Strangers depend on the kindness of Lee Mingwei, and he on theirs, "For my practice, art is about exchange and interaction with strangers and gift-giving," says the Taiwanese-born New York-based artist, who cites the book The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property by Lewis Hyde and his Buddhist upbringing as his main influences. "I'm not always the giver or receiver," he says. "It's a mutual gift-giving process."
those of you who know me know that the gift is a book i often encourage fellow artists to read -- it contextualizes the artist's role and responsibility, as well as how art functions in culture, in a very different way. a gift is quite different from a commodity; they create or function within markedly different systems, with markedly different effects. gifts are free, and, because they are free - both freely given and freely received - they must continue to be distributed in order to "live", a gift cannot belong to anyone. it cannot be controlled. it must continue to be given if it is to remain a gift. otherwise, it becomes a commodity, and it "dies".
gifts also bond people together - they connect us - whereas commodities do not need to. in fact, they limit connection, they are self-contained - they have no meaning other than how they refer to ourselves. gifts accrue meaning because they are relational in nature. another effect of the gift's connecting nature is an emotional bond, where commodities lack that emotional weight. in addition, since gifts connect us, they contribute to community building. ultimately, the idea of the gift has implications for society, spirituality, creativity and the individual. how different life, and art, would be if we approached it, and received it, as a gift.
(please forgive me for this rather rough synopsis of hyde's thoughts -- for more about and from lewis hyde, go here)
what i find most intriguing about this exhibition was the level of trust it required from both artist and participant. the artist offers to the [potential] participant a service. that service transforms that exchange into an art event or installation. that event or activity is only truly completed when the participant returns. it's a beautiful picture of bourriaud's relational aesthetics, where "art is a state of encounter"; and the relationship between art and viewer/ reader as an exchange. there is a surrender to the possibilities of the work on both sides of the equation. what matters is the experience rather than the object. what matters is surrender rather than control. what matters is the connection between art and viewer/ reader. what else matters?