All posts by Annie

Aversion Management

Essay for Aversion Management, Rogue Project Space, September 2013

Aversion Management looks at productivity from the side of the manager. The work of artists is more often than not self-directed unpaid work. The pressure to produce is, for most artists, strong but there is often no external source of this impulse. As Adorno says, the artist “embodies the social forces of production without necessarily being bound by the censorship dictated by the relations of production” 1. For Aversion Management we want to bind the artists to the relations of production and see how they perform. We are exposing ‘work’ – both the work of artists, and the work involved in running a space.

Artists have to fit art-making around the demands and deadlines of other aspects of their lives. Will artists be more productive by subjecting art to the same strict structure and deadlines as other aspects of life? As OTCOP 2 say in ‘A Living Body Performing its own Autopsy…’, “Individually, we can be better or worse at managing time, prioritising processes and planning production. These are key capacities required to make any post-Fordist collaboration function efficiently and without apparent conflicts”3. The work of an artist is not just the production of artwork, but all of the meetings,  networking, emails, applications and marketing that goes along with it. The exhibition aims to highlight this work by making it the object of critique – an artist is paid in relation to their work efficiency, not on how established they are, or how large the work is. The exhibition is a classic ‘project exhibition’, a term coined by Marion von Osten  4, in that the ‘what’ becomes secondary to the ‘how’, as opposed to a thematically curated exhibition. As Liam Gillick says: “Art production and work methods are not temporally linked or balanced because the idea of managing time is not a key component of making art, nor is it a personal or objective profit motive for artists. Unless they decide that such behavior is actually part of the work itself” 5. The ‘what’ in this case is the control of the artists’ working methods.

Quite surprisingly we found this method very successful. Just by making artists aware that they were being scrutinised seemed enough to spur them on to become high-achievers. They went above and beyond to produce labour intensive, ambitious artworks. Under normal circumstances this is all that is asked of artists, and would be more than enough to secure them a full artists fee. But despite all of this extra labour, they still managed to slip up on their basic targets – Thomas Yeoman’s artist bio is now three weeks overdue, and Adam Renshaw’s tarmac is still wet (being dyslectic is no excuse!). As charming and hard-working as they are, we have no choice but to reduce their fee accordingly.

1 Adorno, T. (2004) Aesthetic Theory, London: Continuum, p. 55

2 OTCOP is a research group, OTCOP stands for On The Conditions of Production.

3 OTCOP, “A Living Body Performing its own Autopsy…” in Engqvist, J. et al (eds.) (2012) Work Work Work: a Reader on Art and Labour, Berlin: Sternberg Press, p. 223

4 von Osten, M. (2010) “Another Criterion… or, What Is the Attitude of a Work in the Relations of Production of Its Time”, Afterall issue 25, Autumn/WInter, pp. 20 – 22

5 Gillick, L. “The Good of Work”, in e-flux journal (2011) Are You Working Too Much? Post-Fordism, Precarity, and the Labor of Art, Berlin: Sternberg Press, p. 71

Concept Models

The sculpture series Concept Models explores the gap between intention and realisation. The sculptures are representations of different scientific models, which are in themselves representations of scientific laws. Scientific models take different forms. For instance, a Galilean idealisation is a model that involves deliberate distortions, usually representing an ideal situation, e.g. one with no friction, or isolated systems. These models are a representation of a situation that can only exist in the abstract, not in reality. There are also analogical models; models where something is described as being ‘like’ something else. For example, the theory of general relativity is often explained using the rubber-sheet model; the curvature of gravity is ‘like’ the curvature of a rubber sheet when a weight is placed on it. The very act of using an analogical model involves inherent failure.

Concept Models aestheticises the work of scientists, and in particular the intellectual work of having to explain and simplify complicated or abstract concepts. This marks an important distinction between the work of artists and scientists. When the scientist devises a model, they need to take into account the falsity involved in simplifying or analogising, and try to keep this to a minimum. An artist is not tied to the truth but instead makes decisions based on the aesthetic. In Concept Models this aestheticising is present through the residue of the artist’s work. The artist is the placer of a marble, or the turner of a screw. The science is compromised yet again by the artist, who takes the basics of an explanation of a principle and does what is needed to make it ‘work’. All photographs by Olivier Richomme.

Work Velocity

The video piece Work Velocity depicts a steam engine governor, the part of the engine that regulates the speed. When the engine picks up speed, the heavy balls of the governor are forced outward, which slows the engine down, and in turn causing the balls to drop back down. The video is edited to show the the endless repetition of the balls of the governor slowly moving out, then back in again. This function, which once had profound importance, now serves as a demonstration. In the early mills, every machine would have been connected to one source of power through a series of connecting drive shafting and belt systems, the rate of production of every part of the manufacturing process was dependent on the speed of the engine. But the steam engine depicted in the video is now in a museum – the ‘work’ has become a commodity. The engine’s speeds controls no work, except possibly the artist’s, who tries to make it perform, making it slow down then speed up in order to get the shot, the ‘work’.

Performing Machines

Using machines to produce artwork is an easy concept to grasp – since Andy Warhol’s Factory we are used to the idea of art as a commodity, and artist as facilitator, not necessary the single-handed producer. But what about when it is the machines that are the artwork, and no longer work to produce, but work as a performance. It is not the artist doing the physical work (or even their assistants) but the machine. In physics the concept of work can be interpreted as the measurement of the accomplishment of a task. To do work, effort (force) is required. However effort does not necessarily mean that work is done. The effort must accomplish something… a displacement must accompany the effort. But when a machine does not accomplish anything, as is the case in the examples I’m exploring, the act of working then becomes the work. There is no end commodity except work itself. With no end goal the ‘work’ is exposed.

Architect Helena Mattsson discusses this exposure of work in terms of the relationship between public space and work space. Work is turned into a commodity: “By introducing a public space into what is normally a closed structure, the organisation is opened up and the internal parts of its machinery are laid out for public inspection. This exhibitionistic display aestheticises everyday life, as well as work, by making it into entertainment”. In Manchester, our rich industrial heritage often seeps into our art. The once private cotton industry has become aesthetised by museums, and reinterpreted by artists. The cotton industry was famously dangerous and unethical; factories were tucked away, just outside cities, with the workers housed together, also hidden. By making machines perform, artists (like museums) are exposing the beauty of industry whilst also dismissing the pressure of production (a pressure felt by both factory workers and artists alike). In this blog I have found examples of artworks that involve machines as artworks, working to no end other than to perform.

The Reversing Machine (A Theatre of Kairos and Chronos) 2012Sam Belinfante and Simon Lewandowski

The Reversing Machine is a time-setting mechanism which can be connected up to different machines, acting as a drive shaft to power them to run forwards, then backwards. First shown at Art Laboratory Berlin at part of the exhibition ‘Fantastic Time Machines’ 2012, where it powered machines such as a turntable, a drawing machine and a slide projector. The work will be shown at the new Project Space Leeds (soon to be the ‘The Tetley‘) in December 2013, for which the artists are looking for musicians to submit palindromic or bi-directional compositions.

Almost Certified (grade A noise for non-discerning consumers), 2004, Kelli Cain and Brian Crabtree

This bizarre sound machine consists of a series of eggs of various unconventional varieties and sizes. The eggs are tapped by an aluminium mallet, and amplified. The process is operated by an obsolete 1993 Mac LC III. The piece was first displayed in 2004 at Machine Project Guide to Cultural History and the Natural Sciences, Pomona College Museum of Art, California.

Interesting blog article here

Physical Echoes, 2013, James Medd

This drawing machine makes marks responding to real-time sound. It initially produces drawings that echo the ambience of whatever space the machine is in, but over time these drawings become a scribbled block as the pens move back and forth over the same space. The more the machines work, the less meaning their output has. First displayed at Digital Performance Lab at the University of Salford.

video: Blog about the project here:

Homage to New York, 1960Jean Tinguely

Sometimes the most iconic artworks are the ones that fail. In 1960 Jean Tinguely undertook the hugely ambitious Homage to New York, a self-destructing artwork constructed in the sculpture garden of MOMA. The piece was enormous (27 ft wide and 23 ft high) and consisted of many intricate mechanical elements including a weather balloon which inflated until it burst, a painting machine, a player piano, a bottle smashing machine, and a recording of the artist explaining the work. It whirled, smoked, smashed and burned, performing for 27 minutes but failed to completely self-destruct.

Here’s an excerpt from D.A. Pennebaker’s film documenting the event:

Audio lecture about Homage to New York here. There’s a Tinguely museum in Basel:

When Robots Rule : The Two Minute Airplane Factory, 1999Chris Burden
Another famous mechanical failure. The Two Minute Airplane Factory was on display in Tate Britain in 1999. The machine was supposed to make a paper airplane every two minutes, launching it 20 m high so that it circled the Duveen galleries, before gently coming to rest on the floor. The planes would then be for sale in the Tate shop. The machine failed to produce one paper airplane. The viewers, instead of watching the beautiful efficiency of a completely mechanised factory line, could watch the Tate gallery technicians trying in vain to get the machine to work. The only plane on display was the one made by Burden – by hand. Many think the mechanical failure was part of the piece; it may have never meant to be a performing machine, but rather performing management. Also see David Barrett article:

The Work of the Non-Professional

Essay for Dead Data – Orreries and Other Objects, Rogue Project Space, Manchester, 2013

Amateur astronomers, like artists, do their work for the love of it, not financial gain. Within the field of astronomy the word ‘amateur’ is not derogatory, as it can be in other fields. Amateurs are recognised as vitally important. In astronomy, new professional research relies on the work of amateurs to provide data. With their multitude of beady eyes and instruments, it is often amateurs who make first discoveries. They are experts in their field, despite being generally self-taught.

In the field of art, even ‘professional’ artists would likely have worked unpaid for a good proportion of their career. Many of the most groundbreaking, history-making artists of recent years, have produced their best work whilst being nonprofessional (Duchamp made Large Glass whilst working as a librarian). The thing that really gives artists the raw deal is that they are not amateurs in the traditional meaning of the word, as the majority have had years of formal training. They are qualified, yet still nonprofessional.

But maybe this is the way it needs to be. Both artists and amateur astronomers need the complete freedom that only comes with work not caught up in financial gain. Getting money for making art generally requires a great deal of hoop jumping, application filling, and concept tweaking. Likewise professional scientists are restrained by the strand of research they are paid to do (Einstein devised special relativity whilst working as a clerk in a patent office). But when left free to explore, both artists and amateur astronomers develop unique reflections on their observations of the world, both pushing their disciplines forward in what is perhaps not so distinct ways.

Antony Hall’s ‘Tabletop Experiments’ involve fearlessly acting on the childlike curiosity that professional scientists have to suppress to get the job done. Hall has cleverly used the funding and opportunities available to artists to allow him the freedom to work as a kind of amateur scientist. He has found his place in the boundless sphere of art to play in a way he could never do as a professional scientist. He says: ‘Through presenting active investigative processes, the work is a continuous play on potential failure and possible solution, where failure is as important as resolution.’ Indeed, failure is an important learning tool, allowed to the amateur but rarely to the professional.

Amateur astronomers can do whatever they want – time, weather, and equipment permitting – and they do. Like art, this freedom often leads to explorations of very niche subjects. At the Godlee Observatory Kevin Kilburn andTony Cross spend a few hours almost every day observing the sun in the specific wavelength of hydrogen-alpha (very deep red). This time donated to such regular solar observations, makes them as familiar with its surface as any professional scientist. The Godlee astronomers also study the lunar surface colour, a little-explored subject in over 200 years of amateur astronomy. Mapping the surface colour of the Moon will lead to new data on its surface mineralogy, providing vital clues to the early development of the solar system.

The work of amateur astronomers can easily be related to the work of Dave Griffiths, something he is clearly fully aware of given the titles of his pieces. For instance, Griffiths Cue-Dot Observatory involved a five year ‘detection period’, where Griffiths found and catalogued 1,900 cue-dot pairs (the barely visible markers used in film to alert the projectionist to change the reel). Like the astronomers at Manchester Astronomical Society, Griffiths has spent hours simply observing, documenting and archiving. Like Kilburn and Cross, through a unique inquiry Griffiths has become a leading practitioner in a very specific field.

Безымень, by Tom Railton, highlights a tension between the professional and nonprofessional. As is often the case in science, an amateur’s discovery can be overlooked by history in favour of a more publicised professional scientist’s. The race for recognition, as employed by the professional, is another factor adding to the restraint of the professional. Railton first exhibited his piece a mere two months before Katie Paterson unveiled Campo del Cielo, Field of Sky, a work which also involved a meteorite being moulded, cast, melted and remade into a copy of its original form. Railton was a student at the time, with no professional validation. Безымень, despite being done first, is in danger of being lost in history to the bigger, shinier meteorite of Paterson.

Dead Data: Orreries and Other Objects celebrates the nonprofessional, by bringing the labour of artists and amateur astronomers together, and highlighting the job satisfaction achieved when the work of one is free to be influenced by the other.