“They hop between revolving scenes, juggle various professional identities, seek out and improvise ever-new situations and contexts for staging what can be recognized and evaluated by their peers as art, all squeezed into schedules already bloated with myriad non-art activity.” This is how art critic and Northwestern professor Lane Relyea depicts the contemporary art laborer in his 2014 essay “Afterthoughts on D.I.Y. Abstraction,” a digestible think piece that shares the concerns he investigated at length in his 2013 book “Your Everyday Art World.”
His take is poignantly accurate. Our town (and increasingly more of the art world) runs on multi-hyphenate cultural producers who not only make art but also curate, write, teach and run alternative galleries. We’re embedded in a pervasive labor economy that has mutated into part-time work status, short-term contracts (or no contracts) and a demand for flexibility, availability and diversified skill sets. I’ve been writing this text along with two other articles and a grossly overdue catalogue essay this week, while teaching two courses at SAIC, troubleshooting shipping and consignments for an exhibition I’m curating, and stubbornly insisting on the better part of two days in my studio because I’m falling behind in my production schedule for an exhibition next year. My workload isn’t extraordinary or even varied beyond the status quo. It’s not exceptional that I slip between myriad roles; in fact it’s all day, everyday for most of us.
While Relyea’s analysis is useful in symptomatizing our labor and, indeed, we may all be acting out tacit directives that guarantee even more insidious modes of capitalism and lifetimes of instability for a burgeoning “precaritariat,” I’ve wanted to better understand artists’ presumed motives for working across disciplines in personally attuned panoplies of creative output. I wrote to a number of other folks in Chicago to hopefully compare notes and maybe commiserate. Everyone who replied was frankly honest about diversification as a means to make a living while also holding to the possibilities that these hybrids allow (or at least once allowed) for nimble forms of criticality and subversion. Read the rest of this entry »