From banana skin to eco-social workspace: evolution from 1970

Exchange Values has taken 3 main forms

1 /  Reading the World Economy in the Banana Skins (from 1970)

2 /  Exchange Values: Images of Invisible Lives (1996 – 2006)

3 /  Exchange Values – on the table (2007 – ongoing)

1 /  From 1970 – 1974

Reading the World Economy in the Banana Skins
The precursor to the first Exchange Values social sculpture in 1996 was begun in the early 1970s. One day, as I sat with a banana skin in my hand, I began to wonder who and where the person was who had produced and cared for the fruit I had just eaten. I kept the skin and hung it on a string. Soon other skins joined it. When I left South Africa to come to Germany to study with Joseph Beuys, the skins filled a small wooden suitcase that I took with me on the plane. An encounter with customs officials in Germany and my explanation that I used the skins to ‘read the world economy’ as my grandmother had read the tea-leaves at the bottom of the teacup – gave rise to this first work with the banana skins.

‘Reading the World Economy in the Banana Skins‘ took place twice in Lingen, a small German town near the Dutch border.

The suitcase full of dry, blackened banana skins, that had accompanied me from South Africa, became the basis for this work. On a mat on the pavement I laid out the skins. This was an echo of the way my grandmother had read the tea-leaves in a cup. When passersby asked me what this was all about I said that like people read tea-leaves, I read the world economy in the banana skins. This was 1974. I was trying to understand how to develop social sculpture processes, but wasn’t sure how. I knew it had something to do with some kind of in-depth engagement and opportunities for re-thinking. This much I had understood from Beuys.

Although some fascinating exchanges took place, they were not substantial. This ‘pavement action’ with the banana skins did not feel much different from the small performative actions and interventions I had already become disillusioned with in my work in South Africa from 1968 to 1972.

2 / 1996 – 2006

Exchange Values: Images of Invisible Lives
This was the first form of the social sculpture process that involved the producers themselves, their organisations, and consumers.

This phase of Exchange Values lasted for 10 years – from 1996 to 2006. See ‘The Story of the Project’ and IMAGES 1996-1998 and 1998-2006

3 / 2007 ongoing

Exchange Values: On the Table
This new phase of Exchange Values was begun in 2007 in Switzerland as part of the exhibition Social Sculpture Today and the conference Ursache Zukunft’/ ‘The Cause lies in the Future’ – a statement by Joseph Beuys.

See ‘Exchange Values – 11 Years on’ for 2007 developments.

See IMAGES 2007-ongoing [coming soon]

Going Bananas at the Voegele Kulturzentrum, Zurich, 2011
In 2011 Exchange Values was a key work at the Voegele Kulturzentrum in Zurich for 4 months as part of an international exhibition on the banana and its political, social, and economic history. The social sculpture process developed at the table in 2007 was further developed in Zurich and used with many groups, networks and individual consumers.

De Hallen / Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, 2017 – 2018
Since September 2017, Exchange Values has been at the Frans Hals Museum/De Hallen in Haarlem, Netherlands.

New social sculpture processes have been designed that focus on ‘listening into’ the needs and longings of the consumers at the table and the invisible farmers who speak their needs and longings to invisible consumers.

Another focus of the work at De Hallen is on ‘the future of work’ and ‘the future of the human being’. This relates to the increasing development of robotics and the questions that surround this… from the role an Unconditional Basic Income could play in enabling meaningful engagement in one life, to the sidelining of the human being in the ‘4th industrial revolution’.

Exchange Values can now also be seen as an archive of an earlier form of work, and a significant place to discuss what kind of future we want and how we see the future of the human being.



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