ART AND LABOR | MILLY CAI

Art and Labor: the Artist, the Art Institution, and the Art Consumer  

On Familiarity:

When Maria invited me to work with her on a project for her second collection with GEORGIA titled Resilience, I was immediately attracted to the familiarity of the pieces. 


The clean and white fabric reminded me of my first studio. The shelves were lined with thin canvas and clay covered aprons were tossed over chairs, tables, and any other open surface. These materials, scavenged from the printmaking department’s waste bin, were repurposed to serve the production of my ceramic work (and protection of my outfit). 


While the inspiration behind these pieces were drawn from Maria’s visual memory of the surgical gowns worn by her parents, I connected them to the boiler suits my father wore at work, discovered in old photographs from the 90’s and again after immigration, in the early 2000’s*. 


On Resilience:

When I think about the word “resilience” as it relates to our current global political climate and labor, I think about the individual and the collective. In my field of work, I immediately think about the artist and the art institution. 


What are the conditions - socio-economic, ideological, conceptual, psychological, physical etc... under which we live?


What do the words work, occupation, production, and capital mean for the artist and the artwork?


Lars Bang Larsen outlines the ways which art, in our contemporary world, is seen as both work and nonwork, social and aesthetic. The concept of the artist as being able to create the subject out of nothing, only pure creativity, enforces the idea of art = fun = nonwork. However the definition of fun here is unclear. 


My questions highlighted for the topic of Art and Labor are: 


  1. What does production mean today?

  1. What scope exists to change the conditions of material production and what would this require from us?

  1. What are the structural problems around art and work, art and production, that cannot be changed at an individual level?

  1. How can we strive for a collectivity that transcends individual subjectivity? 

  1. How do we situate creativity in an environment where the foundation of capitalism is the extraction of value from our creative labor - how do we challenge our understanding of value / the measurement of value of what we are doing?

These select readings catalyzed the questions above. In no way are these readings the foundation for the topic “Art and Labor”; they are collected through personal interest and reflection on the topic. I hope they inspire your own questions and further research. 

Art and Labour Select Readings:

 

The Paradox of Art and Work: An Irritating Note, Lars Bang Larsen

 

Art and Work, Harold Rosenberg

 

Just as Money is Paper so a Gallery is a Room, Jonatan Habib Engqvist 

 

Two Years: The Dematerialisation of the Art Institution, Lisa Rosendahl 

 

Shoemaker of Dreams, Salvatore Ferragamo 


*My dad is a materials science/ engineer. When he first immigrated to America, he worked as a janitor and bus boy. I think a lot about work as it relates to the displaced body - how does work change? I want to argue that there is no such thing as easy or hard work, all work is work. 

 

Maria's Note: I found Milly's work last May because of a Google Drive she curated - I don't remember who posted it, it already feels like a lifetime ago. I dm'ed Milly that night to thank her for putting such a great resource together and she was incredibly kind and well spoken - I later found out that much of her work focuses on photo theory and surveillance. Reading the selected works of a curator is a funny way to start a friendship, but I'm so glad it happened this way...I can honestly say she's become one of my dearest friends. Ask her about the archive section of New York Library or Phillip Kindred Dick - I promise you won't be disappointed. 

Art and Labour is the first selection of questions and articles pertaining to 'Resilience' from Milly Cai. The next selection will be "Mimesis: Representation and Memory". 

Milly Cai is the associate director of Ippodo Gallery in New York.