~ When I was fourteen I followed my mom to an energy healer. It was her first appointment and I sat in while they spoke. I remember the healer describing a “gift,” as she called it: the ability to bring together and hold seemingly disparate things. This was something to aspire to. I see now that the word “hold” was important, rather than “bind,” as these elements—ones that at first glance seem to have nothing to do with each other—aren’t fixed. Rather, they vibrate in relation to each other, their connections elastic, squishy, malleable. In my head I pictured someone cupping their arms as if to embrace a beach ball, their hands gently corralling a group of floating objects. She apologized for being vague; it wasn’t a particularly seductive concept for a teenager to grasp. But she emphasized the agility needed to do such a seemingly intangible task with grace.
~ Now, this “gift” makes more sense to me. It makes sense when I look at your work. I imagine each of you has a floating pool of bits and parts, expertly tended to, expertly kept. I imagine this archive follows you around from day to day and year to year. I remember the healer describing her process: like submerging deeper and deeper into a river, as she called it. Each strata offering a new perspective into someone’s energetic makeup. There’s this flow. And the river is the container for all of its constituent parts.
~ To extend the metaphor—I’m thinking—what if each of you had some special type of glue on your fingers as you worked? It would stretch like a piece of slime as you retrieve items from your pool, leaving a thin yet unbroken line between what you touch and your body. What if we could see the sinews of your archive’s many parts, their sources and referents—the sticky tendrils tracking their travels. It would spin a complex web of correspondences. I wonder if the healer would get stuck in a web like that, or if, like an evidence board, lines could be followed, delineating clear routes and patterns.
~ So when, then, do several individual parts become a “piece”? The constant movement of your work, the flow, can dissolve that distinction between a sketch and a final product. I like this idea of floating. It seems to me as if you’re framing a passing moment rather than sealing a rigid final product. It’s a stop along a timeline, but not a linear one. Instead, the energetic reverberations—the kind that the healer could step into and read—expand outward. They bloat, shimmy and cascade from each assembly you present. Maybe if something is never fixed, it never has to end.
Maya – Muted and strange, olive, dust coloured, comma, basic and new
Marlon – I’m happy you said olive, I think that’s true. I think that’s a perfect summary.
Maya – Mutedly strange
Marlon – Strange but approachable, not strange like an alien, like a webbed, I feel you
Maya – It’s very naturally strange
Marlon – It is strange because of the shapes, but it’s approachable because it’s ceramic. I think there’s a comforting relationship with ceramics because of ceramics in the home, ceramics in everyday life.
Maya – And the shapes are strange but organic.
Marlon – Always very smooth lines.
Maya – So what was the process like, how did you run yourself making these?
Marlon – Well, everything starts as an inventory of objects. The beginning is establishing, usually months before hand, a bunch of objects that i want to make. Along the way, some are clear. Like this one, the tall spine against the wall, I knew. I wanted to make something graphic and taller than anything I’d ever done before. And usually along the way, since it’s ceramic, things break. For really, it’s kind of impossible to have a plan. Which seems like a stressful situation from a commercial standpoint. It’s all loosely assembled. It’s hard to make units, as opposed to things that seem temporary. Like this thing is impossible to duplicate, impossible to sell. It will never live in the same way again. It is very unlikely that they will ever exist in this same configuration again.
Maya – You could make a giant skeleton with them.
Marlon – That as well, that’s equally scary and precarious. So, though I do think of a narrative, it is very much about material, pocessions, relationships with objects. It’s putting them into the room, looking at them, sorting through them, organizing them. Really it’s just my relationship with my possessions, treating them in certain ways. It’s very important, the dialogue with the objects, and also honouring or respecting the objects, giving them their own place. So, that’s my answer.
Maya – So how did it feel? When you say your relationship with your objects, it makes me think of this perspective from astrology that the aspect of anyone’s relationship to their possessions is the same as their relationship with their own body. So did you feel like you, like you operated differently during the time of assembling these close things, or was it like the same as assembling like anything?
Marlon – Not the same, no, that’s exactly it. I think oftentimes people don’t give their objects enough credit for things like, a simple piece of ceramic has an affect on the space around and a relationship to people and to other things. It’s very contextual. It’s not necessarily figurative but it has a lot to do with the body. I like to think of these things as very much related to figurative art, even though there’s rarely anything depicted.
Maya – I see that, ya. There’s a figurative feel, or a drawing of them.
Marlon – I think so, in that you can see the record of the maker. I am literally imprinted in every piece.
Maya – Did you make those marks with your fingers?
Marlon – My thumbs and my indexes, yes. So making a coil and then just repetitive gestures. It’s all related to mark making. I do imagine this all in the canon of drawing in some way.
Maya – So, the power of objects. As soon as I walked into this space, I felt so intimate.
Marlon – Ya, I think there’s the designation there in the object. I think it implies something different than a large sculpture. Even this, in the largest piece, I guess it is a sculpture, though it doesn’t have that same impact. An object is something more personal, it’s hand-held. It has a direct relationship with you. That’s what this all is. It’s the same reason I started these things. The use of the ceramic object is the same as the making of a ceramic object, a repetitive gesture.
Maya – It seems like the intimacy of the objects compounded in the room has the impact of sculpture, like raises the awareness of them.
Marlon – Maybe, cause they feel like these everyday objects, though abstracted. I’m curious.
Maya – It’s pretty personal though, just a comment, that these pieces feel so intimate. The heightened state, the state of intimacy that there is with them, feels like one that I think is only possible in solitude, or like during sex.
Marlon – True, yes.
Maya – And I saw that one is called dick duck or something.
Marlon – Dick duck penis. It’s this one, on the radiator.
Maya – That coil?
Marlon – Cause have you seen a duck’s penis? They’re really long and they spiral like that.
Maya – Weird
Marlon – I thought you might say something about Jeba. She’s comes into, into the work sometimes in other ways.
Maya – Say something about that, that’s nice.
Marlon – Well not in this, though maybe you saw some on instagram. There’s these two curved pieces of wood, there’s this swede print, and there’s also drawing gesture that was very important to me. It’s basically, if you could image this piece of paper and then with an ink brush these two quick elipses, half moons, that, that
Maya – That intersect
Marlon – No, they don’t intersect, they’re very thin. So this was hard, about a time that was very hard in our relationship. It was like two butts facing away from each other. It’s actually very sad, though intimate definitely.
And there’s also a lot of solitude. Even though I am with Jeba, I am quite a lonely person. It has nothing to do with her, it’s just how I am. This is my obsession.
Maya – That’s almost how it’s so intimate, by having this feeling of solitude.
Marlon – It’s interesting that that comes across.
Maya – It’s interesting that the two butts facing away, even though at the time there is sadness, as a work I think that’s humorous.
Marlon – You think so. Maybe you come to this show and you’re having trouble with your partner and it’s sad. The rest of the time it’s caricature.
Maya – Tell me about the water in the pots and the pots.
Marlon – They are actually unresolved
Maya – Unresolved, cause the water evaporated?
Marlon – That’s not why it’s unresolved though, that’s actually the crux of the show and a lot of things that I am working towards. It’s staining as a force of mark-making. It’s leaving materials on their own, not forcing things. I relate to that in a few ways— staining as making a stain, staining as something that happens through time by itself. This is like the rust of a bolt on a kiln, something you could never replicate. Staining as something that is not desired, something broken. So this is something I am really excited about. It brings together the repetitive use of objects, drinking. And the things that happen naturally that are beautiful. Like you leave your coffee cup out in your living room and it evaporates; you have an evaporation drawing. It can be beautiful. So that’s what that is. It’s kind of like rings in a tree in some ways, though it depends on the day, sometimes it’s more humid, there’s a thicker line.
So these pots were to be large pieces for evaporation drawings though they haven’t happened yet.
Maya – The slight surprise of seeing water in there was so effective. They are almost like shoes or skins, very visceral.
Marlon – I do want them to feel slightly weird, to engage people, so you could have your own experience. That’s definitely my goal. Thank you.
Chris Andrews — Touching the image softly: On Documentation Images and Artistic Labour
“The global art market’s capacity for care is somewhat, shall we say, limited.”
The art market’s lack of care has been met by the leisurely pace of the art institution; searching for the right words to sign-off the email to the museum that will probably not be met with response. We get used to its familiar processes of inaction, but still labour for its recognition. Proposing to see yourself in the image documentation you begin to press your hand into each image, hoping it leaves an impression on each surface: a mark of labour, of touch. How do we bring touch, or care, back into the contemporary art market? As put succinctly in the introduction essay to What’s Love (or Care, Intimacy, Warmth, Affection) Got to Do with It? published by e-flux, love has everything to do with it: “Love is a commodity and a fetish but it is not often traded seriously enough on our intellectual markets or kept in high enough quantity in our theoretical stockpiles. We’d like to encourage a move toward bringing love back in.”2 Is there love in the images that scour the internet platforms for contemporary art? Delving into our interactions with images through the tender touch-screen, poking at the post-Internet environment that is filled with a steady influx of images, this essay wages the new currency and cultural value of documentation images. A critical inquiry into the post-Internet, post-care, even post-touch global art market, snapping into view are biopolitical concerns, issues of precarity, differing forms of ability, artistic labour, touch and the performativity of the touch screen.
Within the contemporary art world, the importance and value of photo documentation (installation images of exhibitions and works of art) has become increasingly prominent. This can be seen through the attention and cultural weight given to platforms such as Art Viewer and Contemporary Art Daily, where the cultural capital of these images has become hyper-valued. Problems surface in the lack inherent in these images: photo documentation is void of artistic labour. This lack is ever-present in the contemporary art world too, both in the representation and support of, artistic labour. To illustrate this absence is to make visible the labour that has previously been rendered invisible, or been continuously devalued. Proposing that how we view these images is perhaps some tender, intimate process with this soft touch: finger pads scroll the moon-face of the screen, this in turn further removes or distances any nitty-gritty or any sweat, any markings of labour that produced the image. Documentation images are thus precarious: instability seeps out, as they lack all of the components that hold them together, or, all the hands that assembled them.
Propositions for new movements, a performance
An image of the contemporary: Children in preschool learning to read, trying to use two-finger pinches to zoom into illustrations on the pages of physical books. This image reveals a zeitgeist of the current digital moment, a time when the fingers of the body have accelerated past the objects they interact with, they yearn for the interface of the digital screen.
Expanding upon concepts of embodiment as they relate to the post Internet environment, a focus is put on touch and a consideration of the performative and haptic relationships/interactions we have with touch-screen devices. Further, these devices have changed how imagery is consumed. This new touch is discussed in Hito Steryl’s proposal that iPhones and similar devices have been “traumatized” by means of their production, and in turn, are asking to be touched or “caressed” on their smooth screens.
We have learned new bodily movements introduced by the touchscreen: new swipes of the fingers, the pinch of the zoomed-in image. How lightly can a touch screen be tapped for it to respond, communicate? The remnants of touch on the screen from commute fingers help to make visible this performativity of the touch on the screen. This prodding at the idea that how we perceive and interact with images has changed with the emergence of the touch-screen.
Positions of Precarity, or, a Shaky Finicky Line Impressed into the Skin
Fracture, instability and shakiness have become a defining feeling of image-culture, but this performativity in the scroll of the touch-screen adds a new feeling of how to know an image through touch, perhaps restoring care with it. How do we, then, restore this care, acknowledge this labour, to the producer of the image? How does precarity play into these movements or negotiations?
Judith Butler’s update to her concept of gender performativity includes discussions of precarity and its positionings. This is important here as it leaves room to expand on the politics of ability and biopolitical concerns as they relate to precarity. “Performativity was, to be sure, an account of agency, and precarity seems to focus on conditions that threaten life in ways that appear to be outside of one’s control” (Butler 1). The threats, the infections, the things that impose or propose to harm the body are all present in agency, precarity is always present in agency, as if in some negotiation with the forces that push back on the movements of the body. Bodies differing from those typically represented, have become mirages in the biopolitical sphere through institutional deflection or even neglect. Their occupation of space causes visibility and invisibility to vibrate and shake, collapse and slip through finger pads.
As put in the first issue of MICE Magazine, it should be an obligation for us to see the labour (or precarity) of others from our respective positions. This act of seeing, might be labour in and of itself: “I think interrogating our own ways of benefitting from privilege is part of how we work toward causing less harm. To cultivate care, love, and trust is work.” Identifying and acknowledging when others are laboring and working and making: these are the moments of recognition needed if we are to affirm the importance of emotional, affective, and artistic labour.
Imagine a pristine iPhone screen, but the remnants of touch on the screen from fingers, of grease and nerves and the seeping of the body to exteriority are apparent on its surface: if we can visualize and identify these markings of touch, moments of labour, this is a step towards bringing care back in.
An image full of holes
As Amelia Jones discusses about the ontology of aesthetics and the modes of its operation, “Exclusion is the primary function of aesthetics and the rhetoric of beauty.” To make a self-interested leap from aesthetic theory to the discourse of labour, photo documentation operates on this same aspect of exclusivity discussed by Jones: free of labour, hands, sweat or even life. What it lacks, what becomes invisible, is dangerous in that it renders any labour un-documentable in the form of compensation, in the economic acknowledgement of this labour: if it is not visible, it is not waged. The invisibility of this artistic labour points to positions of precarity of those who perform it, and the positions of privilege that can afford to make this labour invisible. These thumbs that swipe and scroll and double-tap have this position of privilege, or at least are swiping blindly of this work. These swipes and taps are, though, sensuous, full of touch, even care. Does this restore an intimacy, a caring interaction with documentation images?
Labour as a “Flash of Skin”:
“How does collective bargaining work when it comes to emotional labor? Should we organize a union or just call a general strike? Who is heading those gatherings up, and who will we find crossing the picket lines the next day?”
As critic and curator Gabrielle Moser has claimed, in recent artistic labour environments the modes of working have become even more “abstracted”:
“It would be easy to argue that this desire [to erase any labour] is motivated by the appeal of borrowing the seductive powers of consumer capitalism (epitomized for me by that thrilling moment in a public talk when a speaker’s computer desktop-often crammed with PDFs of research and in-progress Word documents-is made public, briefly concretizing artistic labour as a visible object).”
This moment, this image, described here could be thought of as a “flash of skin,” alluding to the excitement of seeing the “slips,” or moments of labour. The “flash,” as Jane Blocker explains, is a poetic metaphor of desire derived from Roland Barthes: the moment when skin is visible in between articles of clothing, to then disappear.
These moments of appearance and disappearance, or visibility and invisibility, are discussed by Moser in that when artistic labour does become visible it is often aestheticized. I would argue that this same gap in visualization, or a multiplicity of gaps, is too present in documentation images. Filled with touch-ups and crops, the field of documentation has become increasingly aestheticized and more void of touch, of any evidence that someone even placed these objects here. Whoosh! This gap acts as a void: these images lack the human, empathy, compassion, the viewer.
As discussed by Natalya Serkova in an article entitled “Gallery Fiction,” artworks now begin to orient themselves towards the digital,
“The New York-based critic Loney Abrams problematizes this yearning for online, digital presence. She argues that the art of today can be completely mediocre in reality, but at the same time, it might possess a certain degree of photogenic appeal and look extremely expressive in pictures-an ugly duckling irl, a splendid swan on the screen.”
What Shaka McGlotten calls the “sensual bleed,” mediated through practices of lifemaking and projection, facilitates an opening-or a re-opening- into an understanding of the post-Internet space. In this space, filled with a steady influx of images , the viewer is dropped into unfamiliarity through the fractures created by digital and image-based environments. Jacquelyn Rose discusses this relationship between viewer and image as “always one of fracture, partial identification, pleasure, and distrust,” arguing that images “trouble, breakup, or rupture the visual field before our eyes”. Lacking all of the structures of an image we have come to know. “The only possible reading is one that repeats their fragmentation of a cultural world they both echo and refuse.”8 These images mimic the environment where they are housed, in the online spaces for art.While browsing the space of my laptop I keep returning to the same image saved to my desktop: a perfect detail-shot of a sculptural piece, though completely and utterly removed from its context (I cannot recall the name of the work, the artist, the gallery). This is yet another problem with the documentation image: fragmentation.
Freeports and the Image as Second Existence
Berlin-based writer Stefan Heidenreich’s “Freeportism as Style and Ideology: Post-Internet and Speculative Realism” delves into the phenomena of the freeport, vital in thinking about artworks as assets. Freeports are storage facilities in tax-free zones (the largest of these are currently in Geneva and Singapore) where artworks and the like are stored with the sole purpose of accumulating value. A painting can sit in a crate in a vast storage facility, where its existence is rendered closer to stocks in a technology company than of an artwork with “exhibition value.” They might move onto an auction to be sold if their value increases, or sold to another collector. Relevant here, is their “second” mode of existence as images on the internet or in database and archiving software – viewed only by way of clicks and scrolls. This alludes to the new processes of sales and what that looks like today, especially in a digitally-oriented contemporary system – the commercial gallery intern sends high-resolution images to potential buyers from their perch behind the desk.
Can support be present in a structure? Can care really emit from a platform? Or does it reside in the fluid, or otherwise free, aspects of society, in its gaps or openings? Often, structures are associated with limitation and seldom a system of support, despite their intention(s). Due to the flaws, lacks, and bureaucracy, such as the waiting list in the health-care system, the daunting and seeming inaccessible process of receiving arts-based financial assistance, structures could be seen as inherently negative. Acknowledging this lack in the systems of support in the contemporary art world is a step or slouch towards where they can hopefully be questioned or rethought.
What is the weight of the documentation image? In contemporary art practice, these images (documentation) have become something weighty, even a new kind of currency, whether cultural or economic. With these web-based platforms for art documentation gaining increasing popularity and cultural capital, this discussed “second life” of artworks has negotiated its importance with the first or physical interaction with artworks: a gap in intimacy between the viewer and the artwork, further, a gap between viewer and artistic labour. Let’s try for something closer to embodiment – work towards moving care into the contemporary art market, and softly touch the images that litter the biogs, the platforms, the spaces of social media.
 Aranda, Julieta, et al. “Preface: Missed Connections.” What’s Love (or Care, Intimacy, Warmth, Affection) Got to Do with It?, Sternberg Press, 2017.  Ibid.  Badger, Gina, and Nasrin Himada. “What Is Invisible Labour?” MICE Magazine. 2016.  Jones, Amelia. “Authorship and Identity.” The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology. Preziosi, Donald, ed. Oxford University Press, 2009.  Aranda , Julieta, et al.  Moser, Gabrielle. “Always Working: Introduction.” Fillip. Fillip, Spring 2013. Web.  Moser, Gabrielle. “Always Working: Introduction.” Fillip. Fillip, Spring 2013. Web.  Rose, Jacqueline. “Sexuality in the Field of Vision,” in Difference: On Representation and Sexuality,The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, 1884.