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[ Backstage ]

3. Maintenance Regime IV

A process is as ordinary as the processes of living and this is precisely why it is so invisible but also so pivotal to our uses or paths in the world. Jessica Stockholder and Joe Scanlan noted in their 2004 forum introduction of ‘Art and Labor: Some Introductory Ideas’ at Yale University that,

Now we are aware of very little, if any, of the making of the things we need. It happens elsewhere, often overseas…Where Marx worried about alienated labor… today we experience the opposite phenomenon of being able to buy things that we could not afford to make. It is... painful and numbing to be so divorced from the making of things and from the people who make them for us.
Our art today reflects this distance. And so a lot of art, on the face of it,
seems to be not about making but about choosing.
Routine can be as a normal ordinary or typical pattern, but both are easy to overlook in our everyday life.[1]

According to Stockholder and Scanlan, contemporary artists focus more on the decision making than on the process of making within their practice. However, the procedures behind production are what we are lacking within our highly-technologized and alienating society, so Stockholder and Scanlan feel that these processes need to be brought forward, through artistic practice, in order for the viewer to come into contact with what remains distant and even invisible. In my practice, process is a schema that always needs to be reevaluated but this is also easily overlooked in the ordinary making process.

Moreover, most current exhibitions reinforce the viewer’s habit of experiencing the artwork as a consumable end-product. In contrast, I suggest that while looking at an artwork the viewer should be a part of the meaning-making process and thus multiple artworks occur through this communication between the artwork, artist, site and audience. What needs to be drawn attention to, through this audience interaction with the work, is that each end-product (in this instance the artwork) is built by a series of complex decisions, materials and making that are overlapped underneath its appearance and which are irreplaceable. Although the ordinary routine process is unseeable, it is not meaningless. Rather, it is the key that keeps the ordinary as ordinary or it can be the key that opens up to a glitch in the making/viewing of art.

-Work in Progress-

Everyday activity that is part of a routine becomes a normal ordinary or typical pattern that is hard to identify as it is lived. Therefore, patterned behaviours are easy to overlook in everyday life. As previously stated, the maintenance work that supports these routines is usually unseeable. Maria Puig de la Bellacasa in Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds (2017) states that, ‘Everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair “our world” so that we can live in it as well as possible... this involves tasks that make living better in interdependence but are often considered petty and unimportant, unproductive, however vital they are for livable relations.’[2] Bellacasa’s statement suggests that although society often renders care invisible, it cannot make the act of caring disappear as humans are interdependent (with each other and their environment).

In our current society, while maintaining its capitalist approach which is production oriented, the matter of physical labour or maintenance has become ever more hidden away from the public in the UK. This is largely due to the way in which the capitalist economic system has shaped the working environment in the UK. The economic system can be roughly divided into three sectors: the primary sector is based on extracting raw materials, such as oil, farming and diamonds. The secondary sector is made up of factories that use the raw materials to create end-products, such as mobile phones, furniture, clothes and dishes. While the tertiary sector is focused on exporting knowledge of information, which includes online archives, museums, education or hospitality. In promoting work in services as opposed to products (tertiary-capitalism), the UK has managed to largely ship extraction and manufacturing off-shore and shift maintenance into the domestic/caring realms which more often than not fall onto the shoulders of women. Therefore, production and maintenance is pictured as low skilled and either is low paid or not paid at all.

Bellacasa states that because there is an asymmetrical approach to care within society, which upholds the sexed binary to exploit women, it needs to be addressed as a feminist issue:

Those considered as traditional carers—women generally—or as typical professional carers—nurses and other marginalized unpaid or low- paid care workers—are constantly moralized for not caring enough, or not caring “anymore,” or for having “lost” some “natural” capacity to care.[3]

Bellacasa highlights that there is an assumption within patriarchal and capitalist society that women have a natural capacity to care. This constructs the artificial fact that care is an unrejectable vocation for anyone assigned female at birth. As a result of invisible care and the rise of the tertiary sector, the maintenance process seems to have been largely silenced and even erased from the public arena in the UK. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to address hidden labour by literally bringing it into the picture through an artwork, enabling the viewer to encounter the existence of labour.  

In its staging of a situated-care (a form of care that is specific and related to context as opposed to a general ethical approach that cannot respond to the differences in care), my practice strongly resonates with Bellacasa’s notion of interdependence within care. Bellacasa states that:

Interdependency is not a contract, nor a moral ideal- it is a condition. Care is therefore concomitant to the continuation of life for many living beings in more than human entanglements - not forced upon them by a moral order, and not necessarily a rewarding obligation.[4]

-Work in Progress-

Bellacasa believes that both (or more) carer and cared, affect the parameters of that care and therefore they are in an interdependent caring relationship. She also points to how this notion of an entangled caring relationship extends to more than humans as well. By staging the interdependency condition stated above, through a consciousness of care, my practice highlights that both caretaker and caregiver are in a network of care. A network of care that is also passed onto the viewer who encounters the work, if they wish to take it up, in terms of its interpretation. My maintenance of the artwork’s organic materials is a process within my practice that is reflecting on the inter-subjective nature of the labourer/caretaker and cared for in the society. I am in a networked relationship with the artwork, in which we both become a supplement for the other and this highlights our interdependence.

Further to this interdependence, my maintenance of the artwork also presents an ambivalent aspect within my practice when it comes to the treatment of materials. In one sense, I am questioning the overproduction prevalent in society and the purpose of producing more objects, with an attention to the way in which humans behave towards/use things. Instead of creating new materials, my practice reuses found, abandoned, and manufactured ready-made objects. I encounter these objects, which already exist in my surroundings, on the street and pick them up and carry them back home with me. I intuitively select the found objects, which means that I subjectively decide their ‘uses of use’ in a personal way under alternative objectives to that of capitalism. Also, in breaking with their familiar joining/naming into unfamiliar jointing/titling, this process echoes with Russell’s notion of the glitch:

We can embody error by finding new ways to self-define, reclaiming the act of naming for ourselves. We bend the act of naming, fitting new forms through the process of naming and renaming, the embrace of poetic elasticity that refuses the name as static or definitive.[5]

When back home (home is my studio, as previously stated I see work and life as on a continuum), I will sit with and puzzle over these found heterogeneous materials and try to listen to their un-emphasised qualities and properties in order to bring them out. I try to think about the ways in which they might be brought together in an assemblage and will best inform and draw out the materials with which they are put in contact.

On the other hand, the organic material that I use in my practice requires refreshment and, therefore, there is a lot of waste produced throughout the process. In treating the organic materials as disposable for a constructed (as opposed to natural) higher purpose (in this sense the artwork), I am drawing attention to the way in which humans extract natural resources and use animals for a proposed ‘higher’ purpose (humans). Therefore, there is an ambivalence or tension created within my process of ‘care’ for the assemblage and its multifarious actors. This ambivalent relationship is interwoven with care and as Bellacasa states, ‘to care can feel good; it can also feel awful. It can do good; it can oppress. It’s essential character to humans and countless living beings makes it all the most susceptible to convey control.’[6]

-Work in Progress-

Instead of staging the refreshing as a ritual or ceremony, I focus on taking care of the organic materials for the artwork in a more mundane act of maintenance. The schedule for this maintenance has been produced through what I have defined as the optimal staging condition for that material through trial and error. For instance, the organic materials in the Not Really Reallyseries need me to maintain them, as without me they will wither (materials such as the egg yolk, leaves, fruit’s…etc.). In replenishing the materials, I have defined an artificial construction of the assemblage (of which I am a part) that challenges the viewers preconceptions of authenticity (as described previously, audience members have even tried to test the material in order to identify what it is). Therefore, I need the witherable organic materials to fulfil the artwork and my own function and meaning as the artist. This also relates to Derrida’s notion of the ‘supplement’, for if you take either the artwork or the artist away then you will impact upon the meaning of the whole. This means that the work also challenges our relationship with the notion of original and copy, as the artworks in Not Really Really series are always in a stage of becoming or multiple supplementations. Both the artist and the artwork are in an uncanny interdependent relationship and one in which it is imagined that they are irreplaceable for the other.

[1] Jessica Stockholder and Joe Scanlan, Art and Labor: Some Introductory Ideas, Art Journal, Vol. 64, No. 4, Winter, 2005, 50-51<> (accessed 01. May. 2021)

[2] Maria Puig De La Bellacasa, Matters of Care-Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds (London: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 54.

[3] Ibid., 9.

[4] Ibid., 70.

[5] Legacy Russell, Glitch Feminism, A Manifesto, (New York: Verso Books, 2020), 77.

[6] Maria Puig De La Bellacasa,
Matters of Care-Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds (London: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 1.


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