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[ Jointing ]

3. From Invisible to Visible II

La Familia Obrera-The Working-class Family, Oscar Bony, 1968

On entering the gallery, Bishop describes a sense of being confused by the encounter that has been constructed through the work. Bishop explains that the blurring of the artwork’s boundaries (the distance and distinction between performer and viewer) occurs because the family did not stay strictly within the bounds of the plinths, so:

… in reality, their gestures were less contained: they were constantly shifting position in the middle of the exhibition hall – eating, smoking, reading and talking amid the audience’s largely adverse and horrified response; the child in particular found it hard to stay put on the plinth and often ran around the exhibition.[1]

Therefore, the artist’s predetermined premise and rigid plinth structure unfolds with the unpredictable agency of the performers.

The gallery space, the form of which Bony exacerbates, could also be compared to a Panopticon; it is designed spatially for a social phenomenon that is regulated to compel a specific type of user behavior. In contrast to this, the work staged an unruly participation within the bounds set up by a Panopticon format. In the Panopticon, there is a psychological awareness of being watched and a fear of being caught or punished for unruly behavior, so people often end up stifled and conform to an ideal or norm. In Bony’s work, the working-class family members both conform and transgress the plinths. They have an awareness of being watched by people and so inevitably act an ideal or performed self, which is depicted through the family’s stylized and idealised ‘good behaviour’ in the photographic documentation above. In contrast, they also broke out of the confines of the cell, or self-disciplinary staging on the plinth.

From the experience I had of exhibiting my work Not Really Really (17-SS-4), I have attempted to enter the psychological position of the performers in Bony’s artwork. As described in Grumble, I was required to frequently replace the egg yolk for the piece and so could not avoid encountering visitors in the space and, therefore, was on-stage as a performer. Like Bony’s working-class family, I had nowhere off-stage to go during the exhibition hours, as I needed to be in the space waiting for the next time slot to replace the egg yolk. This decentered my experience of self and confused my self-identification, which produced the following questions: where does the performer end and the self-begin? Does this distinction even exist? A short excerpt from my grumble in Not Really Really (17-SS-4) exemplifies the internal quandary that the piece produced in myself:

I would personally rather become an object in this white cube

convincing myself again and again that

I am part of the work

I am only a medium a nobody


I shrink myself into the sides of the seat

Hunch over

Turn my face away from the visitor

I whisper and mumble to the visitor, the gallery staff again and again

‘Please ignore me

I do not belong in this space You can’t see me

please just ignore me

During the exhibition, I realized that I had several identities that were overlapping, an externalized facilitator, performer, artist, visitor, and staff member all of which I had to negotiate with an internalized self. As a result, I undertook a conversation with myself so that I could identify with the role I was inhabiting at that time. I was hazy of my own identity/role in everyday life and confused of where ‘I’ was, as my identity shifted through the requirements of the performance and its use value to the egg yolk. I became disorientated and confused about who I was and which role I should act in the present moment. Therefore, according to my experience of Not Really Really (17-SS-4), if I were in the position of the performers in, The Working-Class Family (1968) then I would have felt lost in identifying who I was during the performance. I assume that Bony’s performer could not totally be themselves, as their familiar identities could not entirely appear in this context and in front of a public. However, Bony is possibly postulating that our identities are never consistent and inevitably change due to context.

The confusion surrounding the performer’s identities could have started from the unconscious bias of the viewer, in which one thinks the other is moving outside of the bounds of the work and, therefore, not in the correct place. Bony’s decision to withdraw the performer from their familiar environment to an unfamiliar place, shifts their backgrounds which highlights a contradiction and awkwardness, they appear like fish out of water. The working-class family could be interpreted as misfits and this evokes Ahmed’s writing on Homi K. Bhabha’s postcolonial project in relation to colonial India. In 1994, India’s colonizers produced an elite-class within the body of the colonized people through encouraging native citizens to become ‘mimic-men’,
[2] in order to mimic the colonizers. As Ahmed states, ‘Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in moral, and in intellect…almost the same but not quite, almost the same but not white.’[3] Correlating with this move, Bony placed the working-class family in a gallery to be observed by the middle classes and to encourage a social phenomenon which would compel the working-class family to mimic either the elite-class or produce an ideal image of themselves. This was intended to challenge class assumptions but also, it could be argued, perpetuated them.

This brings up the following questions: what are the working-class family in Bony’s work actually performing? Are they acting out a virtual image of themselves (an ideal working-class family), an instrumentalized version (what Bony wants them to look like) or a rebellious version of themselves (breaking out of the bounds of the work)? Ahmed continues with the potential of the misfit, as the, ‘Misfit provides an incentive to change; good fit provides non. The failure of things to work creates an incentive to make new things.’[4] The consequences of the working-class family bursting out of the bounds of the work could be understood as an error and can be linked to Ahmed’s notion of use. For Ahmed, a misfit is a twist in form or habit that means certain things cannot follow the formal instruction that has been set up by the past and which is usually perpetuated by the habit of the well-used path. This twisted form or operation becomes an error, but Ahmed’s error is a generative opportunity in which unpredictable possibilities start creating new paths.

The error presented in Bony’s work is evidenced through Daniel R. Quiles assertion, in his account of the work in, Between Organism and Sky: Oscar Bony, 1965-1976 (2014):

Artists in the 1990s were continuing the conceptual tradition of the 1960s, in aiming to overturn the traditional relationship between the artwork, artist and audience. Bishop states that due to this concern with an alternative relationship with art a different encounter is pictured by the artists when producing the work (including Bony). In particular the notion that the viewer is a participant in the meaning-making of the work, ‘the audience, previously conceived as a “viewer” or “beholder”, is now repositioned as a co-producer or “participant”.'[6] This relates to Quiles’ questioning of the authenticity of the participants (both audience and performer) in Bony’s La Familia Obrera-The Working-Class Family (1968), which is interesting because in doing so Quiles evidences a belief in an original and authentic family.[7] However, this original family (if at all possible) had already been tampered with by the artist through moving them from their home and into the gallery. Quiles is perhaps misinterpreting the piece by not noticing that Bony’s own constraints (plinths) are being broken out of by the family. In Bishop’s account, visitors merged with the working-class family/performers, which could be why it appeared that the piece was made up of different performers. An intermingling between performer and audience, suggests a breakdown in the observer and observed model towards a participation of all human subjects in the gallery.

[1] Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, (London: Verso Books, 2012), 114.
[2] Mimic-men - This term refers to Sara Ahmed’s What’s the use? (2019,123), as she is drawing on Thomas Babington Macaulay ’s Minute on Education (1835) which he declared that the purpose of education in the colonial is to allow the colonized lead to the production of a mimicry that presents itself. As like the colonizer require colonized in behave as their master (colonizer).

[3] Sara Ahmed, What’s the use? (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2019), 123, quoted in Thomas Babington Macaulay, Minute for Education (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 237.

[4] Sara Ahmed, What’s the use? (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2019), 25.

[5] Through Daniel R. Quiles, Between Organism and Sky: Oscar Bony, 1965-197, 7<> (accessed on 08. November. 2020).

[6] Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, (London: Verso Books, 2012), 2.

[7] Participant - As participants includes both the audience and performer, it is a distinct term. In Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (2012), Claire Bishop defines that the audience, previously conceived as a ‘viewer’ or ‘beholder’, is now repositioned as a co-producer or participant.


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