Forget Giving (2002)

Forget Giving implies a desire to reconsider the circumstances of symbolic and economic exchange.  When we forget giving we also remember to forget the debts that are incurred through these exchanges. In this respect, the title is an allegory for the political economy of the gift. The gift that is forgotten does not impose a debt. The moment that a gift is exchanged, becomes visible, remembered or consumed, a debt will transpire, and the gift will be annulled. In this respect, the true gift is never present.

Forget Giving explores two sites that have origins in the works of Eugene Atget. The photographs have a conceptual relationship to the observer as well as the sites where the photographs originate. These are sites where an exchange has occurred. The sites and subjects that I present are derived from my personal experiences, the temporal relationship that photography has to a locale as well as the representational uncertainty that the photograph can evoke with respect to memory and history. In many respects, the photograph is the debt that accrues from a gift that can never be given: the gift of time. The temporal cut that the photograph imposes on the subject affirms the uncanny relationship that the photograph establishes with its referent. It is a trace of the prosaic world and is also the illuminated surplus of an impossible exchange with time and light. The photograph is always a replacement, an exchange for its referent. It represents what can never again be present.

L’Eclipse - Avril 1912 appeared surreptitiously during Atget’s lifetime on the cover of La Révolution Surréalist, June 1926.  Depicted is a celestial event that captures the attention of the general public at an interchange between science, myth and popular culture.  For Bataille, the excessive expenditure of energy by the sun inspires the opening metaphor for his discussion of the general economy in La Part maudite.  

The origin and essence of our wealth are given in the radiation of the sun, which dispenses energy - wealth - without any return.  The sun gives without ever receiving.

For Bataille, the general economy encompassed the sacred and the profane as well as his theories of gift economies, sovereignty, communication and eroticism. The significant problem that Bataille locates in this process, resides with the expenditure and redistribution of the surplus wealth.  The useless expenditure of surplus wealth is required to release the culture from the harmful effects of economic accumulation.  It is this process which will ensure a heterogeneous culture and the sovereignty of individuals.  Bataille states that ‘ ... we may call sovereign the enjoyment of possibilities that utility doesn’t justify (utility being that whose end is productive activity). Life beyond utility is the domain of sovereignty.’ The group of people that Atget photographed at the Place Bastille is at an axis that consolidates the quotidian with the disinterested sacrifice of the sun that Bataille has described.

The second photograph by Atget that I have considered through a site-specific encounter, is titled Jardin des Tuileries, Mercure , par Coysevox, 1906. The photograph depicts the sculpture of Mercury by Coysevox (1702) that is located at the gate to the Place de la Concorde in Paris.  The sculpture is formally bracketed by the Eiffel Tower on the left and the Luxor Obelisk on the right. The photograph presents an axiomatic document of Parisian monuments. The juxtaposition of the two monuments unites ancient Egyptian culture and European colonization with the advent of liberal democracy and modernity.

Symbolically, the obelisks of Egypt were monuments to the sun. They are the rays of the sun preserved in stone. The Obelisks also retained a phallic relation to fertility and economic surplus.  The removal and relocation of Egyptian obelisks to Rome, Paris, London and New York City have been the privilege of imperialism as well as the justification for state relationships established through the spurious exchange of gifts. Replacement creates value. In each case, we can witness the symbolic and sacrificial gift of the sun reduced to the status of a debt. Forget Giving.

1BATAILLE, GEORGES, The Accursed Share: Volume 1 , New York, 1988. p. 28.
2BATAILLE, GEORGES, The Accursed Share: Volume II & III , New York, 1991. p. 198.

Robert Bean @2020