Sal Randolph // Free Money
Part of Participatory Dissent (Western Front)
I've read about millionaires who give away money to people who send letters to the paper giving a good reason to receive a gift of cash. Begging as entertainment. Talk show host make a big deal about giving away money and big expensive things. Oprah and Rosie have a history of giving away ostentatious swag. Ellen gives away houses. Philanthropy as entertainment.
I dream about what I'll do with the free money. I could use a new bra and some long underwear. I could use a massage therapy treatment now that the cold weather has put my lower back into a wicked spasm. Or...I could give it away. I knew exactly who I'd give it to. "I have a friend who makes great bannock," I explained to Sal. He's a nutritionalist, organic gardener, community worker and a quiet revolutionary. I'm going to give the money to him--$60 Canadian. Yay!!!!!!!
I checked a box on a little black notebook that says I will give the money instead of keeping it. I can write her notes about what I did with the money and mail the booklet back to her in a self-addressed stamped enveloped she gave me. I said I'd ask my friend for his bannock recipe to put into the book.
Randolph likes to give away money, but she admits it is a thrilling but vulnerable action. She is not independently wealthy. Mostly she's happy with the buzz created by giving away money. There was a time that it was a bit hard--giving a large some of cash to one person made her feel uneasy afterwards, even a bit melancholy. She admits it worried her to part with so much money at once.
Why give away money? As a painter and sculptor in New York, Randolph was tired of the lack of connection between the audience and the work. At one gallery show she raffled off some work for free. It created a sensation. Suddenly people were angry they couldn't buy the work. This inspired a series of art actions around the idea of giving away art, words, and cash. She even bought an artist's place in Manifesta 4, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art held in Frankfurt am Main, Germany in 2002and used it to create a free art show within the biennial that ended up being bigger than the main show itself.
I asked her about the idea of artists working for free. I was worried she was giving away her artist fee. The LIVE Biennial has a policy that participating galleries pay artists CARFAC artist fees, per diems, and travel costs. Canadian artists have worked very hard to prevent artists from being exploited. Her answer was that no, she was spending her own money, not her artist fee, and she is giving away more money than her artist fee will be. She is not being paid to give money away. Or is she? She is earning a living as a philanthropist/artist.
For more info on Randolph's work please check out her web site