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Relational Economies: Labor Over Capital

In his three-channel video installation History Zero, Stefanos Tsivopoulos reveals the nuances of value through three separate yet connected narratives involving characters diverse in socioeconomic status. The characters in each video never meet, though they interact through objects found and discarded. The homeless man finds the art collector’s trash bag filled with origami flowers made of cash and abandons his shopping cart full of miscellaneous found objects, which the artist encounters and keeps to use as materials for his artwork. Each character finds value in something useless to someone else; the video is literally an illustration of the proverb “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Natural light indicates that all three videos take place mostly during the daytime, leading one to question how the characters’ wealth influences the way they use their time. Why are they not at work during the day? Tsivopoulos uses time as a strategy to focus our attention on labor. The wealthy art collector, for example, is clearly not working during the day, while the homeless man is spending his time scavenging for survival. The artist does not appear to be working either: he is privileged with the luxury of working on his own schedule. The use of time also compels the viewer to contemplate their own use of time: how can they afford to be in an art gallery watching this video during the daytime while others are working for sustenance?

The comfort associated with not having to work is reinforced by the seated position of the viewer, as the placement of wooden blocks in front of each projection encourages the viewer to sit. This method of experiencing the work emphasizes the spectator’s role as an outsider looking in, underscoring the boundaries of one’s ability to comprehend others’ realities and experiences of the world, especially their valuation of material objects. The viewer must also get up and switch blocks to view each video as if putting themselves into a new frame of mind. 

Furthermore, the artist does not indicate an intended sequence for the videos. If one watches according to their own sense of logic and linear time, they would likely go from left to right. However, if the videos followed linear time they would be ordered right, left, center. Watching out of linear order creates anonymity, the same feeling experienced by the characters that randomly come across others’ discarded objects.

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