Return Policy Project

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The Return Policy Project was a year-long exploration into consumer dependency on electronic products, by French artist Thomas Charvériat in 2000.

The project exemplified Charvériat’s use of present-day technology into his art. Charvériat deployed ISD Chips, voice recognition, sensor-based automation, tracking devices and cellemetry (telemetry but with cells) in order to covertly modify the behaviour of common appliances. These were then sold, in stores, to unsuspecting customers.[1] An example is advancing an alarm clock five or six seconds every day in order to shift a consumer's schedule subtly enough that he or she would not notice.

The concept was to influence a person’s life by adjusting the nature of the products which the life had been based around. The project was a form of culture jamming and was inspired by the Barbie Liberation Organization, a group of artists who changed the voice boxes between Barbie and G.I. Joe dolls to criticize gender stereotypes presented within consumerism.[2]

The project name came from the method of using return policies to put the products back into circulation once the electronics had been altered. These invisible structural changes could be triggered through the internet by any person visiting the public website once the product was activated in the consumer’s home. Other examples include radios which softly emitted sexual noises or Macintosh reboot sounds, DVD players which only showed specific images, microwaves synchronized with coffee machines, and clocks with gradual time alterations.

Charvériat on the Return Policy Project:[3]

The notion of control is deeply rooted in our consumer society and it seems to stem from the need to be in control of our lives. We buy a product which fulfils a particular function, and by doing so we incorporate it into our lives in such a way that we are brought to think we can no longer live without it. Our ability to manipulate it at will contributes to the illusion of having shaped our lives according to our needs, and therefore of being in control. My intention was to alter this perception.
Appliances from the Return Policy Project


  1. ^ Guerrilla Innovation (February 15, 2005). "What You Buy is Almost What You Get". Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  2. ^ Barbie liberation front
  3. ^ Charvériat, Thomas. 23-02-10 "Return Policy Project". m5project.