My recent artwork has been motivated by over twelve years experience in employment as a telephone sales representative and is inspired by a perception of how corporate space has become commoditized within call centre workplaces, and more importantly, how workers within these spaces have also been commoditized. The artworks investigates how employees react to this perceived objectification through assimilating or appropriating objects within their work environment.
The artworks are created by manipulating and appropriating imagery, objects and general processes commonly associated with office-based work. The objects used for my artwork includes office partitioning, appliances, stationery and gadgets, whilst the photographic images I have generated also frequently refer to the general modular design plan of the call centre itself. The works establish and develops practicable artistic modes of inquiry, ones compatible with my own working terms of employment as a call center agent. Thus the artworks are frequently conceived in, experimented with and in some cases resolved from this workplace setting. The intention behind working in this way was to shift aspects of my artistic practice outside the conventional realm of a studio setting and relocate it firmly within the codes, conventions, expectations and environment of the companies facilitating my employment as a telesales representative.
The premise for such an investigation starts from the idea that company time and resources can become misused, reenergized and translated as an expressive means for communicating human emotion and creating art. It is my assertion that this act may be viewed as a humanizing impulse or form of resistance against what is arguably described as a dehumanizing and alienating workplace.
My artworks investigate spatial, material, digital and conceptual methods of interpreting call center workplaces. My research has used repetition, automation and homogeneity as an expressive means for creating art. As my artworks attest, these creative methods articulate a degree of dehumanization and methodical order that I perceive to be integral to the call center environment. The research develops a highly formal range of visual material that is approached with a deliberately fetishistic attention to detail. It is a body of work that investigates the culture of the contemporary call centre and navigates the processes of workplace assimilation and appropriation.
My ‘Marketing Eden’ artwork was inspired by the ubiquity and cartoonish cosmology of the Jehovah’s Witness publications Awake! and The Watchtower, found in dentists’ waiting rooms, suburban households and poverty stricken third world zones of deprivation. The homely, agreeable, familiar and yet hysterically dramatic aesthetic of these magazines seemed slightly schizophrenic: on the one hand evangelical and friendly, on the other hand ferociously exclusive, dogmatic and callous towards those unfortunate enough not to be counted amongst the ‘elect’.
Yet it was the repeated portrayal of an Edenic idyll – the paradise of the ‘saved’ – that seemed most dissonantly haunting yet hollow. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison says in her book Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah’s Witnesses that, ‘Paradise restored, if the illustrations in Watchtower publications are to be taken literally, will look exactly like an endless Kansas picnic – or a Texas barbecue. Most of the survivors of Armageddon will be attired in clothes from Montgomery Ward; and they will have crew cuts and bouffant hairdos, and skirts decorously short…The Witness dream of Eden is a dream of American suburbia’
Copying and cloning the ‘Eden’ imagery from Jehovah’s Witness publications, and similar ‘blissful’ imagery found online, I began to create digital artworks intended to tease out of the JW aesthetic a feeling of the Freudian heimlich (‘homely’) – in the sense of ‘that which is kept out of sight’ - as well as of the unheimlich (‘uncanny’) – that which brings us ‘in closer touch with…emotional disturbances’. The resulting artworks recontextualise the JW Eden within a visual landscape that evokes its ambivalence, its moral numbness, and its apparent interpretation of ‘salvation’ and ‘perfection’ as a blissfully meaningless heaven populated by empty clones. Rather than a Christian paradise, what emerges looks more like the Void, perhaps more like a Buddhist Nirvana of nothingness, yet still expressive of the 50’s aesthetic of American suburban aspiration with which JW ideology is so intertwined.