John Pilson b. 1968
Mr. Pickup (2001)
Duration 7'20"

Mr. Pickup (2001) features behavior inconsistent with its surroundings and viewer assumptions, and, like Pilson’s earlier works, it visualizes human moments within the walls of corporate spaces. The video, for which Pilson was awarded the Young Artists Special Prize at the 2001 Venice Biennale, begins in the well-appointed office of a lawyer played by Pilson’s father. As the man begins to gather his things and head to an important meeting, he enters an absurd downward spiral of epic proportions. For seventeen minutes, he is continuously unable to pick up the materials he needs. While his calls for help go unanswered, he remains determined through repeated attempts to gather his files and binders–objects ironically made to facilitate efficiency and organization. Finally, after his boss returns to chastise him and report that they have lost the deal, he gives up and walks out.

Pilson’s video is at once a comedic farce and a humanistic tragedy. Using slapstick gestures, it reveals the helplessness of a man unable to cope with the demands of the corporate world. His inability to meet the expectations of his firm counters stereotypes of the confident businessman and speaks to larger themes, especially after the 2008 financial meltdown. While the video appears empathetic to the subject’s vulnerability and ineptitude, it also suggests that his bungling is one of many cover-ups in the corporate world. In light of the ongoing revelations of illicit activities behind the closed doors of bankers, lawyers, and politicians, Mr. Pick-Up not only reminds us that humans are universally flawed, but also underlines how appearances can be devastatingly deceiving.