Ross Birrell


‘One gives because one is forced to do so, because the recipient has a sortof proprietary right overeverything which belongs to the donor.’ (Marcel Mauss, The Gift, 1954)

‘Only what can be posted exists’ (Bernhard Siegert, Relays: Literature as an Epoch of the Postal System,1999)

‘Envoy’ is an exhibition of photographic and video documentation of anongoing series of site-specific actions and interventions which have beenmade over the last four years (1998-2002) in St. Petersburg, the Hague, theNorth Sea, New York, the Gulf of Finland, Lapland, the Norwegian-Russianborder, the Barents Sea, Democracy Square, Gwangju and the Yellow Sea,Korea.

Undertaking a series of journeys in order to deliver a package or gift to aspecific institution (gifting a copy of Thomas More’s Utopia to theInternational Court of Justice, the Hague and to the United Nations, NewYork) or travelling to a specific site in order to throw a sealed packageor symbolic object into the sea, or simply reading certain texts insignificant cultural or political contexts, each action references thefailure of utopian ‘grand narratives’ of modernity and democracy. Theseworks combine the individual and the ideological in an exploration of thesocial function of the artist – as a ‘courier’ of packages and objects oras an ‘envoy’ sent by an unknown power for an unspecified end.

Like ‘utopia’, ‘envoy’ has a double meaning. An envoy (envoi) is not onlyan accredited messenger, courier, agent or representative (from Frenchenvoyer: to send on a journey), but also the object (letter, postcard,package, gift) which is dispatched and that may or may not reach itsdestination: ‘Getting out of hand is in fact the very condition of anenvoi, which means a sending off, a kick-off, a dispatch, a missive, ortransmission; in short it marks a passage out of hand and into a postal ortelecommunications network from which the envoi may or may not emerge atits addressed destination.’ (Peggy Kamuf, A Derrida Reader, 1991). In thisway, ‘envoy’ refers not only to the social role of the artist but also tothe uncertain destination of the work of art.

Ross Birrell, 2003

Exhibition: 25/01/03 – 01/03/03