Zero Sum #16
In 1999 I created the first online incarnation of my studio, the Fiji Island Mermaid Press. Since then I have become increasingly interested in finding ways for my studio practice to explore and connect with the ever-expanding online world.
The Zero Sum Art Project (ZSAP) is my latest attempt to combine the objects I make here in the "real world" with the interesting possibilities of the wide open expanses of cyberspace.
Before any artwork was made, ZSAP existed as 4 rules, which are the following:
1. Artwork can be made only with free/found materials or materials purchased with proceeds from the sale of Zero Sum artworks.
2. Zero Sum artwork will be sold on eBay, with the opening bid based solely on the costs of the materials and the auction fees related to the artwork being sold.
3. If the artwork sells for a greater amount than the opening bid, any "profit" must go directly back in to the Zero Sum studio. The Zero Sum Art Project may not keep a balance of more than $10 for longer than 2 weeks - all funds must be directed back into the studio.
4. If the Zero Sum Art Project is in the red with a balance of negative $5.00 for longer than 2 weeks, the studio collapses and the project is over.
One of my goals for the project was to create an online window into my studio, allowing an interested viewer to watch a body of work grow over time. Towards that end, ZSAP consists of:
1. an online gallery space, where you can find all of the artwork produced to date, a summation of the sales and spending that has kept the project alive and following its "rules", and a list of the studio contents - those items purchased from the "profit" gained from ZSAP sales.
2. a blog, in which new pieces are presented, photos of works in progress are found, and anything of interest to the project is documented. This also allows, of course, for more interaction with the audience than the more static website.
3. the eBay auctions, which allow the viewer to track the actual sale of the work, and often provide bits of commentary about the content of the piece that is up for sale. The auctions are also, most importantly, the mechanism through which the "rules" are engaged.
4. the artwork itself, which exists as a virtual online portfolio, and is physically scattered across the country.
So, there you have the mechanics of the project. The "how" of the thing. But why?
For the viewer, I'm interested in both the window this project can create into my studio practice, and the answers that it can only pretend to give. Profits from sales which must be returned to the studio result in the purchase of still life objects, the introduction of collage materials, the rental of studio time or hiring of a photographer, all of which affect the subsequent artwork. A sense of continuity and growth from one piece to the next is created. But the obsessive documentation can also create a false impression that some sort of "scientific process" is at work here. To state the obvious, anyone else given the same rules, and even making the same purchases, would produce radically different images. ZSAP provides one type of answer to the question of what can be explained and what remains a mystery in the creative process.
As an artist, I'm interested in how wrestling with an inherently absurd collection of rules has pushed me to make artwork that I wouldn't have made otherwise. The growth of a sort of still-life dime museum in my studio, and attempting to tease meaning from these dumb objects, has become very compelling to me.
The upcoming exhibition of the Zero Sum Art Project at the Digging Pitt gallery provides a new assortment of complications and issues to be dealt with, that I hope will prove interesting. Artwork shown in the gallery will be sold through eBay, contrasting the idea that a commercial gallery adds value to the work through the curatorial process and the idea that the wide-open unjuried space that is eBay diminishes the value of the artwork. All of the challenges of stockpiling work for the exhibition while maintaining the project through ongoing sales will be explored and documented for the online viewer.