The Coin Drops were one of our very first projects, yet remains a perfect example of the PDL aesthetic. The Coin Drops are absurd, don’t look like art, and are performed in public spaces. They are also a perfect example of that late night idea someone remembers the next day and pushes to make it happen. This time it was Jed — and the idea was to “accidentally” drop 60 pounds of loose change in public places. There was something slightly horrifying about the whole thing to Jason and me, but we agreed to coordinate and document these staged spectacles. We hung back in the shadows with cameras and filmed Jed walking into shopping centers with a large, ill-constructed box of pennies, nickels, dimes and a few quarters. When he reached the center of a space, the box would fall apart in his hands, causing an explosion of copper and silver. Coins cascaded to the floor and shot in every conceivable direction. It was jaw dropping.
The process was to accidentally spill the coins, reassemble the box, collect as much dumped change as possible, and walk out of the store. In part, we were drawn to the sheer spectacle of it all. In part, we wanted to see how people would respond to such an action. Would they laugh? Ignore it and walk on by? Or would they drop what they were doing and help out? We wanted to see how samaritans in 2007 behaved in such moments.
No one asked why Jed was carrying so much change or what he planned to do with it. No one sneered or laughed as Jed bumbled around on the edge of disaster. What was essentially 3 Stooges slapstick antics became an intense social experience. And what made it even more interesting were the different responses it got at different locations in the city. We did it three times, with markedly different results.
First was at Pacific Place Mall downtown, right in the middle of the giant atrium. The cascade of coins made a tremendous sound that echoed all the way up to the movie theater...and the reaction was immediate. People stopped what they were doing and pitched in to help scoop up coins- shop clerks came out with spare bags to help reinforce Jed's box- the whole affair was over fairly quickly, as many hands made light work.
Second time was at Westlake Center- right out in the middle of the plaza. The coins shimmered in the sun, and rolled across the bricks. This time, a various response. Some folks earnestly helped, some acted like they were helping but discreetly stashed alternate handfuls of coins in their own pockets, and many just walked on by. The false front was particular in this case- pretending to help but taking advantage.
Third time was at Northgate- the nation's oldest indoor shopping mall. Peculiar to this locale was the apathy. Only a couple bystanders helped. Almost everyone in the crowded mall kept walking by, oblivious or apathetic to Jed's plight. Maybe they knew a con when they saw one, maybe they led busy lives, maybe they just couldn't be bothered...but the nation's oldest mall proved to be the Coin Drop's most uninspired audience.
A few weeks later Greg was telling a friend about the coin drops and the friend asked if he had done it at the Pacific Place Mall. When he said yes, the friend relayed that he heard the story from someone while standing in line at the bank. Ultimately, it didn’t matter to PDL if people recognized the performance as art — they wanted to create things that took people out of their routine, if only for a moment, to give them a story, to let them all start conversations with “I saw the darndest thing today…” These kinds of actions also present a sort of sociological experiment, whose unscientific data can reveal a lot about who we are, and how it might be based on where we are.