Janet Selby ponders on the market you have when you are not having a market.
In late August 2009, I was invited to display my Buddhist-related ceramic sculptures at the Buddhism and Psychotherapy Conference1 at the Sydney Masonic Centre. In the tea room, I would display years of my work to an audience of sympathetic, focused and enthusiastic people – calm and compassionate therapists from all over Australia. You see, I make a statue of a character called Jizo Bodhisattva, guardian of children and transformations. The organisers asked me to show my Jizo statues, as the keynote speaker from USA also makes them and has written a book about this character.2 It seemed pertinent that I show my work as I am the only artist making this kind of thing in the Sydney Zen community. However, there was one stipulation.
The organisers asked that no money be exchanged during the conference, despite Phoenix Books selling in the same room. I suppose they wanted to create a reverent atmosphere rather than a commercial market place. The spirit of capitalism was to be set aside to appreciate the immediate beauty of the moment – a challenge for any artist trying to make a living!
I organised it so that each piece of my work had a number on it corresponding to my price list where I would record details of the purchase so that payment could be made after the conference. Some of the bigger pieces were displayed on plinths, whilst the smaller pieces were on a table with me sitting there, smiling. If people were interested in purchasing, they could write their name and contact details on my list and we could arrange payment afterwards. The committee approved this plan.
Early Saturday morning, I transported my sculptures and plinths, setting them up on two tables kindly supplied for my exhibition. I then realised I had left my price list at home and panicked as I rushed around with stickers, trying to remember the prices I had set. Tea time came and all the happy people came into the room for a break. When the first $20 note passed into my hands all the discreet and subtle planning went out the window. I accepted cash or cheque, but didn’t have credit card facilities. The President bought a piece, agreeing to pay by direct deposit, then the Honourable Founder of the host organisation purchased a $100 piece. It was on for all and sundry. In the two conference days I made enough money to pay for my recently purchased kiln and had a list as long as my arm for commissions. I left the conference smiling.
1 Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists (AABCAP) 3rd Annual Conference: Compassion for a World in Crisis.
2 Jan Chozen Bays, Jizo Bodhisattva, Shambala 2003