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To-Do Lists: Survival of Art Production

One of the defining features of contemporary artistic production is the struggle to keep an art practice alive despite financial and scheduling pressures as the artist’s role expands ad infinitum into adjacent professional spheres. The overwhelming volume of engagements, responsibilities, and volunteer labor raises questions about the sustainability of art practice and the well being of artists and other art laborers. My recent paintings make visible the necessary yet mostly invisible activities accompanying the production of art. Visual data for the paintings consists of “to do” lists, calendars, reminders, hand-written or computer documents collected from my artist friends. Overlapping hand-copied layers of these private documents create configurations that function as a record of a dizzying schedule of social engagements, a critique of popular assumptions about art production, and a personal data portrait of a contemporary artist.

The title of this series, To-Do Lists: Survival of Art Production, refers to the ongoing dialog concerning the creative labor of artists and other art professionals in their day-to-day struggle with current economic and socio-political conditions. Due to a scarcity of financial resources, debt from costly degrees, and cultural institutions that fail to adequately compensate creative workers for their labor, artists (specially emerging and mid-career) are continuously faced with a persistent desire to create and its impossibility. Nevertheless, many artists insist that their hard-won labor of choice is invaluable to our cultural and social progress and well-being. I am one of them. I have Art and Art History degrees. I am an adjunct. A not-for-profit gallerist. An artist assistant. A research assistant. A substitute teacher. A private tutor. A mother. But, I can’t say I am any different than many artists I know. We are museum preparators, art administrators, small publishers, critics, curators, K-12 teachers, designers, librarians, the list goes on... Our calendars are bursting, “to-do” lists are endless, pending applications are lurking at all times, and all that while longing to squeeze in some productive studio time.

I chose to recreate the documents I collected as paintings to emphasize the process of creation and address the problematics of astheticization. This work communicates in a language of compositional structures, color relationships, transparency, and surface texture. I primarily work from snapshots or scanned records projected directly onto gessoed panels to preserve the authenticity of the documents. Every document was treated with the materials (graphite, color pencils, permanent inks and pens, pastels, and oil paint) necessary to achieve the likeness and character of the original. More than just laborious tracing, the process of learning new handwriting has become an empathic practice of replicating the choreography of hand gestures.

These records of artists’ lives reveal their strengths, ambitions, resourcefulness, and extreme organizational skills, as well as their vulnerabilities, longing for acceptance, and ‘creature comforts’. They bear an uncanny resemblance to my own materials; I jot down my daily and weekly activities in the same Moleskine notebook, keep track of deadlines on a similar color-coded Google calendar, and keep a separate sketchbook for thoughts on art. These commonalities evoke a strong sense of identification with my subject, a sense of mutual purpose and camaraderie.

Despite our miraculous survival skills, the majority of the general public still shares popular misconceptions about artists’ bohemian working habits - we work only when we are struck by that arcane, otherworldly occurrence of inspiration. In an attempt to demystify the production of art, my work exposes a different portrait of the contemporary artist. Upon close reading of the artists’ schedules the idealistic notion of art production is replaced by the day-to-day reality of multiple jobs and endless responsibilities where art making has to be scheduled in whenever possible.

 

Password: Sign Disintegration

As a continual psychological investigation of the contemporary human condition, my paintings examine the modification of my cognition and experience of the world in the engulfing presence of technology. Spending more and more time in the realm of information screens, sometimes I am unsure of where I stop and the world outside me begins. Screens take my passive body anywhere within seconds while passwords open windows through which arrows direct my mind. Duality of being - my experience of presentness and remoteness, predictability and randomness, order and chaos - is conveyed in my paintings as a visual negotiation of a new paradigm.

This body of work called Password: Sign Disintegration is a contemplative allegory about contemporary psychological shift in a technology-driven, information-dependent, overstimulated society. My desire is to expand and complicate these ideas with images that are suggestive of naturally occurring shapes and patterns (nets, maps, neurons, stars, globes…) in dialog with shapes generated from the human-produced, artificial world (passwords, data bodies, computer symbols, pills, networks…). The symbols on my computer, a continuous and endless number of clicks, dots, circles, lines, crosses, and arrows, depart onto canvas and disintegrate to become a psychological map, a hand-made network of a presence in time, a mark. I repeatedly render perfect, utilitarian, and timeless signs by hand to access the imperfect, contradictory, time-bound being on the other side of the screen.

My practice requires alchemical painterly innovation including the laborious preparation of a gessoed surface on canvas over panel. Using graphite and ink allows me to alternate multiple layers of drawing with thin applications of gesso while retaining a smooth, paper-like surface. A diary of daily overlapping entries results in the appearance of complicated perceptual depth. I am continuously pursuing concepts and methods whereby drawing and painting is revitalized as a palpable, fluid catalyst in an ever-changing present

 
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Indira Martina Morre