The very act of bartering adds an emotional reality to the process of exchange that currency somehow lacks: ‘What is an object worth to you? How much do you want it and what are you prepared to give in return?’ is one of the questions I asked at the very start of introducing 10×10.
The concept of exchange was particularly pertinent in the year 10×10 was launched: 2008 is a year synonymous with one of the biggest financial crises in global history. In the wake of a monumental financial crash, with top banks & financial companies folding, I posed another question: how long would it be until people resorted to bartering?
Yesterday, October 10th, 2023, marked 15 years since I first brought 100 objects for exchange to the Deptford X festival, responding to the year’s call for artists to make work answering to the theme of barter and trade. On the 10th day of the 10th month from 10am to 10pm, I gave up 100 objects which were precious to me and invited people to take one, leaving an object of their own in exchange. For purity’s sake, I wish it had been 2010 but there we have it – I’d been waiting long enough as it was to make work expressing my fascination with the pack rat, a small, North American mammal, renowned for taking things but leaving something in its place.
And so, 2008 was the year 10×10 began, a year in which my twin sons turned 10 and my Nana, the grand age of 100. Fifteen years on, with numerous objects exchanged, it returned, this time as part of a second Deptford X arts festival fringe event – to the exact same place it started, at ArtHub Gallery, London.
Throughout the past fifteen years I’ve taken the 10×10 cabinet to a number of venues, including Lewisham College, Herne Bay and Whitstable museums, the Stade Hall in Hastings and the Firstsite gallery in Colchester. Participants were asked to share the stories behind the objects they left behind if they wanted to, but there was no obligation to do so. I’ve collected some amazing stories associated with some of the exchanged items over the past few years. My long term aim is to collate these stories in some sort of publication. I had an interesting conversation with a visitor/artist while chatting with her about 10×10. She talked about the beauty of zines for pulling together information – a cheaper, more funky way of relating the numerous stories, perhaps – definitely food for thought for the future. Thanks, Eldi, for a stimulating conversation.
10×10 is about letting go and exploring the powerful associations that we sometimes project onto objects and the emotional attachments we make to them. It is also about human nature and our response to being challenged away from a monetary system to one of exchange and barter.
‘Would it be people’s generosity or meanness that triumphed when it came to the value of the objects that were bartered? Would the piece be ‘worth more’ at the end of the process?’
It always feels like a risk, opening up the cabinet and relying on people to interact. What if nobody comes, nobody shows up? As it turned out, I couldn’t have wished for more during the two week run of this year’s Deptford X arts festival. It was great for 10×10 to be part of an ArtHub members group show, ‘Is This It …’ as it kept a steady flow of visitors coming through the door. I had some really good interactions with people who visited and felt heartened by their interest and, as has always been the case, people continued to interact in such caring and thoughtful ways.
I had some of the best conversations with people throughout the two weeks as well – curious about the story behind this large cabinet with its bizarre assortments of objects, displayed in the gallery – an alligator’s head, a beautifully embroidered table napkin, a broken pen, a paper hat, a squashed Tunnocks teacake in its distinctive foil wrapper – just a taste of the diverse range of objects left behind.
Such conversations about so many of the objects and their associated stories has left me feeling rejuvenated and uplifted – two people who’d been at the first launch of 10×10 were there on the first night of this year’s Deptford X, plus artist friend, Elena Thomas who has always been a big supporter of the project visited, to help and be a part of it. Another visitor who’d also been at the very first launch of 10×10 in 2008 visited towards the end of the show’s run and exchanged the very last of the original 100 objects – a ceramic pomander, decorated with heather and tartan ribbon. I’ve had my eye on that object for some time, wondering when the day would come when it would be exchanged. It was exciting to see it finally happen on the very last day of the Festival and called to mind an earlier conversation I’d had with Elena during her visit – about the 15 year run of 10×10 and my thoughts around when (if ever) I might bring the project to a close. ‘Perhaps once the final one of the original objects has been exchanged?‘ was a question Elena asked.
Just as I had no idea how 10×10 would turn out when I started the project fifteen years ago, so I have no idea when or how I might bring it to an end – or indeed, if I want to, even. I currently have enough room to store it in my studio and I’ve just this week packed it away again. Who knows what will happen/where it might go/whether Deptford X 2023 will prove to be its last outing and so on. What I do know, however, is that it was a complete joy to be back at ArtHub London gallery at the end of September/start of October – right back to where the 10×10 journey began, presenting the cabinet and all its objects for the first time in eight years.
It’s reminded me of the importance of connecting with others and how those connections have come to be an integral part of my creative practice. I’ve said it before about 10×10 – quoted my Italian friend, Gigi, who when I told him about my project, said it would be ‘a comment on humanity.’ And I’ve said this before, too: if, as Gigi says, it is a comment on humanity, then humanity has come out of it very well indeed. At the time of writing, it feels like the perfect antidote to the most recent atrocities taking place throughout the world.
Thank you to curator, Luke Merryweather for the installation of the cabinet, to Deptford X for including 10×10 as part of its fringe events and to the all the people who came along to the gallery – for your interest, your participation and for the many fascinating conversations.
In 2010, Lewisham College media students made a short film about 10×10. You can find the link here if you’re interested in finding out more about it: