In “a artista não está presente” (“the artist is not present”) I am looking for parallels between the precarity of the human gaze (both in production and reception) and the precarity of labor (gallery technicians, glaziers, framers, life models, museum guards, etc.), in the so-called ‘art world’. To connect the two (gaze / labor), I use the example of the life model, whose work consists exactly in being gazed upon.
I started working as life model in 2012 and as a consequence of my own experience, and of the conversations with other colleagues, I have come to notice a pattern: more often than not, a life model is a person of color and/or an immigrant, usually a struggling artist, working with no labor rights. And, more often than not, he or she is being gazed upon by a white, European, middle-class artist or art student. That is to say that the life model, working under precarious conditions, is looked at with a precarious gaze consciously or unconsciously conditioned by social constructs.
This is easily confirmed in the hundreds of drawings made of me over the past 7 years: I am not European and my body does not conform to the European “8 head canon”, so drawings of my body usually portray it in a stereotyped way — regardless of the talent and/or experience of the portraitist. The “8 head canon”, by which students are taught to draw the human body, is an European standard, that establishes that “an ideal figure, used when aiming for an impression of nobility or grace, is drawn at 8 heads tall“. One can argue, though, that drawings (or art itself) are abstractions, and have less to do with social constructs.
My questions, therefore, are: is this abstraction poetical or prejudicial? Furthermore, how much of this poetical-prejudicial abstraction plays a role in the way that art’s proletariat is treated (and looked at)?
The final work consists of a homonymous publication, each of the 20 copies sewn by hand, which includes the text “10 notas sobre precariedade” (“10 notes on precariousness”), 45 drawings, a list, and a manifesto.
This work was originally conceived for Rejuvenesça: poesia expandida hoje, an exhibition curated by Pollyana Quintella at Centro Municipal de Artes Hélio Oiticica in Rio de Janeiro, (February–May, 2018). The gallery version consisted of 20 of the 45 portraits in the book, plus a 22-minute audio recording of the text. An excerpt from the text was published in Suplemento Pernambuco, in March 2018.
© victor heringer
The problem of labor rights, sexism, and racism within working environments are not at all exclusive to life models, or the art world. I would like to state that I am treated very respectfully by the majority of artists, teachers and art students that I work with. What I cannot say is that working conditions are just, and that situations of racism and sexism never happened. This work aims not to point fingers at specific people or institutions, since it is a structural problem. It aims to discuss labor conditions and the ridiculous inequalities, upon which the (art) world is based.