Inside Out: The Interactive Art of Chop Shop

We make tools for artists because we’re artists ourselves, so side projects are especially important at Big Cartel. Inside Out features projects that feed our creative appetites outside of work.

Mary Toscano grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Printmaking and Photography from the University of Utah. When she’s not helping out shop owners as part of our Support team, she’s making something. From illustration to sculpture to textiles and installations, she’s an all-around talent. Recently she started Chop Shop, a collaborative project with Elpitha Tsoutsounakis, and we had to learn more.

What is Chop Shop and how did it come to be?

Chop Shop is an interactive art project exploring organ donation and transplants. Our idea is to provide people with a set of two posters and a transplant kit. Through a series of prompts, they’ll cut out an organ from one poster and transplant it onto the other. In the kit they’ll have thread, glue, and scalpels or whatever we determine they’ll need. After they transplant the organ, they’ll have two new pieces.

It plays on DIY culture and how not DIY organ transplant process is in real life. Our bodies are our own, but the process of either waiting for organs or donating is completely out of our control.

The way bodies are altered from organ donation is reflected in the posters, too. You have one poster that has this new organ stitched to it, and this other poster that has a hole where that organ used to be. Which poster is the finished piece?

I’ve known Elpitha since I was in Junior High and we’ve kept in touch through our shared interest in letterpress printing. She works in the Multi-disciplinary Design program in the College of Architecture + Planning at the University of Utah, and has a letterpress business. She applied for a grant through the university to do a project about organ donation and organ transplants. She reached out to me and Chop Shop developed from there.

A post shared by Chop Shop SLC (@chopshop801) on

What’s the goal of the project?

We want to facilitate an experience that allows participants to think of the oddity of sharing organs and how out of our control it is. We’ll create these posters and kits with these weird DIY materials and sell them at a kiosk at a local market. We talked about moving the kiosk around, almost like a food truck, so this project can be mobile and different audiences can discover it in different spaces.

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What’s your favorite thing about working on Chop Shop?

I really love paper cut-outs. Originally Elpitha had asked me to draw the organs but it felt more appropriate for people to cut them right out of the paper. I used a scalpel to make the original cuts so I could feel how people would interact with the posters.

I also like collaborative projects. I’ve know Elpitha for so long but we haven’t worked this closely before. She’s so smart and interesting. Since she teaches, she constantly asks students to push themselves in different ways - I feel like I get the benefit from that instruction as her collaborator.

What’s one thing you wish people knew about your project?

It’s still in its infancy and whatever I say about it now, it’ll have changed by the end. I kinda like that about projects. You can have all sorts of plans for them but they’ll be their own thing. And they’ll be their own thing every step of the way. I like letting things grow. It feels good to have an idea in mind that I like, but does that mean it’ll be the same at the end of the project? No, it probably won’t.

Hopefully it’s better than I’m imagining.

What are you looking forward to doing with Chop Shop?

I feel my job in the collaboration is to be the materials tester. I worked a lot with paper and cutting and different kinds of materials. We want this odd DIY paper, organ transplant project to be achievable for anyone who buys the posters. I’m looking forward to testing that experience to make sure it actually works - that somebody could follow our instructions to cut, paste, and glue and actually make something.

I’m hoping that people will make them and share to their social media. We’re calling that “post-op.” We want people to post, “post-op.”

I’m looking forward to seeing what people make. Even with all the instructions and everything we give them in the kit, people’s projects will look pretty different. So, I’m excited to see how individual people engage with it.


Where can we see more about Chop Shop and your other work?

You can follow Chop Shop on Instagram. I post all my work on my Instagram, @marytoscano, and keep a portfolio on my website.

See what else the Big Cartel team is up to these days.

Richard Laing

Product Director at Big Cartel. Music loving, soccer playing Dad living in Seattle, WA.

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