Inspiration can come from unexpected sources. In the spirit of April Fool’s Day, here’s a few hoaxes, pranks, and stunts that have inspired me, and might inspire an element of your next successful artistic action.

Steve Lambert

Czech Dream

How two filmmakers pulled off a massive ad campaign for a superstore that turned out to be a hoax.

In 2003, two Czech film directors initiated a significant ad campaign to promote Czech Dream, a new superstore. The new store was introduced to residents through various means, such as radio jingles, direct mailers, billboards, TV commercials, and public relations. On the grand opening day, a total of 3000 people attended. However, upon arrival, they discovered that what appeared to be a building from a distance was merely a massive, printed, vinyl façade supported by scaffolding.

The documentary “Czech Dream” reveals how the directors executed the hoax and explores the reasons behind its success. Furthermore, it delves into the aftermath of the event when the 3000-strong crowd reached the giant vinyl façade.

This hoax highlights the ways in which advertising can manipulate and deceive consumers. You can also see how artists can use this tactic to cause audiences to confront the darker side of consumer culture.

Gay Check Online

A website claimed that it could determine a person’s sexual orientation in under 10 seconds through facial characteristics. However, it was actually a statement against homophobia.

This one-page website, called Gay Check Online, purported to use “scientific studies about facial characteristics of gays […] to verify your sexual orientation in under 10 seconds” using your webcam.

Although the website is no longer available, you can find the source code here). Additionally, here is a video that demonstrates how it worked.

The result of every test was “Congratulations! You are gay!”

The artists that created the tool said that “Gay Check Online is not a practical tool but a statement: This tool is as ridiculous as homophobia. It is a fun way to deal with the topic while the discussion itself is quite dumb and awkward for all of us.”

The site shed light on the absurdity of using physical appearance to determine sexual orientation. Thus, it challenged harmful stereotypes and the personal beliefs of those who consider themself “straight.” It’s a demonstration how artists can use humor to subvert discrimination and promote equality.

Maybe we need an update – is a ”trans-check-online” domain name available?

GWAR on Joan Rivers

How the controversial heavy metal band confronted Joan Rivers on her talk show. Then won her over with their refusal to take anything seriously.

Daytime talk shows in the 1990‘s were basically an hour long version of today’s tabloid clickbait websites. Jerry Springer, Ricki Lake, Geraldo, Phil Donahue, Jenny Jones and the great Joan Rivers – all had shows that just barely pretended to have a sliver of journalistic integrity. Joan Rivers was in the middle of her week-long set of shows called “Rock on the Wild Side.” She welcomed controversial heavy metal band GWAR onto her stage to discuss their provocative stage shows, which often involved (cartoonish) graphic violence and gore.

Rivers, who couldn’t abandon her roots as a comedian, was won over in just a few minutes by the band’s refusal to take anything seriously.

The band’s irreverent approach to the interview highlights the power of humor in disarming critics and engaging audiences.

Last year the This is GWAR documentary was released and is available to stream.

Talking to a cop like a cop

A bold activist confronts a police officer using the same language and approach that officer would use in a traffic stop.

Speaking of not taking things seriously, this cop-watch activist BOLDLY walks onto a police station parking lot with a video camera. He then goes on to confront an officer about being drunk on the job. This stunt shows how individuals can use their creativity to challenge authority and demand accountability.

Enjoy watching it without imagining if you could do it yourself. I don’t recommend that you try this at home until you’ve done your homework, logged some hours, and built up some skills!

These examples demonstrate how artistic activism can use humor, subversion, and creativity to make a statement and inspire action. By pushing boundaries and challenging social norms, artists can create powerful and lasting change.

Want more?

Alan Able made a career of bizarre hoaxes which his daughter documented in “Able Raises Cain.” Joey Skaggs also has a lifetime of pranks and hoaxes that are included in a film about his life called “The Art of the Prank.” And friends of the Center for Artistic Activism, The Yes Men, have several films they’ve made about their imposter based activism. One includes a project that some of us at the Center for Artistic Activism had a hand in!