But what gives these objects their value? If they have an allotted time, how do we treat the objects when they reach them.
|Rubber sandals collected |
"Rubbish on the beach is a supermarket for artists," Sandy McKendrick explains. She :
walks kilometers along the coast looking for things that catch my eye whether it is things that are shades of green or bits of furniture. It might also be wood that has paint on it; bamboo that has been carved; big thick mooring ropes wash up in massive bundles.When you unravel these have really vibrant cores. What I really love is when we find thongs (i.e. flip-flops, plastic sandals) that have a name carved into them. I don't find a new thong all that satisfying. The ones I love are the old ones. Those thongs have traveled thousands of kilometers. With the next high tide that might get picked up and taken away.The toothbrushes have identity. When you collect them put them together they are like people with different hair styles.They become more beautiful as they disintegrate, like old sculptures. The chance of finding that particular thing at that particular time, that particular piece of rope that happens to be washed up.
|The barge, Biar Selamat, now transformed into a small art gallery.|
This was a 6 week project of the 3 artists working with Cocos Malay traditional boat builders and local community to explore maritime history of islands and create vessels of fantasy from flotsam, melding traditional skills and contemporary arts practice.
|Art Adrift exhibition at the Barge|
|Asylum seekers' work, constructed of rubber sandals and other refuse, displayed in Fremantle. Photo by Sandy.|
Identities of things
When we use rubber sandals for art the first thing we did was cut of the straps. We gave them ropes. Then the first the thing they did was remake them into rubber sandals. They all started fixing [the straps even though we had cut them]. In the picture they’ve all been remade into thongs. They said “oh we can fix these” because it’s so easy to make them wearable.In other words, the asylum seekers wanted to make the rubber sandals wearable as well as beautiful.
|Sandy McKendrick. More Snakes than Ladders.|
Photo by Sandy.
A good example of this is the commodity--things we buy and sell. Our common sense tells us that a diamond has more value than a diamante or glass. But our common sense partly misleads us. You might get two tables equally useful for eating on, yet one with the right label (a famous designer) or the right history (a famous movie star sat on it) is more valuable. This value is an exercise of imagination. To borrow Marx's idea, it is as real or fanciful as if the table had started crawling around and talking to us:
The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, everyday thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas...The commodity value of a table appears natural or inherent, but it is cultural and extrinsic to the table.
|Emma's art materials|
The way the rubber sandal moved across the ocean, pushed and pulled by currents, swells, and winds, seems a good metaphor for the way it moves into different spheres of meaning. As Kopytoff (83) writes:
when the commodity is effectively out of the commodity sphere, its status is inevitably ambiguous and open to the push and pull of events and desires, as it shuffled about in the flux of social life.If correct, this provides an easy first step to answering a whole range of difficult philosophical questions, such as "what is art?", and to a lesser extent, "what is a commodity?", "what is a gift?" and so on. In the first place, it is a meaning and use that humans have invested in objects.
|Inside the art gallery, the lower deck of the barge. Foregrounded is the inside of the barge's hull. In the background prints, painting etc. The bright tropical sun has whited out the windows in this photo.|