I <3 CUSTOMERS presents new and recent works by Jessica Vaughn (b. 1983 in Chicago, lives and works in New York), all of which engage in different ways with absences and their material, embodied existences. Grounded in a materialistic approach, Vaughn’s practice negotiates the complex relationships between labor, race, and space and the profound influence of infrastructures on the working body. In developing her works, the artist uses residual and surplus materials taken from both industrial and administrative, knowledge-based sites of labor. Her work draws upon a negative and often subliminal space—on the social invisibility and supposed exchangeability of certain forms of labor and the workers who carry it out.
For Vaughn, infrastructures based on indifferent and democratic organizational principles (such as modules, grids, industrial seriality, and the ISO standards she cites in her work) often figure as a starting point for looking into the depths of the social structures that underlie these principles. Objects we come into physical contact with every day become legible in the exhibition as environments that situate the body in ways that can be either affirmative and generous or prohibitive and hostile. Representation is necessarily unstable and fleeting in Vaughn’s practice, since the ready-mades themselves embody different and contradictory hopes, expectations, and lived realities—“work,” after all, still carries the promise of upward social mobility. The title I <3 CUSTOMERS employs the euphemistic language of corporations that use the terminology of care in supposedly trying to reconcile the social discrepancy that exists between labor and capital, production and consumption, and between people at both ends of the spectrum.
Vaughn’s newest works address the overworked body and states of exhaustion, drawing an (unequal) correspondence between industry, body, and institution. They contrast the opposing standards that alternative medicine applies to the human body and its care, and that which the economy employs as a measure of its health and functionality. At the same time, they describe the institution as an organism that feels alternately accommodating or forbidding. The exhibition at the Kunstverein repeatedly returns to the idea of exhaustion—as a metaphor for thinking about agency and social inequality in capitalism, but also in order to gain a deeper perspective into the social constitution of the environments and objects that we touch, wear out, use up, and exhaust every day.
I <3 CUSTOMERS is Jessica Vaughn’s first institutional solo show in Europe. To accompany the exhibition, a series of artist talks titled What Sculpture Depends On will be organized in May by the Kunstverein, including contributions from Park McArthur, Rita McBride, and Jessica Vaughn amongst others. Details of the event will be announced on the Kunstverein’s website.