An Introduction

Exchange Values is a social sculpture process in collaboration with farmers from the Windward Islands and their organisations that creates a ‘permanent conference’ about how we live our lives, our relationship to the global trade and the connections between imagination and responsiblity, or lived experience and our ‘ability-to-respond’.

20 stiched ‘sheets of skin’ from 20 randomly selected boxes of Windward Island bananas form the basis of the installation. Shelley Sacks traced each box of bananas back to its origin in the Caribbean and recorded the voices of the growers. These recordings accompany each sheet of skin.

Through the situation of the banana producers and the effects of ‘free trade’ in one particular region of the world, EXCHANGE VALUES emphasises the interconnections between producers and consumers in our complex global economy and our roles as ‘artists’ in re-envisioning our world.

Through the integration of the aesthetic and the political, an imaginative space is created in which we can engage with the re-shaping and transforming of our lives and our society, and explore ways to develop a more participatory and sustainable society. This expanded workspace where we work with the invisible materials available to us all, where the personal and social imagination moves and weaves, is a creative space accessible to all.

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EXCHANGE VALUES begun over 20 years ago has brought together a whole spectrum of people: activists, farmers, economists, government ministers and officials, ecological campaigners, artists, psychotherapists, engineers, cultural geographers, writers and of course, consumers.

A number of ‘social sculpture’ forums have taken place during the course of the project: whilst collecting the skins from members of the public over two weekends in the centre of Nottingham, where free bananas were given out in exchange for their skins; in the Windward Islands with growers and sustainable development activists, and in the social sculpture forums that take place alongside the physical installation in each venue.

To hear the banana growers click on a box number in the panel above.


Exchange Values on the table

Exchange Values has always created arenas for dialogue and for ‘imaginative work’: in the Windward Islands with the farmers and their organisations since the early 1990s, and in all 11 venues where the original Exchange Values installation was presented between 1996 and 2006.

These dialogues have brought together and engaged consumers, farmers, NGOs, activists, teachers, eoclogists, artists and others from many disciplinary backgrounds in challenging reflections and creative exchanges.

In 2007 a new element was added to the original Exchange Values: Images of Invisible Lives: a huge UN like round table. ‘Exchange Values on the table’ as it is now known is the same in many respects as the original project.

With one significant difference. Now with its giant table of skins, dialogue and exchange is highlighted as an integral part of the work. Every person who enters the space becomes a participant, whether or not a planned forum is in progress.

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The need for what Joseph Beuys described as the ‘permanent conference’ is emphasized. ‘Visitors’ quickly become aware that they too are standing somewhere in the global economy and that we are all involved in challenging global questions, whether we reflect on them or not.

Shelley Sacks

Shelley Sacks is an interdisciplinary artist and social sculpture practitioner who writes, teaches, performs and works across many disciplines to facilitate creative exchanges that empower people and lead to new ways of seeing and shaping our lives and the world around us.

Since 1970 she has worked between South Africa, Germany and, since 1990, in the UK, exploring new forms of art and their relationship to the struggle for a sustainable and democratic society.

Her work includes more than forty live actions, site works, transactions and social sculpture processes including Heat Generators and the Third Way (1978); Mound (1992, a three month long engagement with the people of a city in England), Thought Banks for the Edinburgh Festival 1994 and 1995; Exchange Values (1996 ongoing); Ort des Treffens in Hanover (2009 ongoing) - exploring the links between reflection and active citizenship; and the international network project, University of the Trees (2006 ongoing).

She has also been involved in grass roots cultural and political organizations; education for democracy programmes; facilitating cooperatives in the 1970s and 1980s in South Africa; and collaborating with Joseph Beuys for more than a decade in the Free International University.

She is a Reader in Fine Art at Oxford Brookes University, UK; Director of the Social Sculpture Research Unit, initiator of the Earth Forum process linked to the Climate Fluency Exchange and programme leader of the Masters programme in Social Sculpture.