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[ Backstage ]

1. Rendering the Invisible, Visible II

In facilitating the refreshing of the organic material, I also become visible (along with its maintenance) and could at this point be read as a performer, artist or invigilator that has been instructed to facilitate the work. My care for the artwork instead of the institutions, means that my care appears out of place for a variety of reasons because:

a) my care lasts the duration of the exhibition rather than ending as it is opened to the public,
b) it is a situated form of care, as each assemblage requires a specific form of maintenance,
c) I am not caring for the organic material in terms of institutional or my own investment in the artworks protection/conservation and
d) the artist becomes the facilitator 

- Not Really Really Installation view, Platform One Gallery, 2018 -

The traces of my care in Not Really Really series (the results, as opposed to the act of replenishing) are often interacted with as if it is a puzzle to be solved, with audience members having to test the organic materials in order to gauge their authenticity even though the materials are listed alongside the work. Although I have referred to the act of renewal as a ‘performance’, I do not strictly see this as an act of performing so perhaps the term performative is more appropriate. It is important to make this distinction because although I am performing the process, I am not a central character in the plot of the work. Therefore, I aim to keep the process of maintenance as part of the making process, as opposed to an advertised performance. It is a routine that always exists but can go unnoticed. Through this maintenance, I aim to question the historic backstage processes in making art public and intend to pull back the institutional screen that blocks the visibility of the continuum between backstage and frontstage within art practice. A visible continuum that situates the backstage as standing together with the frontstage, I propose that Jointing is like a space or continuum full of potential as opposed to being unidirectional (focussed on a single purpose).

Maria Lind’s Performing the Curatorial: Within and Beyond Art (2012) brings together a diverse volume of speakers, to seek for a softer way of performing the curatorial and art practice. The practices selected by Lind are brought together within a particular time and space-related framework. As Lind states, should curating be:

A way of linking objects, images, processes, people, locations, histories, and discourses in physical space? An endeavor that encourages you to start from the artwork but not stay there, to think with it but also away from and against it? I believe so, and I imagine this mode of curating to operate like an active catalyst, generating twists, turns, and tensions—owing much to site-specific and context-sensitive practices and even more to various traditions of institutional critique.[1]

I see the passage through the backstage toward the frontstage of the gallery, which the maintenance process requires, as providing twists and turns to the normative staging of artworks and thus questioning the relationship between artist, artwork and space. In Not Really Really series, the artwork and artist’s identity has transformed the binary relationship between artist/artwork, because the artist becomes the facilitator of the object. This requires the artist to wait, prepare and transgress across the private and public spaces of the gallery in order to serve the artwork. Therefore, I aim to make the relationship between artist (subject) and artwork (object) visible. There is an assumed hierarchy between the two positions (artist and artwork), which I aim to flatten out and render a continuum by activating the ongoing process that the actors (artist, materials, performance, object, institution, audience etc.) are undertaking in making art public.

In the book, The Tears of Things: Melancholy and Physical Objects written by Peter Schwenger, artists are described as being able to use artworks to affect audience's view, ‘those who explicitly call themselves artists can create works that reinforce the viewer’s world, that present the “already seen”. Or they can create works that bend and break the viewer’s sense of “world”, that reveal the gap that was always there.’[2] In my practice, I combine the unordinary with the ordinary through placing unexpected organic/inorganic material combinations or confrontations and assembling them across the gallery wall. I also reveal the maintenance process of artworks to the public, which often remains behind the scenes with the focus being on the final installation (in conservation, storage and loaning/transportation of works). This staging of the process of care towards these material combinations, is an unusual experience for the audience to encounter. Therefore, through my practice I aim to create a glitch in the viewer’s experience of process within artistic and exhibitionary practice, as well as towards the human relationship with ‘things’ and the wider environment. I aim to evidence care and labour, the time taken to support the material combinations, so that the audience might consider looking again and giving time to interpreting the work, which allows the viewer to find a new path from which to experience the object (a different point of view). Often exhibitions are seen as ends in themselves, a complete knowledge system that can be consumed. I intend to explore exhibition practice as an open-ended process that challenges the viewer’s experience of the gallery (its frontstage and backstage architecture) as well as its material combinations.

For example, the process in Not Really Really series does not really have an end in sight, which can be described as an open-endedness. Kim Grant states that, ‘This open-endedness is surely one of the reasons for the success of the term “process” and its related concepts.’[3] A process or passage cannot be separated or erased but is a continuously accumulated experience through process overtime. A continuum between what are often seen as oppositional spaces, backstage/frontstage, is similar to the binary oppositions set up between studio artwork/published artwork, studio visit/gallery audience, studio environment/gallery architecture.

We are accustomed to identifying objects and spaces through their definition and function; therefore, we tend to divide them up into clear categories and combinations. Through this normative process, objects and spaces will sometimes even seem disconnected. In my practice, I am claiming that the backstage and frontstage architecture are interconnected and change each other through their relationship, as well as the temporal transitions and encounters that occur within them. In expressing the indivisible relation that connects both sides of a binary, for instance the spaces of private studio/public gallery, or artist/artwork, I aim to express that they cannot represent themselves independently of their relationship to each other, because the one requires the other. For example, I assert that by taking the process of making outside of the context of the artist’s studio and into the gallery, this stages the continuum between artistic practice (studio) and end-product (artwork/exhibition). There is no starting point and ending point for the artwork, as the entire process of collecting, making, selecting, transporting, exhibiting and maintaining are all included in the staging of the artwork.

From an external standpoint, both entities (for example, artwork and artist) could look like they are in contradistinction to each other but underneath or behind this appearance is a strong relationship of reliance. I refer to this indivisible relation, as a ‘supplement dependence’ because each element of the mixture relies on the other for its meaning. This supplement dependence is like a hidden substrate, similar to the binding of a book. In a book, the binding is a substrate that is rarely noticed even though thebinding is the key technique that enables the pieces of paper to become a book. Therefore, using organic materials in my practice highlights that what appear to be binary identities are actually related and intensely rely on each other. Staging the supplement dependence shows that the artist needs the artwork, as a certificate to evidence themselves as an artist, as much as the artwork needs the artist. I do this through acting as a caretaker for the maintenance of the organic ‘things’ that I assemble and present to the viewer. In the traditional view, the artist is presented as a great master through the artworks that they produce, as a result the artworks become servants to the master’s narrative. However, my maintenance of the organic materials in the series Not Really Really suggests that the artwork could actually be read as the reverse of this narrative. The artwork could be seen as the master and the artist the slave, as the artwork becomes the master that controls the artist who becomes it’s servant by taking care of their master. It could also be understood as breaking down this binary altogether, as the artwork and artist both become master and slave through the narration of their interrelationship, or supplement dependency.

I propose that the audience only receives incomplete knowledge through the artwork as end-product because without seeing or experiencing how it has been made, we encounter a similar issue to that of the produce we put in our baskets at supermarkets which are presented without their history (which I described in Jointing). In recent museum and gallery practice, there is a trend towards providing this history of artistic production. It has become popular to present the artist’s working process, often as video documentation, alongside the artwork. However, the documentaries are a presentation of the past towards an end-product (the result) and often are experienced as peripheral to the actual artwork (contextual material).

I agree with Claire Bishop’s clarification of process in Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (2012) that, ‘This emphasis on process over product – or, perhaps more accurately, on process as product – is justified on the straightforward basis of inverting capitalism’s predilection for the contrary. Consensual collaboration is valued over artistic mastery and individualism, regardless of what the project sets out to do or actually achieves.’
[4] I treat my practice as a collaboration with both artwork and audience. In the first instance, I am a collector of found materials that I try to intuit in order to select and combine effectively. I then go on to make the assemblage public and collaborate with the artwork by serving and refreshing the organic material at intervals appropriate to the individual substance’s maintenance. I invite the audience into this collaboration with the artwork, by enabling them to encounter this process and to interpret it through their own lens. As a result, the audience becomes a co-producer of the artwork’s meaning.

In the series Not Really Really, I deliberately did not record the process through documentation because I wanted to enable this active or ‘live’ collaboration. This involved enabling the viewer to encounter the maintenance process in person. I came to this decision, in order to reiterate the importance of staging the collaboration between artist and artwork but also to highlight the often invisible aspect to the caring process. For example, in everyday life we rarely encounter the people who clean the streets and are accustomed to our habitual walking on clean streets. What can amaze us, is not the result of the clean street or viewing the final artwork but the unexpected encounter with the people who maintain them.   

Henri Matisse In the Studio exhibition at the Royal Academy (2017)

Historically, and this has continued into the present, there has been habitual fetishisation of the end-product within art, with the benefits of being able to construct a notion of genius and to boost the art market in it’s financialization sense at least. When an artist’s working process is referred to, it is often still mystified in order to construct the notion of the suffering artist as genius. Artist’s studios or even desks are often preserved as traces of the ‘artist genius’, some will show the artist’s desks with the artwork in an exhibition. For example, this occurs as part of the Henri Matisse In the Studio exhibition at the Royal Academy (2017). In this instance, the curator’s decision has been to stage both Matisse’s painting and drawing alongside his desk and the objects in the studio that he has drawn. This kind of exhibition seems to be suggesting that the viewer can encounter Matisse’s working process by looking at his studio and the artwork produced. However, presenting Matisse’s working process as a ‘still life’ can only present the process in a frozen past state which means that the process itself remains a mystery that can only be imagined and often romanticised about by institution and public. In contrast, my practice aims to produce artworks as ‘moving lifes’, through making visible the labour involved in the production of artworks. Through this decision, the ideal of the end-product or a mystical process behind a genius master is dropped in favour of presenting the artist, artwork and audience as labourers in the production of meaning making.

Through my practice and writing, I intend to present the value of the product’s making process and to deploy this in order to counter our assumptions about the naming and joining of materials. This also questions the strategies humans have constructed to make a world for us, which impoverishes both the world (extracting resources and exploitation of life) and our human engagement with the world. Like treasures that are usually hidden, this overlooking of our habitual treatment of things veils a value in the process of caring for things that should be made visible to the public.

[1] Maria Lind, Active Cultures-On the Curatorial, Artforum, October 2009, Vol. 48, No. 2 <> (accessed on 16. March. 2021)

[2] Peter Schwenger, The Tears of Things: Melancholy and Physical Objects, (Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 1942), 56.

[3] Kim Grant, All About Process: the theory and discourse of modern artistic labor (Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University, 2017), 222.

[4] Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, (London: Verso Books, 2012), 19.


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