As part of our look into collaboratives and art this month, we are happy to share a guest post by Alli Miller (b. 1985, New York) is an artist and designer working between Los Angeles and Brooklyn. She is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Southern California, member of DADDY, and frequent collaborator of Trey Burns, with whom she is in the persistent pursuit of a sign. Alli Miller and Trey Burns will participate in a forthcoming exhibition at May Gallery (New Orleans) during Prospect.3 in the Fall of 2014.
Below Alli delivers a thorough and theoretical look at her practice and collaborations. Thanks, Alli!
The MFA is the new MBA. Interdisciplinarity and collaboration as once resistant, innovative modes, have been consumed and neutralized by corporate structures. The ‘90s -- a time when world peace was shouted from lower-definition televisions, speculation outweighed productivity, when blonde families were willingly slimed on-air as brown people died offscreen – are the new ‘80s. Today, entry level workers are overqualified, slavishly indebted twenty-somethings anointed by the careless whispers of the end of the era of the American middle class: the fire in the belly must be met with the promise and passion of the self-starter, the “think different” mind that will work artisanal hours to indulge a Victorian sense of self through consumption.
Lately, my Gmail™ inbox has been filled with invitations for opportunities to pay-to-play as artist: a juried show here, a booth at a fair in any given medium-sized city eager to adopt the tenets of Richard Florida there. The expectation of self-branding and hyper-professionalization has permeated and corrupted the hive mind of young artists and new MFA recipients, who accept this as fact of participation in the market (1). As the Invisible Committee wrote in The Coming Insurrection: “producing oneself is becoming the dominant occupation of a society where production no longer has an object: like a carpenter who’s been evicted from his shop and in desperation sets about hammering and sawing [herself]” (2).
As an artist and practitioner living in the twenty-first century, my overarching concern is of my coordinates within the economy. Over the past several years, I have initiated and worked in proximity to multiple collaborative and collective practices to address the shifting notions and possibilities of the artists’ body within the confines of Late Capitalism. In 2007, I worked alongside the Bruce High Quality Foundation on a revisionist revival of Cats on Broadway in a storefront on the Bushwick-Bed Stuy border. Tracking a pseudo-history of Western Civilization masked as Bed Stuy, punkish cats performed the 20th century’s top-of-the-charts pop songs. The clusterfuck of a production came to an explosive, florescent-lit finale when the aesthetically piecemeal theatre transformed into an American Apprrrrrrl store. In this stage of capitalism, gentrification is a symptom and a fact, as is widening class stratification and eager submission of self to corporate power as a performance analytic through social media.
And then for several years, my punch card was dedicated to DADDY, a pseudo design corporation “dedicated to the study of use in contemporary practice” (3). Between 2009 and 2013, DADDY's output was centered around this same storefront on Broadway in Bushwick-Bed Stuy. Using the stylistic vernacular of bodegas in this so-called "neighborhood in transition," passersby were met with an installation of self-branded cleaning and hygienic products, signs, decals, and advertisements for various impossibilities. Behind these shelves, my collaborators and I produced as both artist-bodies and 1099 workers, as is ever the necessity in what was already rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn. We acknowledged the uselessness and potential harm of our existence within the eyes of our community through the slippage of the trust placed in the aesthetics and rituals of consumer desire, and the underlying, growing presence of racial and class tensions prevalent in the neighborhood. DADDY IS A TYPE OF DECADENCE.
With a fluctuating presence within and proximal distance to varying mythologies, I perform as different character within each context. Presenting the idea of artist-as-shapeshifter or artist-as-elastic self, artist performing the many notions of the Ego Ideal: too distracted, too belligerent to be quantified within a consumer demographic. This multiplicitous identification is inclusive of (and notwithstanding) a space for a productive failure of citizenship, material, and narrative. Within my own studio practice, I perform as Lucky, an activated or *jazz* body. This body, markedly different from my own, my social security number, one that must otherwise work 70 hour work weeks and also be qualified against the Aesthlete (or the hyperproduction of culturally-oriented content generation, seen in the practices of Slavoj Žižek, Hans Ulrich Obrist, or the collective output of The Jogging through Brad Troemel, amongst many other talented individuals). This is an object-oriented project that measure laziness, negation, and refusal of the body under the totality of capital.
Embedded in the global contemporary art system, Lucky *jazz* body could be framed as a drag performance. In "Critically Queer," Judith Butler views drag as that which cannot be regarded as an example of subjective or singular identity, where "there is a ‘one’ who is prior to gender, a ‘one’ who goes to the wardrobe of gender and decides with deliberation which gender it will be today.” What is performed "can only be understood through reference to what is barred from the signifier within the domain of corporeal legibility” (4). Butler suggests the drag queen exposes gender as a cultural code which relies on mimicry and rejects essentialism. The parody embedded in the drag performance accentuates the norms of gender performance. Thus, drag queens enable mimicry at the base of any structure of identity, and the absence of the source. This parody of gender is resistant to power structures in that it exposes the social coercion at the base of the performative nature of identity. Furthermore, the drag parody points to the fact that any social construct can be disrupted, disfigured, and disarmed in an practice of disorientation.
In a world where the most microbial aspects of life, labor, and affect can be commodified ad nauseum and in perpetuity, it is not possible (or perhaps relevant) to seek the world “post“ spectacle (in the Debordian sense of the term), but rather: other-ed. In describing the hypotheses for his association Ars Industrials (an “International Association for a Politics of Technologies of the Spirit”), Bernard Stiegler poses a compelling framework for a logic of resistance: we live in an industrial world that will become more and more industrial, thus “it’s not a question of seeking to post limits to industry, but of thinking industry otherwise… we are completely opposed to the idea that we are living in a post-industrial society. This ideology makes thinking impossible” (5). Similarly, Butler suggests that instead of understanding queerness as a fixed notion of identity, there should be an understanding and employment of the term “queer” as verb that “queers” stable identity categories, formations, and converging relations of power. In order to remain queer, the terminology and performance of “queerness” must constantly be reworked and rethought in order for its possibility to resonate.
This is not a model for praxis.
Poetically, my practice begins with an urgent economy of making, deconstruction, and self-destruction by addressing the psychosexual and linguistic aspects of display. It is imbued with a dispossessed erasure (dis)identified by failure, collapsed comportment, affect and overall mode of display spun into a sentence of unsavory words. An interrogation of materials and rituals assumed and consumed. An underscoring of the complicity of the audience in viewing such an event. The violent separation of water and oil.-------
1. To be clear, during the Fall 2013 semester I had the opportunity to work alongside a seasoned professor in one of USC’s professionalization classes for art and design students, which I absolutely loved. Given the tools of and warnings about the standardization of self in the economy, our students matured and began to produce better work than in semesters before: precisely the trajectory any teacher wishes for their pupils.
2. The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009. Print.
3. From “DADDY MISSION STATEMENT” (2008): http://daddybydaddy.com/4DADDY/about/about.html
4. Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993. Print.
5. Stiegler, Bernard. “Interview: From Libidinal Economy to the Ecology of the Spirit.” Parrhesia, 2012 November 14: 9-15. Web.