...to each | Madeleine Preston
Dates: 1 May - 25 May 2013
Where: Current Projects @ Ryan Renshaw Windowbox
Details: Digitally printed vinyl sign, 2013
Writer: Amy-Clare McCarthy
Madeleine Preston is a Sydney based artist primarily producing oil paintings, installation, and three-dimensional pieces. The creation of her work, however, is generally informed by the content. A current focus is how we choose to remember the past and perhaps more importantly how we choose to forget. Her work for Dispatch, "…to each", engages with the retail connotations of window display spaces, conflating them with a renowned quote in order to draw attention to ideas of production and judgment in art.
Amy-Clare completed her Bachelor of Creative Industries Honours in Visual Art in 2010. Her honours thesis was an analysis of different modes of participation in contemporary art. In 2011-2012 Amy-Clare undertook internships at MoMA PS1 and e-flux, New York. Amy-Clare currently works at the State Library of Queensland as an Exhibitions Officer and is a founding member of Current Projects. She has previously completed curatorial internships at the Queensland Art Gallery and QUT’s Creative Industries Precinct, and has also worked in the Public Programs department at the Queensland Art Gallery.
by Amy-Clare McCarthy
In a consumer driven economy, the window of a store is prime real estate; a means for promoting brands, products and ultimately their sales. It is an advertisement space that's effective use will cause those who are passing by to stop, look, then spend their money inside. The window of a gallery serves a similar function of enticing potential visitors to enter the space. For a commercial gallery, the end result of an effective window display is the same as for a store – a purchase is made.
For ‘…to each’ at Current Projects @ Ryan Renshaw Gallery Windowbox, Madeline Preston has worked quite specifically within the framework of commercial advertising; producing what would be expected from a store window during a sales period. ‘…to each’ is a large vinyl sticker with bold capitalised text, that mimics the look of a sign that has been hand painted by a giant brush and might be advertising a ‘SALE!’. The text in Preston’s work isn’t the standard ‘Bargain basement prices!’ or ‘Buy! Buy! Buy!’ but the slogan ‘From each according to his abilities… to each according to his needs!’
Aesthetically, ‘…to each’ is reminiscent of a Barbara Kruger piece, a theoretically dense slogan presented in a pop display of bright yellow and pink. The slogan itself is often wrongly attributed to Karl Marx, who used it in his 1875 letter ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’ (there is evidence of the phrase being used before this). Despite this, the quote can still perhaps be best understood through Marx’s use of it. ‘From each according to his abilities… to each according to his needs!’ refers to an ideal end result of a higher level of socialism that only emerges after ‘prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society’1. In his text, Marx proposes a method of reaching socialism that would be more incremental than through revolutionary overhaul. Marx describes that in earlier stages of socialism, though labour will be rewarded equally, due to aptitude and health some workers may be able to offer more labour, and thus would unfairly receive more remuneration. In the later stage of socialism, labour conditions would be such that people would contribute as they could and receive what they need. That is, two people engaged in similar labour could have different labour outputs based on ability but not be penalised by this, and could also receive different remuneration based on a factor like dependants. So that what is equal is not necessarily an across the board equal, but is also based on what is fair depending on circumstance.
Obviously then, this statement speaks directly against what would be expected from a window advertisement encouraging people to buy goods they most likely don’t need. In this way, the work could be read as a reflection of the power of the market to co-opt and commodify everything; including Marxism, counter culture and even, art. It could also be seen as a call to arms against consumer culture, a piece of agitprop dressed in the bright guise of an advertisement.
Considered in the context of a window of a commercial gallery, ‘…to each’ might be understood more specifically in relation to the art market. In a recent editorial for e-flux journal, Gean Moreno pointed to the common desire to save art from its murky relationship with the market; ‘The entrenchment of neoliberal fundamentalism has been accompanied by a desire to save whatever critical edge art production can still muster. This has become increasingly pressing as art becomes decor for the offices of hedge fund managers, and as the art world—as David Graeber put it somewhere—mutates into “an appendage to finance capitalism.”’2 And no one wants to believe in art’s existence as simply a tool for capitalism.
It’s interesting that in the West, where capitalism is the dominant ideology that the notion of art being separate from life, a higher pursuit somehow removed from financial motives and the market still pervades. In the ‘somewhere’ where David Graeber put it, he refers to this as an idea that ‘Everyone—artists, dealers, critics, collectors alike—continue to pay lip service …. But none of them really believe that’s all, or even most, of what’s actually going on.’3 He continues by implicating those who surround the artist, ‘Critics and dealers are aware, if often slightly uneasy with the fact that, the value of an artwork is to some degree their own creation; collectors, in turn, seem much less uneasy with the knowledge that in the end, it is their money that makes an object into art. Everyone is willing to play around with the dilemma, to incorporate it into the nature of art itself.’ 4
Though installed in the window of a commercial gallery, Preston’s ‘…to each’ is still able to maintain a critical distance from the art market. It has been curated by an artist-run space that does not operate for profit, and as a work it is not for sale. This unlikely situation, whereby the work is physically located in the system, but is in a sense outside of it, means that Preston’s work is not undermined by being a cog in the system it is antagonising.
Preston’s work hints at the complex relationship that art has with the market, capital and even politics. It blends Marxist slogans, an agitprop sensibility and the visual language of Capitalism together seamlessly. Appearing in a window space and using a familiar commercial advertising style, it is a mimicry so well executed that in encountering ‘…to each’ a passer-by may well be excused for wondering what kind of sale exactly is happening in the <strike>store</strike> gallery behind it.
1. Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875
2. Gean Moreno, Editorial—“Accelerationist Aesthetics”, e-flux issue 46, 2013
3. David Graeber, THE SADNESS OF POST-WORKERISM or “ART AND IMMATERIAL LABOUR” CONFERENCE A SORT OF REVIEW, 2008