I am presenting the results of Satlwinning's social economy (and an earlier piece, the Dawson City Trash Project) at Berkley this weekend at the Cultural Studies Association conference. The panel is about "Visualizing Economies." So I have gone through the surveys and made up a tally according to some of the main themes:
Total surveys: 79
Total pieces taken: around 82 (some people took more than one and some people did not fill out a survey)
The vast majority of people left art or other handmade objects on the basis that they were like items. Equal "time and effort" appeared on a lot of these surveys. There is a break down in that group, though:
People who made something by hand themselves: 17
(this included art, but also pickles, mittens, jewelry, and this lovely "mon chat" drawing:)
People who traded something handmade from another person: 5
People who made something by hand with similar materials such as found objects or trash, so there was an aesthetic equality between handmade-ness, time and effort, AND materials: 17
(this included things made from found materials and glass, and things made specifically for me)
Things that were cultural production, but not "handmade":8
This included books and CDs, but also facsimiles of art (such as magnets and stickers of paintings)
A lot of people left things of personal or sentimental value: 15
One person wrote "it was difficult to leave my object behind" and used that as an indicator of value.
These objects included mementos, love letters, or objects that belonged to loved ones.
Some people left things that they thought would be useful to me or desirable to me: 12
This means they were thinking of the exchange as an exchange with me and not an exchange in the abstract.
- some of these objects were made specifically for me based on what the person knew about me and my life
- it also included objects that I choose-- several artists invited me into their studios and let me pick something
- finally, it included practical objects such as day timers or money when the survey specifically said its usefulness to me was part of its value
Some people dealt with value in a very explicit way:
- people who left money: 6
- one person was unsure of how to deal with value and left a lottery ticket, since s/he didn't really know the value of it "but it could be worth millions!"
- one person left a student saver card and $1.01, which would theoretically allow the artist to save money in the future
- there were four amounts of money left: 1 of $300, 1 of $100, 4 of $50, and 1 of $40. The $40 was left at the very end with the note "It's what I could afford." In academic terms, it would seem that a "moral economy" formed when a group of people decided that the lowest monetary value of a piece was $50. In other words, people formed a "rule." I can say this with some confidence because one person left a gift certificate, where no one could determine its monetary value, for $50, and the one person that left $40 tried to match $50, and explained why s/he couldn't.
Some people got "bargains": 6
In these cases, the person either explicitly or otherwise acknowledged that the trade was not of "equal or greater value," but less
- in some cases, people used objects as the basis of equivalence instead of value: ie, "I took an object and I left an object, and because all objects turn to dust they are equal", or trading "an animal for an animal" (in this case, one of the best pieces in the show, a glass deer, for a mass produced sticker of a cat), or, of course, garbage for "garbage"
- it also included what I am scientifically calling "jerks"- people who acknowledged on the survey that the trade was not equal, but made the trade anyhow.
There were a few people who measured equivalence according to feelings: 6
- In some cases, this meant that the feeling they had for the thing they left felt just like what they felt for the Saltwinning piece
- In other cases, the piece left behind was meant to give me a similar feeling to what the person felt for the art-- these people left gift certificates for organic food, or chocolate, or warm mittens.
People who noted that they were giving the piece as a gift: 6
People who left garbage IN ADDITION to their trade so that I could use it in future pieces: 3
Another interesting trend is how people "traded down" or "added up" their trades.
- In once case, someone talked about how they chose a saltwinning piece, but then decided that their trade wasn't worth as much, so swapped it out for something smaller.
- In at least five other cases, people left something behind but then came back to add to it or to swap it for an even better object
(this person kept adding pieces throughout the show)
- Two people gave me something for the experience alone-- they didn't take an object, but they left an object (and filled out a survey).
What I find inspirational about this type of work is that there is a sort of bell curve of responses. A few folks are "jerks", a lot of people take the piece seriously and engage in it in ways that make sense according to the "rules," and then another group of people, which always seem to outnumber the "jerks," get really creative and expand upon the rules in ways I could not have anticipated. The creativity and generosity of these people really prove that Adam Smith had "human nature" all wrong-- people aren't inherently self-serving or competitive; people are generally cooperative and lucid, and many are even original and lavish in their creativity.
So thank you, Nelson. I had a great time and you made this a great project.