“Hi I am going to do my best to satisfy the gallery’s needs in the midst of our anthropocenic crapitalistic global implosion.” —A.L. Steiner
So reads the entirety of Steiner’s press release for 30 Days of Mo:)rning, now on view at Koenig & Clinton. The mood of this statement — at once exasperated and matter-of-fact — continues throughout the show and its related ephemera. It also outlines a compromise between the artist and the gallery: For the duration of the show, the staff have shortened their work hours to 20 per week, and the gallery is open only from 12 to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. This is a revolution of sorts: While the radius may be small, Steiner has succeeded in altering a piece of our capitalism-driven world.
For many years, Steiner has advocated for ethical labor practices in the arts. In 2008, she co-founded W.A.G.E (Working Artists and the Greater Economy), an activist-based organization that works to regulate artist fees and establish sustainable labor practices between artists and art institutions. In this show specifically, Steiner strives to dismantle the widely accepted notion of “productive” labor, following the tenets of the Degrowth movement, which calls for an economy based on sustainability and a downscaling of production and consumption.
All of this is not necessarily clear upon viewing the show, however, and Steiner’s press release is purposefully open to interpretation. While it explains the gallery’s limited hours, it also opens many questions. In addition to the single-sentence statement, the back of the press release presents a questionnaire of sorts. It asks: “When you’re feeling ecophaggy, you think:” followed by a checklist with options such as “capitalism must die,” “leave it in the ground,” “the future doesn’t need us,” and “welcome to the misanthropocene.”
It is likely that most visitors will not have previously come across the word “ecophagy” (which means the literal consumption of an ecosystem), let alone Steiner’s use of the term, nor studied the Degrowth movement in depth. If the viewer does take the time to understand these various concepts, especially in relation to Steiner’s history as an ecofeminist and labor rights activist, an expansive and poetic web emerges, tying together the show’s imagery and its very terms of existence within the gallery.
The installation itself is a mixture of sculpture, photography, and performance that all highlights labor and compensation, the social and ecological effects of production, and Steiner’s own artistic labor. As is often true of Steiner’s work, the photographs exhibited, which have increased daily throughout the show’s run, are a collection of taken and found images and personal and documentary snapshots, some of which have been previously used in her projects. The images can be difficult to interpret on first viewing due to their everydayness — they’re beautiful but banal, simple but intriguing, but as always, the power comes in the amalgamation. A burning candle sits on a small shelf in front of a photograph of Keystone XL protestors from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe holding a banner that reads “WE ARE WATER.” Now the wall behind the candle is a collage of images referencing economic disaster, the prison industrial complex, and private education. On the adjacent wall is a photograph of an unidentifiable landscaper in a white HAZMAT suit holding a lawn trimmer. This faces a sculpture titled “Eat/Memorial for Maria” that is made from wood, paint, fluorescent bulbs, polyethylene sheets, and tape. What becomes clear is that these common construction materials (the matter), the landscaper (the medium), and the protestors (the affected) are all subject to the same system. The overproduction turns any human or material into something generic, without specificity or identity.
On most days, Steiner is found sitting in the back room at a desk, reading aloud into a microphone. So far, she has read through the entirety of Derrick Jensen’s The Myth of Human Supremacy (Seven Stories Press, 2016), The New Jim Crow (The New Press, 2010), and Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me (Haymarket Books, 2014), as well as texts by Donna Haraway, Clarice Lispector, and many others. No texts were disclosed to the gallery or the public in advance of their reading, and Steiner chooses and alternates between them as she likes. As a reader, Steiner speaks at a steady pace, in a flat tone mostly devoid of emphasis or rhythm. It is not always possible to understand her as she reads — the act of listening becomes more about the artist’s presence and action than the content of the text itself. The viewer is struck by the energy she must expend to read for four hours — a live, real-time example of the energy and labor required to create, perfect, perform, and disseminate a creative work. The imagery and action that make up this web — Steiner’s reading, the gallery’s altered hours, the daily addition of images — are all small, living protests of the larger neocapitalist system of overproduction. They ask everyone to consider time, to consider personal, environmental, and economic sustainability, and through this, to consider preservation.
The title of the show, 30 Days of Mo:)rning, and the eponymous photograph, which depicts a beach with pastel skies, are whimsical compared to the intensity of the press release and the show’s general themes. It suggests that the gallery space is just as much a place of healing as it is of protest, or it tells us that it’s all the same: A place of healing (or healthy productivity) is a revolution. In the “anthropocenic crapitalistic global implosion,” care is a part of the uproar.
30 Days of Mo:)rning continues at Koenig & Clinton (459 West 19th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through October 29.
Special Edition: 🖌️Artists’ Signatures ✍️
In this special edition, we investigate what artists’ signatures actually mean, and the fascinating results reveal the multifaceted history of this curious phenomenon.
What Is a Signature in the Internet Age?
As a cryptographic unit for record-keeping, an NFT can be seen as analogous to a signature or an autograph.
The Public Theater Explores the Hurricane Katrina Diaspora in shadow/land
Written by Erika Dickerson-Despenza and directed by Candis C. Jones, this lyrical meditation on legacy, erotic fugitivity, and self-determination is on view in NYC.
The Meaning of Ancient Greek and Roman Artisan Signatures
What did a signature mean in the ancient world, and how much can we trust what they seem to tell us?
Michelangelo’s Signature and the Myth of Genius
Michelangelo served as a stellar example for future artists who sought status and economic independence.
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
Uncovering the Photographer Behind Arshile Gorky’s Most Famous Painting
As we pursue photographer Hovhannes Avedaghayan a fascinating picture begins to emerge of him and the world of which he was part.
100 Years of Artist Signatures in a Detroit Club
The beams in Detroit’s Scarab Club act as a guest book of sorts, carrying a wealth of stories and history, including signatures by Diego Rivera, Marcel Duchamp, Margaret Bourke-White, Isamu Noguchi, and others.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
The Myth of Agency Around Artists’ Signatures
In an art world built on shifting sands, artists’ signatures become symbols of agency for some, and relics of the past for others.
The Women Artists Commemorated on an NYC Sidewalk
The signatures of Rosa Bonheur, Mary Cassatt, and six other historical women artists are engraved on a small stretch of sidewalk on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
Met Museum Repatriates 15 Objects to India
The sculptures were all at one point sold by the disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor.
Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova Placed on Russian “Wanted” List
Tolokonnikova has long been a thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin’s regime.