Thursday ∗ 22 Nov 2012

on the working artist, on artistic labor

“<…> artists are constantly in the position of having to work in order to produce work.”

here’s a project of Donna Miranda, which reminds of how artistic work, cannot always and necessarily be about exhibiting work in galleries and art spaces; which reminds of how the work of the artist, is always work to begin with, is borne of the work outside of it. it is labor, full stop.

read up! hanep ‘to.


Working Artists Group


In the 1970s, the Art Workers Coalition was formed in New York to implement reforms in various art institutions, foremost among them the Museum of Modern Art. Much as this has illuminated the position of the artist as a laborer or of artistic work as labor, it does not go as far as accommodate the notion that artistic labor is not the only form of labor that the artist does. This for instance does not account for the fact that certain artists sustain their ability to participate in artistic labor by participating in other forms of labor and vice versa, such that one form of labor becomes the condition of possibility for the other. While the convenient differentiation between artistic and non-artistic labor has been the subject of varied artistic and critical examinations in the past – incursions that aggressively locate the artistic in the social, and the social in art – the works in this exhibition go a step further. That is, not only do they probe the other forms of labor that enable artistic labor and the kinds of work produced under this condition but also seek to identify what sort of labor is enabled by artistic labor.

More than proposing a nostalgic recuperation of the forms of artistic activism that have influenced many artists’ awareness of their positions in the accumulation, exchange, distribution, and redistribution of labor, what the exhibition hopes to achieve is to bring into view how the notion of labor in art is constructed, appraised, reproduced, mystified and hidden from view–fitting concerns for a platform that privileges independent initiatives while problematizing issues of sustainability.

Working Artists Group (WAG) is a reflection on the strategies and conditions of subsistence that allow artists to participate in, if not navigate, their positions in the social production of art and economy. It makes visible activities otherwise traditionally held at a tenuous distance from what are considered as artistic products of labor –more often than not unaccounted for or, worse, overlooked despite the widespread predominance of a post-Fordist experience-based economy that indiscriminately appropriates every aspect of human activity. WAG proposes that these material, economic, and micro-political coordinates be unpacked to foreground any discussion of the aesthetic and attendant question of being sustainable. If not, altogether be the premise for all relevant artistic productions. For is it not precisely an artist’s participation in non-artistic employment that allows him/her to become an artist and produce artistic work? If so, then is it not also true that participation in the artistic economy becomes a condition of possibility for engaging in other relayed forms of labor in the creative industries? These questions allow us to speculate that participation in non-artistic work is in fact part and parcel of artistic work, that all labor participated in by an artist is artistic labor.

We’ve put together a group of Filipino artists whose work and practice examine the material and economic coordinates that sustain their (artistic) work and livelihood, while at the same time unashamedly framing this work as nothing else but artistic work. These artists who come from varied fields of artistic practice, sharing common materialist concerns, are all employed in the formal economy in areas that are either w/in the creative industries or w/in purely administrative and bureaucratic settings. Or to put it simply, artists who maintain day jobs to afford being an artist, notwithstanding afford their most basic daily necessities, demands, even desires, meanwhile managing to articulate this very awareness of politico-economic constraints into their artistic practices. WAG unpacks how notions of work and labor are expressed (or not expressed) in the social production of art. With notions of sustainability constantly problematized by so-called independent practitioners, WAG hopes to thresh out how sustainability, participation, and being independent are navigated and negotiated on the level of artistic production, how artists are constantly in the position of having to work in order to produce work.

Buen Calubayan, “Race”

This constancy is best reflected by an excerpt from the ongoing work by Buen Calubayan titled Race – not so much a performance but a performative frame that allows his day job as a government employee performing the role of Museum Researcher at the National Museum of the Philippines to be visible as art. The massive project is articulated in a myriad documents, each continuing to grow, foremost of which is “Race Laps”– a transcript of his day-to-day time log of travel between home and office – an excerpt from which has been extracted by the artist for the WAG folio. The obverse of busy-ness, on the other hand, is what is collaboratively presented by Enzo Camacho and Amy Lien. By reproducing a small selection of “Lunch with the FT” articles – a regular weekend feature of the Financial Times – the two artists illustrate how their spare time is consumed: by perusing newspaper articles that not only interest them but interest them precisely for the manner by which these contribute to their formation as so-called ‘cultural barometers’– a role that is socially expected of artists to perform thru aggressive information acquisition.

Enzo Camacho & Amy Lien, “She “smelt something meaty and fragrant” about him”

Sandra Palomar’s Bleed Suite 2 is a continuation of a series of attempts to dye with animal blood various patches of fabric handwoven with pineapple fiber, indexing an interest not only in textiles but in “a laboring that produces ‘work’.” Ironically, by bracketing out the art/non-art distinction to focus on handicrafts as a throwback to a mode of production in art in which the privilege is on product rather than process, she recuperates process effectively as that which gets abstracted in the consumerist encounter with product. By doing so, she is able to highlight how, working in a non-artistic environment such as being both Executive Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila and founder of the company Palomar Fine Art Services, “the working (or the working out) is the artwork itself,” implicitly making a distinction between her labor w/in an artistic environment and her labor outside of it as a matter of the product it produces. And as we now speak of products, Angelo V. Suarez gives a glimpse into what goes behind and into the advertisements that help construct demand for such products. He accomplishes this by way of the advertising brief – a brief not only whose text but also whose dissemination (in the WAG folio as pullout posters, but also eventually as tarpaulin banners, videos for online distribution, content for a webpage, even as print and hopefully radio ads) is framed as a work of poetry. The format of the text is directly lifted from the standard Saatchi & Saatchi brief – that of the OIIC, a document containing the “Objective, Issue, Insight, and Challenge” of a given project, the project self-referentially being a boost in the demand for his own artistic work, which of late finds itself increasingly entrenched in conceptualist poetics. 

Angelo V. Suarez, “IMC for a Filipino Conceptual Poet”

What this exhibition hopes to accomplish is to make visible not only marginal artistic practices in the Philippines that manage to maintain positions that are both responsive and relevant to their own relations to the production of circulating capital but also to bring into view how an aesthetics of administration is being as response to the exigencies of sustainability.

Sandra Palomar, “Bleed Suite 2”

Posted in: arteng biswal, arts and culture, bayan, kultura

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One Comment/Pingback

  1. ivanlabayne
    February 9, 2013 at 2:49 am

    ang galing! i would like to consider this project and the view of art vis-a-vis “social realities” that informs it as an excellent middlepoint between the dominantly acknowledged “elitist” “art” (concerned about its gifted kind of form, above anything else) and the less inventive (more in terms of form, but also in content) “political” art mainly springing from a particular political orientation/collective. in other words: a fresh approach on problematizing and getting into the web-like issues of artistic and economic production, and more vitally perhaps, setting out future trajectories for this kind of artistic production that is also concerned about its very conditions of possibility mainly determined in their social contexts.

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