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Putting the art in barter
Global Times | June 04, 2012 18:40
By Li Yuting
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The famous case of an American man who managed to swap a paperclip for a villa highlighted the perennially popular habit of exchanging, or bartering, goods with no cash changing hands. And the Russian Sergey Balovin has taken this practice to a new level by exchanging all of his artworks for non-cash goods. As Balovin puts it, "Live on art, with no need for money!"

Sergey Balovin in his studio against a backdrop of his portraits Photo: Cai Xianmin/GT
Sergey Balovin in his studio against a backdrop of his portraits Photo: Cai Xianmin/GT

Good taste 

This May saw Balovin's Feed the Artist - Get a Portrait event which was part of his larger In-Kind Exchange Shanghai project. Balovin asks participants to give him anything that can be eaten or cooked - including vegetables, meats, fish and seasonings - or they can invite him to dine out in a restaurant. In return, Balovin will paint a portrait of each person. "I paint two portraits of each person in fact; one is presented to him or her and I keep the other one in my private collection which will be a part of a future exhibition," he told the Global Times. All the portraits are created in black ink.

The Feed the Artist event received a lot of attention in Shanghai and during its two-day duration, Balovin invited some 40 participants - both Chinese and foreigners - to his studio on the Bund. "The good thing was that we didn't need to discuss money," he said.

In the past week Balovin has started Dress up the Artist - Get a Portrait, where shoes, hats and jeans are all welcomed in exchange for art. To date he has already been the recipient of a pair of new shoes, six hats and a couple of T-shirts. However, the clothes-for-portraits idea hasn't gone down as well as in his native Russia where he undertook the same project. "I was once given a handmade coat. So people are very considerate when it comes to offering me things," he said.

Balovin organizes exchanges in many places and his website, http://balovin.ru details his In-Kind Exchange plans. "The project can take place in a gallery, museum, home or just a coffee shop," he said. "And at the same time it's a chance for people to promote their venues by inviting me there."

How it started

The idea for In-Kind Exchange occurred to Balovin back in December 2010 in Shanghai when his neighbor, a Russian woman, was about to leave the city. She had an easel, which she considered too big to carry with her.

"I needed one, so I suggested buying it from her. She said 'it's a gift from a friend and I don't like the idea of selling it.' So I suggested giving her a 'present' instead and she agreed," said Balovin.

The woman had expressed admiration for his work, so Balovin gave her a couple of painting classes in return for the easel. "And then I thought I can make portraits of people, and they can give me something useful."

He posted his new idea online and was soon welcoming a steady stream of visitors to his studio. The "gifts" he accumulated are all practical daily goods, including a microwave oven and a pair of glasses.

"This is hardly an original idea because bartering goods was happening before money was even invented," Balovin told the Global Times.

During its first year in Russia, some 500 people took part in his In-Kind Exchange project.

"The important thing is that it connects what I do and what I really like," he added.

"I like meeting people, I like painting portraits for them, I like the idea we don't need to use money, and I can even say to myself that I don't care about money. The In-Kind Exchange project is like a gift for me, and it has changed my life. Now I'm not afraid to do without money, and I've realized I can survive on art."

The bond with China

Born in 1984 in the city of Voronezh, Balovin was formerly a painting teacher at the Voronezh Teachers' Training Institute. He first came to China in 2009 where he held a solo exhibition in Ji'nan, Shandong Province. "It was a commercial exhibition, and according to the requirements of local organizers, I painted lots of Russian and European landscapes in the 'realist' style which proved very popular and which all sold quickly. Similar exhibitions were equally lucrative and I decided to stay in China and moved to Shanghai," he said.

Balovin will live and work in Shanghai for six more months, and he started the In-Kind Exchange project in Shanghai in March of 2011. And in October 2011, he also became involved in the Library Program event held at the Red Town art complex in Changning district. There, Balovin painted portraits in exchange for books, with the books being donated to small libraries across China. "It's more than just exchanging something practical; it's also a good way to connect to the local culture. For me, every time I visit a country, this project is a way for me to discover that country," he added.

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Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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