1. Go to a private view in a commercial white cube space.
2. Dress and imitate the role a precarious low-paid worker from the gallery would usually perform.
3. Ask the public if they wouldnt mind filling out a short survey.
Work in pairs or a small group.
Plan an escape route.
The White Cube Gallery, Masons Yard. Just down from Fortnum and Mason. It’s 7.15pm on a Thursday, dark. The courtyard around the gallery is full of people; there is a free bar. The Cube looks like a prison. Security staff on each entrance. White light glows from the gallery. Everyone is well dressed. Everyone in the gallery feels very comfortable there.
Protagonist 1 – artist, mischievous, nervous, thirty, smiles a lot, wearing white shirt and black trousers.
Protagonist 2 – artist, mischievous, nervous, mid-twenties, hyped, wearing white shirt and black trousers.
Witness – friend, late twenties, smart, wearing all black.
Scruffy male gallery goer – tufty hair, glasses, dishevelled shirt, early forties, suspicious but friendly, probably an artist.
Bar tender – early twenties, white shirt, black trousers, good teeth, bored.
Female gallery goer – in kitten heels, twenties, sharp eyebrows.
Pin striped gallery goer – suit, thin moustache, 1930s vibe, mid forties.
Enter the white gendered body…
(protagonists and witness enter the gallery, stage right – door held open by one security guard, another ushers them into the space where the prints are.)
Protagonists nervously negotiate the gallery space…
(spotting security, getting strange looks.)
Protagonist 1: (giggling nervously)
“I thought there would be more people here, this is way more scary than I thought.”
Protagonist 2: (giggling nervously)
“Yeah I thought we could get lost in the crowd and just disperse them but that security guard looks like they are not playing”
“Come on, you can do it, be brave.”
The real threat of harm. Our not knowing how severe the reaction would be.
Not really feeling the power in numbers or the support of your established community. Out of depth.
A different world. A visitor, a different art world than the one we have uncomfortably become accustomed to.
The real elite.
We are just children.
But we have/come with a desire to intervene.
Maybe again. Maybe in numbers. Maybe now more systematically. More performed. More rehearsed.
Faking the role of the gallery ‘on behalf of the gallery’.
Have someone wait and observe or document the fall out.
But the security staff were like stand ins. But because not even ‘public servants’. Scarier. Like, privately hired to protect the objects and people. And atmosphere.
Is there even legislation?
(Protagonists and Witness go downstairs, even less people there. Find a toilet and put some of the surveys by the sink with a pen.)
“I am not going to leave them my nice pen.”
“Take some pictures of it here.”
(Protagonists and Witness leave toilet)
“Is that a toilet?” (smiling)
“Yes it is.”
(Protagonists and Witness run upstairs like naughty children. Exit the gallery stage left, door held open by the sixth security guard. Protagonists go to the bar outside for some Dutch courage.)
“Hello, are these for free?”
“Yes, of course.”
Survey meant to be confrontational (don’t even need to have them filled out, its likely we know a lot of the answers), switching it from the ‘othered’ experience of having to qualify or become quotas to how the privileged responds to having to reflect on those things that enable them to move through spaces unharmed, unchecked, unseen. Becoming the quota themselves.
Reminder of the sheer distance that commercial spaces have/acquire/perform/structure/reserve the right to/preserve/from any forms of practice outside marketability or ordained taste, formats other than objects of genius to place and invest accumulated capital in.
Make me more thankful for public funding, the hard working radical institutions, artist ran projects and spaces, things on the periphery, networks of affinity and solidarity where art can happen.
Art could not happen here. Without being policed, owned, sponsored and/or controlled/consumed.
(Protagonists and Witness stand in courtyard amongst gallery goers nervously drinking beer and plotting.)
Protagonist 2: (finishing beer)
“Right, shall we just do it out here then? We’ve got to do it.”
“Ok yeah, lets go – you start there.”
Should’ve had more guts. Normally we are a bit gutsy. How do we get more guts?
What’s the worse they could’ve done, what have we got to lose? What are we scared of? A scene? Is it worth it?
Kick us out? Is there even rules about disturbing atmospheres? Questionnaires? Leaflets? Information distribution? Announcements? Propaganda? Probably there is.
Especially in private space.
This is the reckoning.
IT WAS A PRIVATE SPACE AND IT WAS NOT OURS, IT WAS THEIRS.
(Protagonists split up through the crowd, each with a stack of white paper, on it the PV Survey. They move around the groups of gallery goers talking and drinking, handing out the sheets.)
Protagonist 2: (handing a couple of surveys to a group of men in their thirties, round glasses, gillets, speaking quickly.)
“Excuse me, sorry to interrupt you – can I just give you these to fill in? They are from the gallery. Thank you.”
I am a middle class white woman. My body is not generally policed; the violence to my gender is not done in these spaces, at least not explicitly or physically (often). These spaces are made for me and I have been taught how to move in them but I don’t want to be a part of an (art) world that knowingly nod’s along and does not do anything to change? That only gazes inward? That does not allow for uncomfortable/unsanctioned things to come in. not into my slickness. Give me tack. Perhaps I am being naïve maybe my gesture is empty, childish. I don’t want to be like ‘I am doing this on behalf of others’ but also it cant always fall to the same people? There are hopefully other things I do that address this a lot better but tonight I felt like it had to be silly and small and maybe futile as that is still an affect right? Affects cant all be life changing. Just hoping that at least one person actually handed their survey back into the gallery. That would be great. Solidarity with the invigilators, you gals looked so bored.
Might work better as a part of a club, more about gathering together, meet, go to a PV, hand out survey, go to pub.
(Protagonist 1 approaches a group of women in their twenties, coats rested nicely on their shoulders, kitten heels.)
“Hi, can you fill this in please? For the gallery?”
Female gallery goers: (shocked)
“No, absolutely not, I don’t want to fill that in, don’t leave it there!”
It does not allow for nuance, complication, anything outside normative, narrow labels, signifiers, boxes to check.
BUT this is part of it.
I don’t know if it’s right. I don’t want it to make people already marginalised to feel worse. But it could. I can only speak as someone from a working class background and imagine if I was in that space and received it, how might I feel but I would never now form someone else. And my reaction is speculative. Circumstances could change everything.
It might not make people feel better. It might not make them feel bad either.
It’s also the difficult. Because the contents of the survey is leaky, unsure and problematic and confrontational, contradictory.
It is formal. Like it adopts the form of the form.
I think some of the fear is about not knowing how to deal with the aftermath. But also not feeling the need to.
It should act as a proposition for the individual to reflect. Its not up for any debate, there is no linear answer.
But what have we missed, assumed, overlooked?
Is it bad we didn’t let them speak for themselves? Or is that part of it? Forms don’t let you have a conversation with them they are final. They are establishing no context facts.
Can art ever be ethical? This type? Will it always tread this thin line?
Is it necessary?
What’s real is that privilege is a thing. White. Hetero. Able. Male. Educated. Body.
People don’t want to talk about it on opulent occasions, or ‘spoil’ the art, or pretty much anywhere like. Ever.
But it is the fundamental first step to acknowledging disparity, structural oppression, inequity and historical exploitation based on race, class, gender, ability, sexuality and difference in the eyes of the dominant.
Assimilation - - - - - - - - - - - - to bust.
Protagonist 2: (rushing to another group stood talking)
“Hello, can I give you these to fill in, they are just surveys from the gallery.”
(thrusting a stack into the mans hands and running off)
Pin striped gallery goer:
“Ok, bye then…”
(Protagonists and Witness runs out of the courtyard laughing. Leave the remaining PV Surveys on the steps of the Hilton Hotel around the corner and head to the nearest pub.)