Détournement to the “Primitive”

by perasyapples

“Blows Against the Empire” by artist and writer Ted Purves, discusses how some artists have resisted the normativity of capitalistic art production by relying on a gift-giving practice inspired by “primitive” gift economies (think of anthropologist Marcel Mauss).

In this essay, Purves explains how some artists take the basics of gift economies (the gifts create bonds to strengthen social ties), to push boundaries toward greater social and aesthetic freedom, while creating a heretical practice that confronts capitalism.  The gift stands as an “unavoidable manifestation of reciprocal and unrequited debt”; one that does not necessarily has to be returned to the giver, but compromises the receiver to continue threading the weave by forwarding it to someone else in the same or grander fashion.  Automatically, the gift becomes a tangible gesture; one that fills the voids and creates a space for relationships and communication, whether the receiver wants it or not.

This gift-giving art practice roots from the fact that things we are given have different meaning form the things we buy.  In this case, the gift creates a bond, whereas the sale of a commodity leaves no necessary connection.  Some artists have used this system to break from capitalism by creating relationships that are compromising and forward-moving.  The practice of gift-giving therefore, becomes an art form that unites people in complex forms, stepping away from monetary exchange.

I want you to think, my dear reader, of a token-gift that you can make to someone else.  Think of it as art, an economic activity, or pure altruism.  Give it a try and start your own weave of relationships.

If you are interested in reading more, please let me know so I can e-mail you the essay (it’s worth it!).

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