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[ Backstage ]

3. Maintenance Regime II

- Installaion View, 2017 - 

The master and servant narrative, which is a concept explored by Hegel in the section ‘Self-Consciousness in Master/Slave dialectic’ from the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), in which the master/slave dialectic is a relationship as opposed to distinct positions. This concept is also connected with my earlier notion of the supplement’s master/servant relation in Naming, in which the supplement is needed in order to create the original. In a sense, the supplement completes the original’s identity but, simultaneously, destabilises the concept of the original. For the master/slave dialectic, each term fulfills the other through its definition but this relationship also puts both their meanings into doubt.

In the Not Really Really series, both human and non-human actors are interchangeably either master or servant depending on their relationship to each other. This links to Bhabha’s notion of hybridity, as the terms master and servant exist in a relationship of reciprocity, so the power structure can change through their interactions and dialogue. This is due to the copies relationship to the original, as the copy itself could supplant the original or question the need for its recognition. Throughout my maintenance of the organic materials in the series Not Really Really, the caretaker’s (myself) identity also becomes increasingly unstable. This suggests that I am not the originator of the artwork who is recognised as the sole arbiter of its authenticity. The power relationship of master and servant has shifted, and cannot distinguish a stable status between object and subject, or the traditional notion of a stable sense of self (the artist).

Maintenance is the process that renders visible my relationship to the artwork. Maintenance exists in everyday society but it largely remains invisible, therefore, my practice intends to make these processes of care tangible. Acts of maintenance are usually covered up and become unidentifiable in the end product. Therefore, I aim to emphasize that this maintenance is essential to the production of meaning and this is the process by which we institute (create habitual practices).

I am not re-performing the labour or maintenance processes that we encounter in everyday life because, for some, the care I give to the assemblages of organic and inorganic could seem perverse and unnecessary. However, this highlights the importance of an act which questions which materials, combinations and interpretations these processes of maintenance keep in place. Not Really Really series does not adhere to the notion of efficiency (in terms of time and economics), as my labour is exponential in terms of the materials that I am maintaining. This would not be a model for a corporate manufacturing process, but it does render visible the labour that is often hidden behind the commodities we encounter. Although society made the labour invisible, it cannot make it disappear. We should be aware of thinking with care in everyday life, as it will affect the way in which we treat objects and the wider environment. It also suggests an alternative way of joining materials, which I refer to as jointing, that points to an alternative path for our relationships to materials and our environment.

My everyday life and studio practice are a continuous interactive process, they are intertwined so neither aspect can be isolated from the other. For me, it is not necessary to partition a physical place off as a ‘studio’ because I see life, studio and gallery as on a continuum. In contrast, we are often educated (as artists) to require this private and distinct place called a studio: at art school it is often seen as indispensable to provide an art student with a studio. After art school, the artist will often dream or attempt to own a studio space. Every time that I stepped into the studio as an art student, I felt that I was being forced to modify my life into another mode; from a leisure identity to an in-work identity. Studio spaces are an active infrastructure, a medium that codes artists to behave as artists. This separate place of the studio actually aids the construction of an artist’s public persona. This notion of the artist as ‘genius’ is set-up through the idea of a labouring and lone individual in a studio space that is separate from the everyday world. It is because the tortured artist is separated from everyday life that they can become the foreseers of a different world or way of seeing and, therefore, can produce masterpieces.

In High Price: Art Between the Market and Celebrity Culture (2009) Isabelle Graw states that:

Graw states that the artist as a ‘genius’ figure has paved the way for the construction of the celebrity and, similarly to celebrities, it is the artist's identity that can affect the reading of the artworks that they produce. Artists who consciously cultivate their celebrity identity, such as Andy Warhol, actually affect the symbolic value of their artwork and render it priceless. The irony being that the artworks pricelessness is the very reason that it can achieve such high prices.

I propose that an equal relationship exists across the network of actors that make up the published artwork. Compared to this approach, celebrity artists tend to rise above the significance of the individual artwork and it is through the trace of their touch that the artwork is imbued with value. Therefore, the artist gives value to an artwork if the artwork is made by a well-known celebrity. Inversely, I propose that the artwork and artist are in a relationship that cannot be separated until the work is sold for example which would then put it in another network with the collector. However, the Not Really Really series could not easily be commodified and sold because as soon as the ownership is passed onto the collector, the collector would have to agree to the duty and labour of care that it requires to facilitate the piece (otherwise they would require a ‘live in’ artist). Due to my presentation of art as a process, the possibility of separating out the actors which make up the presentation of the artwork across different spaces is called into question.

[1] Isabelle Graw, “How Much of a Product Is a Person?”. In High Price: Art Between the Market and Celebrity Culture, 161-163.  (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2010), p.162


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