I remember when it happened. It was sometime between 2010 and 2012. The change took at least a couple of years to implement. We were living in Berlin then, traveling around Europe in the typical itinerant fashion, making manageable works of art and generally having an enjoyable time. My employer, Georgina Criddle, was banging on about how we needed a change. I am GC’s enabler: I help to make her work, I do her laundry and run her errands, I smooth over the consequences of her eccentric behaviour. It’s a big job. GC wasn’t satisfied anymore with just making ‘outcome-based work’. She said, ‘We need to find an alternative to this kind of practice that only shows the end-point of a concept, that doesn’t show the shifts and complexities in its production. We need to make work about process!’ Before I knew it, we had moved back to Australia to start an MFA and had begun making ‘process-based art’. If you are an employer reading this and you’re wanting to make a similar change, please be warned, your enabler’s work load will increase tenfold and, let’s face it, cultural capital doesn’t pay the rent.2
In my opinion, process-based practice is one of the most oppressive aesthetic regimes that has ever existed. In Emily Castle’s article, ‘Nods all round: orientations in recent spatial practice’. featured in the last issue of un Magazine, she was right to suggest that such practices align with the neoliberal imperative of excessive performativity, although she mis-identified their durational nature as primarily ‘spatial’.3 For GC’s twelve-week exhibition, Before Too Long (2015), I helped her produce an installation and a series of newsletters that documented the transformations in the back gallery at West Space. On GC’s website, she writes: ‘As time passes, one of the emphatically partitioned galleries of West Space becomes porous and starts to accumulate aspects of the surrounding exhibitions, situations and local history.’4 You can’t imagine how much work such a project entails. Instead of making a resolved and contained exhibition that’s easily accessible to an audience, GC insisted that every object, character and historical document that entered into the Back Space gallery, or into the virtual space of the newsletter, should be incorporated into the work. Doesn’t this seemingly inclusive framework, that folds contingency into an ever expanding narrative, stink like the ruthlessly expansionist tendencies of neoliberal economics? Luckily, the project was largely contained by the time constraints of the twelve-week exhibition. If I hadn’t convinced GC to yield to the exhibition period as a limitation, what’s to say this work couldn’t have kept growing — forever pulling things into itself like an insatiable black hole, fed all the while by my labour?
In addition to her hungry methodology, GC appeared to undermine her own authorial control by insisting that ‘strange uninvited objects’ had made their way into the Back Space gallery without her permission.5 What was the purpose of this? Was GC really so naïve as to think that by letting other things take over her show, she was creating a democratic space of harmonious pluralism, as Castle suggests?6 The truth is more complicated. When I was replying to some of GC’s emails recently, I came across a correspondence she had with Kym Maxwell. Maxwell was asking if she had really intended to create a space of non-conflictual pluralism in the West Space show. GC responded:
Though it may be surprising to you, I wasn’t interested at all in the affirmation of plural experiences or harmonious pluralism. I was interested in permeability and how that could become a situation for an artist to confront and challenge their own limitations. In fact, I was hoping for an incredible cluster-fuck of unharmonious materials and concepts with no real end point or resolution. I wanted to perform a loss of control and the failure of an artist to cope with such a situation. But it appears that I did cope, and what I ended up with was something much more polite.7
What this quote reveals is that GC’s aim in making the gallery permeable to uninvited guests was not in order to create harmonious pluralism but to reveal her own inability to cope with such pluralism. Therefore, the visible failure of the work is that it didn’t manage to perform this failure convincingly enough. As Castle correctly observes, ‘signs of conflict [were] evoked and aestheticised’, but as the newsletter and physical exhibition testified, these tokens of conflict were never really enough to threaten the work.8
This is where I want to reveal a crucial aspect of the project that hasn’t yet been discussed. While it is true that GC did not successfully ‘perform’ an artist unable to cope with the different situations that were folded into the exhibition, there was a moment of true authorial failure that Castle, and probably everyone else, failed to notice. While Castle claims the newsletter documenting GC’s activities was sent out weekly, they were actually sent out at random intervals, usually whenever there was time and something to report — between cutting the walls and reconfiguring the space — in which case, I was inevitably asked to write them. For an audience member, waiting for the newsletters to arrive was an important part of the work. Subscribers had to wait in order to know (or not know) the outcome of this or that event or development, and this temporal tension proved to be important. I would argue that the place of real conflict in the work was never performed by GC, but was felt in the awkward seven-week delay between newsletters thirteen and fourteen. After packing down the exhibition, GC asked me to write a final concluding newsletter and I simply couldn’t do it. I didn’t know how to and I was just too exhausted. Too exhausted from the pressure of being continually available and receptive to the demands of this insatiable exhibition. The protracted delay between newsletters thirteen and fourteen marked the time it took me to mentally and physically recover, and this happened well after the exhibition had officially ended. The fact that my breakdown didn’t leave a blemish on the surface of the project attests to how deceptive and unharmonious GC’s methodology really is.
So yes, I am more sceptical than anyone about the political orientation of this practice, and have experienced its implications first hand. I can only hope that GC has learned that unlike the ceaseless productivity of capital, I am but a fleshy body with finite resources. To be honest, I’m not convinced that she will re-orient herself away from time-based, process-based art and return to those blissful days of making self-contained and more readily accessible works, however we have spoken at length about how to enact more ethical working conditions and she assures me that she has taken this into consideration.
The following was written in response to an article published in the previous issue of un Magazine, Emily Castle, ‘Nods all round: orientations in recent spatial practice’, un Magazine 10.1, 2016, pp. 62–67. ↩
I’d like to acknowledge fellow enabler Nick Currie, who came out about his employer Momus in 2012. A document of this can be found on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCuVjTsurZY ↩
Castle states: ‘Accordingly the question becomes, rather than simply opening up new perspectives, how could this paradigm of exhibitions that change constantly through intense artistic labour align with neoliberal imperatives of unceasing performativity?’ Emily Castle, ‘Nods all round: orientations in recent spatial practice’, un Magazine, Issue 10.1, 2016, p. 66. ↩
Georgina Criddle, description of the exhibition Before Too Long: www.georginacriddle.com. ↩
As documented in the newsletters the ‘uninvited objects’ were beer cans, banksia flowers, a hat, some artworks that were found on the ledge at the opening, and, weeks later, Debris Facility’s work appeared inside the wall. Georgina Criddle, Newsletter 2 – Nods all round, 12 July 2015 and Newsletter 4 – Debris’ stuff, 21 July 2015. ↩
Castle suggests throughout her article that GC aims toward harmonious plurality as an end-goal, but this is most clearly exemplified when she states: ‘while plurality is no doubt necessary to artistic practice as it is to social struggles, [Chantal] Mouffe insists that it can never be reconciled into a “harmonious and non-conflictual ensemble”’, Castle, p. 66. ↩
Georgina Criddle email correspondence with Kym Maxwell, 13 May 2016. ↩
Castle, p. 66. ↩