Arts & Life, Fine & Performing Arts

New art exhibit seeks the truth behind altruism

The sight of two children fighting over a toy usually doesn’t elicit more than a reproach from a parent or guardian. “Sharing is caring” is the truism that’s commonly passed down from adult to child in these situations.

But how much do American’s really believe what they are teaching their own kids about sharing?

Artist Joel Tauber upcoming exhibit at the University Art Museum “The Sharing Project” challenges the public to rethink the complex dynamics of sharing and the conflicting messages about altruism that prevail in American culture.

The exhibit, which will be making its U.S. premiere at the UAM on June 13th, will comprise of a 15-channel video installation depicting Tauber and his young son, Zeke, over a three-year span as they both struggle to better understand the concept of sharing.

The Daily 49er sat down with Tauber to talk about the ideas and inspirations behind “The Sharing Project.”

Q: Can you give us a little background on why you created this installation?

A: It’s an interdisciplinary project dealing with the seemingly simple concept of sharing.

We all say, “Yeah, we should share.” But if you really start to think about it, what does that mean, because we applaud selfishness in other ways. On top of that, there’s so much inequity in this country. So I’ve been trying to figure it out.

I interviewed people in different fields. I talked to philosophers, economists, an anthropologist, a psychologist, teachers and other thinkers involved in education.

Q: What is the installation going to look like once it’s up and running?

A: There’ll be seven pairs of monitors and headphones mounted on the walls that will all be looping videos. The ones on top will show vignettes of Zeke or I grappling with issues pertaining to sharing. The bottom ones will be five-minute shorts where I synthesize all the information I’ve been researching.

There will also be an iPad loaded with six hours of footage taken from all the interviews I mentioned.

The large central piece will be showing footage I took at the ruins of a forgotten socialist commune in Deep South Carolina that came to be known as Happyville, and which was created by 50 Russian Jews from New York in 1905.

Q: Before you became a father did you think much about sharing or was that something that came up only after you had kids?

A: Sharing has always been a little bit tricky for me because I like my private space and time. So I don’t know where the line is.

There’s a philosopher Peter Singer who talks about how we should be giving charity to the point where we’re almost homeless because there are all these people who are starving. I don’t know if I’m capable of doing that, but I think we should be sharing a lot more.

Q: You mentioned selfishness earlier, where do you think the lauding of selfishness and constant competition in our culture comes from?

A: Ethics is not part of the conversation. It’s not a cool thing to talk about, really. As opposed to ethics determining our systems, all of a sudden we’ve decided, for god knows what reason, that the market system should be the model for everything.

The ideals of individuality and freedom are huge values in our country, and I love those values, but if you push those things too far they become selfishness, and I think we’ve pushed them too far.

Q: Is sharing something humans have a natural proclivity towards?

A: There are many different theories about altruism. For example, the theory of multilevel selection suggests— and I feel this in myself, so I think its true—that sometimes we have impulses at the same time to do opposite things. We may want to cheat, or steal, or not share because as individuals we can get more stuff that way.

At the same time, we have an impulse to do the right thing, to share and to be kind. On a genetic level, if we do that than our group is stronger. So if we’re a culture that shares and cooperates, it’s better for ourselves and for our offspring within that group.

So I’m trying to bring all these things up in a personal way as opposed to yelling at people. We all recognize this, that sharing is an important value; otherwise we wouldn’t be teaching it, or at least pretending to be teaching it to our kids.

Tauber is inviting attendees to bring a toy to the exhibit, which will be arranged in a communal sculpture in the center of the space. At the end of the show, on July 19, attendees will be asked to take the toys and to give them away to someone else. Tauber says the exercise is intended to break down the idea of ownership.

The UAM will host Tauber’s installation from June 13 to July 19. An opening reception will take place on June 20 from 6-8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

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