On October 12, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the Curatorial Practice at the California College of the Arts are partnering to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers–including artists, critics, writers, and curators–to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees have been asked to submit a paragraph on a keyword associated with one of the summit themes: Inequities, Occupations, Making, or Tactics. This posting is by Nicoletta Rousseva, Art History graduate student at UC Davis.
During a panel presentation at a recent conference in Los Angeles, Andrea Fraser presented video stills from Official Welcome first performed by the artist in 2001. The images on display showed Fraser standing at a podium, reciting selections by notable critics, intellectuals and collectors who warmly praised and introduced well-known artists. Being somewhat familiar with this piece I was not shocked by images of Fraser removing her clothes in front of an audience, unabashedly bending over in a Gucci thong, or mimicking the shenanigans of well-known critics. Rather what struck me during the presentation was her frank account of the work. Straightforward and vulnerable (both in the nakedness of her body captured on film and the openness of her dialogue), she described Official Welcome as recreating what she wanted critics to say about her work, and as redirecting the praise often received by male artists toward the work of a woman. As an artist, Fraser felt she was not receiving recognition from her colleagues. And thus in Official Welcome she made a point to recite statements written by her former mentor Benjamin Buchloh that were often directed to male colleagues and rarely to her.
As if revealing a long kept secret, Fraser turned to the scant audience scattered throughout the conference room and proclaimed that academics, artists and intellectuals are competitive and envious of each other’s work. Instantly feelings of embarrassment swept through room. But this wasn’t an embarrassment laden with shame. Instead it yielded a lightness, a sense of relief among audience and panel members who blushed and then filled the room with an affable laughter, affirming that they too shared Fraser’s feelings of competition, envy, and strife. That they too have felt jilted by critics, colleagues, or professors who failed to grasp the promise of their work, of something close to them, something that in many ways is a part of them.
As Fraser laid bare her envy, her competitiveness and her desire for recognition from something like the Boys Club of academia, her words resonated with an audience who saw parts of their own struggles and vulnerabilities in her performance. To be certain, the recognition that Fraser sought is not only shared by academics or artists but also by people who simply want to belong to a community or regain a sense of self. By displaced by poverty or by war. Or people who over the past three decades have felt increasingly alienated and are no longer able to relate to the aspirations or ideologies of their nation or their institution. They seek if not crave equality, recognition, and the ability to belong.
When Fraser, speaking to a room of academics, artists and intellectuals, stated that we are competitive and envious of each other’s work, for one moment it seems that the individuals scattered throughout the conference room all felt the same. That at one point or another they shared Fraser’s experience. And in that instant, they glanced at their colleagues across the room and felt somehow imperfect, somehow human, and somehow connected. What I’m suggesting here is not to valorize inequity as a normalizing or homogenizing agent, but rather to talk about issues of injustice openly and candidly. To risk exposure, scorn, contempt or pain in order to give voice to otherwise hidden moments of struggle. And in doing so to make the shift from an individual to a group, from a moment of vulnerability to a moment of empowerment, belonging, and being.