Marina Seyffert A subversive shift from individuality to collectivity.
By Mary Truong August 29th, 2020
Marina Seyffert, currently, is not an artist. At least, she is currently not an artist in the 'Art' world that is defined by galleries, museums; in fact, she is quick to criticize these institutions with anti-capitalist theory. To her, the art world is an industry (inseparable from any other industry) which seeks to generate profit from “people's pain.” She says, “When you turn art into profit, it just completely corrupts what the art is... I hate the idea of profiting off of something that is so potentially human.” Instead, she imagines an ideal art world that is not dominated by capital and not “distinguished from the rest of the world” through value. In this world, street art, graffiti, and hobbyist paintings would be included with the Koons and Warhols sitting in galleries and museums.
This marks a subversive shift from individuality to collectivity: rather than focusing on exclusivity through big name galleries and artistic superstars, she imagines inclusivity. Moreover, Seyffert’s thinking is not limited to the art world; rather, this type of thought is an outgrowth of her current labor. Since graduating, Seyffert has been involved with organizing efforts and abolitionist work. She notes that her work has restructured her thinking “from my own subjective body” to acknowledging “myself in a wider community.” Reflecting on Seyffert’s past practice confirms this ideological reprogramming; her past artwork teemed with subjectivity through self-portraiture and diaristic prose scrawled on drawings. Now, she focuses her efforts on organizing mutual aid funds and coordinating food and housing resources, leaving her no mental capacity or time to create art objects. If Seyffert has a practice right now, it would be a conceptual/theoretical one concerned with ideological restructuring towards community, but she is not sure when or if this change may materialize into a tangible practice. Still, she notes that art continues to be integral to her life.
When Seyffert disparages the art world, I consider ‘institutional critique’ and Andrea Fraser slinking against a museum's walls, performing satirical ectasy within the modern museum. When Seyffert discusses her efforts in care work and community organizing, I compare it to one of my favorite ‘social practice’ artworks, RaFia Santana's #PAYBLACKTiME, in which Santana redistributes donated white wealth as meals for Black and brown people. When Seyffert talks about how her current experience may contribute to her tentative future practice, I think of epistemology and how Chris Burden’s Shoot allowed him to acquire “knowledge that other people don’t have, some kind of wisdom.”
Then, I consider how appropriate it is to frame Seyffert’s ideology and actions through language amenable to the art world (after all, I learned this language from an art institution) despite her very resistance to this. If anything, the application of such language to Seyffert’s actions is evidence of how the art world co-opts all forms of resistance and commodifies it, corrupting what could potentially be so human. Through names, 'art' actions can be distinguished from all other actions, and this distinction is then valued within capitalism. A diatribe against the exclusivity of art institutions can be labeled as ‘institutional critique’, and once labeled, a recording of it can be curated as 'Art.' That is what I am doing now; by contextualizing Seyffert’s words and actions in a website about art, I am curating her self as Art.
Despite how clearly oppositional my writing may be from Seyffert’s intentions, I think back to her ideal of an Art world that is not distinguished from the rest of the world. Space becomes ambiguous in that world, and I want to heed that. In this article, I don’t want to cleanly categorize Seyffert’s labor as either art or not-art, and I don’t want to write from the detached stance of an observer, because it seems like it would be a betrayal of Seyffert’s ideals.
To discuss art vs non-art is to reinforce barriers; to relegate myself to the role of an impassive writer is to emphasize our separation. What Seyffert has discovered is collectivity, and I am trying to write with that mindset. I am not aiming to ‘elevate’ Seyffert’s actions to art through comparison with Fraser, Santana, and Burden. I would rather try to talk about her actions and their actions within a sea of actions that is incorporated in a collective human body.
My writing is inconsistent and contradictory. So are Seyffert’s current thoughts: she first claims that she does nothing concerning art right now and later suggests that her current work can be considered art. She frames art as a privileged practice and considers her time being better spent in community organizing, but she then goes on to say that neither action is more valuable or important. Yet she seems at peace with the inconsistency. She says, “I’m actively unlearning and reimagining, and for the next year, I’m going to be like, ‘I have no fucking clue what I’m really thinking.’” I think I am the same.
There are no barriers in the world Seyffert considers. To me, that world seems chaotic and uninhabitable, but she manages to find a measure of tranquility in it. “In the fall, when I was back in New York, I was like, ‘What am I doing with my life? What's going on?’ I started to just imagine myself as a leaf on the river, and it sounds kind of stupid, but it’s an image that I return to all the time. Sometimes the river goes really fast, and you don’t really know where the river is going to go— it’s kind of twisting and turning, and it’s rocky and all over the place. And sometimes, the river goes really slow, and you’re just floating on the river, and nothing’s really happening, and sometimes you're going down a waterfall, and you’re like, ‘What the fuck— when am I going to get to the end of this waterfall?’ Etcetera, etcetera... But the whole time, you’re just a leaf on the river, and you're just floating along. And the river’s always moving, and it’s not gonna stop anytime soon, and whatever part of the river you’re in right now is going to end at some point, and you’re going to get to the next part of the river. And that’s it.”
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