I will have to clean this up, II | Ada Dragomir

Often grounded in sculpture, video, and performance, my work engages questions of value, and addresses the raced and gendered nature of “production” and “maintenance” acts. My practice relies on the innocuous gestures of everyday life—sweeping, sleeping, repetitive maintenance—brought to life by the power of the absurd, functioning as ambivalent invitations to witness the collapse between the personal and systemic.

My art consciously and skeptically situates itself in traditions of conceptualism because I both decidedly doubt and fervently believe in its power. Underneath its sardonic veneer, this practice is secretly about dreaming up a different future.

This project was awarded the John C. Kerr Chancellor Emeritus Award for Excellence in Visual Arts

I will have to clean this up, II

Pink toilet, hand-fabricated glycerine soap scrub-brush, pulverized charcoal, linseed oil, artist’s body, excerpt from Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” 16:01 min video, audio, 2020.

“I will have to clean this up, II” is a performance-based work which turns productivist and masculine artistic tropes on their heads—using irony and absurdity to point to uncomfortable political realities. This video begins with me vigorously scrubbing a toilet with pulverized charcoal and linseed oil paste—all deeply historied art materials—using a hand-fabricated brush which is destroyed in the process.

After this, I pull my pants down, sit on the dirty toilet, and read an excerpt from a Herman Melville short story titled “Bartleby the Scrivener” about a law clerk who refuses to work. I then proceed to scrub the toilet with soap and water until no visual traces of the labour performed remain. 

In the long tradition of feminist video and performance art, “I will have to clean this up, II” asks viewers to interrogate the raced, classed, and gendered dimensions of labour while concurrently pointing to the complexities of work refusal for racialized and feminized bodies. 

My concern with work and non-productivity is inspired not only by my status as an emerging artist who hustles between cleaning jobs and my final year of art school, but also by the slow process of learning to push back against a deeply ingrained immigrant work-ethic. In the highly precarious survival economies of neoliberal cities like Vancouver, “I will have to clean this up, II” asks viewers to think about the intertwining concerns of labour, both within and beyond the institutions of art. 


Self-Sleeping

video projection, memory foam mattress, wooden stretcher, industrial vacuum bags, used neutrogena face-mask, dust, 8:11 min, 2019.

Self-Sleeping is a silent video projected onto a memory foam mattress. In it, I am scrolling art instagram accounts in bed while my cat, Aphrodite, persistently attempts to be noticed. In the following segment, my body twitches through an unrestful 8 minute time-lapsed sleep. While the mattress has been stretched around a painting frame, the pillows consist of dust-filled industrial vacuum bags—similar to the kind I use during my job as a cleaner. Laying on one pillow is a discarded moisturizing face mask. Self-Sleeping points to the futility of rest. Grind-economies exist in the art world as well as the world of underpaid maintenance labour, and in this harassed and exhausted state, sleep becomes a drudge—only existing as reproductive work—sleeping not to rest, but to prepare oneself for another day’s labour.


I Only Cry After Blockades | Repairing Looking, or The Artist As a Young Camera

Diptych / two channel video, audio, 36:30 min, 2020.

“Why am I here?” “What can art do?” These two questions are repeated on loop in I Only Cry After Blockades as viewers witness my face contort from anguish, to desperation, to cynical calm, to pointed exhaustion.

Filmed immediately after a 36 hour stint without sleep at the Cambie and Broadway barricade in support of Wet’suwet’en sovereignty followed by another 6 sleepless hours spent installing work for a frustrating and meaningless classroom critique, these questions point to shared experiences of failure, frustration, and futility, as well as to the long shadow of spectacle in overtly “political” art. I Only Cry After Blockades also acknowledges the truth of being a racialized person in a corporate institution like Emily Carr University. How are we allowed to inhabit the fullness of ourselves as people and as artists in spaces which by their very nature centre apolitical whiteness, champion words over action, and are invested in vacant gestures—a politic of optics? How much can the institution(s) of art really hold?

In Repairing Sight, or The Artist As A Young Camera, we see gentle long shots of every single surveillance camera on the Emily Carr University campus interspersed with the disembodied artist’s hand attempting to “fix” a reflective tube. Repairs are done by inserting various items like highlighters, chopsticks and long bits of paper, all failed attempts to write something on the sides of the tube. This almost 40 minute video is informed by my reading of Shoshana Zuboff’s book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, and Bruce Nauman’s 1697 neon work The Artist Helps The World By Revealing Mystic Truths. While the piece is made in the spirit of irony, at its core are questions about art labour, the impact of surveillance capitalism, and the role of the artist themselves in attention economies.


24/7

beeswax and fiber-optic cable
2.5″ x 5.25″ x 2.25″, 2019.

Inspired in part by sheer exhaustion, in part by Johnathan Crary’s book on round-the-clock capitalist productivism, and in part by the idiom “burning the candle at both ends,” this sculptural work posits sleep as the final frontier—the last remaining stretch of time from which no shopping experience or labour can be extracted.

A riff on the joke of capitalist monetization of self-care practices and products, these candles are both remedy and malady in one.


ABOUT ADA DRAGOMIR

Born shortly before the tumult of the Romanian revolution, and currently living as a guest on unceded Coast Salish Territory, Ada Dragomir works across media feeling most at home somewhere between spoofed youtube videos and serious sculptural objects. By harnessing the power of absurdity and irony to point to uncomfortable political realities, her practice primarily addresses questions of productivity, value, and labour. A recent graduate of Emily Carr University (BFA 2020), Dragomir has participated in several exhibitions and curatorial projects including curating Ritual Union at the RBC Media Commons Gallery, addressing the political implications of technology on the body. Most recently, she exhibited a solo show titled Against Working as part of the 2020 Capture Photography Festival. Dragomir has been published in Femme Art Review and Woo Magazine, and she finds immense pleasure in reading and writing as avenues for creative expression.