Affirmative Precarity, Ai Weiwei and Margarita Cabrera

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    • 00:02

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON: Hello.My name is Jane Chin Davidson.I am an assistant professor of art history/contemporaryart at Cal State University at San Bernardino.Today I will be speaking about my article titled"Affirmative Precarity: Ai Weiwei and Margarita Cabrera,"published in the April 2013 issue of the Journal

    • 00:23

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: of Visual Culture.The title, "Affirmative Precarity"was adapted from my reading of the Marxist critic, HerbertMarcuse, who is associated with the FrankfurtSchool of Critical Theory.His concept of the affirmative character of cultureexpresses the contradictions of life

    • 00:43

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: under capitalism, the material life,thought to be the good life.Marcuse has sought to expose the ideal for material prosperitythat does not provide inner fulfillment.His theory of alienation is an orthodox Marxist conceptwhich in the 21st century has fallen

    • 01:04

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: by the wayside, along with historical conceptsfrom Marxism.But in the aftermath of the economic crises in 2008,the acceptance of a material good lifewas reevaluated by cultural theorists.Many people lost their jobs, their homesin what is now called "The Great Recession of the 21st Century."

    • 01:25

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: And the terms precarity and precariousnessbecame useful for expressing the unstable life in the aftermath.The theorist Lauren Berlant examined the assetsof happiness and gratification in her returnto Marcuse, based on his assertionthat, quote, "The idea of happiness

    • 01:47

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: and of gratification can be realized onlythrough political practice that hasqualitatively new modes of human existence as its goal,"unquote.Historically, it is during the times of criseswhen people become creative, band together,perform an activism that was often

    • 02:08

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: spurred by artistic expression.I think my essay has been read by so many readersof the Journal of Visual Culture because of the timelinessof these subjects.I had presented a version of this paper at the 2011International Marcuse Conference to evaluate the currency of art

    • 02:28

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: as a political practice.The conference was held at the University of Pennsylvania.And at the time, the Occupy Wall Street Movementhad just come into prominence.One of the keynote speakers of the conferencewas the activist Angela Davis.And one evening, she led the conferenceto a march of solidarity at the Occupy site in Philadelphia.

    • 02:53

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: The activity of street protest and demonstrationhas always been useful for emphasizingthe value of the human individual in the collective.This kind of activity in the 1960shelped to shape what would becomethe performative practice in art.The political tradition is premised on an intellectualism

    • 03:13

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: that participates overtly in political activism, whichis the impetus for the writing of this article.My essay asserts that Ai Weiwei and Margarita Cabrera actuallyeffected new modes of existence throughperformative engagements through their artistic projects.Globalization has transformed the ethics of labor

    • 03:36

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: that initiated job protections long legislated in Europeand the United States.Under cover of multinational corporations,outsourcing allows for the lowest wagespaid to workers worldwide.My essay shows how Ai and Cabrera, through their art,expose in some way, the injustices that are

    • 03:57

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: inherent in global capitalism.In the abstraction of nationalism,they also represent China and Mexico.The research for this essay actuallybegan with my doctoral investigationof the performative practices of contemporary artists,specifically, artists from China in the post-1989 period.

    • 04:19

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: One of my research goals was to gain insightinto how artists use the performance medium.And I had interviewed Ai Weiwei at a visit to his studioin Beijing.Ai's 2010 installation titled, Sunflower Seeds,exhibited at the Tate Modern in London,was a great example of a work thatenlisted the viewer's performance through engagement

    • 04:42

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: with his work.Ai created millions of ceramic sunflower seedsto fill the enormous Turbine Hall in the museum.The tiny sculptures were meant to be walked on, playedwith by the visitors.And as tiny-- super tiny-- sculptural objects,they also commented on the 1960s minimalist debate

    • 05:05

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: defined by the critic Michael Fried,who resisted the theatricality of art.But the most important performative conceptis in the way in which Ai had hired an entire communityof artists from Jindezhen, which is the porcelaincapital in China.The famous ceramic workshops of Jendezhen

    • 05:28

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: had been struggling to survive the changes to socialist laborafter China enacted its new market economy.By creating his own contract labor,Ai Weiwei actually provided an alternative modelto the dehumanized export labor thatcomes with a multinational sweat shop.The artist Margarita Cabrera addresses this problem

    • 05:51

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: overtly in her work as well.Her 2008 installation titled, The Craft of Resistance,asks the viewer to perform in the makeshift maquilladora.But her most effective performative actwas in creating her own corporation for artists.She developed the corporate entitycalled FLOREZCA for the sake of creating

    • 06:12

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: an alternative identity for migrant art workers.The idea that multinational corporations can cross bordersfreely is based on the privilege of the corporate identity.Cabrera asks what if artists could alsoclaim that privilege by becoming shareholdersin her corporation, and thus, find a path to citizenship?

    • 06:37

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: Artists like Cabrera and Ai Weiweicontinue the tradition of activism in the arts.Ai's imprisonment by the Chinese governmentshows the risk of being an artist whocan be defined by the original definition of an avant-garde.The "advance guard" in the arts was originally a military termfor the front line of battle.

    • 06:59

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: In conclusion, my advice to studentswho are given the task of criticallyevaluating this essay is to studythe ways in which 1960s and 70s artistsinitiated performative practices, howthe medium emerged amidst the civil rights era,and why Marxist critical theory isrelevant for this kind of artistic aim.

    • 07:22

      JANE CHIN DAVIDSON [continued]: The work of Ai and Cabrera acknowledgesthe original intention of an artistic practice thatwas as relevant as the social and political eventsof its day.Thank you.

Affirmative Precarity, Ai Weiwei and Margarita Cabrera

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Jane Davidson discusses how Ai Weiwei and Margarita Cabrera use their art to tackle the contradictions between material culture and fulfillment.

Affirmative Precarity, Ai Weiwei and Margarita Cabrera

Jane Davidson discusses how Ai Weiwei and Margarita Cabrera use their art to tackle the contradictions between material culture and fulfillment.

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