Lea Fröhlicher is an artist, art educator and film-maker. Her work increasingly deals with subjects like modes of acting, mannerisms, phenomenas of daily routines, unofficial knowledge. Relations to people and between them influence her projects, which are process oriented and often span over a long period of time. Lea is from Bern, Switzerland, and is currently based in Solothurn (CH). The below text is a reflection on “In exchange for” an action and installation that took place within the framework of HAYP 12 12 12 RETROSPECTIVE, an exhibit that looked at the medieval caravanserai as metaphor for cultural meeting point. Themes of exchange, travel, displacement, fantasy, translation and encounters pervaded the works on view from December 12 -24, 2018 on the third floor of the Armenia Market.
Learn more about Lea and her artwork here.
text and photos by Lea Fröhlicher
Over the course of three interactive periods, each lasting several hours, the installation “In exchange for” took place at the exhibition hall of HAYP 12-12-12. In preparation for the exhibition, visitors were invited to provide objects they own but no longer need as part of the installation. Upon offering an object, I required them to fill out a questionnaire: What is the object? Where did the object come from? Why is the object no longer needed?
The visitors could decide whether or not to provide their object in exchange for another from the ever-expanding installation. The individual components of the installation evolved with time as did the installation in its entirety, lending insight into the working process of the perpetually morphing installation. Beyond the set-up and re-setting of the installation, the interaction with the visitors themselves played an important role.
This project was a kind of experiment for me. I was not able to judge in advance how many visitors, if any at all, would participate in “In exchange for”. I prepared a basic set-up and was curious to find out how visitors would react. Some brought along objects from their homes, so had previously planned their participation, while others dug around in their bags for an item they no longer needed.
This project allowed me to get in touch with people I previously had not met. With time, I recognised how important the stories were that I had asked for from the participants donating an object. The (anonymous) written responses gathered in the forms not only provided insight into the background of the objects’ use, but often also told a story connected to the identity of their previous owner.
A question I repeatedly encounter when doing a participatory project is the question surrounding the possibilities and types of sustainable participation. Amongst other things, I am interested in finding out the value gained for the project’s participants, i.e. “Who’s benefiting from this and what?” The participants of “In exchange for” had the opportunity to pass on objects from their possession. The process of passing on often allows for space, including mental space, for new things. In addition to that, there was some contemplating why one object or another was no longer needed. Furthermore, the participants were free to exchange their object with another from the installation. Through this exchange people gained an item they had selected out of interest, for example to fit their current work or living situation.
Who doesn’t know the concept of swapping? As children, we already encounter it. “I’ll give you my blue sweetie if you give me your yellow one?” Swapping is something practical and makes you happy. People participating in “In exchange for” who exchanged their object with another did not come into direct contact with its previous owners. They were, however, able to read the object’s corresponding story. People thereby gained some insight into the history surrounding the object. Whenever someone swapped their object for another I often found out in conversation why they had picked that specific item.
For example, a caramel sweetie was swapped for a scraper-tool. The new owner was renovating her house and could make good use of it. Another paint-scraper was picked by an artist to paint with in her studio. A child chose a colourful pair of sunglasses that they had spotted as a toy. And the disposable camera gained a new owner who promptly used it for a group selfie right there in the exhibition.
I had originally assumed that the installation would grow more, both in height and width…This, however, was not the case in this rather short period of time seeing as the visitors often brought in small objects. For a next variation of “In exchange for”, I would like to work on it over a longer time period and further develop the project. I would thereby bring the swapping aspect more into the fore and connect it with the stories of the objects.