8 - 24 November 2012


TLR Collective (Bronwyn Bailey-Charteris, Briony Galligan, Ella Hinkley),  Fortyforty Home (Rafaella McDonald, Amy Turton) | As You Were Saying (Jessica Crowe, Melissa Deerson),  designers Nassica Larsen + Katie Sfetkidis

How do we define work done for a reward other than money? Where does work end and leisure begin? The Specialists examines how artistic labour operates for these female Melbourne-based artists and collectives.

TLR Collective (Bronwyn Bailey-Charteris, Briony Galligan, Ella Hinkley), Fortyforty Home (Rafaella McDonald, Amy Turton), As You Were Saying (Melissa Deerson, Jessica Crowe) plus Katie Sfetkidis and Nassica Larsen have come together to swap notes, set themselves tasks, tell stories by the water cooler and dig for gold in an investigation of how their practice fits in with wider notions of earning a living.

Spanning routine and inspiration, luck, capital and ritual, this exhibition looks at how creative work is sometimes work, and sometimes play.

Being an artist is shameful, like farting in public and everyone knowing it was you. How else to explain that feeling of humiliation when people ask what you do for a living? You’d much rather say something solid like, ‘I work in a call centre’ or ‘I decapitate baby mice with scissors’ than admit to being an artist. Because everyone knows that being an artist isn’t a real job. It’s you being stuck in a permanent state of adolescence, refusing to grow up. It’s you preferring a life of indolence, leisure, and poverty, instead of quality cookware and a mortgage.

We don’t question the career choices of Anish Kapoor, or Natalie Portman, or Radiohead. I don’t know for sure but I very much doubt any of these artists are taken aside at family gatherings, and asked when they’ll give up on this whole self-indulgent caper and become a teacher instead. And that’s because they are financially rewarded (rather handsomely I would wager) for their artistic output.

If you don’t make money in our society, then you have fundamentally failed. Almost everyone feels this way, even artists. Artists don’t enjoy being poor. Many would actually like maternity leave, a pension plan, job security –  things that all workers deserve and have a right to expect. It’s not because of romantic idealism that so many artists are poorly remunerated for their work, but because we as a society don’t value artist’s labour, or consider it labour at all. So entrenched is this attitude that many artists are indeed the worst culprits, willingly engaging in self-exploitation, working for free or practically for free.

I don’t know any professional cleaners who would mop a floor for free (okay, I’m being slightly disingenuous – I actually don’t know any cleaners but I feel the point stands). But I know plenty of artists who regularly engage in unpaid work. Not working for money, however, doesn’t mean our work always goes unrewarded. We take on some projects because we believe in them, others because we want to extend our practice, and others still because we hope it may lead to something bigger and better in the future. The longer we work, the less of a pull the latter two reasons become, simply because making work requires a lot of time and energy and life’s too short to waste those precious resources on projects you don’t absolutely love.

Is it because we artists love our work that we sometimes don’t consider it as such? Is ‘real’ work, like that of a solicitor, mechanic or cashier, something to be endured or tolerated at best, whereas artist is fun? That’s why people with ‘real’ jobs take playwriting, painting, and piano classes – because they enjoy making art; it brings them pleasure. But as any artist knows, this dichotomy of work as hard and boring, versus art as fun and pleasurable doesn’t hold up. Just as a baker can take pleasure in plying his trade, making art often isn’t fun at all. It’s bloody hard, tedious and sometimes more painful than a massive kick to the nads.

What’s more, being a working artist involves so much more than just your craft. As artist, you’re also copywriter, venue finder, librarian, home handy woman, film loader, heavy lifter, volunteer coordinator, and slave driver. Being an artist means you never stop working. You might be between projects but you overhear a conversation and you need to take down that line, or photograph that pink, plastic saxophone. You don’t know where it’ll lead or if it’ll lead anywhere at all, but you’re hooked on the possibility of creating something new.

We make art because it’s pleasurable and because it’s hard. We make it not because we’re lazy and worthless, but because making art is precisely what makes us not feel that way.

- Melissa Bubnic