artist / participant
'One gives because one is forced to do so, because the recipient has a sort of proprietary right over everything which belongs to the donor.' (Marcel Mauss, The Gift, 1954)
'Only what can be posted exists' (Bernhard Siegert, Relays: Literature as an Epoch of the Postal System, 1999)
'Envoy' is an exhibition of photographic and video documentation of an ongoing series of site-specific actions and interventions which have been made over the last four years (1998-2002) in St. Petersburg, the Hague, the North Sea, New York, the Gulf of Finland, Lapland, the Norwegian-Russian border, the Barents Sea, Democracy Square, Gwangju and the Yellow Sea, Korea.
Undertaking a series of journeys in order to deliver a package or gift to a specific institution (gifting a copy of Thomas More's Utopia to the International Court of Justice, the Hague and to the United Nations, New York) or travelling to a specific site in order to throw a sealed package or symbolic object into the sea, or simply reading certain texts in significant cultural or political contexts, each action references the failure of utopian 'grand narratives' of modernity and democracy. These works combine the individual and the ideological in an exploration of the social function of the artist - as a 'courier' of packages and objects or as an 'envoy' sent by an unknown power for an unspecified end.
Like 'utopia', 'envoy' has a double meaning. An envoy (envoi) is not only an accredited messenger, courier, agent or representative (from French envoyer: to send on a journey), but also the object (letter, postcard, package, gift) which is dispatched and that may or may not reach its destination: 'Getting out of hand is in fact the very condition of an envoi, which means a sending off, a kick-off, a dispatch, a missive, or transmission; in short it marks a passage out of hand and into a postal or telecommunications network from which the envoi may or may not emerge at its addressed destination.' (Peggy Kamuf, A Derrida Reader, 1991). In this way, 'envoy' refers not only to the social role of the artist but also to the uncertain destination of the work of art.
Ross Birrell, 2003
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