Marcel Mauss: 'The Gift' 

Every gift has a price tag

 

This 1925 publication is a key foundation of the thinking on giving and receiving of gifts.  Drawing on cultural research the author examines many societies in which ‘prestations’. ‘potlach’, and other complex forms of obligation and reciprocity were fundamental.  To the modern market-driven eye these customs look old-fashioned and the behaviours irrational.  But Mauss’ investigations have relevance to contemporary art, especially performance and participatory forms. 

My interest in ‘The Gift’ is in relation to my art works involving collaboration with other people, and how reciprocity operates in that exchange.  When commissioning someone with the specific skills to complete a work – as Jeff Koons does on a grand scale with sub-contractors such as Carlson & Company, or Damien Hirst following in Warhol’s Factory footsteps with his Science operation - the financial transaction is clear and formal.

However, when an unpaid volunteer contributes to my art work, what do they get out of it? In the case of my work for ‘Immurement’ at The Crypt Gallery, I offered my participants at the Private View a photograph of the finished work.  This went down well.  When I sent a personalised email with it a week after, over 26% of the 47 collaborators replied with universally positive feedback.

For a more detailed analysis, link to my essay here.