It’s a great title for a blog post, and an even better title for a digital work of art. Caleb Larson’s “A Tool To Deceive and Slaughter” is a shiny black box of a sculpture, that has a mind of it’s own. It operates outside of the will of its owner, and posses a wanderlust that makes it constantly seek for greener pastures.
The sculpture is basically a transaction engine with electronics that connect it to the web via an Ethernet cable. It automatically posts itself on eBay every seven days, selling at a price you prescribe (minus eBay fees and 15% which goes to the artist).
It’s as though HAL (the computer from 2001), has been cross-programmed with Billy May to create an insidious rogue computer that just wants sell himself off to the highest bidder. You can buy him, but you only get to keep him for as long as no one else wants him. To me, that’s the most brilliant part of the whole thing… he’s not very desirable when he’s NOT in demand, and that’s precisely when you get to keep him. When he IS in demand, he’s sure to slip through your fingers.
Felix Salmon of Reuters called ATTD&S a work of art “so commercial that it can’t be collected.”, while The Economist is calling it “cooler than a diamond-encrusted skull.”At first blush, this piece seems clever, current, and so reflective of its time, but it gets even more interesting when you view it within the context of the rest of Larson’s work, which is currently on display at the Lawrimore Project in Seattle. In addition to a number of Internet inspired works, the show includes a brass donor plaque that lists the names of the people who donated the cash to create the plaque. It also includes a dollar bill changer slot mounted into the wall, titled $10,000 Sculpture (in progress). While all of the work is interesting, the ones that resonate the most revolve around transaction for it’s own sake (and certainly for the artists sake as well).
In another transaction piece, a printed receipt from a collector to the artist allows the collector to subsidize Larson’s studio by paying off his credit card debt. In the description of the work, the gallery writes “The receipt remains, not as the work, but as the residue of the transaction.” Anyone recognize that phrase? It’s a twist on the Harold Rosenberg quote about Abstract Expressionism. Rosenberg said that the artist asserted himself and his presence in front of the canvas with physical gestures, and that the work that remained was a “souvenir of the occasion”.
In going from a “souvenir of the occasion” to the “residue of the transaction”, it seems that Larson is building on the commercial greed and avarice that has led us from Warhol to Koons to the Hirst and Gagosian empires… all the while combining it with the immediate and experiential. Documenting the transaction would seem to be the perfect storm, and I can’t resist calling it Abstract Transactionism.
It will be interesting to see if Larson can continue to hone and sharpen his focus, while sustaining this unique position.
PS- A Tool To deceive and Slaughter was sold to its first owner last week. Lawrence Spies of Palo Alto, CA bought it for $6,350. It’s currently relisted in an eBay auction that will end on February 9th at 6am PST.