Abstract painting based on the lives of others

Year: 2008

For this project I contracted two participants who earned less than the average monthly wage specific to Shanghai, China. The participants’ wages were/are: 750 Rmb and 1150 Rmb, the average wage being 3000 Rmb (to give an idea, that is respectively: 75 euro, 115 euro and 300 euro). Both were handed a bank account and credit card with a deposit of 3000 Rmb and were asked to spend it in seven days in the way they saw fit. They in turn delivered the receipts of what they bought. On the basis of those receipts, an abstract painting was made which formalized their expenses and the daily choices towards their needs. A contract was signed and a participant form had to be filled in; to get to know them better as well as to formalize their choices. The receipts functioned as a pillow book and through their expenses they portrayed themselves. Each participant shows certain needs; medicine, food, golden ring, mobile phone (one for themselves and one for the parents), clothes, all objects no services or education. The receipts and bank statements were used to trace back their movement throughout the city and paint it in their favourite colours (as given in the participation form). Each actual person became a subject of the artist’s imagination. Like a detective Staelens found out how they are spending their time and money, and got informed about his/her desires, wishes and choices. Throughout their expenses they issued an identity claim. The transparency, the visibility and the dynamics of the subjects individual lives exemplify the new world order in a highly technological society as a ‘large scale game of characterization’. At this point the implicit self-disciplining effects and the strategies of visibility that have been discounted in the organization of capitalist/economic interactions came to the surface.

The last day of this cycle an interview was taken asking the participants how they felt getting the money, what they imagined to do with it, what kind of experiences and desires they’ve had, … Afterwards the interviews were presented as document humain issues. In a sense this idea partially traces the efforts of a social sculpting process, in the same respect as the artist former paintings and drawings.

It is a fact that contemporary economy is governed by Eros – by making profit – and that it demands a return on investment, Erotic transactions hold on to the equal sign between the giver and the receiver. This relation creates guilds, installing pressure which is subject to reimbursement. Ironically capitalism itself most radically provides us with it’s most fertile opposition imaginable, as well capitalism is understood as making profit, it is equally defendable to realize it as giving profit.

This project is an effort to counter the wide spread form of erotic economic interactions by introducing a thymotic economy, in which the act of giving is more important than to have a return later on. The thymotic interactions bear witness to the investor’s proud and happiness because they feel free to give. In a thymotic economy the giver and receiver are united in a euphoric fellowship, without future expectations towards the receiver. By using their freedom of generosity they increase the splendour of the world and their own particular existence. The ones who experience this, understand that the worth as worth itself only comes into being when we, through our efforts and our means testify to the existence of things that are elevated above every price. So we should reconsider the equal sign between what is given and what is expected in return, one should simply discard it and give space to a dis-harmonic way of thinking and horizontal relations. Since more than two hundred years, political developments in the west have sought to control the subversive social energies of the populace, energies that might lead to rebellion, civil disobedience and even revolution. The essential mission was to ‘verticalize’ all remaining horizontal bonds within society. Thymotic economics demand a new ethic; guilt and debts tag the debtor to his past and therefore the past maintains its power on what is coming. “The compulsive circle of insatiableness, characteristic for erotic economics, must be broken”.