Teaching Making

Experiments in Art and Education

April 16, 2011
by Professora de Arte

With Strings Attached

In the unique exchange of a gift, two distinct roles arise: the role of giver and the role of receiver. Cultural expectations of reciprocity frame the exchange of a gift, such that when one person is giver and the other receiver, society tells us that a debt has been incurred. A hierarchy is established; the giver creates her or his position of power, rendering the receiver indebted. It is debt that imbues the gift exchange with a potency that can affect the dynamic of relationships.

Art constitutes a relationship between artist and viewer. That relationship can be a by-product of an art object or experience, but in some cases, the relationship can be the art.  In my artistic practice I have been specifically concerned with the quality of relationships that can exist between the artist and viewer. To this end, gift giving functions as a site of research and model of exchange in my art making. The majority of my work manifests as direct engagement with the viewer, usually in the form of performance or intervention. “With Strings Attached” manipulates the setting of a gallery so that the viewer can actively, if indirectly, engage with me through an interactive system.

“With Strings Attached” specifically explores the intentionality of gift giving. By evaluating the motives of a giver, the piece confronts the viewer with the power play that exists in the exchange of a gift. Power can be destabilized in a gift exchange unlike in a commercial or even trade exchange. When one trades or sells things, one eliminates the potential for debt and therefore, the potential for a shift of power. I am concerned with using the gift to expose and question power dynamics that are already at play in relationships. What is the possible effect of a gift that is given in the opposite direction of an established hierarchy? How are rules of reciprocity and exchange are gendered? Nurturing, gift giving typically read as feminine, is often seen as a selfless act intended only for the betterment of the other. I am interested in nurturing as tactic used to gain power; gift giving as an act of feminine aggression.

Ultimately the goal of my work is to raise questions about the situation of power, its stability or instability, and how it might be affected by the exchange of gifts.


Lettering hand cut from 1/4 inch ply wood, sanded and spray painted, black yarn, pine pedestals, 2,000 hand made silver buttons, hand made book and two pine shelves.

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