The placement of Patricia L. Boyd’s work within the Victorian Trades Hall suggests that the social responsibility of art is not necessarily at war with the formal intelligence through which artworks operate. Her work is perceptive to context, process, and the broader dynamics that influence, affirm, undermine, and even absolve the claims made by art with regards to its social position, especially at this site where our social roles are foregrounded.
The everyday function of this building, a civic space, overrides the claim that art only addresses a detached spectatorship. This context places certain demands on the artist, on both her labour and the product of her work; for the viewer, it elicits the long practiced historical debates on art’s purposiveness in society, its political import, and utilitarian value. These demands are in part symptomatic of the associations, real and imagined, that are made in such a building. And perhaps, whatever is left of the artworld's wishes for art to have an effect beyond its own discourses, is magnified by this setting.
The second site is another place of work, a small former-warehouse privately rented by a team of “creatives”. Their studio upstairs is offset by a coffeeshop at street level, where a convivial setting invites use of the space from others working in "gig" economies without a fixed place of work. But principally, web and print are designed here for a host of clientele on a contractual basis. It is a place where matters of form are mandated, and subsequently produced in service of communicating to a broad range of the public. It is a site of non-unionised, independent labour and entrepreneurial enterprise—if it is a civic space at all, it is only in the limited extent to which a coffeeshop becomes a place of social exchange over the purchase of a cup of coffee. But if there is a dichotomy between these two sites, it is not by equating the Trades Hall as a symbol of manual labour, and this studio as emblematic of another kind of work—one that is technologised, precarious, cognitive, and “creative”.
While maintaining an emblematic relationship with manual labour, trade union halls are primarily sites of organising—a labour of communication, management, politicking, analysis, and legal work. The truth is, as a part of this, the trade union sees much of the same kinds of labour as a design studio or advertising agency. Now with trade unions increasingly driving campaigns through targeted advertising (for example with the recent media campaigns #WageTheft, and “Change the Rules”), and representing a workforce gradually more casualised and less secure in their employment (i.e., gig economies, and precarious labour), the operative position of labour activism is ever more reflective of the skills of the “creative class”.
In both contexts, Boyd has installed works of art that speak to broader circulations (of energy, bodies, resources) and the places in which they intersect. These economies and their corresponding sites are inferred by residue, impressions, surplus effects and waste. Although appearing abstract in their language, these pieces are specific documents that work by index. What is central to their position is a collective human experience, mediated first by the body of the viewer. It is from the body, with its own circulations and systems (be it social or digestive), that Boyd's work begins.
Patricia L. Boyd (b. London, UK) lives and works in New York. Solo exhibitions include Operator, 80WSE, New York (2017); Le Bourgeois, 3236RLS, London (2017); 1:1, Jan Kaps, Cologne (2015); and Metrics, Modern Art Oxford (2014). Group exhibitions include Mechanisms, CCA Wattis, San Francisco (2017); Interiors, Front Desk Apparatus, New York (2017); Representative Politics, Steirischer Herbst, Graz (2015); and Meanwhile... Suddenly and Then, 12th Biennale de Lyon (2013). In 2017, she organised AEROSOL, at 500 Capp Street Foundation, San Francisco.
Production Assistance by Liam Osbourne, Lucina Lane, Nicholas Mangan and Giles Fielke.
Patricia L. Boyd thanks David Eagan, Kate Meakin, Nina Gilbert, Lucina Lane, Rudi Williams, Giles Fielke, Nick Mangan, Joshua Petherick, Sari de Mallory, Nicholas Tammens, and Ziga Testen.
Nicholas Tammens thanks Liam Osbourne, Beaziyt Worcou, Sarah Aroha Rameka Scott, Paris Lettau, Neika Lehman, Robert Snowden and the Victorian Trades Hall.