The Cultural Worker

That 70's Ho Festival of Performance
Western Front
Vancouver, British Columbia
October 2004

The Gallery Director, washing dishes.
The University Professor, ...
The University Professor, ...
Dinner with the Artist
Cheli Nighttraveller!

Cindy Baker - The Artist-
The Cultural Worker Series
The Gallery Director
The University Professor
Dinner with The Artist

In the sixties and seventies, Bonnie Sherk was one of the first artists to take the already well-accepted notion of the readymade and translate it into the performance genre. Whereas anything could already be art, she posited that any action, if undertaken with a critical mind and suitable contextualisation, could also be art.

Sherk is one of the performance artists of an earlier generation that I most identify with; I consider context my major medium, and when I perform I am primarily interested in what happens while I am simply doing what I am doing. I want to make a space for myself and others to reflect upon those things. Sherk’s work is very similar - consider her series in the early seventies entitled The Waitress, a performance where she took a job as a waitress. With my work, as in Sherk’s, it is the naming of the act as art that creates that space.

In this series, I present a contemporary version of Bonnie Sherk’s seminal performance work. An updating of her work vis-à-vis changing vocabularies, ideals, politics and times, my performances work in the same vein wherein she used everyday actions, objects and places to create a contemplative space about and within those same actions, objects and places. Each performance is a response to one of Sherk’s actions; the 60’s/70’s ideals made contemporary, and her work made mine through my preference to examine life through a filter of perceived reality (or perhaps cynicism) in reference to those ideals.

The series performed at the Western Front are all based on real duties, tasks, actions, jobs and circumstances that I encounter, in order to present a three-dimensional character, rather than a flat caricature or parody of somebody else’s work. I am adequately prepared to be “in face” as myself so that I can experience the heightened awareness of my activities that is the crux of this project. In all of these works, it has not been my intent to lampoon or ridicule the position I am in; merely to do the job to the best of my abilities and in so doing, create a space for the examination of those roles.

The Gallery Director sets up a space for contemplation about the condition of the contemporary artist as cultural worker ­ has the contemporary art world created an imperative for artists to be involved in other aspects of culture than as a producer, just to survive? Where Sherk, as The Waitress, highlighted the predicament of the artist that needs to work minimum wage service jobs just to survive, as well as the benefits of doing hard labour, being a ‘productive member of society’ and working alongside the common man, The Gallery Director reflects shifting realities as well as ideals ­ that artists are still working more job for less money, but now the need to stay connected is focused on the art world, not the ‘real world.’ While evoking memories of Sherk’s waitress, The Gallery Director raises issues of the contemporary perceptions of obligation to a cultural community and the duty to fill multiple roles in that community.

The University Professor raises many of the same concerns. Referencing Sherk’s most notorious piece, The Farm, however, (in which Sherk bought a piece of land from the city of San Francisco, built a farm and ran it as a business for seven years), The University Professor acts primarily to question the loss of a generation of political and environmental ideals to the realities of and self-calcifying institutions that do continue to stimulate new generations of cultural producers, and indeed makes for a simpler and more comfortable career path.

Finally, Dinner with the Artist, framed against Sherk’s Public Lunch and Picnic in the Park, pits the idealized seventies’ free spirit earth mother goddess figure against the contemporary cult of personality that is the Artist. Instead of the publicly accessible open-air lunches with quirky unknowns, I cash in on the trendy cachet of the flavour-of-the-month by dining only with those lucky (and obviously hip) few.