What I wanted to discuss in the Contextual Study (but didn’t have the words)

 

Artists Research

Writing the Contextual Study this year was particularly challenging as it needed to very directly refer to the final project and as this was a performative action rather than making art objects, however ephemeral, it was in many ways a new direction for me. This became problematic in so few words. One of the casualties was the work of Claire Weetman which I left out as a reference but have already mentioned here in this journal (see 4th March). I found watching the videos of her work really helpful in thinking about my own. I had also had many ideas at the beginning of the project especially about incorporating walking. In fact walking was what lead me into the project and, if I had been lucky enough not to have to work this year I could have made it much more a part of the process and project itself. Walking is however still very much a part of my life and practice.

Walking 

The other major casualty from my original proposal was the gaze in relation to walking in the city. As I was not integrating walking it became very problematic to include ideas about the flaneur being male, discussing the male gaze and trying to construct an argument for the female gaze based on the idea of the flaneuse and using the work of artists such as Sophie Calle in order to argue for this. I would like to come back to these ideas and develop this idea of female visibility and invisibility. It could relate to us disguising ourselves literally as Calle has done. It can also related to aging and the advantages that brings in invisibility.

We are all at at the stage where we spend long days working and trying to figure things out, by writing and by making. For this project many things only really became decided through going and cleaning and having the videos recorded for me so I could see what I was doing. However, walking has continued to be something that also helps me to work out problems with the work. I have written about this here before but, as I was unable to go into any depth about it in the study, it had to be kept out altogether.

Cultural Attitudes to Work

Another idea I was unable to explore in the study, and which I feel merited more research and attention, is that despite the countries in which my project takes place being very similar globally, there are some really interesting differences in attitude to work. In the CS I mention Weber’s theories about the ‘modern’ protestant work ethic and the reformation changing traditional attitudes to work. I agreed with Chamberlain’s analysis that this is dominating western attitudes to identity and, for the purposes of my essay, our relationship to money and class. Nevertheless in my own work, and life, I have noticed there are different attitudes to work in Southern and Northern Europe. My theory is that, although the overall attitude to those who clean for money is similar throughout Europe (and beyond). There are differences in how we see the value of this work. Whilst I believe professional cleaners are looked down upon by many in these societies I do think that the work done is valued more highly in Southern Europe and that here cleaning is viewed as more important and therefore more valued. The other difference which is less important to my study is I feel that in Northern Europe there is more focus on maintaining outdoor spaces clean whereas in Southern Europe the interior is more important. As I said previously, these differences are quite subtle and not academically researched.

In an interesting article by Amandas Ong published on 7th May by Aljazeera and focused on nighttime cleaners in London, one cleaner states: “When I worked in Spain,…..the pay was lower. But at least I felt respected. I felt like a real human being.” Although one person’s statement is not enough to draw conclusions it does suggest that it is worth investigating. The majority of cleaners in London seem to come from Latin America. I also hear in the media that in England there are many jobs the English will not consider doing which I admit I find shocking. Anecdotally I can say the cleaners I work with in the capital are all Spanish although this is obviously not true of all cleaners in Madrid. I am glad I left this out, although it is fascinating there is not enough research and it would have overtaken my essay. It makes me question the value differences between the more successful Northern economies and the ‘failing’ Southern European ones.

We know the dominant economic model is global and money is driving the world. This too I believe is important. Social status is very much linked to income and as Chamberlain points out identity and inclusion is society is largely defined through work. Here superficially this is true but my gut feeling here in Spain is that people’s work is less defining and maybe the traditional attitude as described by Weber, that work is a necessary evil, still lingers if only a little. I have not, as yet, researched this. It is a gut reaction and I am treating it as such. Spain still has high unemployment and I see perception of this problem as largely economic, although work is tied to identity I feel it is less so. To argue this properly I would need substantial research and I am already concerned that my CS might be imbalanced on work/art questions. As my work is about work this was a difficult balance.

Ref:

Weber, M in Chamberlain, J, – Academia.edu. 2017. Undoing Work, Rethinking Community (forthcoming in Fall 2017 from Cornell University Press) | James Chamberlain – Academia.edu. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.academia.edu/30791113/Undoing_Work_Rethinking_Community_forthcoming_in_Fall_2017_from_Cornell_University_Press_. [Accessed 06 May 2017].

Ong, A, 2017. The women and men who clean London at night | Arts & Culture | Al Jazeera. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/03/women-men-clean-london-night-170327132156350.html? [Accessed 15 May 2017].

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