Giving beyond supply and demand

October 17, 2017

L’OFFRE: Movements is a tool designed by DHC/ART Education to encourage visitors to develop and elaborate on some key concepts of the exhibition L’OFFRE.

Considerations: Supply and Demand

At the end of the year 2016, the Fraser Institute published its Generosity Index [1], which measured charitable donations based on data gathered from provincial and federal income tax credit claims. The institute determined a significant drop in the number of Canadian donors over the course of the previous decade; in Quebec alone, the percentage dropped from 22.7% in 2004 to 19.8% in 2014. In the press release that accompanied the Generosity Index, a representative of the Fraser stated, “Many Canadians may be surprised to learn we are far less generous than Americans when it comes to charitable giving, and that’s been the case for many years [2]”.

Resorting to statistics such as these is not particularly surprising, in a world where everything is a performance to the point where generosity can be compiled, quantified, and indexed. The specialists from the Fraser seem concerned by the reduction of supply at a time of increasing demand for financial support among charitable organisations [3]. In response, numerous authors [4] have argued that the Fraser’s statistics only consider one particular aspect of giving — one that is integrated into the existing economic system. In turn it becomes much more difficult to quantify the act of giving when it takes the form of an exchange, shapes intimate relationships, or exists outside of a transaction. The challenge, then, is to consider giving outside the realm of supply and demand — to consider it as a positive impulse that doesn’t need to be expressed through the tools of the market economy.

This type of reflection around giving is particularly important for artistic communities, which maintain complex relationships with it. These communities, weakened by the precariousness of both their working conditions and their funding, are too often forced to accept the pejorative aspects of the capitalist donation in order to survive. Artists and cultural workers are forever asked to give freely: they give of themselves to the point where art is considered a vocation — a vocation that justifies their precarious conditions. How, then, can we redefine generosity so that it can both bear witness to art’s sensitive contributions while remaining critical of other types of exchange that underlie power relations? Furthermore, how can we reflect on giving and exchange when, in an increasingly economist culture, these notions are almost entirely co-opted by capitalism? Is it still possible (or desirable) to give freely?

A certain ambiguity reveals itself in L’OFFRE, where the concept of giving clashes with a variety of well-established, authoritative forces such as the market, morality, government, and the nation. Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s Untitled (Blue Placebo) (1991) is a large rectangle comprising small candies in blue wrappers which the public is invited to take. The artist’s gesture, at first generous, becomes deeply poetic: each person who takes a candy takes part in the installation’s destruction. The title references the placebo given to people living with AIDS in the 1980s, when patients’ urgent need for treatment was forced into confrontation with the rigid procedures of pharmaceutical companies. Dora Garcia’s Steal This Book (2009) evokes another type of fragility: a minimalist sculpture composed of objects — in this case, a book compiling the artist’s projects. The title of the work (which is also the title of the book) encourages us to steal the book, which is also available for purchase at the Foundation. Does the gesture remain transgressive if the artist invites us to make it?

The works of Gonzalez-Torres and Garcia take back the formal codes of minimalism (flat, geometric shapes, the principle of the grid). Do these visual strategies, where the effects of unity are particularly strong, encourage visitors to interact with the works?

Are there other works in the exhibition that bear witness to a similar ambiguity around giving, and/or the capitalist appropriation of giving and exchange? If yes, which ones?

Daniel Fiset
DHC/ART Education

[1] FRASER INSTITUTE (2016). “Generosity in Canada and the United States: The 2016 Generosity Index”. Fraser Institute. Online. les/generosity-in-canada-and- the-united-states-the-2016-generosity-index-news-release.pdf.
[2] Ibid. This statistic tarnishes the image of the polite, altruistic, and generous Canadian, although they could still take comfort in the fact that Canada places 6th among the 140 countries included in the World Giving Index, an annual report published by the Charities Aid Foundation.
[3] Ibid.
[4] MCKENNA, Barrie (2014). “When it comes to giving, Canadians are quietly generous”. The Globe and Mail. Online. and ROSENFIELD, Ann (2016). “Canadians Know That True Generosity Goes Beyond Giving Cash”. Huffington Post. Online. eld/canadians-giving-back_b_13674792.html.

Photo credit: Dora García, Steal This Book, 2009. Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art Moderne / Centre de creation industrielle. Photograph: Roberto Ruiz.