Exercise 2: Re-situated Art
Question for Seller re-situates images in a different context and in so doing allows for a new dialogue to take place.
Reflect on the following in your learning log:
- Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?
- Where does their meaning derive from?
- When they are sold (again on eBay, via auction direct from the gallery) is their value increased by the fact that they’re now ‘art’?
In ‘Understanding a photograph’ John Berger describes museums as
‘…like homes of the nobility to which the public at certain hours are admitted as visitors. The class nature of the nobility may vary, but as soon as work is placed in a museum, it acquires the mystery of a way of life which excludes the mass’ page 17:3).
Whether it’s a section in a museum or a dedicated gallery, once photographs are framed and hung on the wall, they do attain a form of elevated status. They are successful (in most cases) in that they have been curated and deemed within the eco-system of photographic practice – artists, curators, critics, gallery owners, publishers, agents, public, social media…- as worthy of hanging in a gallery-this can be driven by the promise of monetary gain, positive reviews or elaborate interpretations by critics, and or reputations built by favourable articles by academics or journalists as well as publicity on social media. Once on the wall, they do attain a new value – mostly reputational which in turn can drive the monetary aspect. Not all galleries or museums are made equal so it depends where work is hung but generally speaking an exhibition of images elevates their status.
In this case, the exhibition ‘Questions for a seller’ by Nicky Bird brought together a new archive made from unwanted familiy photographs which she bought on ebay. As she explained on her website,
“Question for Seller originated from my interest in family photographs that appear on eBay. I purchased photographs that no-one else bid for, with the connotation that they were unwanted, and therefore with no significant value. The seller was approached with the question – How did you come across the photos and what, if anything, do you know about them? Their replies, however brief, are as important as the photographs they are selling – sometimes alluding to a part of a discarded family history, or the everyday, where personal photographs have long since lost their original meaning.”
(Bird,N.Question for Seller(2004) https://www.nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller/ accessed 9/08/2022)
By creating and curating a new archive, Bird could inject new meaning into the photographs within a new context. At ‘Belfast Exposed’ exhibition on Thursday 1st February 2007, all images in the archive were auctioned off starting at 99p and streamed live, Bird comments,
Question for Seller enabled the audience to purchase, participate, and engage with two questions: what is our relationship to the past, and what is the value we ascribe to it?(Bird,N.Question for Seller(2004) https://www.nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller/ accessed 9/08/2022)
The meaning is derived as a combination or interplay of Birds’ concept of the newly created archive, the gallery’s willingness (or some committee from ‘Belfast Exposed’) to exhibit, and the audience’s willingness to participate by coming to the exhibition, viewing the images (and bringing their worldview and context), and bidding for the images. It also shows both the ubiquitousness of the family image and its place in our lives; in such a sitting we see ourselves and our family, and take time to reflect-we participate.
The last question about their value is interesting- in this case, their monetary value definitely increased as Bird got more for them through the exhibition auction. I would say the fact they were exhibited at an exhibition, hung on a wall and part of the performance definitely played a role. Again, coming back to the photographic eco-system, having been hung on a wall and exhibited, advertised and promoted, elevated their meaning to a form of art and people were willing to buy into that both intellectually and monetarily.
Finally, the images and their value continued for the artist; her reputation was elevated (after all we are talking about it in this course) but whether the actual images held their (monetary) value is another question.
https://www.nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller/ (accessed 9/08/2022)