a stock exchange

This is a rai stone. It’s like money. If you are on the island of Yap you can spend it on coconuts, beads, women – kind of like our money, except that its value is ascertained according to how many people died quarrying it. You can’t spend it here.

A Stock Exchange was a project I coordinated with Robert Milne and Jack Jeweller in Sydney in March 2011. Invited by Imperial Panda Festival to curate the visual arts component of their program, we wanted to do something that would allow us to look into ideas of currencies, altruism, strategic generosity, the politics of gift giving, and the limits (or lack thereof) of the art market. We started with an open call asking people to make an offer of something that would go on the market to be swapped:

A Stock Exchange brings together kith, kin and strangers to exchange their art, ideas, time, labour, knowledge, bodies and skills. Swap a secret for a meal, space for time, a memory for a joke, a story for a bathroom cleaning service, a cooking lesson for a date, a hair cut for a work of art …

Marcel Mauss told us that far from being voluntary, disinterested and spontaneous, the phenomena of the gift entails the obligation to give, the obligation to receive, and the obligation to return. Failure to comply with any of these obligations results in a loss of dignity. Is that what you want? Send us your offer and join out potlatch, for your dignity and for ours.

None of the participants knew what they were going to receive in return for their offer; in allocating swap partners we tried to pair people who didn’t already know each other, or whose swaps seemed somehow well aligned. In the end we received close to seventy offers for exchange, including ‘a private recital of two Rachmaninov preludes to a blindfolded guest at my house,’ ‘the keys to my apartment,’ ‘an oil painting,’ ‘a pep talk,’ ‘oddly shaped tomatoes freshly picked from my farm,’ ‘a home-made compass,’ ‘a serenade delivered to anyone the swapper likes with any song they choose,’ ‘the perfect picnic,’ ‘a short lesson in Serbian,’ ‘a spiritual experience followed by blueberry pie,’ ‘a hyperbolique anatomique crochet lesson,’ ‘a script reading, in full costume,’ ‘a feng shui service for your bedroom’ and ‘a minute act of revenge executed on your behalf’ …

Fleur Mitchell and Steele Bonus’ offer, ‘We will adopt a goldfish in your honour and name it after you,’ was paired with Lara Thoms’ offer of ‘a live internet video transmission of me dancing in my lounge room to a song of your choice.’

Tom Lee pledged tomatoes fresh picked from his farm and recieved in return a DIY compass by Ivan Ruhle.

Joseph Allen Shea made an offer of a song, to be played live on an instrument for an audience of one, based on three wishes of his swapee’s choosing. He was paired with Tom Smith who offered ‘A usb stick with a track featuring two key changes, along with the individual parts of the track for possible reworking.’

Kenzie Larsen’s offer, ‘I will make you a cake decorated to a theme of your choice,’ was swapped with my offer of ‘An illegitimate paper photocopy of a book called The Story of Paper Money, by Yasha Beresiner and Colin Narbeth, featuring a new original counterfeit money paper cover.’

Here is Tega Brain executing her offer of ‘a pollination service to your garden’ with my grandmother, who in return gave ‘an alteration / repair service to three garments.’

Tully Arnot offered to take his exchanger’s identity for the duration of the five-day event – to sign his name as his exchanger, change his Facebook profile to his, and attribute all his deeds to him. We paired Tully with Garry Trihn whose offer was ‘a one hour street photography walk.’

Michaela Gleave included this beautiful image (‘Energy Flash’ photographed on January 1, 1963, at NASA’s Hypervelocity Ballistic Range, Ames) with her beautiful offer:

I would bring you the stars (101 nights)
I hereby offer to deliver 101 stars to my nominated recipient, sending one star each evening at sunset for 101 nights, beginning on March 5 2011 and ending on June 24 2011. The stars will be sent via text message to the mobile telephone number nominated by the recipient. The stars will be selected each day from the stars present in the night sky that evening, with sunset calculated according to Australian Eastern Standard Time (or an alternate time zone as relevant to the recipient’s location). The  text message will contain the star’s common name, it’s astronomical name, the derivation or meaning of it’s name, and the constellation in which the star appears. This transmission of information will form the project. I wish for the recipient of the stars to remain anonymous to myself, and ask that only the phone number is provided.

Charlie Garber drew Sinisa Mackovic’s portrait and learnt some Serbian.

Anna John pledged ‘A brief lesson in numbers, counting to ten in Khmer, Polish, Italian and French. This will hopefully inspire a conversation about number systems, language and further exchange of trivial facts to do with counting, its relationship with time etc.’ We paired her with Adam Lippman whose offer was ‘A private live recital of two Rachmaninov preludes to a blindfolded guest at my house, preceded in writing by a narrative reading of the two as landscapes.’

Stephanie Overs’ ‘Astral travel session: crystal amplified audio visualisation mediation,’ was swapped with Daniel Stricker’s offer of ‘A song, inspired by the snorkel adventure I will take the recipient on at Gordon’s Bay. (If we don’t see anything, you might end up with a drone.)’

Douglas Lance Gibson sharpened some knives for Grace Archibald, who in return gave a feng shui service to his bedroom, with influence from Martha Stewart.

‘A complete set of Monday through to Sunday arsehole hankies – an arsehole for every day of the week’ was offered by Pia de Bruyn and exchanged with Lucy Holt’s offer: ‘For you I will write a short story that mashes together your three favourite books with my three favourite books. I will also give you these three favourite books from my own bookcase to read and keep.’

From March 10-15 we held an exhibition Freda’s (at that time a vacant warehouse space in Chippendale) that presented documentation of all the offers and exchange allocations, and a looped PowerPoint presentation. Many of the swaps also took place in the space over the five-day duration, while documentation of off-site exchanges were archived on our website. Installation shots by Lucy Parakhina:

We approached the artist Agatha Gothe-Snape to make a poster for the exhibition in exchange for ‘six hours of unskilled labour’ from us, and the following ensued:

Read Amelia Stein’s review of A Stock Exchange for Runway Magazine issue 19 here.