Monthly Archives: August 2011


I’ve been working on summer project documenting Ithacans enjoying East Shore Park on Cayuga Lake.  This is a film project – 120 Fujicolor Pro 160 film shot with my beloved Pentax 67 II.

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Beg, Borrow, Steal

No, this is not a post about  The Debt Ceiling Crisis.  Although, that amazing piece of political theater, with its manipulation of governance and economics, got me thinking about three, less fearsome projects that tweak ideas of exchange.

Karyn Bosnak founded the website Save Karyn at the start of this millenium (2002).  In debt for $20,000, she had the brilliant idea to publicize her predicament on the internet and ask for donations.  Her pitch was straightforward and shameless:  “My name is Karyn, I’m really nice, and I’m asking for your help.”  More interesting to me than whether or not she was successful (she was) is the hierarchy of exchange that she redefined with her idea.  Although she offered nothing for something, and risked humiliation in turning a private issue into public matter, she attracted patrons through the sense of identification her plight engendered.

In 2005, Kyle McDonald used Craigslist to trade one red paperclip for a house.  It wasn’t a straight up trade, he went through 13 or 15 different trades before ending up with a free, one-year lease on a small house in Kipling, Saskatchewan Canada.  The project garnered  a lot of attention at the time, perhaps because it exposed two things: a latent potential for bartering, and, more interestingly, the internet’s capacity to activate a network of people interested in collaborating on an idea.  In the end, he needed track down only 13 renegade spirits to participate in the scheme, and all shared in the material “trades” as well as the publicity the project generated.  Activating public interest in his private need, Kyle secured himself a home.

The characters in Ryan Trecartin’s videos occupy a virtual/real mash-up world.  Giddy, creepy and oddly familiar, Trecartin’s work explores boundaries of identity, gender, culture and commerce. “I have something inside of me to give, something that everybody needs.  I know the world would pick me out of a crowd,” gushes Stephen, an orphan who opens I-BE Area, 2007.  One of several children “for sale” on the Adoption Network, he is on the market when the film opens.  His “something” —  inside, undefined, that we all need — does not yet command the value of a one-year lease or $20,000 of debt relief.  Later in the video (exactly minute 20:00), Oliver, a young adult hoping to escape her old lifestyle (her emphasis), offers this exchange: a one-way ticket to Brazil worth “$995 international dollars” for a box containing her cellphone, her outfit, all her passwords and a PDF describing “why I do the things I do.”  She is hoping that someone will identify with her strongly enough to purchase her identity, and set her free.

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