"Huh? Did you say FREE?" Free Shop springs surprises for consumers in Helsinki
Danish artists’ group Superflex offered people free cheese in Helsinki’s Hakaniemi Hall
By Mari Koppinen
The IHME Contemporary Art Festival`s Free Shop takes place in an ordinary shop.
When a store turns into a Free Shop, anything purchased in the shop by any given customer is free of charge.
On Wednesday January 26th, it happened at the Lentävä lehmä (”Flying Cow”) cheese stall in the Hakaniemi Market Hall.
Further Free Shops will appear in the Greater Helsinki area in the upcoming spring.
It can take place anywhere, anytime, to anyone.
”That'll be zero euro”, says Hanne Hirvonen, behind the counter of the cheese stall in the Hakaniemi Market Hall.
Having only come in to buy some jalapeno-cheddar, Hanna Vanhanen is gobsmacked.
It is all she can do to just stare at the shopkeeper in amazement:”Huh? What?”
”It doesn’t cost anything”, Hirvonen explains cheerily.
”What? Hä? How come?” splutters Vanhanen.
The disjointed dialogue continues in this vein for a few sentences.
One just has to believe that it is true: Lentävä lehmä is a Free Shop today - Wednesday.
From 15:00 onwards, shopping does not cost anything, as the Pro Arte Foundation will pick up the tab for all cheese purchases, until the sum that has been agreen upon in advance is exceeded.
From that moment onwards, customers will again have to pay for their purchases.
Since September, people have been able to make serendipitous free purchases at a number of outlets, and in the upcoming spring, other similar occasions are expected to take place in Finland.
But as for the when and where of it all, consumers are naturally not allowed to know that in advance.
Any shop can serve as the venue for Free Shop, where customers may unexpectedly get a check-out receipt that reads “0 euro”.
This is Superflex’s contribution to the discussion about consumerism, calling customary commercial mechanisms into question.
The purpose is to contemplate whether trade has to be based on the principles of the traditional market economy, or could it be possible to trade goods for services instead of money.
Superflex has employed the Free Shop idea in various parts of Europe and in Japan since 2003, and for example Danish, German, and Japanese consumers have also had the chance to get their hands on free purchases.
In some parts of the world, pulling off a stunt like this has also upset some people. In Finland, there is no such problem.
”I still have my head in the clouds”, said Antoinette Clément who unexpectedly picked up free manchego and brie for her friend’s wine and cheese party.
If one did not know, one could imagine that Antoinette has just won the lottery.
The Finns’ special characteristic is also to be totally stupefied when they hear about free shopping, analyses shopkeeper Hanne Hirvonen behind the counter.
”They can hardly believe their ears”, she says.
At the beginning, there is no very long queue at Lentävä lehmä. The word has not spread.
In Germany things worked rather differently: the customers of a small supermarket in Bremen called all their friends, who also showed up.
It did not cross Antoinette Clément’s mind that she could also call someone. Instead, she keeps looking down at her receipt in dumbfounded disbelief.
”No more than 8.20 euros! I should have chosen five different sorts [of cheese]”, she mutters to herself.
Free Shop is the Danish Superflex artists’ group’s project, a part of the Pro Arte Foundation Finland’s annual Contemporary Art Festival, which includes the IHME Editions, IHME Project, and IHME Days.
The next IHME Days will be held at the Old Student House in Helsinki from April 1st to 3rd, 2011.
All the events in the IHME Festival are open to the public free of charge.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 27.1.2011
Ihme 2011 Contemporary Art Festival news
Pro Arte Foundation Finland
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MARI KOPPINEN / Helsingin Sanomat