Boy this topic is a hot one for me at the moment! After seeing the Fay Incorporated show at Toilet Gallery (above image, thanks to Feltbug) last week (see here for more info), I’ve been thinking about “Artist as Labourer”, and then of course there is my own process of looking for work in this crazy country.
Since leaving art school in Australia, I have been pretty lucky to be working (mostly) in the arts. I worked at a gallery during my degree, briefly spent some time working in a record store (and if that isn’t cultivating rock’n’roll artistic tendencies, i don’t know what will), did some teaching and then worked at a National Visual Arts organisation for a few years, in a variety of roles and of course non-paid work running Project. All the while collecting a little pile of skills that are easily transferrable and being able to use my knowledge about the arts.
And since I’ve been in London, I’ve had a few ‘interesting’ experiences with working here and both of them have taught me a thing or two about myself and about being an artist. And the complicated relationship between work and artistic practice that I find myself rubbing up against every once in a while, ie. how much am I worth?
cooking as part of the installation of entropy at platform. not on minimum wage.
For the last couple of weeks I’ve been working in a kitchen, for minimum wage and suffice to say, this sucks. i can do it OK, but i’m not actually very equipped to deal with the stress that’s in a kitchen. give me 5 deadlines, an artwork that’s not working, an email inbox a mile long or a grant application to do overnight and i’m fine. However, none of those skills really apply for very long in a busy kitchen, day after day. Or perhaps i’m just a wooss (howeverthefuck you spell it). and as a result, i quit. i know my mum won’t be very pleased to read this, but hey, she’ll deal with it.
And then there’s the crazy experience I had when applying for work with an architecture practice:
I went for an admin position in an architects’ office (“with high street clients”) and was offered the job, if i could dye my hair all one colour and take out my facial piercing [For those who don’t know what I look like, I have blonde and black hair, with a lip ring, but I scrub up alright]. I’ve had ‘funny hair’ and piercings for most of my adult life and I’ve never been asked to do that before. It was quite a strange experience. And I’ll tell you why it was strange and had a process all of its own – I’m outta my comfort zone. If i was at home, I would a) probably not being applying for admin (having moved a little further than entry level now, although not by heaps) and b) I know the lay of the land and I would easily be able to know (from experience) that it wasn’t necessary to look a certain way in order to do my job.
I had thought to myself – If I owned a punk nightclub or a DIY art gallery, which had loads of punks, skins, tattooed people with funny hair and piercings as my main clients, and i was looking for staff. Would i say to an applicant who had straight blonde hair, perfectly done neutral make up and corporate clothes “you’re great for the job, I like you and what you’ve done, but do you think you could cut and dye your hair, get a tattoo and maybe get a few piercings?” ? I knew that the answer would be no. And that the answer would be no. In fact I felt like asking them whether they had asked their African secretary if she would change her colour because the clients wouldn’t like it, but decided not to stoop to pettiness. Although I was glad to hear when I told my mum about it, at the end of it all she said “by ‘one colour’ [as in the hair colour], can it be all blue?” Ha!!
Which brings me to the point of this post:
Being an artist is not a consolation.
So many artists I know are staffing the kitchens, bars and dining halls of countries around the world unnecessarily and I’ve decided, invoking the spirit of the spoilt brat (which I’m not usually) that this is no longer applicable to me.
I (like all my other artistic brothers and sisters) am a creative, intelligent, resourceful, organised and talented person and as an artist, can bring so much to an organisation in terms of perspective, lateral thinking, creative solutions and attention to the audience , no matter what country I’m in. And it’s time I actually begin to push that. In fact, if you’re an artist in a similar position, it’s time you start to do that too. I’m a little bit over the artist-as-cheap-labour routine and you should too.
I moved to the UK to soak up the depth of cultural experience here. I’ve got artwork on the go, I’ve got exhbitions planned here and an opportunity to see and learn so much creative stuff, to actually get involved and make a difference. Fuck wasting that on a shitty grill and/or a small minded corporate firm.