a bead of sweat
what comes to mind when we think of a bead of sweat?
the result of an automatic mechanism rewarding our bodies for exertion
rendered in a painting as if it were a diamond or a coveted elixir
containing the entire world in its reflection
exuded from a single pore of a single being
wiped away without thought or ignored entirely
evaporating into a thin layer of salt
a bead of sweat
When we labor, is it rewarding? Is it forced? What pressures transform joyful work into drudgery? Do these pressures stem from within ourselves or from without? What mental and physical journeys must we take in the pursuit of our work? Is that work ever finished?
In taking on the challenge of curating this volume, we thought critically about these questions, realizing that they don’t always have straightforward answers. Our curatorial process began with two words: “Art” and “Labor.” As we compiled our list of contributors, we prompted each of them with only the volume’s titular words, mirroring our curatorial experience and allowing the broad theme to guide each individual response. We made sure that our final selections represented diverse voices and promoted a healthy balance of written, visual, and auditory responses, so that our audience could glean the varied sensorial experiences that attend artistic work.
This approach yielded a web of subthemes that offered us an organizing structure for this volume. In the contributions of Amy Shimshon-Santo, Lynde Rosario, and Jessica Herring, we find exploration of the passionate labor of artists, for whom creative work is both a career and a way of life. Jessica Brunecky and Sam Bodkin examine wage and labor practices in the arts and culture sector, helping us to imagine a more equitable future. Patrisse Cullors and Mike Shum use their lenses–literally–to highlight creative labor done for the purpose of changing minds; their video works address art as activism. And Phil America, Stacey Putka, Muna Malik, Rachel Woolf, Bobby LeFebre, and Dulce Ibarra all use their work to bring attention to those who labor without adequate recognition. For these contributors, art is a voice for the voiceless.
Many artists use their practice to acknowledge essential workers who keep the world going. But artists, too, are essential workers, absorbing energy through observation and experience, then manifesting that energy as artistic form in an ongoing cycle whose results can both offer comfort and inspire action. As we practice, we find ourselves repeatedly reconciling the contradictions of our industry, using our art to critique the art world and its frequent devaluation of labor. We incorporate designs of dissent, designs of teaching, and designs of healing. In redesigning ourselves, we labor to give others strength. The artists and writers featured here are all practitioners of these explorations. We thank Tilt West for the opportunity to share our curatorial process, and, above all, we thank the minds and bodies–the human beings–who take part in this vital creative cycle.
Storm Ascher and Brenton Weyi,
Art and Labor curators and issue editors