on it. This wasn’t straightforward so I started playing with LEDs. I found a good lighting effect, recessing the LEDs in a sandwich of plywood. This made a thin new sign to bolt over the top of the original one. It  uses 40 metres of self adhesive LED strip which I bought on ebay from China. Half way through construction, the council told me it had to be grade 0 fire proof, which involved 4 coats of expensive paint on the plywood – I hate painting so I got very messy and bored. 





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