Saturday, January 28, 2012
Occupy as Form: Julia Bryan-Wilson
The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the working session “Occupy as Form” on February 10, 2012. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This posting is by Julia Bryan-Wilson, Associate Professor of History of Art at UC Berkeley.
I am currently working on a research project involving what I have termed “occupational realism,” in which artists perform labor – or more specifically, go about their normal jobs—under the rubric of art. This phrase resonates not only within long-standing debates about art in everyday life, but also evokes questions of value, embodiment, and “realism” as an art historical and economic strategy. Though I began this project well before the Occupy movement, with an article in Artforum about British artist Carey Young, the lexical overlap has prompted me to think further about what it means to be “occupied” by one’s work (emotionally, physically, mentally), or to “occupy” the space of labor as a self-conscious artistic operation.
I recently completed two different texts related to this topic: one is a theoretical typology of artists whose workday lives forms a major part of their practice; the second is a feminist analysis of artists who engage in sex work as performance, with a special focus on the 1970s as a time when both the phrases “art worker” and “sex worker” entered the popular public discourse in the United States. I am interested, however, in the stubborn divisions that continue to police the boundaries of “work” and “art,” including questions of privilege, cultural capital, neoliberal self-marketing, and social worth. How might the Occupy movement lead us – away from the emphasis on a simplified 99%—to more nuanced discussions about the differences between various forms of work? How can we think about labor in a way that does not collapse class distinctions? Why have debates about inequality, precarity, and injustice coalesced around the (politically ambivalent) word “occupy”? Occupational realism has flourished just as post-Fordism flexibility has taken hold; I am interested in how this subgenre of performance gestures to inchoate configurations regarding occupation as a spatial site as well as a discursive site related to employment, attention, and affect.