Part 5 – Exercise 2: Question for seller

Question for Seller (1) is the work of artist Nicky Bird, who purchased lots of vintage, unwanted family images in eBay in auctions where there was no other bidder other than herself. At the moment of acquiring the lot, Bird posed the same question to each of the sellers: How did you come across the photos and what, if anything, do you know about them? Some of the answers were quite terse, providing no indication about the origin or nature of the images, while others engaged with the artist and were happy to find a new home for these old photographs.

  • Does their presence on a gallery wall give these images an elevated status?

I do not think the images themselves have achieved a higher status by being shown in a gallery, but their significance has been altered by being part of Bird’s conceptual experiment, part of an installation. Unfortunately, in Bird’s website one can only see the captions accompanying each lot, but not he photographs that were part of the lots themselves. It would have been nice to see the images alongside the captions to see if there was a connection, something that could be triggered by experiencing the original old pictures alongside the reaction of the seller. As it is, this could only have been experienced by those attending the shows in the gallery. It is this “exclusivity” perhaps, the fact that you could only experience Bird’s work in full at the gallery, that elevated the status of the photographs.

  • Where does their meaning derive from?

The original significance of the photographs has now been long gone. They were primarily taken for the enjoyment of their original owners, perhaps the same people who appear in the pictures themselves, but their meaning has shifted as they exchanged hands. For many of the sellers for instance, it seems the images are meaningless, totally disconnected from their own background or interests, and have simply become a mercantile transaction. For others they had a historical significance, a record of eras long gone but somewhat connected to the seller by the feelings of nostalgia that they evoke. For Bird, it seems that the meaning derives precisely from this displacement of meaning: it seems that what caught her attention in the first place to these photographs was the fact that they seemed to be “unwanted”, not only by the sellers, who were trying to offload them, but also by the world at large, as nobody was bidding for these lots until Bird came along and bought them. As for the spectators the meaning likely derives from the experience they had, looking at the images alongside the captions prepared by Bird, when they were exhibited.

  • 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’?

Yes, by being added to Bird’s installation, the images become part of something that transcends their intrinsic / original value (which is probably quite limited on its own) and consequently become more attractive to those touched by what they have just experienced. It also seems that Bird’s installation somehow included the auctioning of the photographs as part of the show itself, which adds an additional element of attraction to the images, as the auction ceases to be merely about the objects, even after they are transformed into “art”, to become art in itself.

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  1. Question for Seller – Nicky Bird. 2018. Question for Seller – Nicky Bird. [ONLINE] Available at: https://nickybird.com/projects/question-for-seller/. [Accessed 06 June 2018].

 

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