The Golden Party; when reality enters the space of art and a new value of time unfolds.
Developed as a one-take film that’s around two hours long, The Golden Party is a video that revolves around a domestic scene. A group of ladies, in their late 50s and 60s sit around a table in the living room of a private home. They have come together in order to buy and sell their gold jewellery.
As the time passes, and as invisible guests at their table, we become attentive listeners to their conversation. From the initial greetings and exchange of mutual compliments, we are caught up in a web of stories developing around their gold and silver jewellery and precious stones. Taken carefully from a bag and passed through their hands, each object becomes an opportunity for us to learn more of the life of each participant: we hear of their families (whose parent spent more on their graduation present?), their loves (older boyfriends who would buy more valuable or ‘heavy’ gifts, than their most recent ones), their lives in former Yugoslavia (in the ’80s they could afford to buy some jewellery thanks to their jobs), and their hopes for the future (a better life for their daughters and their grandchildren).
While the ladies weigh, wear and comment on their jewellery [‘How much does that necklace weigh?’, ‘Did you buy this bracelet or was it a present?], we also become familiar with the idea that the economical value and the sentimental value of each object are not equivalent. The scrutinising eye of each party’s participant operates a double ‘estimation’ of the object on the table: next to the economical one, there is also the value given by the precious memories and anecdotes attached by each person to that object and shared among their friends. It is the case then that even although the weight of a jewel or the amount of money gained by selling it may be consistent, its sentimental value is often felt as ‘inestimable’. Or, on the contrary, it is of great significance, even if the weight is ‘almost 0 grams’. And this happens just because that specific ring, or pair of earrings, recalls an important person or occasion in their lives.
It’s precisely by following such a process of circulation of objects, memories and comments, unfolding over the time of the video, that we become aware that what at first looks like just an ‘innocent’ recording of a gathering in a Tupperware party style actually provides us with a unique perspective on value, time and gold.
Gold is indeed a precious element in our culture. What has made it precious is its imperishability, its promise to ‘last forever’, or at least much longer than a human’s life. It is this characteristic, for instance, where we can trace the origin of the old alchemists’ dream to turn things into gold, and the historical function of gold reserves to guarantee the stability of powerful currencies (i.e the US dollar). In The Golden Party, gold remains precious because it’s a token of immortality, but, based upon the tales of the ladies, only because the immortality of the golden objects is connected to the circulation of the memories and experiences of the people who have used them, who have given and received them, who have worn them on their necks and on their fingers before passing them to others.
One scene that takes place early on is emblematic in highlighting such relations between time, value, and gold. When taking one necklace, a member of the group proposes a toast for her grandmothers, soon joined by a toast for their grandsons and ‘for a better future’. It is as if that golden jewel becomes a catalyst for a celebration of a moment, where the past (represented by the memories of her parents) and the future (her grandsons, who will in turn receive the piece as a gift) are united, allowing this group of ladies to inhabit the moment with a special intensity.
In this work, Bekan suggests to us that the value of time is in the intensity and duration of an experience, in the intensity and cultivation of relationships, and in the intensity and the ways we are together. That gold, which used to be the guarantee for the payment of debts before the digitisation of finances, or which used to buy eternity for the alchemists, is now used by the artist to highlight a specific sense of time; one that takes its value from a shared circulation of different stories and objects among people, that is ultimately an exchange of different experiences and qualities of time. Contrasting today’s pressures to understand and treat time as a homogeneous field articulated in measurable even units easy to be exchanged (i.e. like hours and minutes, or interest calculated per day), what happens around the table shows us a preference for a time that is a very subjective, intimate and touching experience. Something that feels closer to another understanding of time, like in neurosciences, where our sense of time is something seen as layered on the memory of other experiences.
‘Sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing are relatively easy to isolate in the brain. They have discrete functions that rarely overlap... but a sense of time is threaded through everything we perceive. It’s there in the length of
a song, the persistence of a scent, the flash of a light bulb’ (David M. Eagleman). For the perception of time, it seems that there is not just one specific corresponding spot in our brain, but that it is rather ‘a distributed property’. ‘It’s metasensory: it rides on the top of all the others,’ neuroscientist Eagleman insists.
Finally, by choosing to isolate and re-contextualise her mum’s Tupperware party in the art space, Bekan ultimately creates an occasion through which we are invited to rethink how we create value, how we spend (and measure) our time, and to reconsider the potential of our gestures, habits and behaviour. She does not hide that an after-work model of sociality (like a private gathering of friends in a house) can be used for an economic purpose. Yet, by specifically choosing to ‘re-present’ [isolate and show again] a situation where the roles of guests and host, friends and buyers overlap and are extremely fluid, she invites of us a renewed attention to common phenomena of our reality – where bounds of friendship and social relationships are more and more what is sold and exchanged in our life. She indirectly points us towards new insights about what we ultimately share, exchange and reciprocate.
(Amsterdam, 30 June 2012)