Tania Bruguera on Reciprocity, Generosity, and Earned Respect

Tom Finkelpearl:

“I’ve been thinking a lot about reciprocity lately…. When you say you have created a community, that could mean this exchange, the notion that I’ll help you with your sound editing if you do the camera work for me, which seems like reciprocity.”

Tania Bruguera [emphasis added]:

“The mistake is in the use of if. It is not, ‘I do this for you if you do this for me,’ it’s just, ‘I do this for you.’ The point is that each person should say the same. It is not a quid pro quo. Maybe person A is helped by person B, and later person B gets help from person C and D, and person A is helping person C. It’s not a two-way street; it’s a place in the middle, where people meet. It is knowing that you will have support, and things are not seen as debts or gains but as joy.

I always say that I wanted to provide a safe environment [at Cáthedra Arte de Conducta], safe but tough, safe because we were based in trust and honesty, not because it was easy. It is a system based on professional admiration, which each person has to work hard to get from the rest of the group.”

—From Tom Finklepearl, What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Collaboration(2013)

This community understanding described by Bruguera is the opposite of the nakedly ambitious—where other people are sources of economic or social capital to be exploited, or lacking such capital, disregarded. Since artists’ opportunities for external validation are so competitive, it’s easy to be lazy and let ambitions guide behaviors.

I’d love to strive for this model of positive contributions:

To stop currying favors and stockpiling IOUs.

To quit politicking with hidden agendas.

To admire the admirable, and to question devotion to the merely influential.

To speak up or be discreet because it’s the right thing to do, not from fear of how it will affect reputations or limit future opportunities.

To pay it forward.

To give freely, and to continually earn each others’ respect.

To create spaces that are safe but tough.


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