Risk Assessment Form

Performed at Perdu, Amsterdam, within the framework of Currencies of Time and Love, an evening of presentations organised by Flora Woudstra

November 10, 2017

Earlier this year, within the context of studying together, fellow artist and friend Baha Görkem Yalim performed a work that I now consider to have been a gift. Months later, I find myself at Flora's house with Seecum, lounging while informally discussing the alternative currencies with which artists trade. A pop-in turn event, it now seems difficult to move beyond the conditions of friendship and production.

 

When working with friends, what currencies are we trading in? And to turn the phrase on its head: what might we be trading in, giving up, when we commit to working in the uncertain territory of friendship? In an attempt to answer these questions, I have invited Görkem to join me; to re-perform his gift at Perdu. When I first encountered this work it was protected by the institution that was our school. Now, his occupational health and safety is in my care. How might I then attempt re-gift this to you, outside the legal safety of an institutional structure and beyond the willingness to receive a gift through friendship? And most of all, who am I to assume that it's now my gift to give?

Risk Assessment Form was a text performed by Isabelle Sully within which Baha Görkem Yalim performed his work Furniture without Memories (Envy of Other People’s Poems), 2017,​ and video documentation of Yvonne Rainer's Trio A (Geriatric Version), 2017, was screened. 

[Presentation focus begins in frame of the stage. Yvonne Rainer's Trio A (Geriatric Version) is projected on the big screen in the background.]

RISK ASSESSMENT FORM: Or, Some Notes on Care and Being Careful

 

Section 1: Introduction

Figure 1. Yvonne Rainer, Trio A (Geriatric Version), 2017

I first encountered this work earlier this year, sent to a friend by a friend and then on to me. I sat with it for sometime, not wanting it to just simply dissolve into an image of care, to sediment and maybe later resurface casually as anecdote. I was taken by the grand narrative of Rainer, who, having performed this work in varying manifestations since 1966, decidedly persisted in light of an ageing body. The work has been recently revised, now with the addition of the subtitle ‘Geriatric Version’, a second performer and a series of physical struggles brought to the foreground.

 

I have always been intrigued by artists who re-perform the same work over and over, taking it to new contexts or bringing it back from them, breaking it, repairing it, giving it a second chance. It is a politic I readily believe in, though through pressures for production (self-imposed and otherwise) I regularly deny in my own work. Perhaps a condition of the contemporary climate within which art production exists; taking proper care in securing conditions is often replaced with speed of production as the overarching value. Görkem wrote to me something similar: ‘I often get shocked, when witnessing works being made and exhibitions being built, that no-one gets hurt more often (or constantly). Artists, in arriving at work, first abandon safety.’

The administration of the workplace is one material that ties cultural production directly to the state. This is because it generates a form of legal accountability. This occurs in the ongoing bureaucratisation of the body through the capitalist mediation of everyday life. Actions become attached to roles instead of individuals, and individuals lose their subjectivity. Within this relation, art is often celebrated as being a form of speculation against the standardising force of administration.

 

Indeed, many artists are wondering if, when more and more of life comes under the remit of work, one of the last forms of unalienated labour—artistic labour—should be recouped under the wage relation. Yet on the other hand, administrative protocol could be seen as a means to institute care within a field that speaks of and self-identifies as an ethical doctrine, but which often fails to actualise this due to a lack of resources, formalisations, structural accountabilities and the resulting conditions of production. Compliance measures, such as occupational health and safety, and assurance measures, such as permanent employment contracts, public liability insurance, sick leave and superannuation, are sources of conflict within the production and presentation of art, ones that call into question its ethical accessibility as a public sphere.

 

Whether it is that the field is under-resourced, whether we work in informal structures, without contracts, or with friends, the legal assurance of our safety is not so clear. If we are to work with friends our whole lives—and by extension, I mean informal structures that trade in an undocumented mutual ethic—where would this leave our physical sustainability, our pension, our superannuation, our employee protections? Administration is widely seen to be the opposite of the creative act, yet this moralistic aversion protects the sanctity of the artwork over the safety of the worker herself.

 

Rainer’s adaptation could then speak to the opposite of this, for its narrative evidently requires something supplementary: an outstretched hand from the edge of the frame. A hand, not so dissimilar to the role of the administrative worker, who functions as an object, a piece of infrastructure, invisible until something goes wrong. Using Rainer’s revised work as a blueprint for care, how might we translate the metaphorical figure of the administrator to the conditions of working with friends? How might we interfere in the practice of safety without interfering with the artwork itself? That is to say, in the free apartment spaces of friends, the empty buildings we temporarily turn into galleries and without the assurances of legally regulated spaces: how might I administer the performance of a work from the edge of its frame?

 

Section 2: Hazard Identification

 

There is a table with thirteen warnings:

Confined spaces, Fall from height,
Striking by mobile platform,
Trip or slip, Collapse.
Manual handling (of) Electrical Hazardous substances. Radiation, Noise, Vibration.

Fire, Explosion, Other.

The severity is negligible (scaled at one to five); it’s all in a days work.
The likelihood possible (four to five),
it may or could well occur.

Under such conditions, the equation calls it medium risk: it must be controlled.

The description of the applicable hazards is illustrated in the diagram below:

 

Figure 2. Baha Görkem Yalim, Furniture without Memories (Envy of Other People’s Poems), 2017

 

[Presentation focus moves to the stage. Görkem performs.]

 

[Performance ends. Presentation focus moves back to the frame of the stage. Play Yvonne Rainer film again.]

 

Section 2: Continued...

 

People at risk: An unidentifiable general public, the performer, the organiser, the staff, friends. Control measures and actions outlined in APPENDIX 1: NOTIFICATION OF PROCESS CHANGE CHECKLIST

 

Information about the changes inscribed as follows:

 

Date of Origination: July 29, 2017

Date of Change: November 10, 2017

Type of change: Temporary

 

Technical basis for change:

 

I first encountered this work within the safety of our school. By this I mean to say that it sat within the institutional frame of a legal and administrative infrastructure. I considered the work to be a gift. When I was invited to present here at Perdu—on invitation by a friend and within the framework of alternative currencies within the field of art—I thought instantly of Görkem and his work. I wanted to re-gift it, aware that I thought of the work as not separate from Görkem but rather a kind of crystalisation of him. I wondered how much this reception was dependent on the fact that he is my friend? And if so, what kind of aesthetic sensitivities might I need to frame his work with if I am to re-present it? Above all, I was also aware that my invitation, by newfound necessity, made me responsible for certain assurances.

 

Nature of Changes:

 

The work would need to undergo some changes. It wasn’t made for Perdu, but now needed to be brought to it. A pommel horse would be exchanged for a stack of chairs, felt stickered on the legs of the bottom chair for smooth gliding. So Görkem would proceed as before, move the chairs with his body next to the piano. In rehearsal we would practice this a number of times, first together then Görkem apart. Manual handling is not the same as manual pushing, the new floor not the same as smooth lino, the weight of the chairs not the same as the weight of a small pommel horse. We would then need to move the piano, push it to the back of the room together, not blocking any entry or exit points. We would have to become familiar with the evacuation procedure; the safety induction applying to our participation at school was no longer in place. Fire hydrants, emergency exits, smoke doors. This would also remain open too, in place of where Görkem previously squeaked open a rusty steel window, throwing his body weight on an angle toward its handle. The lighting would also need to be different, but we would have a technician for this. The microphone, speaker and projector cabling would need to be secured; for risk of tripping, but also due to the addition of a small glass of warm water, to the left of centre stage.

The Changes affect: Safety, loss prevention, environment, and health, with Type(s) of Change ranging from: shutdown point, addition or removal of equipment, instrument, equipment or material modification.

In Conclusion it seems important to state that this is not a theoretical claim. Instead, I am promoting a work ethic, one that I believe Rainer images in her revised performance. How can we rethink administration as a practice that cares for the body rather than bureaucratises it? With differing implication, Görkem speaks of an ‘invisible and conductive thread’ in his work, and a ‘latent possibility of risk’. What if we considered the translation of this in much more practical terms, as much as we did philosophically? What conductive threads—in the sense of conducting heat and electricity—run through this work? What latent possibilities of risk are lying sheepishly in the corner of the frame?

 

If the task of the anonymous administrator is to ensure that things run smoothly and that policy and protocol is implemented and followed without issue, might that glitch in the invisibility—the outstretched hand at the edge of the frame—be a way to mutually share accountability while also instituting a form of care? In the introduction to Parse’s recent issue on management, Andrea Francke and Ross Jardine write, that: ‘Documents, forms and templates are constructed on top of each other, each time by a different unnamed worker. Absent from the document is a signature, responsibility but also credit. Such documents are not objects that can be used as an entry pass into the public sphere. The process of denying authorship (in the sense of denying the subjectivity expressed in the construction of a form or Excel spread sheet...) is, in itself, a process of de-subjectification. It creates a hierarchy of work and labour, categorising the administrator as maintainer instead of creator.’

 

How might we find ways to mutually self-administer outside the scope of institutional practice, amongst friends, and how might we find it possible to work in proximity to administration, rather than in defiance of it as ‘creators’? The currency of trading in friendship leaves physical occupational health and safety in question, yet attends to the social and mental wellbeing of workers. This is after all the definitive sphere of workplace safety: physical, mental and social heath. The necessity to find a context where the physical is legally accounted for, and the social and mental is cared for is an ongoing struggle for under-resourced practitioners with institutional aspirations. When starting a new job, the first thing we are required to do is a safety induction. In what ways could we begin to formalise our practice around this protocol? Taking Yvonne Rainer’s work as allegory, what ways can we structurally formalise safety within our work in order to understand the requirements for functioning in the public sphere? Could a slowing down be a necessary first step, to ensure we can meet our ethical claims as a field without practical contradiction. So we might, to quote Görkem again, though with a slight addition, ‘feel safe in our need to rest our [outstretched] hands on things.’

[Presentation ends]