Festival Scavengers, 16-25 Aug 2008, City Art Centre Edinburgh
SFMOMA Scavengers, 20 Sep-3 Oct 2006, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Tate Scavengers, 9-11 July 2005, Tate Modern, London
Scavengers, 25-26 Oct 2003, Moustonturm, Frankfurt
Scavengers, 7-8 June 2003, Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry
Scavengers, 8-9 July 2000, ICA, London

Teams race across the city deciphering clues and gathering objects in order to try and win a cash prize and have their work exhibited in the museum.

At 10 a.m. teams are issued with a set of 100 clues. These lead them to locations around the city where information or an item has to be gathered, recorded or made. Some clues are simple, others more cryptic.

At the end of a long, hard day the teams returned to the museum to have their submissions judged by a group of curators. The curators are very strict. Teams are awarded points (to the value of the clue number) for correct items only. A few points are awarded for ingenious but erroneous submissions. An awards ceremony is held and the winning team leave in a limousine. They are richer by up to $4,000. Overnight the collected items are arranged to form an exhibition.

Scavengers engages its audience in the production of the artwork, using participatory performance to reflect on the ways contemporary art is produced. A wry comment on the operation of capital in the art market and the relationship between visual and performing arts, Scavengers questions what it is that constitutes art.

Forty-five miles on my trusty scooter
Kevin Castner’s account of his day hunting on SFMOMA Scavengers

Our Team, the Artimidators, all work together in the financial district. Two men, two women. Average age about 44; I am the oldest at 52. The youngest of us is 30 and can’t ride a bike or drive a car with a manual transmission. The rest of us have no obvious handicaps (though some who know us would vehemently disagree). We have all lived in the Bay Area for many years.

We created a list of things we thought might come in handy: power and hand tools, utensils, different kinds of tape (duck, electrical, masking, scotch), tape measures, old tooth brushes and basically every other portable piece of junk we could think of – a lot of which was exactly as needed or was able to be manipulated, cut or manhandled to fit a clue.

On Saturday morning, we met at our office at 8 a.m., about nine blocks from SFMOMA, to put together our field HQ. We commandeered part of the office conference room and cleared tables to make a staging area. There we laid out all our tools, a canvas tarp and our junk.

We had a mini van, two cars and my 1987 Honda 250 scooter. Three of us went over to SFMOMA for our briefing in one of the cars while I took the scooter.

After we got the clues and were excused we ran pell-mell for the exit. The girls had already done about ten clues by the time we rendezvoused at the office. From 10 to 11 a.m. we worked together to make sense of the way we needed to do things in order to maximize our efficiency. The first thing we did was make four copies of the clues. Each member took one and we posted one on the wall to mark off clues as we did them. It became obvious that in general we needed someone to stay ‘home’ and coordinate things and that my scooter and I were about to become the primary team rover. In this time period there was a fair amount of chaos but I managed to see that #63 ‘make gab palrub return’ required a burlap bag, and that #52 referred to Thomas Edison and soon found out that we needed a light bulb that was less than two inches long in all directions.

The first place to go was the tennis court at Lafayette Park, where I used to play regularly in the mid 80’s. As I was about to leave, Julia and Lori gave me a list of things to find at both Safeway and Walgreen’s. At the last moment someone noticed there was a clue at the intersection of Market and Montgomery. So, I headed there first and found a group just ahead of me liberating a light standard of its last bicycle inner tube. Without taking off my helmet I called HQ and told them we needed a tube. I also realized that anyone who came after me wasn’t going to see anything anywhere on that intersection and would be wasting fruitless time; unfair perhaps (and 91 points down the drain) but not my problem. In any case, I banged back up Kearny and took a left on Pine. As I approached Franklin it occurred to me that I had a couple of seconds in reserve and that Whole Foods should have fruit protectors. So I cut into the parking lot and ran into the store and right into the ’employee only’ area where they keep the produce. The guys were very nice but had zero fruit protectors. Back on the bike I exited on California, then went right back onto Franklin, left on Sacramento to Gough remembering that Gough is still two way. Right on Gough to the Clay Street park entrance and leaving the scooter, I race up steps to the tennis court. Two people on court playing, well, not tennis anyway! Yelling at each other. In…Out…In…Out. It soon becomes very obvious that they want a tennis ball turned inside out. I leave the court and call the team. They take the info and tell me that they have solved clue #95, which coincidentally I had briefly looked at. ‘Queen Anne, 1590. A speech impairment wi*h one letter missing will take you the destination. Find out what makes Dorothy cross’. They have figured out that the clue refers to the Queen Anne Hotel at 1590 Sutter. I jog down to the scooter thinking I am really smart, cuz it occurs to me that a speech impairment could be a cleft palate and that if you take an ‘a’ out of palate you get a broken plate, which could make anyone cross. So, I park the scooter and run into the hotel and smugly ask the guy at the desk if they have anyone who works there named Dorothy? He is giving away nothing, so I look around the foyer and what appears to be the breakfast room. No Dorothy. The door to another room has a private function sign on it but I barge in anyway and out of the corner silkily slides Dorothy. I ask her five different ways about the plate to make sure I have it right but she keeps pointing to her book with a spy glass hole in it and it becomes pretty obvious I am not so smart after all (my fault – the clue says the speech impairment will get you to the destination – Sutter St., from ‘stutter’). I closed the door as I left. The foyer was full of Scavengers! I guess that people heard us talking and figured there really was a private function and didn’t intrude. I didn’t enlighten them and called HQ from the street telling them we needed to find any book and put a 1 1/2″ hole in it. Then I headed off for the doctors office at 2100 Webster Street, Suite 405 to get my prescription filled as per clue #75. That was a piece of cake with one potential problem. The doctor didn’t like where I was sitting in his foyer and made me sit in another chair. Why, I wondered? To see something, perhaps? I looked straight ahead and behind the receptionist’s desk was a print, possibly of a Vermeer. I thought I remembered Gerhart Richter’s painting ‘Lesende’ in the museum which had something to do with Vermeer. Was I supposed to do anything with this information? I resolve to think about it on the run.

Back in traffic I decide to stop off at home in North Beach, to see if we have any old bike tubes and also to grab my ‘prescription’ – bring an empty pill bottle for the 75 points. A block from my apartment I see a guy walking two poodles (#36, ‘Miniature, standard, or toy, it doesn’t matter, but it should be a snapshot’) and screech to a stop to take a picture with the digital camera Lori had made me take just in case. Sadly, we had not figured out clue #7 at this point ‘You don’t have to screw it; it just pops out’, which was simply a champagne cork, of which I have plenty of in my collection of 1000’s of corks (yeah, I knew some day I would find a use for them but when it finally came up, I didn’t get to use even one). This had hilarious and unintended positive repercussions, which I will get to later. At home, I charge my failing cell phone and forage unsuccessfully for a bike tube for a few minutes. I think it was a little after noon and I was very aware that I needed to find some stuff, get back to HQ and then hie to the far end of the city to Bercut Equitation Field near the ocean in Golden Gate Park to obtain clue #70, ‘Get it from the horse’s mouth’. The Northpoint mall is three blocks from home. I stopped first at Walgreens to get a skull (clue #88, ‘The framework of bone or cartilage enclosing the brain of a vertebrate’). Seemed like a Halloween skull would do, but no, as it turned out they wanted real bone (I guess we were supposed to figure it out, whack some guy and boil his flesh off or rob a graveyard)! Also, we need the wheel off a toy car, a fake nose, a toy gun, some fake coins, a sword (useless as a prop for #96, ‘King Arthur had one’ – what was wrong with a plastic Excalibur?), a doll’s mattress, an anchor, and a less than 2″ light bulb…

Fifty feet to Safeway. No problem with the fruit protectors, the ear of corn, or the burlap bag (although I had to buy one full of rice, which along with everything else, kind of weighed me and the poor scooter down). Clue #20 ‘A price tag for the square root of 3.5721’, which turns out to be $1.89, was a bitch. I looked at hundreds of tags, including multiples of everything from 89c through $1.99. What does our artist know about pricing that I don’t? Does every store know that, psychologically, customers don’t care about or can’t differentiate the difference between $1.79 and $1.99 and that using advanced mathematics this will add zillions to their bottom line? And how does our artist know this? From a frightfully misspent youth? Finally, exasperated, looking at my watch and knowing my meter has expired and the scooter is unlocked, I find a tag, for toilet paper, and, ermm, take possession of it.

I radio in and Lori explains that I need to visit a post card shop on Grant Street behind Moose’s Restaurant, which fronts Washington Square. I am looking for a Mona Lisa postcard (#84 ‘Lisa Gherardini picture postcard’). I go back and forth but the shop is gone. I drive up onto the sidewalk on the corner of Columbus and Stockton to ask at Cavalli – no dice. I stop at Ristorante Mona Lisa further down Columbus near Broadway and talk my decent Italian to the manager – no dice, but I bet if I had had time to have lunch I might have made progress. Deflated, I drive back to HQ and drop off my loot. I see we are making progress. We have foam ear plugs, a sphere, a carved soap fish, and many more items. Our leader-board is filling up. But, it is 1:10 p.m. and time for me to hit the road again.

California Street to the alley just down the hill from Grant Avenue. Through and right onto Pine. All the way out to the end of Pine and curl left onto Masonic and then right onto Fulton down to 30th Avenue. Traffic is completely random and I am screaming imprecations at almost everyone. Don’t they know there is $4,000 in cold, hard cash on the line? What the heck is wrong with these people? The park is on my left and I throttle down at 30th and take a left down the right thoroughfare and into Bercut. I make my way through the dirt to the indefatigable duo I last saw playing not tennis, now dressed as an extremely unattractive horse, and get the clue that we need a carrot carved in an equine shape – this is a job for Mike, who as it turns out, is not an accomplished carver of vegetables. I am back on my horse through the park and down Oak Street. HQ says I have to stop by SFMOMA and find out what is going on with clue #89, ‘Strip with Andy. Ask in Koret.’ So, I do, and phone HQ and tell them that they need to find a place I can make a black and white photostrip. I remember noticing in passing that it is past 2 in the afternoon. We have been on the hunt for four hours or so and time is flying kaleidoscopically by, leaving blurred impressions and images.

I am in hunt mode. I remember C.S. Forester describing how the British navy was so stretched during the Napoleonic Wars that no ship or fleet left harbour without at least three thing to do (‘harry the French, protect the merchantmen, carry mail to the ships on blockade duty’). I jog over to Cole hardware on 4th and Mission to get some plaster-of-paris so we can make a foot impression (#78), then back to the Zeum in Moscone South to interview a clown (#65 – ‘Pagliacci sits in Zeum’s dressing room. Ask him what’s wrong’). Well, he lost his foam nose and he’s all distraught about it. I call HQ and find out that among Lori’s junk is a red foam nose. Perfect. Julia at HQ tells me that Mike and Lori have got a lot of stuff done at her house and have walked the Mission district to get clues #83 and #94. They have cooked an egg, they have found someone to knit an ‘S’, made a soda-can model car and Mike has paid a homeless guy $5 to peel a scab off for #50 (‘Also a person who refuses to strike or to join a labor union…’). He has also done a charming lipstick dick print (#61), Lori declining to take subsequent repossession of the lipstick itself. And the fortune cookie fortunes Lori brought in on a lark will serve exactly for #35, ‘What kind of prophecy would you get if you walked down Ross Alley?’.

I head over to 8th Street south of Townsend, an area where the streets come and go in the manner of wraiths, disappearing and then reappearing, often not in any linear way. At 1111 8th Street I pick up a lump of brown clay and run back to the scooter.

I need to drop off the plaster-of-paris but Julia tells me I have to stop off at Union Square to get a perfume stick (#11, ‘Department store smelly sample’). I drive up Geary and park a half block away. On the sidewalk I head determinedly towards Macy’s but immediately coming towards me is a younger couple arm in arm. With her free arm the woman is sniffing a perfume stick. I pass her thinking ‘I shouldn’t’ but then glance at my watch. Just as they head into another shop I catch up to their rear and ask loudly if they have a second. I can imagine what her protector is thinking as they both turn. I give them my best foot forward and pull up my shirt to reveal my Scavenger badge, explain the hunt before asking ‘is there any chance you might be done with that?’. They both relax and just moments later I am at Avant Card on Grant between Bush and Pine where the ever resourceful Julia has put a Mona Lisa postcard on hold. Then back to HQ where Julia meets me on the curb because I simply don’t have time to stop. I tell her to make the clay look like a piece of shit.

Up Kearny and down Columbus again. Heading for Pier 45 at the end of Taylor Street. At the Musee Mecanique, relocated from behind and below the old Cliff House, is one of the few places you can find one of the old b/w photobooths. I go in and do my Andy Warhol imitation. On the way back to the scooter I stop in a gift shop and find a polished shark’s tooth for $1.99 (#24, ‘An enamelled nibbler’). A short trip over to Pier 39 and I find an anchor key chain (turns out it will do for #67, ‘Fisherman, fluke, grapnel, plow. Any kind will do) and something in a magic shop that is the closest thing all day to a freaking actual diaper pin (#18, disallowed, as it should have been). It is 4:30 p.m. and I phone in to HQ. Julia tells me that they have decrypted #97, ‘Slough’, to be a snake skin. I am three blocks away from a Petco on Northpoint and running out of time. But it is worth a shot so I hustle in and the register guy isn’t much interested in my problems so I ask for the manager and he is more responsive to my repeated pleas of how much I’d appreciate any help and we check all the snake cages on the floor but there is nothing. I am ready to give up because I don’t even think my team has the right answer. The manager says he’ll check the back and I wander in behind him as he pokes around and I gaze here and there and just as we are about to call it a day I see something on the lower shelf of a trolley in a corner and damn if it isn’t a real, sloughed snake skin!

I hurry back to the office, making no friends along the way. The leader-board is pretty full at HQ as I drop off my haul, but I have to run over to the UN Plaza to be on time for #90. UN Plaza is pretty big so I drive up Market to see where anything might be going on. Immediately I see a bunch of Scavengers surrounding our non-tennis playing ugly horse thespians. Only one thing to do: I drive onto the Plaza, grab the clue and drive off. No one even blows a whistle at me. I call HQ and tell them to rewrite our manifesto and they tell me to go back to SFMOMA and see if I can’t make sense out of #100, ‘Excusado Senor Weston’. I get there at 5:45 p.m. first taking a quick look on the second floor at Matisse’s La Femme au Chapeau, #62, ‘…what does she have in her hand?’ Someone told us she has a hat but that doesn’t make any sense at all because she is wearing one. It looks like a parasol or cane to me, but Lori says she is sure it is a fan. It is almost 6 p.m. and the Museum is closing. The store however is still open and I race down and find the book about Edward Weston and his current exhibition at SFMOMA. It takes me a few fevered minutes to figure out ‘Excusado’ is a photograph of a toilet but I do and I phone it in.

HQ tells me Julia hasn’t had time to get a fan and they need me back to pack up so I jump on the scooter and steam up Third Street to Kearny, left onto Sutter cursing yet another bus, right onto Grant, across Bush into Chinatown and jump off and into the first souvenir place, emerging seconds later with a very nice fan. Back to HQ to load up (but in the end, sad that weighed a ton and that we took the rice out of). Packed up, leaving the office a mess, we load up one of the cars with our swag. On the way in the car the rest of team realizes we never got a champagne cork, but that knowing I might have forgotten or not had enough time Lori had brought a bottle from her fridge at home. The team proceeds to drink the bottle on the way to SFMOMA. Unloading we see other teams with green bottles and figure out the answer to #2 ‘Ten of them were standing on a wall…’ So, we use the cork for #7 and the bottle for #2!

So, that was my day. Forty-five miles or so on my trusty scooter. A great team that supported each other and worked non stop from 8 a.m. to 6:59 p.m. with nary a respite. Definitely one of the most challenging and exhilarating and, ermm, different days I have had as an adult. On the go, back and forth, foraging, trying different ways and places to satisfy clues. Having a few scary turns and a few lucky breaks. And in the end coming pretty damn close to the brass ring. It is hard to believe it is already two days ago.

Kevin Castner, 2 October 2006

SFMOMA Scavengers Associated Events:

Art Scavengers: A Stanford Symposium on Found Objects
Sunday October 1, 2-5 p.m.
Koret Visitor Education Center

SFMOMA Scavengers: An Urban Adventure
Artist and Participant Discussion
Tuesday October 3, noon-1 p.m.
Phyllis Wattis Theater

SFMOMA Scavengers: A docent-eye-view
Have a tour of the SFMOMA Scavengers exhibition with a member of the participating Docent Team.
Sunday-Tuesday, October 1-3, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Scavengers Credits
Scavengers was originally commissioned by Simon Casson at Duckie for Nightbird at the ICA, London.
In Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry, Scavengers was produced by Mark Ball for Fierce.
In Mousontourm, Frankfurt, Scavengers was curated by Thomas Frank.
Tate Scavengers was curated by Sophie Howarth for Tate Modern.
SFMOMA Scavengers was curated by Dominic Willsdon.
Festival Scavengers was produced by Anthony Roberts.

Press & Links

'Scavengers encourages participants to engage with art in a more purposeful way - and even to become artists themselves.'

Natalie Brierley, New Statesman