Art

An Ecofeminist Artist’s Tiny Revolutions

In the “anthropocenic crapitalistic global implosion,” care is a part of the uproar.

A.L. Steiner, "Untitled (MO:)RNING)" (2016), color pigment print, 18 x 24 in
A.L. Steiner, “Untitled (MO:)RNING)” (2016), color pigment print, 18 x 24 in (all photos courtesy of Koenig & Clinton)

“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.

A.L. Steiner, "Eat/Memorial for Maria" (2000–16), wood, paint, low-pressure mercury vapor fluorescent bulbs, hardware, low-density polyethylene sheets, tape, 70 x 128 x 6 in
A.L. Steiner, “Eat/Memorial for Maria” (2000–16), wood, paint, low-pressure mercury vapor fluorescent bulbs, hardware, low-density polyethylene sheets, tape, 70 x 128 x 6 in

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.

A.L. Steiner, "20 Days of Mo:)rning," installation view
A.L. Steiner, “20 Days of Mo:)rning,” installation view
A.L. Steiner, "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength." (2016), 30 color photocopies, candle, wood shelf, dimensions variable
A.L. Steiner, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” (2016), 30 color photocopies, candle, wood shelf, dimensions variable

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.

A.L. Steiner, "30 Days of Mo:)rning" (2016), color pigment prints and photocopies, 78 x 94 1/2 in
A.L. Steiner, “30 Days of Mo:)rning” (2016), color pigment prints and photocopies, 78 x 94 1/2 in

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.

A.L. Steiner, "Untitled (worst-case scenario ATM)" (2016), color pigment print, 23 1/2 x 18 in (all images courtesy of Koenig & Clinton Gallery)
A.L. Steiner, “Untitled (worst-case scenario ATM)” (2016), color pigment print, 23 1/2 x 18 in

30 Days of Mo:)rning continues at Koenig & Clinton (459 West 19th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through October 29.

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