Gift Exchange

The theory of The Gift is a fascinating one. We have by now recognised that exchange is not always what it seems. Despite appearances, anything that passes from one to another will always have ‘strings attached’. As an anthropology student currently slaving over these theories, I half-skipped my way to the OVADA gallery, impatient to see how different artists had managed to find a way of visually representing these purely academic concepts.

They hadn’t. Most pieces had such a remote connection to gifts, exchange or relationships that one couldn’t help but feel that they were scraping the bottom of the barrel in trying to link them all to one theme. For example, apparently the light and shadow plays on random surfaces that George Mogg films present themselves so rarely that when they do its a gift that there’s something worth filming. I’m not sure about worth filming, but there was definitely nothing there worth watching!

Vicky Vergou’s film An Odyssey reminded me of why I tend to stay away from conceptual art – two videos run parallel to each other, one displaying blood and the other water. The former symbolises the artist’s long-term illness, the latter achievement. Attributing symbolic meaning to something is fair enough – we do it in every field of self-expression, whether art, drama or literature. But it has to have a purpose – either to communicate something or just be aesthetically pleasing. Vergou just created symbolism and let it hang. It wasn’t even a particularly pretty installation.

Ann Rapstoff’s video of a woman’s neon-pink coloured mouth uttering (in a supposedly inspirational but actually very scary) voice: ‘You are special. You are unique’ was sheer entertainment. She’s got a point – we should remember we are all worthy. But not in that way. Artists should stay away from anthropological theories if they don’t know how to do them justice. Personally, I am still awaiting some conceptual art that will not make me grimace.