Bread Bandits


Bread Bandits was an installation project using sliced bread as a sculptural medium. Four artistic actions were completed in Washington, DC, and Falls Church, VA, before the project was shelved.

Action #1–Bread Bandits Attack Dupont Circle

The first Bread Bandits Art Action was completed on July 5, 1997 at the Dupont Circle fountain in Washington, DC. The Bread Bandits arrived at approximately 2 PM and began laying down a ring of sliced white Wonderbread at the curb of the fountain, completely circumscribing it with bread. The sculpture was completed by 2:30 PM, using 24 loaves of bread were used, or approximately 575 slices, and the Action continued with the distribution of broadsheet manifestoes and identifying business cards. (A copy of the manifesto is included in this webpage.) The making of the sculpture was videotaped and photographed. Judging by the responses of my assistants and the audience, the project was a success. I wanted to take art out of the galleries and bring it to where people hang out, and in the process shake up the Washington, DC art scene. A principle aim was to present art that people would enjoy, that would become a part of their environment, and that would initiate an immediate and pleasurable response. Most people I talked to were interested in the project and sympathetic with its aims. Many people were curious enough to ask specific questions. It was interesting how many kids responded to the sculpture. One little girl asked me why I did it, another was counting the bread slices, and some boys were petting a pigeon that was pecking at the slices. Prior to the Action, Michael O�Sullivan wrote about the Bread Bandits project in his Arts Beat column in The Washington Post (“Laying Down His Loaf,” July 3, 1997); his interview with me may help explain the purpose of the sculpture.

The manifesto accompanying this action started the chain of meaning attached to it by protesting the industrialization (or mass production) of anything until it becomes essentially worthless, valueless, or non-nutritive. The Dadaists expressed one of their goals as the making useful things useless, but I wanted to reverse that process and make valueless things have meaning and value�as art, or as political action. One of these meanings related to a protest that occurred in Rome several centuries ago when the Pope wanted to build a large fountain in the Piazza Navonna. The common people were starving and could see no justification for the planned expense, so they organized a protest at the site, at which they chanted “pane, pane, non fontane”�or, “bread not fountains.” In a link to that protest, the bread sculpture signified a similar misuse of funds here in Washington. Millions of dollars are being spent on new monuments on the Mall while the District�s schools fall apart and its infrastructure crumbles. While these monuments are well intentioned, and the people they honor certainly deserve them, I wonder if the honor can mean much when basic needs are going unmet. And what kind of honor can it be when a monument is built to FDR when he only asked for a stone the size of his desk, and when an image of the handicapped is omitted, making it necessary to re-do part of the monument? What kind of honor is it to build a monument to Korean War Veterans when the monument needs fundamental repairs only 3 years later? Why can�t new schools, housing developments, roads, or other infrastructure projects serve equally well to honor these veterans and statesmen? Why can�t the money be used for basic needs first and for monuments second?

But in the most basic sense, I wanted to contradict the pattern established by the largely lifeless art scene in DC. During the planning stages, when I told people about this project, many of them laughed, and I thought that was the best response to the project. I wanted people to enjoy the sculpture and to have fun with it. I wanted them to respond to it in a basic way, using materials and a context that would not cause them to put up the resistance that arises when going to a gallery to view art.

Action #2–July 8, 1997

The second Bread Bandits Action created a small test square in Cherry Hill Park in Falls Church City, Virginia, on July 8, 1997, using bread left over from Action #1 in Dupont Circle. Action #2 was notable because a TV crew had contacted us wanting to film the action; they later claimed to have been in the park but missed us. The bread was abandoned to the birds and squirrels of the park.

Action #3–March 18, 2000

The third official Bread Bandits Action created a flat sculpture made of white bread slices at the National Mall, in front of Smithsonian Castle, Washington, DC. The sculpture itself measured approximately 5 feet by 7 feet, and used fifteen loaves of Wonderbread. Construction was completed swiftly, and we began distributing handouts to passersby. For the first part of the morning which was cold (low 40s), few people ventured over to us. But when a Bread Bandit assistant arrived wearing a sandwich board sign inscribed with the Bread Bandits motto:  “Less Wonderbread, more wonder and more bread,” traffic increased considerably. Comments were generally positive, although some people “didn’t understand” and wondered “Is this what’s passing for art these days?”To secure this prominent location in what is essentially a National Park, the Bread Bandits applied for, and received a permit for this action. We felt it was necessary to secure official “permission” to hold a guerrilla art action because it really sucks to have to be told to pick up hundreds of bread slices on short notice. I was gratified that a park ranger actually came by and asked to see our permit. We generally like to abandon the bread at the site, but our permit stipulated that we clean up after our “demonstration.” We would have been irritated if there had been no site inspection and we had to clean up!

Permits are available only for “political demonstrations”–art does not qualify–so it became necessary to stress the political meaning of the work. While an anti-corporate message is present in Bread Bandits Actions, it is by no means the only message we wish to present, including purely aesthetic concerns and the social purpose of creating authentic street life in a town dominated by federal purpose.

The permit process itself was not a big deal, although it was necessary to appeal an initial rejection by the Park Service. Our first permit stressed the “artistic nature” of the action. Once we learned that only political demonstrations were allowed permits, a special letter of appeal was filed with the Park Program Chief. The permit was then readily granted.

This was the largest Bread Bandits Action to date,  and we regard it as a success although it fell short of our original goals in terms of size and visibility. It was an excellent study for a much larger action, which is still in the planning stages.

Action #4–March 19, 2000

Bread Bandits Action #4 produced a long, thin sculpture in Cherry Hill Park, Falls Church, Virginia, re-using the bread from Action #3. We arrived in the park at 9:30 am on March 19, 2000. The sculpture was a flat line of bread 5 slices wide by approximately 72 slices long–probably 24 feet by 20 inches–starting at the exterior wall of Cherry Hill’s barn and descending a small hill. It created a white field that contrasted nicely with the green hill and old gray wooden barn of the park. So far, the most beautiful bread sculpture. While we played on the nearby seesaw, a bold squirrel stole and ate a piece of bread, foreshadowing the sculptures’ fate. One couple came by during construction and asked about the sculpture; their response was pleasant and positive.