Gift Voucher



The starting point for this piece was the invitation from the curator, Javier Pérez-Lanzac, to think about “gift as problem”. I’ve been working with interactive art for a while, and one of the things I love about it is that it’s always a great experience to release the pieces to the public and watch the interactions that arise. I am hoping people will engage with this work, especially in surprising ways I haven’t thought of beforehand.

My piece uses canvas and painting, so it looks somehow like a very “traditional” idea of an art piece, but on the canvas there are also small shopping bags with gift voucher cards inside, which ask for a more interactive role. They play with the psychological impulse to “take one”, after all it’s suggested in big black letters, and it’s free of charge. Maybe many people will take one indeed.

Suddenly, in possession of a gift voucher, the person is now left with a problem, because unlike store vouchers, there is no official place where it can be redeemed. Instead, the voucher instructs people to “exchange it with anybody willing to accept it”. The challenge is to find someone willing and put the vouchers into circulation.

The values printed on the front of the vouchers are things that people nowadays would either not normally think about exchanging for money (a hug, a smile, a handshake) or things that although are already being exchanged for money (a song, a story) are also very strongly present in the realm of non-monetary “gifts” from one person to each other, and essentially non-material, cultural goods.

On the back of the vouchers there is a text with instructions and also blanks and boxes like a form. We tend to comply and do things that are asked of us and look like “official” requests. The gift vouchers take advantage of these tendencies but for a slightly “subversive” goal, to get people thinking about currency, exchanges and economy.

What if a person is not in the mood for exchanging that particular thing? The voucher gives a suggestion that might help the negotiations, providing an official instruction and a “form blank” to allow the voucher owner to change its face value.

The blank injects flexibility into this “currency”. Alternative currencies often develop in a very informal and dynamic way, when facing a crisis. Places hit by recession, undergoing a scarcity of “official” money are an example, but our perception of too much pointless consumerism in the developed world can also configure a moral crisis.

The Group Global 3000 Gallery hosting the show focuses on themes connected to sustainability, and the call for artworks stated that “We have all that we need in the industrialized world. What does a present mean? What do we give as gift nowadays? The receiver is confronted with a problem: not needing to use the gift.”

It’s gift-giving season now at the end of the year, and many people will try to carefully choose something their relatives and friends may enjoy and need. Some people might give vouchers, to let the recipient choose what they want at a store, and some might simply give money.

I tried to create the gift vouchers in my piece as I would be designing an alternative currency. Another suggestion printed on the vouchers is to “document the exchanges and make them more unique and valuable”. Would the public agree with this statement? They will certainly become more unique, but would they be perceived as more valuable?

Currency notes are designed to be the opposite of unique. When we receive a 10 Euro note we have no idea in what exchanges it took part before the current one (and probably we don’t want to know this). For some currencies, like the US dollar, it’s actually a crime to “personalize” the note with any type of marking, writing or drawing. That reinforces the idea of money being impersonal. In a gift economy, on the other hand, transactions create personal bonds, and gifts carry a story that adds to their value. Will the exchange of my gift vouchers create connections? I hope so.

Lenara Verle


voucher back