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As Soon As Conditions Become Normal Again, 2017, single-channel filmic chapter within the multi-channel film Attending to Agnes, 4 min 58 sec

1. Andrea Francke and Ross Jardine,
‘Bureaucracy’s Labour: The Administrator as Subject’,
Parse Journal, no. 5, 2017, p. 24

2. Dodie Bellamy, The Buddhist
(San Francisco: Publication Studio/Allone Co. Editions,
2011), p. 18.

3. As a clear example, and sad coincidence, I am writing
this the morning after the conservative Australian
government announced a ministry reshuffle, whereby
the arts ministry has been cut completely under the
guise of ‘efficiency measures’ and in order to ease
‘bureaucratic congestion’. Now, the arts have been
removed form federal policy focus and instead merged
into a new portfolio titled the Department of
Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and
Communications, a department intended to oversee
roads and railways.

4. Julie Ault, In Part: Writings by Julie Ault (New York:
Dancing Foxes Press and Galerie Buchholz), p. 57.

5. In a somehow similar sentiment, Microsoft Word
recently underlined a sentence of mine in green and
instructed me this: Passive Voice (consider revising).
Despite being software produced to streamline,
systematise and make efficient the workplace, there
was something I really liked in it insisting I, quite literally,
speak up. A technological tool geared for the passive
administrator, insisting on the misuse of its own register
of standardisation.

6. A friend of mine has a daughter who only writes back
to letters of an administrative nature in messy handwriting,
completely flouting the administrative understanding of
legibility—especially since such bodies have to accept all
forms of correspondence by law.

Practice Reflections:

Isabelle Sully
~ Administration’s Histrionics

In an episode of The West Wing—a television show from the early 2000s that had both the tendency to genuflect to the worst manifestations of American nationalism and the facility to predict, as if a premonition, the rise of Obama or the coming of the Arab Spring—the secretaries of the oval office decide to strike. They do so by collectively typing at their individual desks with only two fingers, proceeding very slowly. This decision to actively underperform comes about when senior White House officials scoff at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which recommends national legislation addressing repetitive strain injuries in the workplace—a legislation that no doubt has larger ramifications for the typists than the men dictating the statutes behind closed doors.

This storyline has resonated with me for some time, not only because of my love for the minimal modification the secretaries make—a methodology I attempt to uphold in my own practice as an artist, particularly in relation to institutions—but also because of the way in which their protest upends the insistence that the administrative worker, usually female, be viewed as ‘a piece of infrastructure, invisible until something goes wrong’.1 Here, instead, the collective body of the administration go against the script of compliance handed to them by the directorial powers that be, acting out and staging—with an extreme clarity of address—the issue of visibility within their workplace.

As an artist, borrowing this logic of performative intervention makes sense to me. As a woman, perennially outspoken, it compels me. It was something I first attempted in a work titled A friend to the idea (2016), made midway through my studies at the Dutch Art Institute. Specifically responding to the annual convention for the director of the school to introduce a day of student presentations, the work took the form of a scripted address that was woven seamlessly into the introductory address of the director herself, shifting the tone of voice and making a claim to visibility through piggybacking onto her authority. The piece plays on the institutional mutuality of trust and compliance, both literally—through reference to institutional protocol in the script—and on a conceptual level, invoking power relations between myself and the director publicly whilst agreeing to forgo them privately. In some ways it was an exercise in transmission, rendering these relations legible by occupying a position deemed to be commanding.

Yet usually, when it comes to administration, the person standing behind the construction of the form, infrastructural, performative or otherwise, remains anonymous. In being deemed inherently ancillary, the administrator’s documents tend to be left authorless; spreadsheets collapse into archetypes and its endless output is rendered unimaginative. Perhaps fittingly, despite being an artist I’ve never really felt like a creative person. I wonder now if it's a fortuitous irony that the very basis for my creative work lies in an analysis of the statistical, the categorical, the downright anti-creative. Maybe it's also a form of self-preservation. Yet, it is precisely in this formation where my practice currently lies; in a desire to turn these structures in on themselves, not necessarily to rewrite protocol as it were (although this too), but to revel in the pleasure of instrumentalising exactly those processes of standardisation in order to facilitate artistic experiment. Dodie Bellamy writes in The Buddhist that her artist friend ‘Colter [Jacobson] talked about his inability to write a project proposal. As soon as the deadline passed he was energized to write two inspired proposals, but he wrote them more like poems than project proposal format.’2

I was asked recently, ‘Why administration?’, and perhaps now my answer can be this: Working in a form that feels natural to me, thinking against the ticking and filing of each of us into categories safely understood and accounted for within the winding corridors of bureaucracy’s lair. For administration functions as a direct channel between the sphere of culture and the sphere of the state, as if the universal set in a depressingly banal Venn diagram.A colleague wrote to me recently that the patriarchy can be chased from the squares but hides in the numbers—and might have to be fought by the numbers too. Administration is therefore in the business of distribution: it is responsible for dispensing public resources.  The Administration.

Valentina Curandi and I attempted to understand this through practice in a recent collaborative exhibition, where we wrote a policy for the artist-run space that was hosting us. The policy—signed off after numerous meetings with the co-directors of the project space—was premised on inserting claims to autonomy within the necessary requirements to regulate a space geared for a public audience. A major part of this was the establishment of an Occupational Health and Safety Fund, which we were able to provide an annual budget for by redistributing the city funding we received for the project. Going forward, each artist will be allocated a small budget to implement a ‘safety measure’ as loosely, relatively and interpretively as they deem fit.  I listen to Julie Ault, who wrote that ‘a budget is priorities made concrete’.4 In a meeting once, when talking about budgets, Matthew Stadler told me that the process of applying for funding was ‘a form of triage that exhausts people.’ That’s the thing about administration: it overworks us, then outworks us. 

Yet still, somehow, I am enthralled by its ability to rigidly limit the scope of subjectivity, perhaps precisely because of the provocation possible in defying its methods. There is nothing more audacious
to me, and therefore impressive, than the mischievous administrator who, when refused the affordance of her own signature, slips an otherwise rejected application through the cracks just before sitting down to lunch.5 There is a defiance possible in administration. Not only through the figure of the administrator, but through the imposition of the frame of administration itself. The mischievous administrator is at once anonymous and unaccountable, working away without a trace.

Administration nags us daily: forcing its way into our letterboxes, our inboxes, affecting our mobility through public space, depleting our bank accounts, only to be turned on its head by the wayward administrator, or the obliging citizen who finds material in its wastage.6 There is therefore a difference between the administrator, the administered body and the Administration, but they all circle each other, unable, through the imposition of the latter, to break free of the cycle. I still cannot be completely sure ‘why administration’, though for now maybe even this linguistic play is enough. For within a protocol that insists on alignment, conformity and submission, there surely are many holes that a perennially outspoken feminist can pull at in her insistence to reject the requirement to perform, opting instead to type two-fingered and decidedly act otherwise.

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