Consideration - Carey Young in conversation with Defne Ayas, June 2006

Extract from the book 'PERFORMA - New Visual Art Performance', edited by RoseLee Goldberg, Performa: New York, 2007

London-based artist Carey Young has worked with specialists from conflict negotiators to venture capitalists, appropriating corporate systems and rhetoric in elaborate, often participatory projects. For Consideration, her four-day exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery (the artist’s first solo show in the United States), Young offered a playful take on the rampant litigation and legal limbos of contemporary cultural life, collaborating with a legal team to produce a series of mixed media works involving contractual agreements in which viewers would be included from the moment they entered the exhibition.


Defne Ayas: Visitors to Consideration were asked to enter contractual agreements in order to become participants in the works. Were you tackling the institutional experience of an art exhibition? 

Carey Young: I’m interested in the legacy of institutional critique, but from the perspective of comparing the institutions of art with the institutions of business and law, which to date seem largely to have fallen outside the artistic interpretation of the word “institution.” The works in this show involve legal processes which choreograph and alter a typical exhibition-going experience, from receiving an invitation to entering or moving through a gallery space, or deciding one might like to own one of the works in the show. The works center on the crossing of borders, whether political, geographic, or personal.

DA: What prompted you to make the rituals and language of jurisdiction the subject of this show? 

CY: My show explored law as a context, a kind of “stage,” for art. Consideration, the title of the show, has multiple meanings: as well as signifying the act of thinking it conflates the idea of payment and exchange with notions of respect and kindness. It’s also a central term within contract law, meaning something promised or done between two or more parties that leads to a legally enforceable contract. With this show I wanted to respond to America’s increasingly litigation-soaked culture and absence of free speech, while relating that to the absence of legal responsibility that seems a specialty of corporate neo-liberalism. The artworks in this show formally echo well-known works by other artists (for example, the cube wall drawing Declared Void responds to Sol LeWitt’s work), but they also refer to contemporary legal processes: it’s like some kind of Swiftean 'Modest Proposal' that extends existing logic to an absurd extreme, asking what happens to art when a society communicates solely in the language of litigation. 

DA: Can you expand on what happens then, in the context of Consideration?

CY: The piece Artistic License, for example, required all viewers entering the show to sign away the copyright to prints made from their index fingers using forms which looked very much like police records, which were then displayed on the gallery wall. By signing, you equated the potential value of accessing the show to the value of your own fingerprints. This piece refers to current U.S. immigration processes such as the digital scanning and mass archiving of fingerprints, and to recent intellectual property laws concerning the corporate ownership of scientific discoveries concerning gene sequencing, which appear to represent a worrying slippage in the Constitutional, anti-slavery, human right to “own your own body.”

DA: What about the “legal black hole” you created in the corner of the gallery? 

CY: With this piece, Declared Void, I wanted to create a kind of mirror for Guantánamo within the gallery by creating a legal “grey area” that would somehow exist outside the U.S. Constitution. I learned from my legal advisors, Robert Lands of Finers Stephens Innocent LLP and Jaime Stapleton, that without the agreement of the U.S. Congress this was technically impossible, so the concept developed further: the work offered viewers the chance to enter a consensual hallucination made by the same slippery logic used by the U.S. in the creation of Guantánamo. That designated space in the corner of the gallery, outlined by a wall drawing, lies outside the U.S. Constitution because the artist declares it so, and by entering that corner space you are signifying that you agree with the artist. That’s a contract, so by entering the corner space you are contractually bound to the artist—temporarily speaking. The more permanent contractual works, which bind the viewer to the artist for longer periods, come elsewhere in the show. 

DA: And contractual duration was the very point of your Donorcard piece.

CY: Donorcard is a playful work about time. I like to create process-based works that stay operational far beyond the usual timeframe of a show, and this work extends to include the lifetime of the artist and any of five hundred viewers. It’s a “sticky” piece, like a loose, polygamous marriage contract. The work comprises an edition of five hundred credit card–size “donor cards” available for free from the gallery during the show. Although I had signed each card, the text on the card stated that it only took on the legal status of being an artwork when the viewer signed it, and that its status as art would only last as long as I was alive, or the viewer was alive, whichever was the shorter. 

DA: So over time, of course, there will be less of the edition that remains as works of art?

CY: Yes, I couldn’t resist making a little joke about the “death of the author” with this piece, and it was also an opportunity to create an artwork for the wallet, which I think has potential as an interesting space for art—personal, yet often a lost zone where things tend to live on as a memento. 

DA: Carey, rarely in your works do we encounter a performer on the stage in a black-box environment or in front of an actual audience. Many of your works though use performance; some invite active participation by the viewer, and some, such as your videos, feature performances by yourself, actors, or others. Can you explain this key aspect to your work?

CY: I’m more concerned with the performative than “performance” as such, and my work across a variety of media often foregrounds notions of listening, speaking, and internalizing information or adopting certain social codes. In my works I often select specific people—such as curators, art students, or random people in a crowd—to become “carriers” and distributors of information, and sometimes of specific skills. There is a viral, memetic aspect to this. Information (or sometimes the work, or the skills) is distributed through a system that is open, dynamic, and lies outside the artist’s control. In fact as much as my work relates to the tradition of Conceptual art, in some senses it’s also a kind of embodied, non-machinic kinetic art, as it relies on movement and circulation. 

DA: But let’s not forget about the role of absurdity in your work.

CY: Right. I often use absurdity and humor in my work to engage people. They might find the content of my work objectionable in some way but if they have already laughed, they have entered the work and become complicit with it. This is quite close to Bataille’s notion that laughter has a primal, physical quality, that one can be possessed by laughter.

Copyright Carey Young, Defne Ayas and PERFORMA, 2006