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  • "Dime Bag 4," curated by Jordin Isip & Rodger Stevens

10/21/14 Artist Jordin Isip Reinvents the Plastic Baggie with “Dime Bag 4”

Words by Anna Canlas

Brooklyn-based illustrator Jordin Isip curates “Dime Bag 4,” a group show of art pieces so tiny they can fit in your dealer’s Ziplocs. Commissioning 250-plus works from Mexico, Canada, England, and the Philippines, the artist was still tacking up some of the pieces on opening night, as a crowd swarmed the Park Slope tattoo shop where he chose to display them. Included in the show were a few of his own contributions: some line drawings, plus his signature paper collage of a head so square it looks like David Byrne. On a much quieter day, Isip showed NOUS around the exhibition and talked about the relative prices of drugs, art, and the craft projects of his 10-year-old daughter, who tagged along.

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Remind me again why this art show is named after drug slang.

Artist Rodger Stevens and I wanted to gather all our friends and colleagues from different disciplines of art together. We play cards every week and at the table, we have some people who do comic books, some architects, illustrators, painters, photographers, some who do furniture design. We thought maybe we could do something small with a little amount of time. So I got these plastic bags from a jewelry supply store, I send them out in an envelope with a piece of cardboard, and they mail it back or give it to me in person.

And they’re the same size as what a dealer would put weed in, right?

Yeah, Rodger and I used to see them all the time—little plastic bags on the ground from drug users. For 10 bucks you could buy a “dime bag.” A “nickel bag” is five dollars. Sometimes dealers would stamp them with little artworks or patterns to identify them. We used to collect them. They were like little pieces of street art in a way.

And what have people sent in?

There’s a wide range: embroidery, people cut up things. There’s that karate one with a foot coming out of the bag. There’s one that’s like a pack of marijuana buds. In one of my earlier shows, this artist Will Buzzell put a key inside the bag with an address. He’d made a street piece and locked it to a fence somewhere in Williamsburg or Bushwick. You had to buy the key and go get it.

Who else is in the show?

I invited my entire class at Pratt, where I teach. And also all my Parsons students. There’s also a dozen who work in the tattoo shop. Basically, it’s kind of like a party where you invite all your friends.

Do you have anything of yours tacked up?

These little drawings. (Points to a nearly blank white card with a tiny shrub in black pen on the bottom right) I did ‘em quickly.  My kids do, too. Simone here drew a whole series of gems. The dots under them mean they’re sold. (Turns to daughter) Simone, how much are your gems? 10? 

Simone: 15 dollars.

What else did she make?

Simone: This (points to a clay camera). And that radio.

Jordin: She made it out of—

Simone: A floss box and paper. And clay.

Jordin: The range of prices is wide. Like one of the least expensive is this [domino] by an illustrator, Richard McGuire. He does a lot of New Yorker covers, he’s about to come up with a solo show at the Morgan Library and he was the bassist of this seminal early ‘80s post-punk band called Liquid Liquid. It’s 20 dollars. The high-end ones are around $500. The artists price them themselves. These two up here are $1,350 but what they are is 15 squares inside one bag and they tile out to make a single image. They’re by the Clayton Brothers, who just had a show open up in Los Angeles.

But the pieces themselves aren’t marked?

We did it kind of like Battleship, where we tacked things up on a grid, like A1, A2… And then you could look at a list for the price and to know who made it. It was a way to not have too much signage on the wall. At the opening, it was difficult. People were seeing the show and not knowing the artist. But then they were able to look at the show and see what they like. People come in here and say, “oh that bag of dimes is so cool.” (Points out a bag of white paper coins drawn on with pencil) And it’s by my daughter. (Laughs)

Have you attracted any negative attention?

One artist said she didn’t want to participate because she didn’t like the drug reference and had a lot of friends with drug issues. And I understand, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s also the idea of art as product, you know? It’s not like I’m trying to glorify it. This is like a better drug—making art, collecting art, and selling art.

So is art a product?

Well, artists make a living. Art in the end is a product made to be sold. In a way, not different from making shoes or making food or making televisions. But I think the idea of them all in the same bag makes it seem like they are more a cohesive product. Same size, same scale. Everything’s three inches by three inches.