This project started with a brief idea – to create a missing pet poster for a goldfish. There was no particular reason for doing this, but once I had the image of the poster in my head, I thought why not? It could lead to some interesting interactions.
I put the posters up around Cardiff city centre with a small group of friends at around 4am. We fixed the posters with tape and a staplegun, unchallenged by police or very-late-night-revellers. We arrived home a few hours later, which is when I turned on the ‘burner phone’ which I specifically bought for the project.
Less than an hour later, I received the first of many phone calls – a young woman who claimed she had seen my fish on the way to work. Over the following few days, I spoke to over 100 people, mostly about fish, but other topics too. The most compelling conversation I had lasted 15 minutes, 10 of which were spent discussing the past winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.
In addition to the phone calls, I received a large volume of text messages, several picture messages, one or two death threats and a cumulative total of £37,081 in ransom demands. I decided to quote that figure, in the form of a well-penned loan application to 80 different high street branches of various banks, from Barclays to Credit Suisse, from the Scottish Highlands to the Isle of Wight. I enclosed a copy of the poster, explained that my fish was missing and that I had made the difficult decision to fulfil each ransom demand in the hope of one day seeing my fish again. The whole thing was ridiculous.
A few days after posting the letters, I received just one phonecall, from a bank manager in Scotland. It was a pleasant conversation, and somewhat formal on her part. She invited me to “discuss my loan application further” – at that point, not feeling like a trip to Scotland, I decided the social experiment should come to an end, so I politely declined the invitation.