Impossible Exchange


Alex Gawronski - Completion 1 2015
Alex Gawronski - Completion 2
Alex Gawronski - Completion 3

Alex Gawronski: Completion, 2015

(Plaster, chicken wire, paint, resin, shoes, socks, paper)

‘Impossible Exchange’, Fuzzy Vibes, Auckland, curated by Alex Gawronski and KNULP

Technically Completion reprises a famous black-and-white photograph taken after WWI of the scenario this sculpture depicts. The scenario shown in the photograph, while ostensibly documentarian, is equally surreal. In fact, the image could be described as quintessentially Surrealist in its foregrounding of the uncanny, the antiquated, the overlooked, the disastrous. The original photograph is also surreal in its apparent obsession with the inherent uncanniness of the artificially human. In the case of the sculptural work Completion, the absence announced by the missing subject (and unknown owner of the abandoned prosthetic legs  depicted in the original photo) was reconstituted as a tangible object literally remade from the ground up.

In this instance, the imagined identity of the missing subject was exchanged for a synthetic reminder of him or her. The sculpture became then a more generalised icon for a persistent unexplained disappearance. Physically remaking the partial objects symbolised by the prostheses in the photograph uncannily substituted absence for the physical presence of objecthood. Here however presence functioned simultaneously as absence; the presence of the abandoned legs depicted in the original photograph was rendered doubly insistent once they had been solidified as sculptural objects. The presentness of the art object in real time and space nonetheless transferred the suggestion of absence onto the contemporary author: the artist who steps back from their work and in doing so, effectively disappears allowing things to take his or her place.

Speaking to the title of the exhibition, the impossible exchange performed  through this object attempted to dually re-figure absence as the ‘thing’ that is forever missing. The subject is alive only insofar as he or she in their absence continues to be imagined, repeatedly resurrected in the mind of the beholder. The subject is lost to time and to an overriding economy of loss where the ever-presence of contemporary capitalism replaces subjects with objects. Granting things the life of their owner (in perhaps classically Marxist terms) robs the owner of a life exchanged for labour. This is true even in today’s Post-Fordist terms when labour forever appears to overlap ‘free’ time: the seemingly ambiguous absence of labour implicitly conjures its inescapability. The self is simultaneously absent and present in a life imagined outside conditions of exploitation.

Everything in the world we live in is, in principle, exchangeable; people are exchangeable for objects, images for people, sex for things, fame for freedom, freedom for slavery, war for territory, time for space, life for death and absolutely EVERYTHING for cash, virtual or ‘hard’. There is a problem though with the supposedly inescapable principle of infinite exchangability if we go one step further. For example, what does exchange mean when we consider the world itself? What could we possibly exchange the world for when there is no equivalent?
Jean Baudrillard picked up on this in his book ‘Impossible Exchange’ and, in his own rigorous yet darkly humorous way, suggested that the principle of capitalist exchange to which everyone and everything in the world is beholden, confronts a resounding zero when it comes the world itself. Earlier, and in a somewhat related vein, Martin Heidegger suggested that human civilisation was finished once the planet had been transformed into an image, and thus irrevocably objectified, by astronauts. While some have speculated on the existence of other planets inhabited by intelligent life, that proposition is purely propositional, several million years down the track, without any indication whatever of its veracity. The human race’s seeming unquenchable thirst to sell absolutely everything means nothing from the cosmic perspective of the world’s isolated singularity. Once again it is the universe, which, having begun the joke with the big bang, continues to have the last laugh, and a very long one at that.
The artists in this exhibition confronted the concept of the fantastically paradoxical incompleteness of exchange from a diversity of non-illustrative positions. Within this exhibition were works that considered the stellar exchangeability of artist’s names and reputations. Another speculated on a parallel theme favoured by Baudrillard, that of the ob-scene and the sexlessness of sexual exchange in a world of total exposure. Elsewhere we were asked to consider the finite exchangeability of representation as a mirror reflecting nothing in the absence of anything to reflect. Another work suggested that the desire clinging to artworks, attendant on the fetishisations of art history, is actually exchanged for desire itself. An additional perspective opened on the idea of isolation as a natural counterpart to global exploration; locality is exchanged for an infinitude that leads alternatively to constant disappointment when our expectations of other places, people and events fail to correspond with our a priori projections of them. In the end though, the larger question remained; what can we possibly give away for something essentially incomparable?
Alex Gawronski, September 2015



Written by alex gawronski

December 21, 2015 at 7:22 PM