Market Research

While I was still living in England, I often went to Plymouth to visit friends. During one of those trips, I sent this press release to the local news media:

On Saturday, 14 May 1988, shoppers in central Plymouth will have an opportunity to kill living insects for free. They will also be able to talk to artist Rick Gibson who wants to know if people would like more opportunities to kill things.

Mr. Gibson will be pushing a baby pram which carries two signs and a box. One sign reads, “Free! Kill a Bug” and the other sign reads, “Kill it dead. For Free.” The box contains sixteen clear plastic cups, each containing a living insect. The box also contains an assortment of insect killing sprays and powders. Mr. Gibson will tell interested shoppers how to choose a cup with an insect, how to use the insecticide, and finally, how to watch the creature die.

This picture was attached to the news release:

PICTURE: color photo of a converted baby buggy (pram) with two signs.  One sign reads - Free Kill a Bug - and the other sign reads - Kill it dead for free. In the middle is a box containing 16 clear plastic cups and an assortment of insect poison powders and sprays.  The main colors of the pram and signs is black and pink

The next day, a Plymouth newspaper reported:

Plymouth City councillor Mrs. Betty Easton said: “It seems obnoxious to me. It is downright cruelty. These are living things – it is sick.”

A spokesman at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said: “There is absolutely no justification for treating insects like this and turning it into a sideshow. There is also the danger from the insecticides – they are very powerful and could give off harmful fumes to shoppers.”

Despite these complaints, I continued with my plan because I knew that British animal cruelty laws did not protect insects. I was confident that my event was 100 percent legal.

So on the appointed day, I walked into Plymouth…

PICTURE: black and white photo of Gibson pushing the pram through central Plymouth.  In this photo Gibson is in front of a butcher shop with a sign reading - Quality homemade sausages and beefburgers

…and within minutes I was joined by an animal-rights activist named Louise Piddington.

PICTURE: black and white photo of Gibson walking in front another butcher shop.  Store signage reads - Concern...Tel Butcher 664681.  Ms. Piddington is approaching Gibson from behind

She had heard about my event and wanted to confront me.

PICTURE: black and white photo of Ms. Piddington talking to Gibson while Plymouth shoppers look on.

She berated me for being cruel. But I told her that I was doing nothing illegal and that it was up to the shoppers of Plymouth to decide what to do.

At which point a man walked up to us and said that he wanted to kill an insect.

PICTURE: black and white photo of Gibson talking with Ms. Piddington and a man who wants to kill an insect.  Pedestrian shoppers look on.

This outraged Ms. Piddington so much that she yelled for the police.

PICTURE: black and white of Ms. Piddington telling the man who wants to kill an insect that he is cruel and yells for the police while Gibson listens.

Her yell scared off the man but caught the attention of a nearby police officer who came running over to look at my display.

PICTURE: black and white photo of a policeman looking at Gibson's display while Ms. Piddington and a pedestrian watch.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

I explained that I was doing market research to see if shoppers wanted more opportunities to kill creatures and watch them die. At the same time, Ms. Piddington protested that I was encouraging people to commit acts of animal cruelty.

After listening to both of our stories, the officer decided in favour of Ms. Piddington and told me to either leave Plymouth or he would arrest me for "disturbing the peace".

Since I was still confident that my behaviour was legal, I continued walking. At which point he arrested me.

PICTURE: black and white photo of policeman arresting Gibson while Ms. Piddington and a pedestrian watch.

A police car soon arrived and an officer put my display in the car's boot.

PICTURE: black and white photo of Gibson dismantling his display and the police putting it in the boot (trunck) of a police car.

I was then put in the back seat of the car and driven to the central police station.

PICTURE: black and white photo of Gibson sitting in the back of the police car and being driven to the police station.

At the police station, I was put in a jail cell and served a nutritious lunch. After lunch, the police chief gave me a choice: either I could stop my event and go home or I could spend the night in jail and go to court the next morning.

Since I was satisfied with my research findings, I stopped the event, collected my display and went home.

The performance ended later that day when I put the sixteen healthy insects back into the buildings where I had found them.