Practice: Visual/Live Artist.
Title of art work: Work Apparatus
Description of art work: White protective all in one suit and packaging from a pair of protective goggles used to carry out ‘Werk’ 2011- a live work that took place outside of FriedrichstadtPalast on Friedrichstr, Berlin. Available to view here http://youtu.be/GBaBoNl-OZo
My last pledge spoke of the constraints of painting for me. I burned the last painting I ever made (made in 2008) to symbolise no longer courting comfort. I didn’t expect to be talking about painting again come my next pledge.
At the end of last year I went to Berlin as an artist and ended up painting a rich gallerist’s house and gallery for money. I was given the opportunity to go back to this gallery to do a project in the future. One of the ideas I had for this was to paint the gallery white again and investigate the difference between labour for pay and labour for art with no pay. The difference between painting doors and walls for money and painting doors and walls as a piece- is a frame of mind.
In this context is it what I tell myself that makes this work or makes me an artist? Or what I portray and tell others that counts? I didn’t really tell people what I had been doing in Berlin- I suppose I was embarrassed. I shouldn’t have been painting and decorating- I should have been making work.
At the end of the job I lost all energy for it and left it unfinished jeopardising how responsible the gallerist thought I was and therefore jeopardising my potential project in Berlin. I dumped my overalls and bought a new outfit. In this all in one white suit and goggles I went to the streets and made some work. It engaged people, got my heart racing, scared me and made me feel alive. It created something that wasn’t there before and it was on my own terms. This work involved me cleaning the dirty street outside of a very garish and shiny theatre whilst theatre goers who had come out during the interval watched me.
Painting a gallery or cleaning the street can be valuable in different ways- including being of benefit to society- but when neither acts are done to please society, for practicality or money what does it mean anymore? The value of the act outside of the theatre was in the moment- in the brief interaction- the questioning.
Under a new conservative government value is changing- an act has to benefit capital to be worthwhile. Services and benefits that are crucial to the more vulnerable in order to have acceptable quality of life are cut whilst those in power agree to privatise everything but Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. Private funding can buy a lot of things- it can buy a £10m flotilla on the Thames for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee but it doesn’t seem to be able to stop our young families in under privileged areas from living in poverty. Private money is being used to restate values, for example, Michael Gove has got a lock up of £400,000 worth of Bibles he is waiting to ship out with the right sponsorship/gift. This each man for himself ‘DIY’ structure to get your projects, values and traditions out there works fine if we lived in a more equal society but people can’t just pull in a £1m favour to legitimise their cause in the public eye. People are told to sustain their own services- DIY-volunteer only to find that if they do volunteer they can have their benefits taken off them unless they ‘volunteer’ for Aldi or Tesco. You can’t volunteer for the good of your less fortunate neighbour but you can volunteer for consumerism and if you don’t you won’t get any money.
In short- whether we are willing or not- we are all getting a little bit more conservative as time wears on.
I started this event because I didn’t understand what it was going to mean to art to be re evaluated under a new government who’s values came down to materiality over people. I thought, and still think, that discussion, the sharing of information, independent thought and action and talking from the heart about what is important to us is the antidote. I think what has happened within art is exactly the same as what has happened outside of art. We have all become a little bit more conservative. The art ‘industry’ is already a microcosm of capitalism but within it there was/is the activity that rallies against- that questions- that looks to itself and takes risks. Risks teach us what we don’t know- instead of cherishing what we do- we need to always move on to seek the new. Risks aren’t valued in times when people feel protective over ‘their lot’ or their part of the art world. Artists get less support in taking risks, the institution that is trying to preserve its existence doesn’t move fast enough for an artist to identify with its values. As Susan Jones (activist and a-n magazine director) said at The Engage/Enquire International Conference “How can traditional compliance-led, risk-averse institutional models be the best vehicles for the level and depth of participation we are seeking for the arts to do their job effectively within society?”.
I still don’t know what the answer is- and I didn’t start this thinking that I would. What I do know is that just as digging out old conservative values and traditions that alienate massive sections of our communities to try and sustain a new future isn’t going to work- that, in art, looking to the traditional and romanticising over the past isn’t going to work. We all need to move on. Burn it, re think it- celebrate flux on our own terms.
We need to jump off. We need to keep questioning. We need to say Fuck the Tories and not be scared of it. Don’t stop being angry.
I am proud to have dedicated my life to art. Art has always been the antidote for everything that is wrong for me- it is my voice. We should all value our voices a lot more- some people aren’t lucky enough to have one. We all need to stand up for what we value before somebody else tells us what it should be.
So, I am not going to white wash your gallery for a leg up, it isn’t what I am here for.
I am not going to think less of others to protect myself during hard times.
I am going to remember what is important- I am not going compromise.
With this in mind I pledge the actual only physical thing that I have to remind me of scrubbing that street in Berlin and with it I bring into focus and share the feeling of liberation it brought to act on my own terms and be true to myself. I also burn it as to not dwell, to not nominate a ‘piece’ or an action that defines me or my practice but as a promise to keep on keeping on and to remember that if you are scared of doing something- it probably just means it is worth while doing.