Caleb Larsen, A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter (2009)

To reduce it all to economics, which is often tempting, artists make product to make money, or a living at least. Those who do not manage this, still put value on their work.

Say the artwork’s function is to generate revenue. It has done so historically by being beautiful and hence desirable, and from the 20th century onwards it has done so by being new which, as advertisers will demonstrate, is another way to sell.

But it cannot be said that art is an efficient way of getting rich. As with most creative pursuits, most pracititioners never make it pay. In professional terms it is like panning for gold or gambling. Although some do well.

Given all this, A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter by Caleb Larsen is a very pure gesture. As you see it as an unadorned black box which apparently does nothing, while in fact this objet d’art is sending messages to a web server to check on its own progress in an eBay auction. Yes, it sells itself.

Each new owner must plug it back it into the ethernet and let it create a new auction. It has automated the role of artist and of dealer, which is apparently to deceive and slaughter. If you thought art was a gift economy, this piece by Larsen should make you think again.

The starting price is $7,500 and you can check out the eBay page here. And there is a precedent for this kind of thing. In 1961 Robert Morris made Box with the Sound of its Own Making, which did pretty much what it said on the plaque.

A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter is part of Suspending Disbelief, an exhibition at Lighthouse, Brighton, until 5 September. See gallery website for opening times.

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