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ETC.: Selling Out
8. 3.–14. 4. 2024
UGM Kabinet, Maribor, Slovenia

Artists: Polina Davydenko, Santa France, Nika Kupyrova, Pita Projekt, Barbora Šimková

All photos by Janez Klenovšek / UGM
The exhibition Selling Out is an introduction to the third issue of ETC. Magazine, which this year focuses on the conditions of work in the art world and beyond, on the issues of commodification, and on entanglement in as well as the impossibility of exiting a system that demands more and more of us. In doing so, we rarely stop to question the basic assumptions of our own labour, such as why, for whom, for how much pay, and what is the true significance of our work. If we did, we might realise that we are too often blind to the systemic circumstances of our own lives, which means that the burden on the shoulders of an individual is all the greater. The artists address these topics in broad terms: from labour (visible and invisible) in art, to the feminist perspective on working conditions, to the working spaces of our time, which bear eloquent witness to the position of the worker today.

Santa France’s familiar installation of a workspace combines works from her series Beyond the Call of Duty (2021) and Le Solitaire (2017). France’s depicted office interiors exude an illusion of perfection, simultaneously feeling alluring, askew, dysfunctional, and oppressively organised. Her portrayal of different workspaces in an uncanny visual language captures the monotonous rhythm, accentuating the stark contrast between meticulously formal and intimately personal elements. This mirage mirrors society’s insatiable thirst for perpetual productivity, where the enchanting belief that more achievement begets more life becomes a captivating, albeit potentially detrimental, performance. By juxtaposing the works from 2017and 2021, we are also zooming in on the change brought on by the pandemic, transforming homes into offices and starkly blurring the line between the private and public spheres.

In her video essay Potter Wasp (2022), Polina Davydenko uses storytelling to explore themes of labour, gender roles, and immigration. In the video, we learn about the potter wasp who lives and works alone in a foreign land. As the protagonist of the story, she stands in the place of a woman worker, an economic immigrant struggling to meet the demands of a system built to make as much use of workers as possible, and working menial jobs, feeling detached from the labour and the country where she earns her money. She lacks a sense of community and belonging, is separated from her family by borders and from other immigrant workers by language barriers and a strong sense of forced independence. Feeling like she has no one to rely on, she continues the work while her offspring grow up without her. Polina Davydenko’s work is marked by alienation and division between people, the inequality that stems from it, and the longing for rest.

Also employing storytelling, Nika Kupyrova sheds light on the conflicts experienced as a woman and an artist. In the spatial and video installation Woman in Green (2022) she investigates female labour and strict hierarchies of class society through Agatha Christie’s novel The Hollow (1946) and the catalogue The Strange and Beautiful World of Orchids (1972). The work is a juxtaposition of a murder mystery, in which the key to solving the puzzle is understanding that

the female characters’ true motivations are in contradiction with their assigned identities and social expectations, and strict categorisation evident in the 19th-century English upper-class obsession with rare orchids and gardening. Woman in Green focuses on the character of sculptress Henrietta Savernake. Moody, ambitious and introspective fictional character of a woman artist as imagined by Agatha Christie and her readers. Passages from the book that constitute Henrietta’s inner dialogue form the main body of the video installation, which, alongside the sculptural works, examines the mythology around artistic labour.

In the manifesto Why I Don’t Enjoy Making Art (Anymore) (2023), Barbora Šimková points out the absurdities of the constant battle for recognition of artistic work as work and the unbalanced relationship between artists and art institutions. The manifesto zooms in on Czechia, her home country, funding art education but failing to recognise art as a profession. It is disheartening, to say the least, and completely demotivating, she notes, being dependent on open calls and funding mechanisms that expect justification and written enthusiasm for every proposed idea, having these ideas rejected, and being forced to feign motivation over and over again or risk being left completely without income. The absurdity of the situation is striking. It should never be ungrateful or rude to claim that “art is work and work is paid for with money,” as she concludes in her manifesto, demanding fairer conditions for artists as labourers, firmly rejecting the idea that art itself is what sustains the artist.
Similarly looking to demystify working in the art world, visual artists Nina Goropečnik and Rea Vogrinčič have been developing the Pita Project since 2019, which aims to exhibit and evolve their own artistic practices while serving as a platform for exploring and appropriating the various roles, support mechanisms, and systems necessary for the realisation of an exhibition. In the project Friends (2023), they address the invisible or at least often overlooked connections and (informal) forms of collaboration that represent one of the crucial ways of operating in the art world. The friendship bracelets stem from a diagram they created that highlights interconnections between all the individuals, organisations, and institutions with whom the artists have ever collaborated through the Pita Project. Humorously and directly, Friends emphasizes the necessity of networking to survive and function in the art system, while at the same time critically drawing attention to the precarious working conditions of young artists, who are forced to constantly adapt and take on different roles. It also visualises the large amount of unpaid work based on favours from friends and personal connections, resulting from the often blurred boundaries between professional and private life.
Together with the artists and our exploration of these issues in ETC. Magazine: Selling Out we not only try to shed light on the precarious conditions and exploitative demands of the capitalist system, instead we join the many calls for rest and idleness as a form of rebellion as well as for honesty and transparency with the aim of seeing through the glorification of hustle culture and prioritize well-being and fair pay over hyperproductivity. It is the demystification of labour conditions, both implied and explicit, that ties together the artists exhibiting in Maribor, inviting us to reflect upon the systemic framework and our own work as a necessary part of it.

Curated by ETC. with guest curator Tīna Pētersone

The exhibition cycle ETC.: Fever Dream is supported by the City of Ljubljana and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia.

Etc. is a annual magazine, dedicated to showcasing current artistic production from the Baltic to the Balkans.
Based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, each issue is dedicated to a relevant topic in art and life. Founded to promote emerging artists, its goal is to initiate a dialogue, inspire collaborations, and challenge set views.