Tag Archives: 2013

Production Lines

There are many examples of artists referencing the aesthetics, repetition and persistence of production lines. But when discussing artwork in relation to production lines, it’s hard not to also think about the working methods of artists and their manufacturing practices. in this blog I have highlighted projects that reference the factory production line directly in content and also more indirectly in process – the projects chosen all rely on the work of others in some way. Cohen Van Balen employ actual factory workers to perform their piece, Paul Granjon enlists volunteers from the local community, Carlos Amorales wants the gallery visitor to manufacture the art, and István Csákány makes his artwork so delicate that it relies on constant maintenance from gallery technicians.

Many artists employ the skills of others to manufacture their art, acting as overlookers; they reside over a project, taking full intellectual authorship over it, but enlisting workers to do much of the making. With a clear distinction between physical work and intellectual work, labour can be divided into separate skill stations in order to increase production speed and quality.

But what about when artists use unskilled labour, as is usually the case when enlisting volunteers, or gallery goers? There is clearly more going on than just exploitation. Relying on others is problematic, especially when the successful completion of a project relies on the work of unskilled, unpaid workers.

The term ‘carry the can’ is thought to derive from cotton mills, as it was someone’s responsibility to physically move the partly processed cotton from one part of the mill to the next. Although basic unskilled labour, it carried a great deal of responsibility as workers relied on being supplied with product in order to do their work; if a link in the chain was broken it effected everything in front of it.

In Oriel Factory, Paul Granjon is the classic socially engaged artist, trying to give something back to the local community. He has relinquished control over the project in order to maximise the experience of others. The workers are taught skills and are free to define their own tasks and product. The artist’s responsibility has shifted from a pure making role to a managing one; he takes responsibility not only for the creation of a successful exhibition but also for providing a beneficial experience to others. If the unskilled, unpaid workers neither perform nor benefit, the project surely fails. Although, the intellectual labour is still clearly defined (the participants take authorship over their own pieces and these are displayed in a separate part of the gallery), the physical content of the final exhibition is left unknown until the worker’s labour is realised.

In the case of Flames Maquidadora by Carlos Amorales, the unskilled labourer is not an enlisted participant but the gallery goer. The artwork is the process of making in the gallery context and the gallery goer experiences the art through making it. By purposefully hinging an artwork on a potentially unwilling participant, Amorales seems to be highlighting the problems with relinquishing control to an unskilled workforce. This is played out by the fact that the visitors didn’t manage, even collectively, to produce one finished product.

In the spinning rooms of cotton mills, the person in charge was the spinner. He was the only person actually paid by the mill owner and would then enlist workers to help him, paying them out of his salary. 

István Csákány is also handing over responsibility in Ghost Keeping, but this time to his advantage. The art world, like a factory, involves different people taking responsibility for different aspects of a project, and the different parts having different pockets of money. Artists often get commissioning fees which cover both payment for time and manufacturing cost. What so often happens is that artists have to sacrifice part of their payment in order to put more money into the manufacturing costs, therefore essentially working for a minimal wage. In Ghost Keeping, Csákány is capitalising from this system by manufacturing the work using very cheap materials that are easy to shape quickly. This then transfers the major cost of the project onto the artwork’s upkeep. This maintenance cost would come from an entirely different budget, and would be the responsibility of the gallery, not the artist.

The Owl Project do a similar thing with their iLog Workshops, by taking the responsibility of making from themselves and giving it to the collector. Instead of just paying for a piece of artwork, the collectors have to come to the artists’ studio and make it for themselves. They go away with an Owl Project artwork, but the Owl Project haven’t made it, they have. This model bypasses the problems with enlisting unskilled labour faced by artists such as Granjon. If the artwork doesn’t get made properly, or even completed, the consequences lie on the maker/collector, not the artists.

In 75 Watt by Cohen Van Balen it is not the artist’s but the labourer’s responsibility that has completely shifted. Instead of acting as ‘man-machines’, they are now performers. Just like the actual machines discussed in my last blog, by not accomplishing anything, the act of working becomes exposed. Although any artwork referencing production lines is clearly commenting on issues surrounding capitalism, workers rights, distribution of wealth and the general socioeconomic situation, it seems questions around the labour of artists also emerge. The factory worker and the artist seem immediately completely at odds, with artists generally being from more educated, affluent backgrounds, and not having to work to a strict pattern or production speed. But unlike an office worker, or indeed most other jobs outside the manufacturing sector, artists are actually involved in the production of a finished object (in the loosest sense of the word). In 75 Watt similarities to the work of artists are clear; the worker/performer carries out the action of making, produces a useless item, only to begin the unavailing activity again.

Production Rings

A series of four videos, all depicting a different scene – a clearing, a pine forest, a pond and a meadow. Shot with a DSLR on a tripod, they resemble photographs, as the only action occurring is the occasional, but regular, entrance of a smoke ring, released from behind the video camera, appearing as a rhythmical timecode. The regularity of the release of smoke is suggestive of industry, as the steam from an engine or the fumes from a power plant. The release of steam from engines is in a sense their product, it is the result of their work. The rings, which may at first appear as perfect circles, soon degrade when they are hit by the elements. The artist’s work is done off camera and like the work of a scientist, the same task is carried out again and again. But like so many failed experiments, no apparent result is achieved.


Navigating the Pond

The artist went to the physical effort of transporting a two-metre diameter hoop down into a pond, where it made a very subtle intervention, blending in with the surroundings. She then rowed the video camera from one end of the pond towards the hoop, trying to keep the center of the hoop in the center of the frame. As the video unfolds, the hoop gradually emerges from its surroundings, as the video camera gets closer and eventually glides into the hoop. The task is successful but this success serves no purpose.


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.