The relationship between arts economies and austerity is a tumultuous one. We need only recall Stephen Harper’s sneering 2008 categorization of artists as rich complainers as evidence of the persistent myths that are used to devalue artistic work as “non-essential” during times of economic crisis. And yet, while the global commercial art market continues to experience steady growth and record-breaking auction sales, this profit-oriented circuit is neither possible nor desirable for many artists. Given the rich history of art works that engage with economic exchange–from artists’ storefronts and corporations to drop-out culture and performative actions of refusal–we are interested in considering the ways in which artists negotiate and respond to the simultaneous devaluation of artistic work, and increasing pressures on artists, cultural workers, and funding agencies to behave as financial speculators. In a climate of austerity budgets and precarious labour, we ask: how do artists, cultural workers, and institutions adapt and situate themselves? What kinds of identities–within cultural work and more broadly–are produced by capitalist accelerationism? On October 24 2014, as part of the UAAC conference held at OCADU in Toronto, I co-chaired a panel with Anthea Black on Performing Austerity: Artists, Work, and Economic Speculation. The panel included papers by Shannon Stratton, Michael Maranda, and Kirsty Robertson. To introduce the panel and frame some of the issues presented in the papers, we also drafted a letter to the UAAC community. What follows is a working draft of that letter that we are inviting our colleagues to read, sign, and comment on.
I am part of a group exhibition of Alberta College of Art + Design alumni along with Ward Bastian, Jolie Bird, Hyang Cho, Dean Drever, MacKenzie Kelly-Frère, Stephen Holman, Robin Lambert, Wednesday Lupypciw, Brendan McGillicuddy, Tyler Rock, Jenna Stanton, and Pavitra Wickramasinghe. The exhibition is called In the Making and it is up from January 16 to February 22, 2014 at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery in Calgary.
Curated by Diana Sherlock, the exhibition investigates conceptual intersections between contemporary craft and emerging digital media. The works span a diverse range of disciplines—photography, performance, video and sound installation, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry and glass—and reflect the ongoing influence of technology on ways of making and ways of thinking about the contemporary context.
My role in the exhibition is as that of animator or researcher: rather than reviewing it from a distance or writing an essay without seeing the work, I’m doing on-site research and get to be implicated in a more direct way with the exhibition, artists, curator, and community. I was in Calgary from January 18-25 to meet with the other exhibiting artists, conduct interviews, do visits, and present some of my recent research. I will share more information here as the project develops.
Image credits: L to R, T to B: Pavitra Wickramasinghe, Jenna Stanton, Hyang Cho, Wednesday Lupypciw, Jolie Bird, Brendan McGillicuddy, Ward Bastian, Dean Drever, MacKenzie Kelly-Frère, Stephen Holman, Robin Lambert, Tyler Rock.
The Subversive Stitch Revisited: The Politics of Cloth will explore the legacy of Rozsika Parker’s groundbreaking book, The Subversive Stitch: embroidery and the making of the feminine (1984) and two landmark exhibitions from 1988 that developed Parker’s ideas. It will consist of a two day event held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and an online resource that will include documentation of the event.
Anthea and I presented our paper “From Craftivism to Craftwashing: consuming and co-opting the politics of craft” on Saturday November 30th at 2pm as part of the session The Activists’ Stitch: from Craftivism to ‘Craftwashing’.
November 16, 2013, 2:30-7PM // Le 16 novembre 2013, de 14 h 30 à 19 h
2:30-3:30pm: Tour of the Artexte collection and presentation of selected materials and items
A guided tour of the Artexte collection and facilities, followed by a presentation on Nicole Burisch’s research at Artexte.
As 2012-2013 researcher in residence, Nicole Burisch has been investigating the presence and position of craft within Artexte’s collection. Recent developments in craft theory have been marked by a shift away from traditional definitions of craft as necessarily linked to specific materials (such as ceramics, textiles, or glass). Burisch’s research at Artexte builds upon this stance to look at how craft’s qualities appear throughout the collection – resulting in an intuitive and highly personal search for representations of materiality, handwork, labour, skill, process, texture, tactility, pattern, function, rural and “folk” cultures. Using this broader view on where craft might be located, Burisch has gathered a selection of items and excerpts from the collection that together raise and respond to the following questions: How are aspects of craft positioned or deployed within other fields? Which of craft’s qualities or knowledges are useful in communicating certain values or ideas? How has this shifted in relation to other art historical moments or movements?
The results of this research have been gathered together in a new publication: a limited edition bookwork that is half database and half zine. Produced through the repetitive acts of photocopying and (re)arranging, the publication traces the presence of craft in Artexte’s collection, while leaving room for gaps, contradictions, and future additions. Selected craft-based materials and items from the collection will also be on hand for consultation and discussion.
4:00-5:00 Lecture by Anthea Black and Nicole Burisch: From Craftivism to Craftwashing: consuming and co-opting the politics of craft
Craft has frequently been positioned as both a fix and foil for the ills of capitalism and alienating conditions of industrialization. The last decade is no exception, as a recent resurgence of hand-making in the fields of popular culture, design, and art, and the related practices of Craftivism, DIY, urban homesteading, and back-to-the-land, have been dubbed by some as a “craft revolution.” However, this fascination with all things handmade places emphasis on a romanticized notion of crafting (and often textiles in particular) as simple, fulfilling, and politically significant work. These assumptions about the status of craft operate in what is often a false opposition to mass production, consumer culture, and an increasingly technologized world.
In the almost-decade since the word “craftivism” has been used to describe the blending of craft and activism, a number of forces have complicated this relatively emergent dialogue and set of practices. We investigate how the particular qualities of craft have been conflated with notions of authenticity, individuality, and radical politics, and what this might mean in regards to changing notions of activism. If “greenwashing” refers to the use of branding to make a product seem eco-friendly while concealing its negative impacts, we introduce the term “craftwashing” to refer to instances where craft is used to market and perform political and social engagement while obscuring similarly sticky ethical, environmental, and economic impacts of global production and consumption.
-5:00-7:00pm: Book launch for Hay in a Haystack
This event is presented as part of The Deskilling/Reskilling of Artistic Production research-workshop and lecture series held at Concordia University, organized by the FoFA Gallery, and the Faculty of Fine Arts.
Heartfelt thanks to Sylvie Gilbert, John Latour, Felicity Talyer, karen elaine spencer, Eduardo Ralickas, Julie Fournier Lévesque, Éric Legendre, Sarah Watson, Jo-Anne Balcaen, Anthea Black, Mikhel Proulx, Olya Zarapina. I am also grateful to the Canada Council for the Arts for their support of the research phase of this project.
14 h 30 : Visite de la collection d’Artexte et présentation de livres et de documents sélectionnés par Nicole Burisch
Chercheur en résidence à Artexte en 2012-2013, Nicole Burisch a enquêté sur la présence et le positionnement de l’artisanat au sein de la collection d’Artexte. Sous une notion élargie de l’artisanat, Burisch a réuni un ensemble d’objets et d’articles qui, à la fois, soulèvent et répondent aux questions suivantes : comment voit-on certains aspects de l’artisanat dans d’autres domaines artistiques ? Quelles qualités ou connaissances artisanales sont utiles pour communiquer certaines valeurs ou idées ? Comment cela a-t-il changé par rapport aux autres moments ou mouvements de l’histoire de l’art ?
Le résultat de cette recherche est rassemblé dans une nouvelle publication : l’édition limitée d’un livre d’artiste sous la forme hybride d’une base de données et d’un zine. En utilisant le processus répétitif du photocopieur et du réarrangement, cette publication trace la présence de l’artisanat dans la collection d’Artexte, tout en laissant la place aux lacunes, aux contradictions et aux ajouts futurs. Le lancement officiel de cette nouvelle publication aura lieu à 17h, après la conférence.
16 h à 17 h : Conférence d’Anthea Black et Nicole Burisch : From Craftivism to Craftwashing : consuming and co-opting the politics of craft
Dans la quasi décennie faisant suite à l’apparition du mot « craftivism » pour décrire la fusion de l’artisanat et de l’activisme, plusieurs forces ont brouillé ce dialogue alors émergent et l’ensemble de ses pratiques associées. Burisch et Black examinent comment les qualités particulières de l’artisanat ont été confondues avec la notion d’authenticité, de l’individualité et la politique et ce que cela signifie en regard de l’évolution de la notion de militantisme. Si l’écoblanchiment (greenwashing) fait référence à l’utilisation de la marque pour donner une image écologique responsable à un produit – tout en dissimulant ses impacts négatifs – est introduit ici le terme « craftwashing » pour désigner des cas où l’artisanat est utilisé pour commercialiser et effectuer l’engagement politique et social, tout en masquant les impacts éthiques, environnementaux et économiques de la production et de la consommation globale.
Cette conférence est présentée dans le cadre de l’événement The Deskilling/Reskilling of Artistic Production (la déqualification et la requalification de la production artistique), un atelier de recherche qui aura lieu à l’Université Concordia le 14 novembre, organisé par la Galerie FoFA et la Faculté des Beaux-Arts.
Merci à: Sylvie Gilbert, John Latour, Felicity Talyer, karen elaine spencer, Eduardo Ralickas, Julie Fournier Lévesque, Éric Legendre, Sarah Watson, Jo-Anne Balcaen, Anthea Black, Mikhel Proulx, Olya Zarapina et au Conseil des arts du Canada pour leur soutien de ce projet.
I’m headed to Sackville, NB from the 24th to the 27th of October to participate in A Handmade Assembly. I’ll be moderating the opening round table at 7:30pm on the 24th (with Ryan Statz, Allyson Mitchell, and Paula Jean Cowan) and giving an artist talk at 11am on the 25th.
Organized by Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre with the Owens Art Gallery and Thunder & Lightning Ltd, A Handmade Assembly invites artists, curators and others from the region and away to lead discussions, facilitate workshops, initiate projects, open exhibitions, and share in a common thread, the handmade.
Anthea and I have been busy working on a new body of research into the use of craft and crafted aesthetics as a form of political expression and identity construction. We recently presented a paper entitled, “Performing Austerity: Political Identities and the Co-option of the Crafted Aesthetic” at the Textile Society of America Symposium in Washington, DC. The theme of the Symposium was “Textiles and Politics” and we got to present as part of the fantastic Material Matters panel organized by Lisa Vinebaum, Ruth Scheuing, and Ingrid Bachmann.
The abstract of the paper is posted below, and there are more links, examples, and excerpts on the Performed Austerity website.
Craft has been positioned as both a fix and foil for the ills of capitalism and alienating conditions of industrialization, and the current moment, dubbed by some as a “craft revolution,” often romanticizes craft as simple, fulfilling, authentic, and politically significant work. This paper explores the use of crafted aesthetics in both consumption and anti-consumption models of social/political engagement to conspicuously perform values of personal agency, and social responsibility, as expressions of (life)style in an economic climate obsessed with austerity. We introduce the term “craftwashing” to refer to instances where craft is used to market fashionable goods whose desirability often obscures the sticky ethical, environmental, and economic questions around their production.
I’ll be presenting as part of the (Dis)embodied Feminisms: New Perspectives on Gender, Sexuality and Identity symposium at McGill University. The symposium runs from May 13-15, 2011 and the keynote speaker will be Brooklyn-based performance artist Amber Hawk Swanson. The paper I will be presenting draws from my thesis research about intersections of craft and performance art:
Working It Out: Craft and Performance in Contemporary Art
Art historian Jayne Wark has argued that “the relationship between feminism and performance art since the 1970s has become so inextricably linked that it is inconceivable to speak of one without reference to the other.” Projects such as Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ 1973-4 Maintenance Work Projects, and Martha Rosler’s 1975 video Semiotics of the Kitchen both used the performance of domestic tasks in order to make public women’s unrecognized labour. Similar aims were at play when feminist artists of the same period, such as Evelyn Roth or Joyce Wieland used so-called “feminine” craft processes and materials such as knitting or embroidery as a means to elevate or re-value these kinds of creative work.
Recent exhibitions such as Gestures of Resistance (2010) and projects such as Wednesday Lupypciw’s The Ladies’ 500-Metre Challenge (pictured above) have included aspects of both craft and performance, often with a focus on the live performance of (craft)work as a means to address issues of labour, skill, and aesthetic value. This paper will draw links between these contemporary works and the clear historical precedents found in the concerns and methods of feminist artworks mentioned above. Furthermore, this paper will investigate how a problematic association between craft and domestic/feminine realms remains a feature in how craft-based practices are understood and framed within contemporary art. Here, new craft-performance hybrids will be examined for the ways in which they complicate and rethink relationships between craft, domesticity, traditional gender roles, and distinctions between the private and public spheres.