Seven for Seven
Mixed media with assorted objects, papier mache, cardboard box, toasted poplar, white poplar, pine, steel, grease, electric motor, ceramic, fishing bait, glass, modeling clay, acrylic paint, mortar, PVC pipe.
‘Seven for Seven’ was an outdoor pop-up installation and performance that took place in the ‘Fermenter Residency Program’ in Gainesville, Florida and was created for this specific location within its particular material culture and topography. The radiant green lawn outside the ‘Fermenter’ studios instantly had me thinking about arrangements of overflowing personal inventories put on display for public auction – also known as yard sales. The abundance of flat grassy terrains, ideal weather and an excess of objects that outlive their usefulness as a result of constant migrations and the need for renewal, all play into rendering this location as custom designed for this all-American pastime. Influenced by yard-sale strategies, the project consisted of an arrangement of objects, positioned cooperatively to activate each other, in an attempt to determine potential usefulness and value.
The project proposed a relationship between artist, viewer and artwork that encouraged a bargaining dialogue rather than a critical dialogue. Much like the capitalist economy that assumes a standard of exchange, the cultural economy assumes a standard of critical dialogue where the art object cannot shift and conform to the viewer’s desires. After visiting the objects dispersed across the yard, the viewer was then welcome to engage in conversation with the artist, suggest alternative compositional arrangements, make offers for items he/she might wish to purchase, either as art objects or as functional ‘everyday’ objects, or any form of exchange that he/she may have had a desire for while visiting the site of the installation. The suggestions were then considered by the artist and counter offers were made until an agreement was either reached or not.
In his political-economic theories of capitalism, Karl Marx argues that although human beings need material objects to survive, the manifestations of those needs are constituted within a particular historical and cultural context. This is to say that objects do not have value in and of themselves, but rather that their value is determined by the social norms and agreements of their time. In trade relationships, Marx distinguishes between the ‘use value’ and ‘exchange value’ of an object. ‘Exchange value’ is determined by an economical standard of exchange, such as labor for wages, which expands to a valuation system that is based primarily on the modes of production. in this rational trading system, objects are exchangeable and interchangeable because they are weighed against each other with little regard to their culturally and socially constituted desirability – their ‘use value’. In other words, a shoe is more expensive than a pencil because it costs more to produce a shoe than it does a pencil and not because we need shoes more than we need pencils. There are of course very effective systems of persuasion at work to ensure that our desires are in sync with the value of labor, as it is determined by modes of production that most effectively generate more capital.
A yard sale offers an alternative market system that shifts the balance of value from ‘exchange value’ to ‘use value’. Not to say that the production cost is completely irrelevant in a yard sale but it is necessarily subsumed by desirability. It is a market place that is driven by emotional valuations rather than rational valuations. The yard sale organizer assumes a speculative value, but the very act of holding a yard sale confesses the inherent valuelessness – and thus meaninglessness – of the objects on sale. Thus these commodities enter the market place empty of meaning and must be deemed meaningful by the consumer. The only tool of persuasion the seller has is by arranging and juxtaposing his objects in a way that offers up their potential value. The lack of a standard of exchange gives way to a form of negotiation over value known as bargaining or ‘haggling’ for a price. These negotiations are the hallmark of this market system. They are both emotional and rational, they depend on information, desire, timing, competition, etc. They factor in the entire psychological scope of human to human interaction in order to try to reach a fair price, where both sides feel rewarded, and most importantly, value and meaning have been re-instilled in the object.