Published essays & interviews
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
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
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,
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
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
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