Artist Tomashi Jackson explores the rhythms of labor and the poetic vernacular of popular culture and visuality in America.
After the 2008 crash the so-called new normal is an economy of producing more work for less pay. A question that follows the most urgent concern of survival and subsistence living is how artists can address labor without getting bogged down by discourse. One answer is to exert the body. Another is to look to the changing topos of popular culture at how we produce cultural narratives about work in daily life, in all its shifting forms. Tomashi Jackson is an artist who does both, a hybridist who grounds questions of labor and civic space in an amorphous terrain of American “vernacular.” Her composite language consists of an omnivorous diet of sources and outputs: raw building materials that stand in for civic infrastructure and public space; popular imagery, from iconic photos of black poets to celebrities sourced from the Internet; R&B songs from the early 1990s; a digital screen space layered with Skype conversations, music, and cut-out images, then translated into video. Jackson metabolizes these materials and sources into, most often, an installation environment of sound, sculpture, projection and performance. The end result is neither interior nor exterior, but decidedly mixed. And it is palpably worked over with the artist’s labor, hand, and her affections. Her most recent works, made in her studio at MIT, while in the ACT (Art, Culture, and Technology) program, are, in multiple senses of the term, labor-intensive..
Cora Fisher In your recent work you have taken to singing while performing repetitive tasks like cleaning, mopping, and trowelling. What are some connections here between music and work—in the double sense of artwork and labor?
Tomashi Jackson Music, especially music that is lyrical, is often generative, inspiring repetitive mimicry. One night in 2011 I listened to “History Repeats Itself” by A.O.S. while cleaning the paint splattered floor of my studio. The song became intertwined with my labor as I sang it to myself over and over again until the floor was clean. I recognized a productive link between music, repetition, and my hands. I thought about how this sort of maintenance labor is meant to be unseen. I remembered that my Great Aunts worked informally as domestics in Texas and California from around 1920 until retirement.