Gentrification in hand
Gentrification MoCADA installation
The Poetry Dr. complete set
The Poetry Dr. distance view
The Poetry Dr. pill
I am a critical and creative writer, artist, and performer. Most of the objects I make involve the book arts, broadly defined.
Labor that involves doing something yourself that can be done faster, more efficiently, or more precisely by a machine is impractical. Labor that cannot easily be discerned and appreciated by others can also be considered impractical. Much of my art involves labor-intensive work to create objects that will be given away, which is considered by many to be impractical. I also often make things that are not archival, and are not meant to last forever, which many people would consider impractical.
I engage an impractical practice first because I enjoy it. Repetitive tasks can be calming, and the amassing of dozens, or hundreds (or, occasionally, thousands) of objects is satisfying. (And the ability to do this work anywhere — the images show work on my bed and dining table — is also enjoyable!) I think not all art needs to be expensive, and art does not need to be archival to be precious. Making work that uses everyday materials makes it easier to give it away. By disseminating my work in these ways, I function within the gift economy, showing that capitalism is not our only option.
Right now I am working on two projects: The Poetry Dr. and Gentrification Is…
The Poetry Dr. (TPD) is a persona I’ve created to bring attention to social illnesses (such as racism and poverty), to comment on the uneven availability of affordable health care, and to challenge racial and gender stereotypes through public, engaging performance and book art. TPD individually consults clients, identifying their concerns and using one of her diagnosis methods to determine a custom healing prescription. Diagnosis methods include: Talking Dice (similar to traditions of throwing cowrie shells in West Africa), Poetry Tarot (which uses a deck made from old library catalog cards), and the “Talking Cure.” Healing methods include: Poetry Pills, written Poetry Prescriptions, and Poetry juju (similar to traditions found in West Africa and New Orleans).
The images provided show me making poetry pills, tiny capsules that have inside a rolled-up slip of paper with a poetry quote on one side and directions (a “prescription”) for a poetry-related exercise on the other. In addition to being part of the gift economy, TPD performances often end up being part of a barter economy. Clients have felt compelled to give me money, objects from their bag or person, or works of art.
Gentrification Is… combines an installation and public dissemination. The core of the piece is the “fortune teller” or “chatterbox,” a children’s folded paper game often used to determine who one will marry or what one will become. I have reimagined this game as a way of questioning how we define gentrification, and the installation consists of a pile of several hundred of these games near a series of questions (presented as wall text) about who is implicated in gentrification. The purpose of the installation is to inspire honest and challenging conversations about assumptions and community. Over a thousand gentrification “fortune tellers” have been given away through installations at MoCADA (the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts) in Brooklyn, The Print Center in Philadelphia, and William Paterson University Gallery in New Jersey. (The map on the back is changed for each location.) The Feminist Art Conference in Toronto will be exhibiting Gentrification Is… next month, and the images you see are of me folding new chatterboxes.
Even though no one will know I created them, it is important to me that I make at least the first 100 of the chatterboxes for each exhibit. I have not always been able to travel to see this installation, and having my “hand” there means that I am present in some way. Making the first folds is also practical, showing the curators how I want the pieces to look.
This fall, I hope to premiere a new evening-length performance, On Paper: Situation Normal, that will involve hundreds of crumpled and origami-d pieces of paper — and a business suit made of tyvek.
Both of these projects connect me to other people; TPD in a more intimate way, while Gentrification Is… hopefully means that my work inspires discussion amongst hundreds of small groups of people. This connection is very important to me and is largely what sustains me — otherwise I would not bother with the impractical labor! In a world in which so much time is spent in “virtual” spaces, the satisfaction of making things with my hands is also meaningful. Finally, the existence of ILSSA — even though, until now, I have not directly engaged the organization that much — is meaningful because I know that there are other people in the world who are engaged in and value this kind of work, and who value it as work. (The Loudmouth Collective’s “Anti-Reading” boxes and the International Society of Copier Artists, both now defunct, were earlier intellectual and aesthetic communities I followed and appreciated.)
Is impractical labor really worth it? Am I wrong to think that someone’s fleeting pleasure in a nonarchival work matters — even if they don’t know who made it, I don’t know who they are, and they didn’t pay anything for it? Is there any practical support (as opposed to collegial or emotional support) available to the people who produce this work?
You can reach Rosamond at Local 718 Shop RSK.
Are you an ILSSA member who would like to be interviewed? Please email us at markdown at impractical-labor.org.