Summer update: My academic year

It’s that time of year again when I realise that I have neglected this blog, take stock and reflect back on the (academic) year. As academics, we rarely stop to take a breath and to look back, as we’re often looking ahead, always working towards the next thing (I recently read about the 2:2:2 rule – always having two ideas, two in process and two publications under review, or something to that effect!) This is my pause, and reflection on the year…

I’ve presented papers at a number of conferences throughout the year, beginning in Rome, at the Historical Materialism Rome conference in September where I spoke about directors, actors and virtuosos in Paolo Virno and Walter Benjamin’s writings in relation to neoliberal social art practices. I ended the paper with a hypothesis that Rimini Protokoll’s performances confront the viewer-participant with real life contemporary working models thus pentrating life rather than simply reflecting it. As a theory-heavy paper,  I was left wanting to do more work on the performances…

The opportunity to do more work on Rimini Protokoll presented itself when I spoke at the AAH 2016 Annual Conference at the University of Edinburgh in April. This time, answering the call for papers looking at social reproduction and art, I also returned to think about women and labour. I’ve found myself engaging more with Marxist-Feminist discourse after last year looking at texts navigating the history of the split between Marxism and Feminism. I presented continued work on Harrison, Hunt & Kelly’s Women and Work: A Document on the Division of Labour 1973-5, identifying the equality given to both the productive and the unproductive socially reproductive labour evident in the work.

After presenting the paper for the Labours of Love AAH panel, I was invited to collaborate on a roundtable discussion about social reproduction and art with two of the other speakers – Helena Reckitt and Jenny Richards. Having never co-authored a text for publication before, I  approached the collaboration with a little trepidation. I had no idea how the conversation would take place, if one person would dominate, if there would be periods of silence, unanswered emails…My experience was, presumably, clouded by my experience of group work whilst studying at university. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised once we began to talk (via Skype) and write. The group writing session was organised via a Google Doc and we set a period of time to initially co-write the conversation. I can honestly say that having a set time for writing/having a conversation on the page, has been one of the most productive writing experiences of my academic career. We soon reached our 6000 words and then devoted pockets of time to editing. Each had an equal amount of words and all three approaches were addressed in the text. We’re currently in peer-review phase so watch this space…

In the meantime, my article on art fabrication, deskilling and late capitalism was published in Sculpture Journal, which looks at the mid-late C20th art fabricator Lippincott Inc. in relation to works made for/by Claes Oldenburg and Robert Morris in terms of internal changes within late capitalism – the deskilling of work – and asking whether this ideologically had an impact on artistic production. (Online here, for those interested and with institutional access or otherwise:

Days before my annual leave was to begin, I presented another paper at Warwick University for the Artist’s Critical Interventions in Architecture and Urbanism Conference. This time, I returned to think about the public square in relation to new public art practices. In some ways, my year has come full circle, as I drew upon some of the philosophical ideas coming out of Virno’s  A Grammar of the Multitude (2004) which I cited in my Rome paper at the beginning of the year. This time, Virno took me back to Arendt’s conception of the virtuoso and his links to the politician in Ancient Greece. This allowed for me to consider the role of the virtuoso and its alignment with politics in the social public art practices of Suzanne Lacy, Mosireen and Allora & Calzadilla. This paper is currently being worked into a journal article to be submitted in September.

Whilst presenting and writing journal articles, I’ve also been writing for Red Pepper (, contributed book and exhibition reviews (Review of Out of Time, Out of Place for Art & the Public Sphere journal here:,id=21010/_ )

So there you have it, an academic year in the life of an ECR academic (now almost 5 years post-PhD). The year ahead will see me take some time out from teaching to write my forthcoming book (more later) and, hopefully, using this blog to log the process, amongst other things.




Summer update: My academic year

Art Fabrication and the Deskilling Thesis

Sorry it’s been so long, again…

I have a new article published in Sculpture Journal, 24:3, titled: ‘Dematerialization, contracted labour and art fabrication: the deskilling of the artist in the age of late capitalism.’

For those with an institutional/individual subscription, you can access the article online here:

I’m going to update my blog with a summer update soon, hopefully giving a round-up of the academic year.

More soon,


Art Fabrication and the Deskilling Thesis

Revisiting First Things First, MMU Special Collections, 24th July 12-4pm

Revisiting First Things First

Friday 24 July 2015, 12.00 – 16.00

MMU Special Collections

In 1964, the designer Ken Garland self-published the First Things First manifesto. Undersigned by graphic designers, photographers, and students, the polemic called for a reorientation of design away from commercial enterprise and toward values of social usefulness. The document placed education at its core, proposing that experience be shared between colleagues, students and others in the pursuit of more meaningful and lasting forms of visual communication.

Underpinned by a similar desire to share knowledges across disciplines, this event invites a number of individuals and groups to revisit First Things First half a century on. Rather than seek to update the terms in which the manifesto initially spoke, we will instead try to understand how the very notion of the social purpose has itself become implicated in forms of soft power. Through creative responses and research papers, the event will attempt to deconstruct the historical specificity of First Things First in order to think of the role design might take in the political struggles of the present.

The event is organised by artist Ruth Beale in collaboration with Laura Guy (Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design, Manchester Metropolitan University), to mark the culmination of the exhibition We Want People Who Can Draw: Instruction and Dissent in the British Art School (MMU Special Collections). Confirmed speakers include designer Ken Garland, artists Conway and Young and art historian Danielle Child.

Schedule for the afternoon:

12.00 – 13.30 Part One
13.30 – 14.30 Lunch Break (please note that lunch will not be provided)
14.30 – 16.00 Part Two

Free event. Places must be booked in advance on Eventbrite or by calling 0161 247 6107.


Revisiting First Things First, MMU Special Collections, 24th July 12-4pm

Art, Oil and Activism: In Conversation with Mel Evans at Whitworth Art Gallery, June 25th 2015


Last night I sat on a panel with Mel Evans – author of Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts (Pluto, 2015) – and Jo Beggs (Head of Development, Whitworth Gallery) to discuss Evan’s book and her work with the activist/performance group Liberate Tate. Mel and I have met a number of times now at various events, so I was pleased to be invited to chat with her at her homecoming gig (yes, she’s a Mancunian!)

The evening opened with a reading from the introduction to Artwash, which told the story of “Bobbi and Toni” the first performative act from Liberate Tate, back in 2010, which coincided with and drew attention to BP’s oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico whilst the Tate partygoers celebrated 20 years of BP sponsorship. Through the reading, Mel highlighted the role that art museums play for big oil companies like BP, namely, art washing. Throughout the book, we learn that BP depends much more on Tate than the reverse. This relationship is not built on finance but through cleansing the image of BP, through its appearance to engage with the arts. But, as we heard, only the big arts institutions and only those in London!

As part of the event, two Liberate Tate films were screened – The Gift (2013) and the most recent (and perhaps, the most ambitious) performance Timepiece (13-14/6/2015) – in which Liberate Tate undertook a 25 hour long durational performance, based on high tide from 13/6 (11.53am) to high tide 14/6 (12.55pm). During this period performers wrote from key texts (see reading list here) in willow charcoal on the floor of the Turbine Hall in Tate Modern, rising up the slope towards the exit as the performers continued through the night. What is clear from watching the film and speaking with Mel is the commitment to the art not oil campaign and the sheer preparation that goes into these actions. As part of the performance, sustenance had to be accounted for and the “piece de resistance” – they brought their own toilet! Beyond the informative and aesthetic qualities of the performance, the element of unknowing formed a key conceptual trope for the work. As performers were unsure as to whether they would be forced to leave, or even arrested, so too are the public (and, perhaps, even Tate itself) unsure as to whether BP is going to be asked to leave Tate’s galleries.

I spoke to Mel about the timeliness of Artwash (2015) which comes at a pivotal moment in ending BP’s relationship with the Tate galleries. Next year marks the end of the contractual agreement between Tate and BP. Performances from Art Not Oil groups are becoming more frequent to foreground the question at Tate. We also discussed what Mel refers to as ‘democratic institutions’ – public galleries and museums – and how oil sponsorship takes away the democratic element of spaces which are meant to be ‘public’. This raises further questions about public space under capitalism and especially its neoliberal form, which resonate not only within public institutions but also out onto the streets with the Occupy movement in recent years. David Harvey’s re-reading and re-framing of Henri Lefebvre’s ‘Right to the City’ (1967) for contemporary struggles in Rebel Cities (2012) invites the reader to question who actually owns public space and who has the right to it?

As Mel had asked me to frame the work of Liberate Tate within its wider art historical context within Manchester and beyond. I presented a brief overview of radical art moments in Manchester: most notably the Suffragettes’ – Lillian Forrester, Annie Briggs and Evelyn Manesta – breaking of the glass of important paintings in Manchester Art Gallery in April 1913. The act took place two days after Emmeline Pankhurt’s sentencing to 3 years in prison for inciting persons to commit a felony. Also of note, and little known to those outside of Manchester, is the exhibition of Picasso’s Guernica (1937) in a car showroom, no less, in central Manchester in 1939. The painting was brought to the UK by Roland Penrose and exhibited in art spaces in London and across the country. However, due to the unusual location, perhaps, the Manchester exhibition is not noted in Penrose’s accounts of the visit. The work was brought to Manchester to aid the Spanish Republican cause with Manchester Foodship for Spain being a driving force, alongside students from Manchester School of Art and those involved in Manchester’s anti-war movement. I also made mention to local artist/activist/makers – such as Polyp in Hulme – who continues to make props for social justice movements, some of which were exhibited in the V&A’s Disobedient Objects exhibition last year. More widely, Liberate Tate belong to the legacy of US artist-activists in the 1960s/70s whose anti-war message also crossed those of artists’, LGBT and civil rights. Of note is the Guerrilla Art Action Group, who formed part of the Art Workers Coalition, whose Blood Bath performance in 1969 involved tearing clothes, fighting and pigs blood in the Museum of Modern Art to highlight the museum’s involvement in profiting from the war. Liberate Tate’s Human Cost (2011) – in which oil was poured onto a naked figure curled on the floor in Tate Britain – is no doubt indebted to acts such as those of GAAG and performance art, more widely. Their work also resonates with the legacy of institutional critique which Hans Haacke founded. His MoMA Poll (1970) invited visitors to respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question:  ‘Would the fact that Governor Rockefeller has not denounced President Nixon’s Indochina Policy be a reason for you not voting for him in November?’ The results of the poll were viewed through clear, perspex voting boxes. The piece aimed to make visible and critique the hierarchy of the museum and highlight the political leanings of its board of governors. It hasn’t gone unnoticed that Lord Browne (ex-CEO of BP) sits at the head of Tate’s Board of Trustees.

The evening concluded with questions from the floor, including some quick-fire mathematics as to what proportion of money was spent on BP advertising compared to Tate sponsorship (£500,000 is split between 4 London institutions). A: a lot more on advertising! Other members asked about Tate support and whether BP had responded to which Mel gave the usual BP response that they are committed to supporting the arts.

It was a great event, with some really interesting discussion. If you’ve not read the book, it makes a great, informative read: Artwash. For Liberate Tate info and videos of performances: and for more ‘Art Not Oil’ info see Platform.

Art, Oil and Activism: In Conversation with Mel Evans at Whitworth Art Gallery, June 25th 2015

Artists’ Assistants

So, the recent news about James Meyer’s sentencing – the assistant who stole unfinished works from Jasper Johns – got me thinking about the relationships between artists and their assistants, something which started my research interest in collaborative practice. So, I pulled out Wade Saunders’ ‘Making Art, Making Artists’ piece for Art in America (Jan 1993), which details interviews with 23 artists about their relationship with their assistants and vice-versa. I pulled it out of an old file initially as I was wondering if Meyer was Johns’ assistant interviewed in the piece, but it is another assistant. This is my go-to piece that specifically addresses individual assistants, beyond the “expose” pieces by critics such as Waldemar Januszczak or other critics on Hirst’s working methods, for example. I think it is interesting to revisit some of Saunders’ own conclusions from his interviews.  He notes that few painters would discuss the collaborative nature of working with an assistant, claiming that they make all the decisions and suggests that it is easier for sculptors to admit to employing professional assistance because of the large-scale nature of their work. Saunders also understood, from his interviews, the effect that acknowledging assistants had on selling work, stating that it is easier for artists to openly acknowledge assistants in the context of museum shows, rather than at selling exhibitions. What also becomes apparent are the different role which assistants adopt, be it mixing paint, cleaning up or actually contributing to the work itself either using their manual or mental skills. The latter is often saved for the artist with artists more open to collaboration (such as Vito Acconci who now works in an architecture collective) allowing assistants to contribute their ideas.

We all now know that artists have, historically, used assistants to help them with numerous roles within and external to the studio. However, this left me wondering why my go-to text was published in 1993? Why are assistants still rarely spoken about but widely used in artists’ studios? Is it just a job? We tell our students that this is a privileged role, to gain experience and contacts and yet, within art discourse, the assistant remains a background figure. Even more apparent, is the missing assistant in studio images after modernism. Is it time for another round of interviews with and images of artists’ assistants or should we just accept the established way, that artists are often seen but not heard? Food for thought.

Artists’ Assistants