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Most economic interactions are based on a quid pro quo: something given for something in return. In gift economies, which are predicated on the offering of something of value with no expectation of reciprocity, the gift is instead a social/ spiritual act that strengthens relationships between members of a community. These types of exchanges typically exist between people who share familial or other intimate ties, or in cultures where it is recognized that generosity is necessary to maintain the trust and goodwill that make a society thrive. Jen Smith’s current exhibition, This Body is Free, explicitly engages the gift economy and its implied principle of generosity.
During the course of the show, Smith has cut pieces from a collage of fabrics that entirely covers the walls of the gallery (Mother Cloth, 2016), which will be made into gifts for people from whom she has received generosity. In the interim, the cut pieces of cloth hang from a clothing rack in the gallery, with handwritten tags to the person who will receive the gift: “You have held me a thousand times. You are my sister, my friend.”
Importantly, Mother Cloth is made up of sections of different patterns, colors, and textures that are sewn together into an endlessly adaptive whole; when a section is cut away, it it implicit that it can be replaced by another piece. With This Body is Free, Smith makes visible the bonds of affect and care that connect us to each other, demonstrating that even within the commodified world of contemporary art under late capitalism, generosity is still a powerful and generative force that resists commodification.
Jen Smith: The Body Is Free runs September 24–November 5, 2016 at Commonwealth and Council (3006 W 7th St #220, Los Angeles, CA 90005)