Bibi Calderaro’s Gifts

Bibi Calderaro, “PRESENT,” performance at P.S.1, 2008-9.

Like Eve Essex and Stuart Sherman, mentioned in my other posts, Brooklyn-based artist Bibi Calderaro has a peculiar relationship to performance and audience. Last year’s project, PRESENT, found her at a desk near P.S.1’s cafeteria every Thursday from October 2008 to April 2009, browsing through a collection of books she’d brought with her. With heady titles like World and Life as One and Sex and the Euthanasia of Reason, her self-selected library seemed primed to elicit responses, and she pecked out her wandering thoughts, often obscurely poetic, on a typewriter as she read. The typewritten pages were then stacked on the desk for passersby to take with them if they chose. (For an interview with Calderaro about the project and a complete list of the books, click here.)

Another project that bears description is her video Labor Contract, in which she enters into a legal arrangement with a linden tree, clearing the tall grass around it in exchange for the use of its shade (for images and descriptions of this and other projects, see here). Now that this process has become a video, what exactly is being presented to us as the audience? Clearly, Calderaro is interested in the act of making an offering, but of what? Although there has been much talk recently of the social significance of gift-giving, most popularly articulated in Lewis Hyde’s book, The Gift, I would draw a distinction between this type of social process and what Essex, Sherman, and Calderaro are working through in their performances. The impulse to give is, I believe, distinct from the act of giving, though usually they are bound together in our quotidian lives. I see that your hands are cold and offer you a pair of gloves; the circuit is closed. Perhaps it is when the impulse and the act are only loosely connected – when practicality is displaced by pure magnanimous desire – that what I called earnestness in my first post emerges.

Bibi Calderaro, “Labor Contract,” production still, 2005.