In The Name Of Talent
22 June–15 September 2018
The conditions of production prevalent within the arts are often cited in discussions around the flexibilisation of the worker within a neo-liberal working world. Cultural sociologists argue that we are no longer inhabiting an industrial capitalist society, but rather one of ‘cultural capitalism’. The consequences for the labour market are profound: ‘While clearly defined formal qualifications and performance requirements were at the forefront of the old industrial society, the working subject in the new knowledge/culture economy is expected to build up an extraordinary “profile”’ (A. Reckwitz). Employees engaged in mundane, routine activities have little prestige in such an economy. Paradoxically, within the workshops of Berlin artist Philip Wiegard, the children here producing decorative paste -paper wallpapers do not earn credit for their artistic expression, but in fact – like in the general work world – they are paid an hourly wage. By contrast, their role as assistants in the wallpaper workshops means they are denied the status of co-authors of an artistic work. The children remain unnamed; only traces of their hands can occasionally be discerned within the pattern. Wiegard’s painterly wallpaper thus appears to address certain cultural and social patterns: an adult propensity towards child-like behaviour concurrent with a world where children themselves race ever faster towards adulthood; or how within ‘cultural capitalism’, the transfer of cultural capital to economic capital remains reserved for an increasingly tiny fraction of participants within the market.
Today, instructions on creating ‘paste paper’ abound in craft books and on YouTube tutorials. Historically, this type of hand-made decorative paper was popular with printers and bookbinders, who incorporated them into books as decorative cover elements or as endpapers. They fell out of fashion with the onset of the 19th century, having been rendered obsolete in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. To produce paste paper, a moistened sheet of paper is coated with a mixture of paste and paint. A pattern is then made on the painted colour ground via a displacement technique —worked with tools, like combs and spatulas, or with one’s bare hands.
For the past few years, Philip Wiegard has been working with a specific historical form of the paper known as ‘Herrnhuter’ paste paper, which has remained captivating due to its baroque implication of depth: patterns reminiscent of clouds or floral motifs, occasionally bulging like internal organs. Wiegard transfers this traditional handicraft to the realm of painting. Furthermore, he pairs the replication of this decorative paper aesthetic with his own idiosyncratic production processes, the hybrid nature of which seemingly relates to the increasingly indistinguishable boundaries between work and play that have come to characterize the world today. We could perhaps describe these processes as temporary theatrical collaboratives or ‘performative workshops’. Wiegard’s rolls of wallpaper are exclusively painted by primary-school-aged children, lending an additional social and critical element to his work, with the production processes’ persistent repetition calling to mind choreographies of repetitive body movements, manufacturing processes based on the division of labour, or early Fordist assembly lines. In the new data economy of our present time, the human instinct for play has generally become one of the most heavily exploited resources. An obvious association could be a contemporary large-scale artist’s studio, where production is kept running by a large number of assistants engaged in tasks of varying degrees of specialization. Depending on context – that is, the art or work environment in which the activity takes place — the word ‘performance’ gleams with a variety of very different, and sometimes contradictory, meanings. But what does it mean when the logic of art, play, and work collapse within a single process? Within abstract form, the social becomes malleable.
Text: Kito Nedo (Translated from German by ubertranslate)
Press on the exhibition:
Nadja Abt, Wenn Du Einmal Gross Bist, Texte Zur Kunst (print) No. 111, September 2018