What We Want Is Free, Second Edition

Critical Exchanges in Recent Art

Edited by Ted Purves & Shane Aslan Selzer

Subjects: Art, Art Theory, Postmodernism
Paperback : 9781438453149, 318 pages, July 2014
Hardcover : 9781438453132, 318 pages, July 2014

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Table of contents

Candies in Endless Supply: From Generosity to Critical Exchange
Ted Purves
No Longer Normal: The Landscape of Critical Exchange
Ted Purves and Shane Aslan Selzer
I. From Markets to Lobbies: Consideration of Objects, Exchanges, and Value
Sure, everyone might be an artist… but only one artist gets to be the guy who says that everyone else is an artist
Bill Arning
Exchange—The “Other” Social Sculpture
Francis McIlveen
Lunch Hour: Art, Community, Administrated Space and Unproductive Activity
Kate Fowle and Lars Bang Larsen
Blows Against the Empire
Ted Purves
How Do You Pin a Wave Upon the Sand?: An Interview with Cesare Pietroiusti
Shane Aslan Selzer
The Object of Exchange
Matthew Rana
How Free is Free? Property, Markets, and the Aestheics(s) of the Common(s)
Ignacio Valero
II. The Handbook for Critical Exchanges in Recent Art

Part One: Artists’ Projects
Introductory Remarks
Ted Purves

Project Histories
Edited by Ted Purves and Shane Aslan Selzer, with Jacob Wick
Part Two: Structures and Institutions
Introductory Remarks
Shane Aslan Selzer
Overviews of Institutions and Structures
Edited by Ted Purves and Shane Aslan Selzer, with Jacob Wick
Part Three: Coda, or what remains
Thing—City—Story: Trajectories of Urban Ephermera
Elyse Mallouk
III. Actors and Audiences: Generosity and Social Aesthetics in Praxis
The Arts, Generosity, and Politics
Peter Coyote

Four Projects
Jörgen Svensson
Reciprocal Generosity
Mary Jane Jacob
A Given
Ben Kinmont
A Call for Sociality
Jeanne van Heeswijk

Explores how contemporary artists use gifts, barter, and other forms of nonmonetary exchange as a means and medium of artistic production.


This revised edition of What We Want Is Free examines a twenty-year history of artistic productions that both model and occupy the various forms of exchange within contemporary society. From shops, gifts, and dinner parties to contract labor and petty theft, contemporary artists have used a variety of methods that both connect participants to tangible goods and services and, at the same time, offer critiques of and alternatives to global capitalism and other forms of social interaction. Examples of these various projects include the creation of free commuter bus lines and medicinal plant gardens, the distribution of such services as free housework or computer programming, and the production of community media projects such as free commuter newspapers and democratic low-wattage radio stations.

Like the first edition, the second edition includes a detailed survey of artists' projects from around the globe, as well as critical essays and artists' texts that explore the underlying social history and contemporary issues that further inform our reading of these works. This new edition also features a new introduction and additional chapters on the relation of exchange practices to democracy, the commons, object-oriented philosophy, and an examination of the impact of ongoing globalization on the economics of artists' projects. It also features a significantly expanded scope for the project histories, including work from the past decade and a new section dedicated to artist-initiated organizations and innovative models for new institutions.

Ted Purves is Associate Professor of Social Practice and Chair of the Graduate Program in Fine Arts at California College of the Arts. Shane Aslan Selzer is an artist, writer, and producer, who teaches at Parsons The New School for Design.


Praise for the First Edition

"If you are an artist, read this book. No matter how you define and structure your practice, the essays within What We Want Is Free will lead you to consider important questions about how you work and what kind of life a project can lead. " — Nailed Magazine