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Senior Lecturer Edie Bresler Awarded Spring Residency at Boston Center for the Arts

January 10, 2013

Senior Lecturer Edie Bresler has been awarded a Spring Artist Residency at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) for her project Exchange Economies.

Exchange Economies explores the relationship between how value is set and what that actually means. While in residency, Bresler will roam the neighborhoods around the BCA and ask strangers if they'd be willing to sit for a portrait. Photos will be taken using everything from a 19th century view camera to an iPhone, and participants will receive a voucher that can be exchanged for any of the portraits on display during a BCA community day.

"This is very much an experiment…a cultural question. An economic question," Bresler said.

Four prints will be made of each photo, with one exhibited (and possibly bartered for), one for the BCA's permanent collection, one to be sold with the entire collection to a collector, and the last as the artist's proof (or reserved for the participant if their portrait was earlier bartered for.) During the last hour of each community day, anybody without vouchers can make an offer for the remaining portraits. Barter offers can be anything. "My hope is that people will be moved by the gift of an image," she said.

Bresler is also working on We Sold A Winner, a look at how the lottery economy affects the mom and pop stores that sell winning tickets, the players who are dreaming big and the community at large.

"[There's a] strange and odd value in the potential to dream," Bresler said. "That's the exchange. You give me ten dollars, I give you a license to dream."

Bresler was inspired by the lottery back in 2009, after the latest financial crisis. "It was a shock to me that there was no protection for an investor like me," she said. At the same time, she noticed that the ground was being covered in discarded lottery tickets. "It was a window into a world that I knew nothing about."

We Sold A Winner and a later Davis Square installation (You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours) sent Edie on an exploration of independent convenience stores across the country and in her own local community. For a small store, commissions from lottery ticket sales and bonuses for winning tickets make up a major portion of their revenue. Bonuses from winning tickets have helped independent store owners do everything from put their children through college to making a down payment on a house.

But the lottery also highlights a gap between those that can afford to play but choose a more solid investment, versus those that can't afford to play but don't have the same investment options. One You scratch my back participant noted, "When you're out of the labor market [the lottery] seems a lot more reasonable. I've been unemployed for three years."

In conducting her research, Bresler considers her role not as one to cast judgment, but to use her camera to expose the overlooked. She might spend hours in a store, talking with the owner and watching lottery players. "Getting to know these store owners has been very gratifying," Bresler said.  "In some ways, I'm bearing witness to a way of life I spent a lot of time researching."

"Every day is an adventure," Bresler says about her art. "Terrifying, but fun."

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