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[ Jointing ]

3. From Invisible to Visible IV

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

Instead of placing this piece of work in a labour union or domestic setting, Bony withdrew the working-class family away from their everyday context and placed them in an art gallery that only the middle to upper-class people were expected to visit. By excluding the public and private domains of the family (the labour union or home), as venues at which to present the working-class family to the public, Bony demonstrated a wish to further separate the working-class family from their social, political and economic context. Simultaneously, through separating the family from their context and placing them in an unfamiliar place, there is a sense of misplacement and an awkwardness in the order of things. It appears that the artwork and space are part of what I describe, as an unexpected ‘jointing’ together. I define jointing to be an interrogation of the habitual use of combining artificially manufactured materials, as this assumed joining (as opposed to jointing) limits access to alternative structures because these materials organize what Ahmed describes as the normative uses of use. As Ahmed stipulates, ‘A world might seem open if it was open to you. When we describe the world from the point of view of those not accommodated, a different world appears.’[1]Jointing postulates that through the unexpected joining of things, and alternative material combinations, a productive error could be produced. An error that Ahmed describes as providing an alternative path.

In this sense, Bony’s stage becomes an awkward platform and the body of the person onstage speaks of both an ideal, which is ultimately an artificial image of the performer, and a slippage or error in their lack of adherence to the boundaries. Onstage the participants (performer and audience) could consciously or subconsciously depersonalize their background and become another, more stylized, identity. The performers are instructed to act out their ordinary daily lives onstage (plinth) but their ordinary daily life on the plinth becomes different to their home lives and the family even spilled out of its confines. This created an uncanny moment between the over-embellished and the out of control. The over-embellishment of the work can be identified in the photographic documentation cited by Bishop, in which the working-class family elegantly sits on the plinth and reads concentratedly and ignores the audience observing them (constructing a fourth wall of separation). Its’ out of control elements can be seen when the fourth wall is broken and the child performers in particular run around and burst out of the demarcated frame (as stipulated in both Bishop’s and Quile’s accounts of the work).

An exhibition operates similarly to a school, not only through being an educational tool that aims to provoke criticism, but because it consists of a complex interweaving of actors. A school is made up of not only human participants but architecture, hardware and software that all organize the path for users to follow. Similarly, to a school, a gallery is also made up of a mechanised structure and policy. A show includes both the artists and/or curators’ instructions alongside the artwork and its interpretation. These, along with a gallery’s architecture (financial, physical and administrative), contain the hardware and software that comprises an institution such as a white cube (in which Bony’s work was hosted). These embedded, and often soft, instructions, usually orientate a clear path for the visitor to understand the exhibition. Institutions and curators can be understood as persuading the audience to understand and follow their mediated path. We could also interpret Bony’s piece as reiterating the practices of constructing a well-used and generally endorsed path, by including a stylized family who are aware of being monitored. Bony’s work is situated in the specific educational architecture of a white cube gallery, as well as the hardware of the plinths and the software of the programme/script he gave the working-class family. However, Bony twists this Panopticon format by not controlling the performers’ behaviors. His designs are only fulfilled up until the point of placing the performers in the gallery. After this point, the performer and audience divert from Bony’s path. What follows, is dependent on the complex interweaving of actors, which includes the human actors (participants) that are both architected by and refuse these monitorial (Foucault’s usage of the term) conditions. Bony’s participants produce an error within this environment, as they do not always cohere with the structure and through this challenge the operations of the gallery, work and classes through either pushing or blurring the gallery, domestic home and artwork’s meaning and boundaries.

In The Working-Class Family (1968), Bony stages the conflicts between the location performer and audience. This three-party enactment, simultaneously, effect each other, pushing and pulling against each other to form an ambivalent definition. They consequently transform the boundaries of the work, which even expand into the social and political fields, by causing a response from the Argentinean government that then closed the exhibition down and caused further provocation and action from the artists involved.

Ahmed expands on the way in which spatial structures inform the bodies that are produced within their context, ‘Spaces can be organized around what they are for. Spaces might have to be organized even more tightly the more are required to be accommodated.’
[2] In this sense, everything in the classroom (including gallery as classroom) is designed for teaching many students at the same time. For instance, tables are set up in one direction towards the front and this setting forces each student to face forward in the same direction, to face a blackboard/podium and the person at the front who is giving the instructions. In a similar way, Bony’s plinth architecture encourages the audiences’ curiosity to analyse the difference between the people on the plinth and themselves (the people who are looking at the people on the plinth). The plinth acts as a medium for separating the different classes of audience/performer (middle-classes/working-classes).

In both the classroom and Bony’s work, the hardware
(equipment/building/object) is designed in advance for the user to follow the designer’s instruction. When Bony’s user (participant) fails in following the designed instruction, the object can become interpreted as unable to be used. We can see this particularly in Quile’s criticism of the artwork, as he assumes that it is only by following Bony’s instructions or staying faithful to the family unit that the artwork can be authentic and in correct use. Quile’s response also supports Foucault’s claim that the Panopticon in society creates a people either in fear of being caught out (for not conforming) or aware of being observed (in order to conform). In the latter instance, people may well choose to stifle their individuality in order to conform. Bishop stated that, 'This desire to activate the audience in participatory art is at the same time a drive to emancipate it from a state of alienation induced by the dominant ideological order – be this consumer capitalism, totalitarian socialism, or military dictatorship.'[3] This concurs with Bishop's interest in artworks as provocations because this proposed format is meant to prevent an immediate consensus (as consensus fails to challenge the norms in society). We can indeed observe, within contemporary democracies, that the popular vote and consensus (majority rule) have held sway in elections, which in turn has produced social and political configurations that tend to ignore the voices of minorities and assume that they do not fit the mold of the well-used (and correct) path.

Bony’s work can be interpreted as producing another point of view to that of the well-used path, in which participant(s) can provide an unpredictable story, or a glitch in a formal space or system. This ‘glitch’ is similar to the way in which Legacy Russell depicts errors as forming. In her book Glitch Feminism (2020) Russell sates that, ‘A glitch is an error, a mistake and a failure to function.’[4] However, it is her assertion that a glitch also provides an opportunity for a new story to begin. It is through his decision to juxtapose participants from different backgrounds that Bony constructs a glitch in the social order of the gallery and the class system. If Bony had not created a confrontation, then the work would have had a very different impact. For, if both audience and performer had come from the same background (middle-classes), then the encounter in the gallery could have resulted in a bit of a non-event. Viewer and performer could have ended up looking through their subject specific one-way mirrors (which mimics the Panopticon format), overlooking their differences by imagining an Other (Lacan) in their place and, in the process, each other’s social positions.

Bishop states that in The Working-Class Family (1968), ‘… the viewer’s self-consciousness in front of the family is not simply the heightened awareness of a phenomenological encounter – as one ideally experiences in relation to minimalist objects – but a shared embarrassment.’[5] Phenomenology can be understood as a theory that is concerned with how we observe, reason and seek to explain the phenomena that we encounter in the world. It suggests that the way things appear depends on the entity interpreting those appearances. As Maurice Merleau-Ponty states, ‘I will never know how you see red and you will never know how I see it. But this separation of consciousness is recognized only after a failure of communication, and our first movement is to believe in an undivided being between us.’[6] Phenomenology intends to provide a direct description of human experience, as the outside world appears and is filtered through our perceptual faculties. It is only through individual experience that we can gain a picture of appearances, as the world appears differently to every entity. In Bony’s work we encounter a scenario in which these different experiences confront each other with an aim to co-construct future appearances.

[1] Sara Ahmed, What’s the use? (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2019), 220.

[2] Ibid., 124.

[3] Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, (London: Verso Books, 2012), 275.

[4] Legacy Russell, Glitch Feminism, A Manifesto, (New York: Verso Books, 2020), 7.

[5] Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, (London: Verso Books, 2012), 117.

[6] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception: And Other Essays on Phenomenological Psychology, Northwestern University Press, 1964, p.17 <>(accessed 18. December.2020)


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