Support Structures

Jennifer Huang, Molly Colleen O’Connell, John Tennisson, Máire Witt O’neil and Cassandra Davis. 

 

Curated by Pia Singh and organized by Su Yeon Lim

What does it truly mean to support emerging artists?

 

How do we support one another, over and above the framing of work within the white cube?

 

In conversation with peers, issues of self-care, exhaustion & financial precarity often arise. Working more than two to four jobs to financially sustain arts practices or moving cities to align with steady employment opportunities in an unsteady art world; the pressure on emerging artists and curators is rising. Somewhere between acceleration and an exit, artists, writers and curators are searching for new forms of resilience, creating their own worlds, networks and collaborations, establishing self-determining hybrid careers in an attempt to dissolve familiar systems. What then does it mean to have an artistic practice today?

 

It is impossible to talk of resilience and the individual agency of an artistic practice without considering the capitalization of art and artistic labor. It has become harder for artists and curators to sustain their practices without a commercial practice to make a living, even in academia. Working at the peripheries of the art world – practitioner’s function within a capitalist reality while constantly trying to present themselves with the challenge of dedicating their fundamental practices to the field of art. It becomes of a question of how their so called “other” lives are considered or deliberately overlooked – upholding the status quo in the precious singularity of an “art world”.

 

This exhibition proposes how do we maintain the agency to remain open, to think of alternative structures within which we operate?

 

Alternatively, artists present in this exhibition respond to the theoretical prompt; where does the intersection of livelihood and artistic practice meet? Here, a unique display of forms unfolds; propositioning the viewer to think what new ways of doing could look like in the art world. Instead of presenting a solo or large group exhibition, we propose a formation of wildly discursive artists, who work well together, unafraid of addressing their “other” professions within the format of the exhibition. We set out on a mission to daydream collectively.

 

This is not to re-imagine alternative economic models, or more cerebral exhibitions, or more vibrant cultural programming. It is to work with radically different artistic practices and livelihoods, to find results that are weirder and provide more fertile ground for recontextualizing our relationships to art and labor.

 

When speaking about art and financial precarity, there is latent pressure on cultural workers as the conversation becomes less about art and autonomy and more about having a sustainable work/life balance. With the professionalization of practices, concerns regarding rent, career-building-strategic-moves… an increasingly stressful environment forms the conditions in which we work. Neoliberal subjectivity, financial precarity and sustainable income - shift the position of practices from one that is critical, rooted in theory, to one that operates from an art world center.

 

Whether paying for healthcare or rent for an apartment or studio, each of us are committed to perform within a system not because it is asked of us, but because it is necessary for us to work outside or at the peripheries of the art world. In order to continue living on the basis of what we want to do- artists, administrators, critics, curators, and the likes, find ourselves straddling roles within the field of art and outside of it. While much of the ‘work’ central to art practices is often perceived as a source of pleasure, vis-a-vis work, we suffer the same capitalist fate as everyone. Student debt, loan payments, a desire for an improved quality of life…. pressures mount with time and circumstance, serving as triggers, splitting artists practices in two.

 

The inextricable discrepancy of what you want and what is societally required of you finds its roots in the Marxist dialectic on art and labor. At present, the split is not only between artists’ primary and supplementary pursuits but rather, an intrinsic split of constantly harboring a fear of what is expected of an artist versus the unheeded demands of their artistic aspirations. Burning an unreasonable amount of hours working at art world peripheries to get by, artists and cultural workers are exhausted.

 

What lies beyond exhaustion? Amidst the constant demand to produce, there lie anxieties and depressions that are no longer individual, but collective. What then gets made and shown leads to the critique of the artwork, feeding back into a never ending loop feeding the center. In sharing these anxieties, or expelling them, there lies a space ripe with latency. The show is imagined as a space for rejection of the center in order for experimental practices to emerge in a system of no rest or release

 

How then do we begin to leverage existing art world structures to use exhaustion as a point of departure to form solidarity networks? Networks that are in-‘active’ and non- productive of creating new platforms for articulating the potential of an exhausted community? A community that does not act within institutional frameworks, a community dedicated to building and articulating its potent sense of latency, of alternate means of making, reading and moving beyond the edifices of the art world… Perhaps the other side of exhaustion gives artists the opportunity to leave traditional frameworks of producing institutional work, in a move towards platforms beyond the white cube.

Perhaps the potential of latency allows artists and art workers to move towards meditation, meaningful exchange, deeper engagement, and alternate conditions for artistic endurance to keep moving them forward.

 

Pia Singh Chicago

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