Public/Private

 

20213861_288816651524137_2451059444084113408_nMy recent research is forcing me to think a lot about technology and its affects – it’s incredibly interesting, as it’s full of contradictions. On the one hand, technology brings us closer together; we can communicate instantly with anyone on a global scale and expect a reply within hours, if not minutes. We can conduct long distance relationships more easily, with the support of Skype and WhatsApp. We can even call our friend who’s running late to check how much longer they’ll be! Yet, in a sense, we are also distancing ourselves from one another. People can be sat together at dinner in a restaurant, not speaking for some time, but instead with the attention on their phones. The demands of cyberspace, have in some social situations come to outweigh the demands of reality. Our need to document our private lives online, again in some incidents takes precedence over simply enjoying the moment.

Considering this in relation to Hannah Arendt’s reflections  has been interesting. Her book, The Human Condition, was published in 1958 and reflects on human behaviours throughout Western history. An extract I found particularly poignant:

To live an entirely private life means about all to be deprived of things essential to a truly human life: to be deprived of the reality that comes from being seen and heard by others’ p.58

20347198_326950891081129_6942562339015098368_n(1)

Is our impulse to connect, be seen and heard virtually, simply an expression of our most basic human desire? Throughout Arendt’s discussion, she delves deep into the histories of public and private life; the public and private domain, as well as private ownership and how these entities affect our modes of thought. Through this she asks why ‘it has always been the bodily part of human existence that needed to be hidden in privacy, all things connected with the necessity of the life process itself’? (p.72) Why is it that activities such as breastfeeding one’s child, a vital component to life, are taboo? Is our impulsive need to document life in the digital era simply a component to moving beyond such taboos?

As more and more of our lives are uploaded online, our private spheres are rapidly diminishing. What was historically hidden, chores and hidden labour of  the domestic – have now come to light. People proudly wear an apron and washing up gloves as they smile for the camera, the ironing is laid out, washing up bubbles fill our phone screens as we scroll. Is our need to share more than simply a demonstration of production? Are we in fact, embracing life and human instinct; throwing away outdated notions of what is deemed publicly acceptable?

#today’swashingcombo

#windowcleaning

#queenofclean

Advertisements

Reflections on recent reading

22/07/17

Last week I participated in Collective Gallery’s annual Summer School, which was an incredibly rich learning experience. Not only given the range of speakers in discussion, but also due to the mix of participants who created an interesting and dynamic workshop environment. It was a great week to ease me back into thinking critically following my holiday in Spain. Collective are a contemporary visual arts organisation in Edinburgh which support new and emerging artists who are at a pivotal point in their career. Collective Gallery employ collaborative working methods, often producing new commissions for exhibitions. The Summer School they hosted last week had a selection of speakers and given her relevance to my current dissertation research, most notable to me was Angela McRobbie; a feminist cultural theorist and Professor at Goldsmiths. In her workshop, themes discussed included the gender of Post-Fordism [1], the artist as human capital, neoliberal enterprise, precarious labour and project-based work. Through my dissertation, I have exploring ideas of labour uncertainty and precarity, paying close attention to the temporal dimensions of these facets.

In contemporary society and within the economic framework, work and leisure boundaries are blurring. Work no longer sits exclusively within the 9-5pm paradigm, but instead all forms of slippages occur, most noticeably through technological communication in the form of Google calendar notifications and constant email exchange. We have become increasingly programmed to think not only in physical, but also in virtual time. As well as trying to balance work, domestic and social life, we are now forced into constant interconnectivity and network awareness. How many Facebook messages require replies? Have you checked the latest uploads from your friend’s holiday? Have you replied to their tag of you in a funny video? Technology is putting an increasing amount of demand on our lives – to the point that it is beginning to massively affect our sleeping patterns as well as our waking hours. According to Jonathan Crary, there are individuals these days who wake themselves up in the middle of the night for the sole purpose of checking their phones. Even in the sanctity of sleep therefore, we are still switched on to working life. There is no escape. We are no longer certain of when we are or are not working.

This is particularly evident in the creative industries, a field awash with neoliberal enterprise in the form of blogs and Etsy shops. Within the creative economy, working is increasingly flexible, freelance, uncertain and project-based, with little protection or welfare for workers. Angela McRobbie charts this in her book, Be Creative; a study examining the creative economy in the post-Blair years. In her discussion she also proposes ‘project-based’ models for future work, which are more considerate of such precarious labour. Further to this, I have also been reading Isabell Lorey’s State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious, a very interesting and comprehensive read which draws primarily on Michel Foucault’s notions of biopolitics [2]. Throughout her analysis Lorey examines various dimensions of precarious labour, paying close attention to ideas of protection and inequality.

Tying these ideas to the work of the performance collective Eastern Surf [3] who I am studying for my dissertation has been very interesting and helpful. Through explorations of performance works such as ‘ilovemyjob‘, which examines the boundaries of working life, paying close attention to the domestic realm in which ‘hidden’ labour is carried out, I have been able to greatly refine my ideas from my broader readings (listed at the end of this post) and apply them within an artistic context.

**

[1] Post-Fordism is the theory that modern industrial production should change from the large-scale mass-production methods pioneered by Henry Ford towards the use of small flexible manufacturing units.

[2] Biopolitics can be understood as a political rationality which takes the administration of life and populations as its subject. According to Foucault: ‘[A] power that exerts a positive influence on life, that endeavours to administer, optimize, and multiply it, subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations.’ (Foucault, The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality Volume 1, 1976)

[3] See: http://easternsurf.net 

Recent reading:

Be Creative, Angela McRobbie, 2016

State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious, Isabell Lorey, 2015

24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, Jonathan Crary, 2013

Quote Extracts

16/06/17

I find myself developing a magpie tendency whenever I see a good quote. Whether it’s for personal or academic use, I have a compulsion to document and accumulate them. I always remember my old art teacher having a book of quotes that inspired him. He was a fantastic man, full of energy; who still wore a waistcoat with a pocket watch. I should probably be more religious with my quote gathering and compile them all in one place, as they are currently haphazardly scattered across various notebooks, sticky notes, old receipts and train tickets. Anything I can write on in that moment, I will use to scribble notes. At least I always have a surplus of pens on me as being pen-less is my worst nightmare given I am such an avid note taker.

Although most of the time they are gathered for personal reflection, these are some I thought I would share…

‘To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world and at the same time to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are.’

– M. Berman, All That Is Solid Melts into Air, (1982), p.15

This I felt was a very poignant quote; as it is both at once filled with promise and hope, whilst simultaneously filled with tragedy and sadness. It signifies the disrupted and chaotic equilibrium of life. It exposes both the beauty and virtue of humans, whilst also displaying our destructive and careless nature. I think it is also very beautifully written; the more I read the more I am refining and realising my reading taste. I really do love visual language which drips with life. Along with my new found love for Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s writings, I have come across another writer  whose texts are truly brilliant. Although he’s an urban geographer in practice, which might appear a boring working title to some, or a tedious field to others, David Harvey is in fact one of the best writers I have come across in a while. His grasp of literature and his ability to convey and discuss his ideas in an engaging manner is enticing. Ignoring for a moment his staggeringly accurate and perceptive analysis of capitalist culture – he coined the term ‘time-space compression’, which discusses the shrinking of temporal and geographical distances as a result of technological and communication advances, see image below – his writing in itself is beautiful and full-bodied, like a good red wine.

tsc

A quote of his I discovered recently that struck me:

‘Capital is a process and not a thing. It is a process of reproduction of social life through commodity production, in which all of us in the advanced capitalist world are heavily implicated…The process masks and fetishises, achieves growth through creative destruction, creates new wants and needs, exploits the capacity for human labour and desire, transforms spaces, and speeds up the space of life.’ 

– D. Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, (1989), p.343

British Art Show 8

IMG_8497

We had an art trip to Edinburgh on Friday to see the British Art Show 8. I felt like a school girl again being on the bus with everyone. Let’s just say I’m not a morning person when lacking my usual caffeine intake! It was lovely to get away from Newcastle to a city as stunning and creative as Edinburgh. I am completely in love with the city and it’s architecture, everywhere you look there is something new to absorb, especially when the sun is shining and dancing across the beautiful buildings. The gallery buildings we were visiting, such as The Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh (pictured above) are visually captivating enough in themselves – and that’s before we’d even seen the work in the show itself! The British Art Show takes place every five years and is an exhibition that tours nationally to show the most current contemporary art in the UK today. It hosts a broad variety of artists all of whom work across various media. The theme of the British Art Show this year was materiality and how we approach it both virtually and physically in contemporary art. 

IMG_8498

Initially I misread the text accompanying the exhibition and took it to mean the theme was materiality alone and was consequently disgusted by the ridiculous excess of screens. Not joking, there were more video works in that show than I’ve probably witnessed in my life! In my outrage at this approach to materiality I felt disillusioned by the entire show, until I came to realise my mistake. However, despite the theme being an exploration of materiality across the real and the virtual, I did find the predominant selection of video works quite difficult to absorb. Drifting from screen to screen to screen did start to feel slightly repetitive and exhausting. This is the problem with an excess of video in a gallery setting. You walk in at the wrong time or half way through and the narrative is entirely lost on you! In some cases this approach to viewing video is a success, in other cases it is far from that. Half the time you have no idea of the duration so you are forced to decide when you leave or if you stay and then of course you have all the social pressures of that situation in a gallery setting. You don’t want to be the first to leave the art work, or you don’t want to hurriedly get up when you’ve only just sat down. It can lead to a multiple of awkward situations. 

IMG_8492

That is why I loved this piece ‘The Common Sense’ by Melanie Gilligan so much. There was no issue of when to stop and start viewing. Given the absence of the conventional dark space for viewing video work, I felt under far less pressure and therefore was more inclined to participate with the piece. Partially because I was fascinated by the technology. I put the headphones on expecting to hear things straight away, but it wasn’t until I was in close proximity to the screens that any sound was audible. As you approached each screen you were greeted by a different segment of the film and it’s audio. Yet as you walked between screens you could hear nothing but silence. It was all done through motion sensor and created a highly intriguing experience. Unless of course you didn’t have headphones, then you just felt lost and disinterested. Being lucky enough to have claimed a pair of headphones, ‘The Common Sense’ seemed like a fascinating dystopian film which I would have loved to have been able to see all the way through!

IMG_8489

Also in The Talbot Rice Gallery was this work by Eileen Simpson and Ben White. In the above image, it doesn’t look like much, apart from being a selection of funky coloured record players. However in reality it was an engaging sound installation that echoed throughout the top floor of the gallery. The records played a compilation of extracts taken from chart hits of 1962 – the final year in which commercial records could be retrieved for public use. It sounded like a hollow and empty kind of disco, like you almost wanted to dance and party but the robotic tone was stopping you from letting loose. 

IMG_8519

Sound installations along with video seemed to be core motifs to the Show. The above image is a gravestone bench by Alex Kane, which was in the room of Laure Prouvost’s haunting sound work. There was a silky woman’s voice reverberating across the room as I sat down, the kind of voice that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. At first I thought the bench was part of Prouvost’s work, until I read the accompanying text. Although the sound installation was a generic address to the viewer, it felt like the woman’s voice was pinpointing and talking to directly to me. Incredibly haunting and eerie enough that I left that room with my skin crawling. Although The British Art Show was less sculpture filled than I’d expected, it was rich in experience. I left each room with new thoughts and feelings racing through my head, different things making me uncomfortable or mesmerising me into staying. Sometimes I feel contemporary art should have the simple title of ‘experience art’, as that was definitely what I felt the British Art Show was; an experience.