The work of art in an age of digital reason, 2013
A Western artist commissions a factory sculptor in Northwestern China to carve a self-portrait. He is instructed to adopt the posture of Michelangelo’s Atlas Slave. The sculpture is sealed in a shipping crate, made available on the art market, but never opened.
This project explores the economic reality of contemporary art production, where workers are paid wages, and authorship often resides thousands of miles from the commodity that it claims. By holding copyright over further reproductions of this artwork, the artist therefore own the rights to the worker’s image.
In his essay Estranged Labour, Marx laments the alienation of wage labour, that ultimately functions to transform human life into a commodity. In order to generate change, he proposes that the prevailing system of capitalism must be exaggerated so that its self-destructive tendencies can more be brought to a swifter conclusion. In this work, this strategy is explored.
Communicating across the Internet, the artist commissions the factory worker to represent himself as an icon originally conceived by the ultimate arbiter of Western beauty; moral, physical, and artistic. Michelangelo’s celebrated sculpture depicts a figure encased in a hunk of marble - inextricably bound to his material condition.
Commissioned by Third Text, Issue 121.