Monday, March 24, 2014

Market Value

Last weekend, I was one of nine artists that participated in Market Value, an initiative of the Hamilton Arts Council and the Worker's Arts and Heritage Centre.  For Market Value, artists from a variety of disciplines were invited to make work in public at the (beautiful and light-drenched) Hamilton Farmer's Market for a seven hour shift.  There were paid for their day of "work" at the market with the help of the OAC funding the project received.  The project was part exhibition and part advocacy initiative that puts the hours of work that artists spend producing art in plain view.  My work was performed/made over one day, and five other projects took place over the course of the previous week-- participating artists included Jim Riley, Trevor Copp, (F)NOR (Andrea Carvalho, Svava Juliusson, Donna Akrey and Margaret Flood), Mary Dyja and Laura Bromwich.

I had a lofty idea for a new work to produce for this exhibition that didn't end up happening.  The reason for this is complicated, and though I am very tempted to unpack the saga here, I will not.  Luckily it was not that difficult to change my concept at the 11th hour because making work with food has been my bread and butter (*GONG*) for a number of years now, and dipping back into a older body of food-related work (though not ideal) would be a good fit for a day of performative art-making in the Farmer's Market.

Last summer, I continued my The End body of work by making an installation for Gallery 1313's window box gallery.  This installation, called The End (Seven Samurai) was irreparably damaged by the heat and sun over the course of the exhibition, so I've been meaning to make a framable 2D version of the installation for several months now.  I decided that Market Value was as good a time as any to take this on.  For my market day, I screened Seven Samurai on my laptop while I recreated the end title of the film in dried foods associated with Japanese cuisine-- black sesame seeds and white rice-- a portion of which was purchased at the market.  For those who don't know, Kurosawa's film is about a team of samurai protecting bandits from pillaging the annual harvest of a very poor village in feudal Japan.  I thought that the film and using food as material were both interesting ways to address the issue of food (in)security across history.

 Food for art-making and food for eating over the course of my shift.

 The product of five hours of work...!?!?

Photo: Jen Anisef!

It is always a pleasure to show my work, and I was happy to have the chance to exhibit my own work (after a flurry of curatorial activities and projects since moving to Hamilton) in a very public space, and for the first time in my new city.  Feedback is always so interesting and varied and it's a pleasure to learn how open people are to engaging with art and artists-- especially those who do unusual things with unusual materials.

For me, the most challenging part of participating in this exhibition was casting a critical eye on my own practice, and coming to realize that in having someone else advocate for my work, I maybe haven't been the best advocate for my own work.  I was recently a visiting speaker about my other life as an independent curator in a class at Sheridan College, where I emphasized to a cohort of students-- most of which were about 10 years younger than me-- the importance of being re-numerated for their work.  I remarked that in not being mindful of being compensated reasonably (or at all) for their work, they were not only jeopardizing their own economic health, but they would ultimately have a detrimental effect the livelihoods of their fellow artists.  Pretty ironic, as I haven't practiced as I preached for the vast majority of my art career.  The lesson to be learned here for all artists is to continually step away from your art and look at the big picture of a life in art that involves goals, negotiation, economic exchange and critical thinking, both for one's own sake as well as for the sake of other working artists.

I'd like to thank Stephanie Vegh of the Hamilton Arts Council, Andrew Lochhead of the WAHC and my volunteer Ariel Bader-Shamai for all their help on my market day, and through the entire process of developing and carrying out Market Value.  I'll wrap this post with this cartoon that speaks volumes!

For more on Market Value, look here and here and here.

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