Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chicago Weekly Loves GEEE

Neighborly-ness, bartering reign supreme at G.E.E.E.

At the entrance to G.E.E.E., a new exhibit at the Hyde Park Arts Center, a sign declares, “neighborly currency is the operative currency.” It’s true. G.E.E.E., or General Economy Exquisite Exchange, is all about things we share with neighbors. More than that, the exhibit questions what else we exchange when we buy or sell something.
G.E.E.E., which advertises itself as a “post-retail space,” is an exhibit that focuses on bartering. Visitors can take home any item so long as they leave another of equal value, or deposit sufficient cash into the provided piggy bank. If an item was donated to G.E.E.E., visitors are welcome to take it home for free. The exhibit operates on an honor system, though visitors are encouraged to record their exchanges in a logbook. At the end of each month, the exhibit’s curators make large charts on brown paper which show the exchanges made. Sometimes the visitors write little messages, such as “Happy Holidays!” in the logbook. These missives are dutifully copied to the charts as well.
The items featured at G.E.E.E. are supposed to be the types of things that you’d share with a neighbor–seeds, jam, cookbooks. Inside, the exhibit feels like the home of your artist neighbor. Whimsical art lines the walls, and a bookshelf is broken down into sections entitled “New Years Resolutions” and “Vegetarian and Healthy Cookbooks.” In August and September, a rooftop garden lets visitors pick their own black cherry tomatoes. In the winter, different plants, equally welcoming, bloom inside. Some of the larger plants are decorated with ornaments made from pomegranate slices. These ornaments recall the legend of Persephone and serve as a welcome reminder that after every cold and dormant season comes spring.
A placard at the entrance of the exhibit, near these plants, offers a quote from Marcel Mauss’s The Gift: “They exchange rather courtesies, entertainments, ritual, military assistance, women, children, dances, feasts.” Another sign, chalked by the exhibit’s curators, reads, “Trade with transparency, kindness, and <3.” Overall, G.E.E.E. encourages us to reflect upon what we usually exchange when we buy our commodities, and the ways in which this experience could be different.

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