Michele Pred hopes you'll come by her show this month and find something that was taken from you in the last ten years.
The conceptual artist works with objects confiscated in airports, where security checkpoints have steadily accumulated piles of cuticle scissors and corkscrews since the post-9/11 founding of the Transportation Security Administration.
Working as a limousine driver during TSA's nascent stages, Pred started meeting anxious travelers who wanted to feel safe when flying, but weren't sure the new security measures were actually making them safer. Pred convinced authorities at San Francisco International Airport to share some of the surplus objects, and she began telling a collective confiscation story through the small items America was actively losing.
"black, white, red flag," Michele Pred.
In addition to scoring lots of pocket knives and screwdrivers, Pred acquired a crumpled spreadsheet of prohibited items confiscated on July 3, 2002. A modest two or three tally marks follow most items on the list, but marks in the "metal scissors with pointed tips" row overflow into the margins. Take note: TSA allows scissors on planes now. Actually, Pred's current show, Confiscated, at the Jack Fischer Gallery in San Francisco, is full of stuff TSA is now OK with -- items like screwdrivers, wrenches and lighters. This show represents a moment preserved, a minor segment of an ongoing experiment.
These objects, removed from circulation and from their owners, hover in tiny-thing limbo. They're considered both weapons and useful tools; they're at once anonymous and distinctive.
"Fear Culture," Michele Pred.
In Fear Culture, a variety of confiscated items are sorted into Petri dishes and arranged in the format of an American flag. Some of these items are funny, like the golf tee in the stars and the skate key in the stripes. Other objects, mostly blades, do seem a little dangerous. The piece evokes scientists gazing so bleary-eyed into their microscopic specimens that they forget what they're looking for. Cut to TSA's close scrutiny of the ever-changing list of prohibited items.
Another rewarding subtlety in the show is the abundance of promotional shwag and its quiet critique of consumerism, a theme of Pred's other works. Bulls Eye, a circular floor installation of confiscated items in red, blue and silver, is full of objects branded with logos. Imagine you've stopped by your local bank to deposit a check. As you leave, you see a bin of small letter openers emblazoned with the bank's name. They're free, so you might as well slip one in your backpack. The following month you're flying to Boston when you encounter a TSA officer who has been instructed to confiscate letter openers. You nabbed the promotional piece without thinking much of it, and now it's in a bin outside SFO with all the other logo-adorned tools.
Pred is political, but she also finds simple pleasure in reuniting people with their lost belongings. She said it's happened only once before. Just so you know, there's a really nice iridescent pocketknife in Fear Culture, in case you've been missing one.
Confiscated is on view through October 8, 2011 at the Jack Fischer Gallery in San Francisco. The artist will deliver a talk on Saturday, September 17, at 4pm. For more information visit jackfischergallery.com.