Within the contemporary retail environment, individuals are subject to sophisticated and complex profiling endeavors that seek to understand consumer behavior and purchasing habits. Nowhere is this condition more prevalent than within the disciplined space of a Wal-Mart store. Here, data collected through the store’s point-of-purchase monitoring ensures that while the substance of your transaction at Wal-Mart may be fleeting, the information you leave behind is not.
P.O.P. Portrait is a piece that alerts the consumer to the process of corporate surveillance that is implicit in their patronage of Wal-Mart and other large retailers. Here, the receipt’s role as a proxy used to verify the transaction of goods is recast to describe the simultaneous, yet unstated transaction of personal data. In P.O.P. Portrait the artist swaps out rolls of conventional receipt paper at large retail stores with rolls that have been altered through selective removal the receipt’s heat emulsion coating. When a receipt is printed on these rolls, an itemized ticket appears only where the emulsion remains. Observing their receipt, customers are presented with text print-outs that reveal the faces of customers captured through video surveillance as they entered the store.
The image of customers depicted in the line items of their own purchases is both unsettling and immediate. It serves as an instant representation of retailer’s desire to view their customers through the reductive lens of purchasing habits. P.O.P. Portrait foists this realization upon the consumers, while revealing the extent to which retailers covertly carry out these activities. In doing so, the piece serves as cognitive dissonance against belief that big box retailers provide their goods at a discount. In retail, nothing is cheap.