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Label: homelessness

Wednesday 04th February 2015Are Living Subjects Inherently Exploitative?

Most artists have worked using living subjects at some point in their artistic careers, and there's naturally nothing wrong with that - people tend to make excellent subjects. But what happens when the piece is no longer a sketch, painting or sculpture? What happens if the piece is actually an ongoing performance/installation piece that has two people living inside it? Most of us will still not take issue with it, as they are presumably there by choice. What happens if the two subjects in the piece are homeless, and were hired by the artist to live in the piece? Suddenly, firm moral ground begins to feel a bit shaky, but it's up for debate if the ice is too thin to hold our weight.

The piece, entitled "The Alien Within: A Living Laboratory of Western Society," certainly has a ring of charged politicism, but that's nothing really all that new in the art world. The artist, Anders Carlsson, saw the two homeless participants begging on a street corner, and offered them some money to work together with him on a project to raise awareness about class inequalities and the struggles of poverty. They are paid an hourly wage that amounts to roughly $600 over the course of the project.

"People want to escape the discomfort, not knowing how to relate to someone so unequal,"  he said in a radio interview. "In a way, there's no escape." Not everyone is particularly pleased about the project, though, and a number of activists have decided to protest outside the Malmö Konsthall, where the project is located. "I had very high expectations," protestor Ioana Cojocariu said, "but when I entered the room, it felt like an ethnological exhibition, where black bodies had been replaced by poor bodies…I think artists are well-intentioned but there have been errors."

Curiously enough, there don't seem to be many interviews with the two people themselves, Luca Lacatus and Marcella Cheresi. That somehow seems to make the media reports about the project more exploitative than the project itself, but Lacatus did have this to say when eventually interviewed by a local Swedish paper,  "We've already got used to being looked at. It is better to be here than out on the street. Here it is warm and dry anyway." While, on the surface, it doesn't seem like a profound indictment of the denial of poverty, perhaps it is anyways. But don't they have a right to decide if they're being exploited?

Posted on February 04th 2015 on 08:49pm
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