The Department of Metaphors · Reviews ·

Rent to Own

What does it mean to own something?

Choi Dachal’s piece, Rent to Own asks a simple question—what is the difference between ownership and rentership? Asked thus, it would seem obvious at first, but like a word repeated out loud enough times, the strangeness in the idea that concepts are mutually exclusive becomes all at once revealed.

Juxtaposing both objects and people, Choi asks for a deeper reflection of our own relationships. Carefully choosing friendship as the mode of relationship she wishes to pursue, Choi manages to ask both very little and a lot of her participants. It is both very easy to be friendly or even to become friends but only nominally as to really care about another requires a selflessness and dedication that could fill a life’s purpose. It is the exploration of this very relationship that brings such mystery and anxiety to the work.

Set up as a diptych of sorts, one series documents objects being removed while another series show photographs of a birthday party which we learn are staged with friends and actors. While rented objects slowly disappear, revealing themselves as owned or rented, those cheerful expressions captured during her staged birthday parties remain constant, leaving one to wonder who were paid to attend. The photographs’ inability to record the subtext is used to full effect, questioning our ability to discern sincerity from artifice, producing an uneasiness, ubiquitous but deep, that despite its banality still manages to unsettle. However, what is more urgent and poignant is the idea that all things—borrowed or owned, for an instant or a lifetime, pleasant or vile—mark us permanently.

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At its centre, despite its liberal use of obfuscation, irony, and comedy—how could one not find humour in the photographs of the birthday parties, rendered in a way which is all at once self-consciously satirical but incredibly sincere—Rent to Own avoids the trap of easy cynicism and is ultimately a humanizing piece with a bittersweet core. Choi reminds us that people, more than mere objects, cannot be merely discarded and forgotten. The residue of their time stains us with the permanence of an immutable photograph. Our impressions of it may change, but it still endures. They linger.

It does not try to be prescriptive or even suggestive. Instead, the work merely asks us to consider the fragility of the exchanges we constantly make with one another. Just as the things we think we possess may not be ours at all, the things we think we have lost may have been with us all along. We may never really own anything  but we may also never really lose anything. If we destabilize our notions of possession and dispossession (of renting and owning) as Choi’s work prompts us to, the contradiction that things are both impermanent and everlasting emerges but that paradox is a liberation. The artist knows that. The apparent lack of resolution in her work is not so much her inability to come to terms with that contradiction but rather a conscious gift of agency to her audience—to try to wash away the stain or to simply cherish the patina.