Art is Work.
It’s a dirty little secret that we’ve been trying to cover up for hundreds of years now, but maybe it’s not to our benefit to keep in this one closet any longer.
The question of immaterial labour has haunted the identity of the artist ever since Velázquez campaigned to elevate art above craft. The production of illusory or conceptual work seems at odds with any embodied toil in the processes of its creation. There are rarely invoices, timesheets or job tickets for artists to quantify or account for their work. Rather, they are assumed to create, but not to labour.
The gains of this deception are of questionable worth. Freed from an association with labour, artists presumably enjoy greater social standing and mystique. And yet, what once was an asset in aristocratic society has become an impairment in today’s capitalist economy. Distanced from toil and material work, artists stand uncomfortably in contrast to the premium on productivity levied at other vocations.
This seems to be a point made again and again by Kelly Mark, an artist that continually positions herself as an art worker rather than what we might imagine an artist to be.
In & Out (1997 ongoing until 2032) consists of the continuing accumulation and display of punch cards documenting all the hours spent by the artist in her studio. It is owned by a private collector, who pays a yearly stipend for the continuation of Mark’s work (and, in a way, Mark’s own studio practice), thereby becoming her “shitty boss”. The multitude of cards, which measure and visualize the time spent in labour, forefront the activity of art making as a form of toil, sustained and extracted hour by hour.
Likewise, Working Hardly Working (2009) teases out this play of expectations, pitting the difficulty of maintaining a practice of work against the presumed sloth of artists such as Bruce Nauman, whose pieces present more mystique than product and are far distanced from manual craft undertaken by the artist’s own hand.
It is interesting to consider what could be at stake in conceiving of art as labour, whether material or otherwise. Different forms of valuing are won and lost in this paradigm shift. Instead of status, the artist gains legitimacy; instead of heroization, the artist is awarded wages (Mark, for instance, has successfully renegotiated artist fees to work for the minimum wage rather than the CARFAC standard, and come out ahead). Arguably, in turn, this new understanding of art work stands to dignify the profession, albeit on the terms of productive economy rather than through the value of art in and of itself.
And yet, this does not precisely address the nature of the kind of work artists engage in. While Mark’s studio time is on the clock, this measure of her labour does not explain the character of her time spent at work. Rather than the alienated toil of a factory worker, the labour of an artist is more strongly immaterial and relational than industrial work. Despite hinging around a material object, the purpose of much of art today lies in its emotional and conceptual affects.
This opens up an entirely different understanding of work and of toil, one that might be aligned with Michael Hardt’s idea of immaterial labour. Reworking Marxism for the 21st century, Hardt sketches out a working class based out of offices and institutions rather than factories, engaged in the exchange of services and information instead of material commodities. This post-industrial work not only contains the potential to be very exploitative (imagine the emotional wear on the call centre worker or health care provider), it also has become an increasingly invasive organizational system as the work day creeps outwards from 9-5 into a cascading string of second jobs, weekend projects and evening events.
Art making, understood in this context, can also appear quite exploitative. The lack of boundaries between work and life, the incredibly low rate of pay per hours worked and the unequal relation between the artist and the public are all challenges that can weigh particularly heavily on art makers. It can be a thankless, oppressive job when things are going poorly.
This is not to say, however, that artists and other immaterial workers are purely exploited. Hardt makes the case that those who we might see as victims are also powerful agents in many respects, endowed with unique capabilities that emerge out of their skills as post-industrial labourers. Much of this kind of work, be it the creation of affects or the organization of systems, essentially outfits these workers with the tools to create new social relations and political arrangements. Between artists, teachers, nurses and clerks lies the ability to form new societies, if creatively and collectively applied. In this space of possibilities, perhaps there is even the potential to form more truly democratic relations.
We might therefore say that art is work- work with the dual potential to empower or oppress its maker. Still, that definition excludes the attraction towards art making that many experience which seems to extend beyond a rational calculation of capital.
To fully account for the pleasure of art making, one can turn to Peter Kropotkin’s notion of the need for luxury.
Kropotkin, “The Prince of Anarchism”, makes an important intervention into the usual Marxist rhetoric on labour. His anarchistic vision for work does not glorify toil, but instead seeks to completely minimize drudgery through the intelligent application of engineering technologies and a radical rethinking of consumer waste. Living on little means sacrificing less in labour, freeing time for individually driven pursuits and desires. Moreover, rather than abolishing luxury goods as bourgeois vices, Kropotkin claims that they still constitute vital human desires for ornament, beauty and leisure. For Kropotkin, this may have included his beard, which we must confess is quite luxurious and pleasing.
Art seems easy enough to situate in this context. As a common luxury good, or as affective leisure, artworks are not to be reduced to ideological tools or status objects. What’s more, the drive to make art is theorized on the level of the individual, presenting art as a vocation more than another job. Art making, like all immaterial labour in Kropotkin’s social arrangements, is a calling and an individual passion. The manual drudgery and affective demands that comes with the job are costs paid gladly for the pleasure that comes from the creation and community of art work- and perhaps the power of agency that comes in turn with its immaterial labour.
Seeing art as work, then, is to conceive of an artistic practice with conscious consideration to the nature and cost of its labour. Forefronting art as work may form the first step towards improving the conditions of this labour and exploring the potential that it offers as a common luxury and political resource.
However, as is the seeming nature of all labour today, my work here is hardly done. I’d like to open up the conversation about work and art to Latitude’s online and tangible communities. How are art and work divided in your experiences, and what may be at stake in recognizing art as labour? Please feel free to leave your comments below, or, alternatively, come by the gallery next Wednesday night for October 5th’s Theory for Dinner. We’ll be looking at a short chapter by Kropotkin and a talk by Hardt, which I promise will be more leisure than toil.
This post is a special message from Jessie Beier, on behalf of the Latitude 53 Board of Directors
I’m a planner, always have been. I like thinking about the future and planning for it. Now, when I think about this concept, ‘the future’, it is actually somewhat absurd. Maybe very absurd. How can one plan for the future when it does not yet exist? When is the future? Tomorrow? Next year? Ten years from now? By the time the future arrives it will be now and a new future will be created- a new thing to which we can look forward! Look forward. Look. See? Envision? These words are not incidental. When we think about the future, we often look forward. We see. We envision.
Wait, let’s back things up before I get carried away…let me introduce myself. My name is Jessie and I am on the Board of Directors of Latitude 53. I have been a volunteer with the institution since 2004 when I joined the Special Events Committee (I was part of the first year of the patio series!). Since then, I have been involved with Latitude through various volunteer roles and in the spring of 2010 I joined the Board of Directors. One of the things that drew me to the board was the idea that we could plan. Plan and envision. Over the last Board term year, we have done just that—we have discussed, debated, deliberated and developed a vision statement. A vision of the way Latitude 53 will be in the future.
Latitude 53 has revised its Bylaws. Here is a copy of the revised bylaws which will be voted upon at the Annual General Meeting on Wednesday, 12 October 2011 at 10248 - 106 Street, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
text by: lance mclean
I have been thinking a lot about “pre intentions” and what it would be like to let go of them when performing. Years ago I say a guy with a shirt that said: “No expectations, no disapointments.” It made me laugh when I first say it but as I kept thinking about it it started to make me think differently about understanding the beauty of life as it is not as we may want it to be.
I like how your work exists within environments – for the most part- that are uncontrolled and constantly in flux. The idea of creating space and taking ownership of that space is a lot more challenging when outside the protective space of a gallery. Not that the gallery is a completely dead space and therefore obsolete/ unnesecary- as it lets the artist address its history and can engage the viewer(s), participant(s) and artist(s) in ways that being in public can’t, but saying that I don’t think it holds the same ‘power’ it used to. Which makes me think of the breaking down of “authority” within the arts in general. To me there are no alternative spaces anymore, anyway. I think it’s more important to me to think in terms of context and maching the work to a space rather than the other way around. We all exist somewhere at some time and so does the manifistations of our actions/ ideas. For the most part, how the viewer reads a work depends on the individual and what they bring to it. The thing that I think is most difficult about performing outside of the gallery is that there are very few free spaces where a person can express themselves without being moved along. It’s criminal that cities make it nearly impossible to enjoy a space in the way we need to- from the no loitering signs to the blatant middle bars placed on benches to the concrete seats with steel plates afixed to their edges- to detere skateboaders from sliding across them. When I lived in Toronto- (by York University) (Jane and Finch area) I was always struck by the bleekness of all the concrete towers. So drab and hollow and cold. Everything was grey and univiting. On my way to the store I would always see this group of men sitting cross-legged on a small patch of grass in front of one of those towers with their tiny colman burner trying to have a picnic. It struck me that cities basically asign places where citizens go and can’t go. Even nature is like this now. We can’t roam freely, anymore. There is so much control our our human spaces. This is something that I liked about Amy’s last piece- she seemed to take ownership of her space in that park. She marked the ground but also marked our need to take back what is all of ours.
When Emilio and his mother performed their collaboration I was struck by how much the audience wanted to give. This is the power of making work with honest intentions. Emilios’ mother exuded a power and strength that I have been privileged to witness through many women I have known. Their piece made me think about the bond between a mother and child but also the others bonds that are more fleeting like the bond that sometimes happens between the audience and performer(s). I think that Emilio has adeptly shown our most basic universal connection- to nurture and be nurtured. The strength is in his work seems to stem from his softness- his openness to the people in the room. He didn’t just include us in the piece he held out his hand and walked us into his home. I actually think the most revelling part of the performance was when he was speaking in Spanish to his mother and not translating- the intimacy in doing something public and private at the same time. A small moment. But it’s in these small moments where this crossover between doing and living exists- between memories and dreams; between anticipation and acceptance; between love and reverence. Anyway, a performance is beyond an experience or a memory- it’s a portal into something deeper…
photo courtesy the artist
a conversation cannot replace a performance. i was not able to see michael dudeck perform, and so, as a second best, we met for breakfast so i could attempt to see deeper into this generous and articulate person.
what i saw was an artist who has an ardent desire to create a world to inhabit. you could say this is what drives most artists, however in dudeck’s case i would wager this desire incorporates a love.
not only a love for his fellow human travellers on this planet, but a love for what has not yet been imagined. or named. or given a territory. and so michael dudeck has an ardent desire to create this territory, to stake out a place and to occupy it. this territory can be glimpsed through his performance here at visualeyez. it is a territory of lush sensuousness. but also of brutal animalism. it is a territory where animal and human, male and female merge, mingle, separate and copulate. it is a world where magic and ritual reign. but it is also a deeply tender world. where beings can be seen and protected until they too find their own voice. it is a world caught in a glimpse, and then flung wide open. it pulsates and gyrates and the drums can be heard. smoke and mist and vast landscapes go on for miles. you can get lost in this world and you may never find your way out. it is queer.
so yes, michael dudeck has this vision. but he also has something else. ambition. an ambition and a sensitivity to the codes and protocols of a world of art i will never feel comfortable in. but he does. and michael dudeck is going to enter this world because this world can give him what he needs in order to create his world. it is hard to be ambitious in self-effacing canada. but you know, i think canada is ready for people who are going to take their ideas as far and as wide as they can. it requires a vastness of vision as well as an ability to be flexible enough and perseverant enough and hard nosed enough. i am not sure the michael dudeck i saw was hard nosed enough, but i have no doubt he will learn to manoeuvre to receive what he needs, and i, for one, sincerely hope to see michael succeed, because i too believe this world of his needs to be visioned and explored and inhabited.
although, if michael decides to stay up north and be a shaman who fights for the rights of the indiginous peoples, well, I woud be cool with that too.
photos by catherine kuzik
performance art in public space can be tricky. you never really know how the work will be received - security might be called or the police alerted because any unknown or unusual activity can be deemed ”suspicious.”
often the safest bet for the artist is to act “as if” the authority resides in them, “as if” this activity is completely normal and they are just “doing their job.” and this is exactly what amy malbeuf did. she arrived on the scene, she performed her task, she left. perfectly normal. except, amy malbeuf was dressed in a silver leotard that completely covered her body. her body…and her head. no eyes, no nose, no mouth, no skin, no hair was visible. all we see is a body encased in silver. the task performed involved walking in a circle and spreading some colourful substance with a “golfgreen” fertilizer spreader.
as an unsuspecting audience you could be more charmed than alarmed. this was, after all, a daylight activity performed in a park. the silver being did not seem to pose a threat, and there was no obvious danger either to the silver being or to yourself.
if you had the time and the inclination you would probably sit on the concrete ledge next to the grass and watch. and this is precisely what various “spectators” did. i imagine they would have found pleasure in the confident stride of the being dressed in silver, and perhaps they found pleasure in the sparkly reflective quality of the clothing. the coloured substance coming from the fertilizer spreader was also pleasing to the eye. there was comfort found in the repetition of the action. the sensation was not, i suspect, very different than the pleasure one receives from sitting in a park and watching grass being mown. watching a body engaging fully in a task is one of the small pleasures of life, and here this pleasure is augmented by the beauty of the spectacle unfolding before you.
first a pale blue substance is scattered via a fertilizer spreader in the configuration of a circle. after this circle is complete the silver being pours a darker blue material into the fertilizer spreader. this darker blue is spread on top of the pale blue. i think of matisse as this colour is spread. henri matisse and his paper cutouts, where often a clear blue predominated. however the silver being does not stop here. on top of the blue ground a white substance is spread, and on top of the white substance a golden-brown large seed is spread. “wheat” i hear someone say. the circle is complete, the work done. i watch as the silver being flings a brown sack over the shoulder and, pushing the greengolfer feeder in front, walks down the sidewalk and out of view. i watch the figure walk away until they slip out of sight. i wonder, what was that about?
as a spectator i could leave the performance here and have it rest as a moment in my life where i saw something strange and wonderful. i could also share what i had seen with friends.
lets just say one of my friends who i told the story to was curious and wanted to know more. i could take this friend back to the park and show them the circle as this trace of the action remains. its possible the colours in the circle are scuffed because people have shuffled over the pigment or perhaps some of the seeds are gone, plucked by birds. my friend, curious as to what the carrier of the pigment is, might bend down and take some of the blue stuff into their hands, smell it, taste it. if so, my friend would discover the material was salt.
hmmm… salt. that is interesting. coloured salt on brick. i wonder what that does? my friend (obviously smarter and more resourceful than i am) tells me when salt is given to cows (as cows must have salt in order to survive) the grass around the salt dies. in fact, my friend continues, salt is poisonous and if eaten in too great a quantity causes death. it’s called salt poisoning.
curious. why would someone colour salt and put it in a park and then put seeds on top of this poisonous substance? my friend, (yes the curious one) decides to google. being incredibly talented my friend comes to this page: http://www.visualeyez.org/festival-2011/artists/amy-malbeuf/ where the project is described and the silver being named.
with this additional information the reading of the action in the park shifts. no longer solely a wondrous magical spectacle the action now becomes loaded with a deeper political and social meaning. these are not ordinary circles, they are markers of a sacred space. the salt, which is the carrier of coloured pigment is meant to be destructive, to reflect a destruction felt by one people through the actions of another people. in this case by indigenous peoples and their colonizers.
as i reflect on this deeper significance i start to imagine how a colonial invasion of amy’s silver being might play out. i start to imagine hundreds, no millions of beings covered in silver cloth descending on edmonton and creating sacred circles. sacred circles that, in effect, are poisonous to the earth. personally, i would have to say that’s a pretty good analogy for the effects of colonialism. an encounter that starts off being a pleasurable sensation of seeing a strange and wondrous being then turns into an occupation that overruns the land and ends up poisoning us all. the drive of colonialism was the accumulation of wealth and goods – i.e. capitalism, and as capitalism knows no bounds the destructive impulse behind colonialism is still alive and well
i think here of amy malbeuf’s circles and the empty space inside the circle. perhaps this inner sanctum is protected; perhaps this inner sanctum is the sacred space of hope.
photo by catherine kuzik
i want you to know. there is a woman. a woman who is unmaking. returning to thread a cloth. returning to thread a cloth that was made. returning to thread a cloth that was made to be cut into a pattern. returning to thread a cloth that was made to be cut into a pattern to be sewn into a uniform to be worn by a human being to mark this human being as belonging to an army. i want you to know there is a woman who is unmaking this uniform and returning it to thread. so we can begin again. we can start over again.
let us start over again.
today we meet inside. the weather has turned windy and cold. again there is a circle, but no table between. we discuss work that is not gallery specific. emilio rojas’ relational ritual and aimée henny brown’s revival walk. the fact that both these works break with the standards of both gallery viewing and theatre creates challenges and unique opportunities. also, with emilio’s work being relational every person present was the “keeper” of their own unique experience. there was no right or wrong in the telling of how the work affected each person. there was also an incredible sense of generosity that came forward today where support was offered in a way any artist (or person for that matter) loves to hear…”we will be there for you.” this being with each other and for each other, is in a sense what these two works are grappling with. the question is as old as time and will i suspect, always be relevant.
delicate work. the cloth held between the hands. one hand holding cloth, one hand pinching thread to draw it out from the cloth. the sound of one thread being drawn through the length of the cloth. like a wave. one thread at a time. one wave at a time. i become lulled as if i am watching the waves roll in on a beach.
i am amazed at the tranquility engendered by watching helene vosters engage in her self-appointed task. i wonder if i am projecting some desire for maternal care. helene vosters sitting with cloth in hand reminds me of how my sons would come to me with their stuffed animals for me to repair. this posture of sitting, hands engaged, head bowed, this attentiveness to detail, to cloth - is this reparation?
today i do not feel sadness, nor do i think about war, rather i allow the serenity of this scene to flow over me.
i am met at the entrance to the building by a group of people sitting on the steps. as i go to open the door to run up to the gallery they tell me only one person is permitted to enter the building at a time. the people sitting on the steps inform me they have been there since 17h30. i panic realizing i will not be able to see and hence not able to experience the performance - meaning i will not be able to blog about this performance as there is no way all these people will pass through before the performance ends its durational slot. as i am realizing this emilio arrives at the entrance to the building and invites one person to enter. it is helene vosters turn, but she graciously yields to me in my role as “the blogger.” not quite certain this is an ethical manoeuvre, i take helene’s place and follow emilio up the stairs to the gallery.
emilio rojas bids me to cross the threshold into a location completely transformed by his project. candles offer light and incense scents the space. the performance, or ritual begins immediately. i don’t have time to adjust to the light, or to take off my backpack. smoke from burning sage is wafted near my head as emilio beckons me to give him my hands, which i do. a ceremony of hand washing begins, and i, realizing the ceremony has begun, ask emilio if i can take off my backpack. he helps me with the weight of the pack and puts it behind the counter.
emilio takes me through a variety of actions: hands washing, feet washing, offering a berry to my lips, placing a heavy rock in my hands, pennies in my pockets. i am both delighted and sceptical. delighted by emilio and his attentions to my being and the space he has created, yet sceptical of the consequences of some of the actions and his ability to really “see” and be attentive to the singularity of my body and my experiences. i feel both power and innocence in emilio as we go through the rituals he has created.
i am surprised by the strength i feel in emilio, for there is a sureness and power that transcends his gentle nature. i leave the performance acutely aware of a potential in emilio to create a very deep and empowering connection within. i believe this potential in emilio rojas to be quite unique. i am not speaking of an everyday connection here, but rather someone who has the power to create a connection between what i will call the “divine” for lack of a better word, and the innermost tenderness we all carry within.
photos by catherine kuzik
the woman playing the guitar with the open guitar case in front of her, back pack and shopping bags stashed behind her, asks, “is it theatre?” julianna and i, who have straggled behind as we watch and respond to the street life and the questions of various edmontonians who want some information as to what this strange procession of people with flags and flares and whistles and lanterns and call-response phrases are doing, stop to answer her.
the woman continues, “is it a rehearsal?” we respond by saying it is a kind of street theatre led by one person. the woman wants to know if this is fiction or real. we communally decide this theatre is a fiction, the artist’s fiction who is leading the procession. “her story?” the woman asks. yes her story we say nodding our heads.
so yes, it is a kind of fiction, this parade down jasper street in edmonton. it is as if we are a group of scouts on an urban survival training mission with a very organized and enthusiastic leader who tells “facts” of the colonization of this piece of land from the proud perspective of the colonizer. a colonizer who does not tell the “facts” of colonization from the perspective of the faces and bodies of the displaced aboriginal population who populate the area we move through.
the colonizers “facts” are delivered with an evangelical fervour all the while making sure the congregation are all accounted for and shepherded together like new converts to a religion that requires communal ties. aimée henny brown delivers her sermon standing on a small stool with a music stand in front of her displaying a score of words. wearing a bright orange suit and holding a flare in her hand she preaches to the converted. and a good preacher she is. her congregation responds to her with enthusiasm spouting the appropriate phrases to the preacher’s calls and clearly enjoying her sermon.
there is something decidedly surreal in this procession of converts brandishing lanterns casting candle light and waving high tech reflective flags. at one of the locations where aimée stops to stand on her stool and deliver her speech there is an outdoor screen streaming the news. a woman with an enthusiasm not unlike aimée brown is telling her audience the news of the day. i am struck by how both women compete for the attention of their respective audiences, although aimée brown might not have been aware that on the screen behind her an image of a woman preaching her own sermon was being projected.
i enjoyed this walk, this walk along jasper street. i noticed people and buildings and an active street life in edmonton i had not witnessed before. for although i was not an active convert in the congregation of aimée’s followers, i did let my gaze wander and take in sights i had not previously noticed. it is quite an amazing street with a diverse and shifting clientele. for colonial historians i am sure the “facts” of aimée’s sermon were of interest, “facts” as to what building was built when and who populated the street back in the day. interesting fictions of a brutal and greed centred population who wanted, above all, to take what they could.
photos by: emilio rojas
text coming soon!
photos by: emilio rojas
text coming soon!
we meet outside on the patio. today there are two people from edmonton who join us (like). we talk about the performances of turner prize*, danny gaudreault, and michael dudeck. the artists speak of the relation between artifice and reality, the relation to objects and the relation to audience. i am reminded of how words are used to define, to judge, to hierarchize things. artifice, often associated with the female is probably given less value than reality for example. although i have to wonder what real is. a “toy” gun is still real, isn’t it? i mean, i can touch the gun, take it into my hands, and the gun occupies a physical location in the world. is a feeling of sadness real? how can i quantify this, hold it in my hands. and what of humour? how can i even describe how this sensation is produced? (btw no one else brought up “scooby doo” in relation to the turner prize*’s performance last night. i don’t know, i thought it was a pretty straight forward connection…but in fact, most of the artists seemed to have common references to films viewed i had never even heard of.) yeah, so real and artifice. interesting dichotomy. especially when the artists are dealing with dreams and mythologies. are dreams real? are myths real? and who decides? if i say something is not real does that mean it is discredited? so are these artists “making real” things that are “unreal?” according value to the underside of socially acceptable values?
today i invite you to pause on an image.
laid out on the gallery floor one soldier’s uniform is returned to its cut-out pattern of cloth.
this is lance mclean. one of the volunteer photographers latitude has documenting the performances. of course, volunteers have other skills than what they volunteer for and lance is an alumni of visualeyez as well as an active audience member. today he braved the morning meeting, and shared some very pertinent thoughts with us all. kinda cool i think.