Magazine article Artforum International

"Given Time": Gallery Odyssey

Magazine article Artforum International

"Given Time": Gallery Odyssey

Article excerpt

Few philosophers incite muddled cultural takes like Jacques Derrida. "Given Time: The Gift and Its Offerings," curated by Arshiya Lokhandwala, is titled after Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money (1991), Derrida's deconstruction of Marcel Mauss's classic sociological treatise on reciprocity and exchange, The Gift (1925). Basing his argument on a cyclical retelling of Charles Baudelaire's "Counterfeit Money," a parable about a man who gives a beggar a high-value coin that turns out to be counterfeit, Derrida develops the notion of the impossibility of a genuinely altruistic gift, concluding that such a gift is that much more worth questing after. If this powerful message anchors the show, the welter of irrelevant works dominating the show, some by India's biggest artists, does more to strategically legitimate the endeavor than to commemoratively revisit Derrida's text.

Indeed, some works seem to qualify solely by the inclusion of the word gift in their labels. Raqs Media Collective's A Different Gravity, 2012, for instance, suggests that "a surprise is a gift" through an installation meant to evoke the anticipation inherent in words. Mundane nouns and verbs--FLYING, STAGE, WRONG, TIME--take shape on a rug, a mirror, a chair, and a table, respectively. Characterized as a return gift, Anarkali and Seventy-Two Idiots, 2004-10, by Atul Dodiya, features seventy-two digital archival photographs of Indian artists presented to Dodiya by fellow artist Bose Krishnamachari in 2003, here reworked by Dodiya to ludic effect by adding details such as a moustache, thick eyebrows, and a mole. Old saws about rain, human touch, freedom, and time being gifts, and about gift giving's moral imperatives, are trotted out ad nauseam via displays by Jitish Kallat, Anju Dodiya, Anita Dube, and Shaurya Kumar that, sophisticated as they are, lack resonance with the specifics of Derrida's arguments.

Luckily, a few fresh views do make an impression. Both relevant and subtle, if perhaps limited by scale, Prajakta Potnis's Please read the offer document carefully, 2016, features thin sheets of tarnished German silver representing shiny gift-wrapping paper decorated with fine print about the recipient's obligations excerpted from various gift deed documents. A before-and-after effect is created by a neat stack of unused wrapping paper towering over a landscape of similar sheets crumpled on the ground, as though no sooner did the gift get unwrapped than the rules of return gifting were quickly forgotten, to the obvious detriment of the recipient. …

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