It may be better to give than to receive, but French philosopher Marcel Mauss takes this thought further in his seminal 1954 study ‘Essai sur le don’ (‘The Gift’). In it, he states, ‘such power resides in the object given that causes its recipient to pay it back’. And so, we give in order to be rewarded, and the hierarchy of gift giving and gift giver thus begins.
This thought is one of the themes underlying Sarah Tripp’s limited edition ‘unbound book’ Let Me Show You Some Things . Tripp, a fine artist who has moved her work into graphic design and film making, has written a familiar-sounding short story centred around a slightly hopeless, and equally familiar-sounding sibling rivalry, cleverly printed on the flipside of a series of postcards. Mingled with these words of one-upmanship, are homespun photographs of some of the objects mentioned in the text—a lucky rabbit foot hanging on an antique chain, a stolen library copy of All Quiet on the Western Front, a close-up of a pheasant feather found by the side of the road, and a rather lazy-looking, fortune-telling, scarlet cellophane fish. The material objects we collect around us, random things we give people, stuff we are given in return, all build a story around us—a narrative in possessions. And when laying all 15 cards out, picture up, they seem like glossy memento mori kitsch, or perhaps a maverick tarot card prediction.
As with a tarot set, the story cards come all wrapped up—in white embossed wrapping paper, tied with a silk ribbon and was produced for The Lighthouse in Glasgow as part of a major design exhibition The Scottish Show 07 . So Tripp’s work started life as a design object pitched against a whole gallery of material things some of us might covet, and others end up owning. But while this publication could be seen as a well-packaged commodity, the process of carefully unwrapping an everyday story scattered between the unspoken nostalgia of 15 images is gently nudged, by Tripp’s sensibility as a fine artist, towards being something other than mere slick design—a gift that keeps on giving.
Claire Mitchell is a Glasgow-based writer