The Art of Giving Away

This blog post is about the ceramic artist Lawrence Epps who has become known for giving away his work. There is something about this that appeals to me - for better or worse!

As an artist, Epps explores the collective attribution of value to objects, processes and people. I came across Lawrence’s work first hand at the British Ceramics Biennial (“BCB) in 20013 and again at the BCB in 2015. Both times, his work made me pause and reflect.

His piece for the BCB in 2013 was called Take Stock and it invited people to take one of 12,000 pieces away with them. The piece was a large scale sculpture of tiny extruded office workers sitting at their desks within small confined boxes. 

I think that this particular piece made such a big impression on me at the time, as I was in the process of quitting my lawyer job in the city of London to pursue my ceramic career. Epps himself says that the installation was all about questioning the ideologies implicit in the culture of the office and the system, which dictates the shape of our working lives.

The installation was filmed during the duration of the show but the film is only ever now played in reverse – so that it appears as though the audience members are building the troubling stack from the ground up, recreating an office building full of workers trapped inside their ceramic cubicles, stuck in front of their computers.

Epps has explained in an interview that he was intrigued by the way the nature of a visitor’s gaze would change once they discovered they could remove a piece of the sculpture. Suddenly a leisurely but distanced art appreciation of the sculpture as a whole turned into a much more detailed, acquisitive gaze that came with the pressure of choice. I felt this when I was there. I actually didn't want to have to choose - or even take one of the pieces away. But I did. With a strange sense of shame.

At the BCB in 2015, Epps made thousands of porcelain and terracotta coins. Each visitor could take a coin and decide whether to gamble it in a coin pusher machine to try and win more coins or keep the one coin, which they were given. The artist said that the thinking behind the idea for the piece was about people’s desire to acquire accompanied by the constant pressure to disregard what we already have in a bid to get something more. 

I love the way that Epps manages to evoke quite basic human emotions in his audiences through his work - and often emotions that we may not be very proud of (greed, inability to choose, questioning our existence, the desire to own objects etc.). 

I'm proud to say that I didn't gamble my coin but then again, maybe it was just the desire to own it that stopped me from sticking it in the coin pusher. I guess no one will ever know my reasons for keeping it and maybe that's just as well...

Bye for now. 

Love x Stine