The Mona Lisa on my mantlepiece
The Mona Lisa arrived at our house today.
It has taken time to get here. I asked for it a year ago at my neighbourhood well and then there were many conversations around the well to understand why I needed the original painting.
Wouldn’t a jpeg or a printed poster be enough? was the main response.
I was insistent though. I was asking for Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa because it was the original painting. Everything else was a copy or a derivative. I wanted to directly experience the real painting. I could not travel due to my age and immersive VR trips just made me feel sick. My neighbours began to understand my need and other people’s presence was helpful in spreading the conversation load when more questions and requests for clarification came through. I knew what I needed and why but the effort of being present was sometimes too much. The neighbourhood helped with that.
My neighbourhood well obviously did not have the Mona Lisa, so my request went further into the community. With my neighbourhood supporting my request, the pressure was off me to answer all the questions again and again.
Over time my request broke down into a multitude of gifts and requests. The Mona Lisa was in Paris, and I was in Gloucestershire. The practicalities of transporting the painting became a chain of small promises and actions coordinated by the community through each of the neighbourhoods. People offered their capacities and capabilities and the neighbourhoods balanced out how much presence was needed in each place and time. No person can be forced to gift. No person must gift beyond their personal physical or cognitive capacity.
So, the Mona Lisa travelled from France. It took time as people realised that the painting itself was a gift to each of the neighbourhoods that it passed thru. The journey became a mobile museum and exhibition event. I had requested it for my own reasons but that single request had become a travelling party of many gifts and requests. The delay in arriving at my home was not due to inefficiency but due to the amount of human presence that the painting accumulated on its journey.
I heard all about the events and the parties. Stories were shared around the well. The gifts of new presences and storytelling were valued by so many neighbourhoods. New art was crafted. New requests were invented. The community worked as intended — gifts and requests were equally valid, and everyone gained.
The Mona Lisa arrived in the afternoon.
We had cleared space in the living room for it. The mantlepiece was tidied up.
A member of the museum staff had travelled with the painting all the way from Paris. She had both ensured the artefact’s safety and engaged with people as they made gifts and requests. She carried so many gifts from so many neighbourhoods. She was content with how we had arranged the place and our neighbours helped bring the painting in.
I made a gift of tea for everyone, and some cake and scones were added by the neighbourhood.
I had asked for the Mona Lisa and the reason why had been strong enough for my neighbourhood and the community to support it.
As we sat drinking tea, I made my gift of the story of how my wife, who died a year ago, had first met me in the Louvre when I had stood before the Mona Lisa and spoken out, much too loudly, about how it was too far away and too small to see. We had shared that emotional moment of disappointment and then began a relationship that had lasted for decades,
With the Mona Lisa on the mantlepiece, we shared a moment of joy even if she was no longer with us.
I asked for the Mona Lisa and tomorrow it is going back to Paris.
We are all content because we shared our gifts and requests. We spent time being present with each other and celebrated how my wife and I had been brought together by the presence of the painting.
This is just a design fiction based on ideas in a post about a society that abandons economics for one based on human presence, gifts and equity. Many of the phrases and words used in this story are explained in this post.
Originally published at https://acuity.design on December 13, 2021.