Stamps Assistant Professor Rebekah Modrak’s latest project, co-curated with Marialaura Ghidini of the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, is a “live exhibition” titled #exstrange that invites a global group of artists and designers to create works to be encountered, auction-style, by the passersby of eBay. Modrak was recently interviewed about the project, the latest in a series of work that focuses on shared concerns between art and commerce.
Q: What was your inspiration for #exstrange?
Modrak: The term #exstrange comes from our working title “Exchange with Stranger,” influenced by philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel’s understanding of the “stranger,” which he described as a “mobile figure who circulates goods.” In our exhibition, artists circulate ideas through the pretense of selling goods or services. We, the curators, see eBay as an opportunity to enable artists/designers to reach out to members of online communities clustered around object experiences. For example, the community who collects decorative plates may encounter Sophia Brueckner’s commemorative plate of dreamy landscapes stitched together from 100+ romance novels using a digital algorithm to make decisions about nostalgia and longing.
Q: Why eBay?
Modrak: #exstrange welcomes serendipitous encounters with exchange-partners from other geographic, cultural and political regions, either viewers who seek out the show, potential buyers and happen-chance browsers — all may inquire into ideas proposed through the auctions/artworks by commenting directly on the listing, by bidding, or by creating and posting their own artwork/auctions.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish or illustrate?
Modrak: We are interested in opening up discussions that might challenge the uses we make of technology in our everyday activities, and all of the assumptions we make about it. eBay represents a business model of the dot.com era, and through the years has tried to propagate a kind of person-to-person trade. What we have now is a culture of commodity that is primarily circulated online through platforms that are not just dedicated to e‑commerce but also to interpersonal communication. This shift is interesting to us and we are trying to bring it together by also using social media which, in the ‘90s, did not exist. The personal relationship that can be established between a seller and buyer is what we are interested in, especially in a time in which our personal communication is so much mediated by interfaces created by companies for business purposes — we still very rarely think about this proactively.