Sophia Oppel

Sophia Oppel / Labour/Layers

Labour /Layers investigates the contradictory role of the “artist” as a corporate or institutional body; one who adheres to commercial aesthetics and provides free advertising for neoliberal values. Labour/Layers illustrates how democratic, open-source web politics directly undermined themselves, becoming an empty aesthetic refrain of corporate mimicry. This piece critiques digital artists’ unthinking adherence to corporate aesthetics in order to label Internet art and user-generated aesthetics as a potential trend of neoliberalism: internet art seems to critique the corporatized art institution, while actually perpetuating it.

In Labour/ Layers, I mimic the role of a corporation; I present the viewer with the visual vocabulary to manipulate their environment. However, their participation is heavily limited to the aesthetic boundaries I have provided, similar to the highly regulated “freedom” that exists in the neoliberal art environment. Here the viewer maintains an illusion of agency that is ultimately exploitative, rendering the consumer an unpaid labourer, providing data for the corporation.

Labour/ Layers takes the form of an interactive installation, involving a painterly/ sculptural piece consisting of paper, foam and plastic gloves that are projected over by an interactive web page. The web-page features the augmented version of the wall-mounted physical elements of the installation, as they are projected on to two adjoining walls. The viewer has the opportunity to re-arrange the items on the webpage, and see their participation amplified and recorded as they curate the space.

The gloves in the work correspond to computer mice: the hands of the participants. Gloves denote manual, difficult and undesirable labour, often low paid. The blue, DOW brand Styrofoam is at once both artificial and fleshy, acting as a surface for painted images of corporate logos, more gloves and Photoshop grids. Both the gloves and the Styrofoam act as materials that distance and mediate, covering hidden agendas. The resulting interaction is one that does not seem immediately mediated but hides insidious metanarratives.

The DOW corporation logo factors heavily into the work, re-occurring in both physical and digital spaces. DOW is a large corporation with a questionable ethical history. To ally this problematic corporation with the artist and the gallery space is to comment on the corporatization of art aesthetics.

This work re-creates the Photoshop layering process physically. One’s associations with Photoshop- as an omnipresent program to edit, process and conceal- can serve as an apt metaphor to describe the process of curation and canonical perpetuation in gallery environments as well. Both the walls of the white cube and the Photoshop transparency are ubiquitous in their associations as a neutral, unbiased background. It is this omnipresent notion of neutrality that becomes insidiously assumed with little consideration, and which I hope to problematize in my work.

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