Galerie Hubert Winter

Danica Phelps
21. February – 16. March 2019
„Es ist bedauerlich“, sagte ich, „dass das Leben doch nur ein einziger Kampf ist.“
„Da bin ich deiner Meinung. Aber das Bedauern überlasse ich dir“, sagte Simpel.
Die letzten Zeilen. In: Langston Hughes, Simpel spricht sich aus. Roman. Dt. v. E. Steinthaler. Wien, Milena, 2009

“With the term biocapitalism, we refer to a process of accumulation that not only is founded on the exploitation of knowledge but of the entirety of human faculties, from relational-linguistic to affective-sensorial. […] The current phase presents different peculiarities: life itself is put to work and the role of working relations is emphasized, directly incorporated within the productive activity.”¹

Danica Phelps (b. 1971, New York) sets forth through her works the performance of biocapitalism. As a matter of fact the entire human existence has been subsumed in the production of value: it becomes inconceivable to distinguish the work-time from the life-time. Value grows reticularly via subjects’experiences, relationships and more broadly via their “potential” and it expands according to the subjects’ ability to activate exchanges that can be “monetizable.” Every subject becomes a knot of the general intellect’s2 network, who connects economy’s fluxes to desires. By revealing these mechanisms Phelps overrules them: if the processes of production are more and more processes of production and reproduction of the self 3, Phelps takes these principles into account and uses them to manifest them boldly, to dismantle them from within; she thus embraces the machinery of subsumption and flips it into a continuous trajectory of self- and collective empowerment.

Galerie Hubert Winter presents two series of her works that pivot first and foremost around economy, hence they metabolize the process of accumulation of value. In fact they are growing archives of experiences, traced memories, fluxes of money, genealogies. In Income’s Outcome the artist actually puts on the same plane (in an organic way) mundane episodes of her life and money flows – that is indeed bioeconomy – and thus shows the inevitable, too often unspoken interconnections amongst them. In a simple and recognizable system, fixed on wooden supports, she structures the drawings on the top – memories of everyday moments – and sets up at the bottom watercolors stripes that draw on the standardized coding attributed to colors in finance. Phelps reports and records in red how the money has been spent and in green how it has been gained (where the piece has been sold, when and to whom). The accounting itself triggers many implications: Danica Phelps makes a drawing, if/once the latter is sold, she traces a copy of it, a new generation of the same work where the financial section is comprehensive of the information relative to all the money flows (including the ones produced in the sales of previous generations). It is some sort of chain reaction where, whenever the market responds to her artistic production, it enhances a further development of value accumulation, but also nullifies in a certain way the uniqueness of the piece. The work gets multiplied according to a standard protocol, and yet maintains the distinctiveness of its own genealogy (a sale means a new generation, which means further information, thus accumulation of value and so on). In this way not only Phelps explicitly uncovers the mechanisms of the creation of value, but constantly tracks them down while also re-producing them (creating new works). The complexity of her practice lies in the simplicity of the tracing, that is at once drawing and recording: Phelps devises an infallible way to generate memory. Even though from the first generation on all the elements in her works (the value of currency as well as the bodies and objects whose uninterrupted outlines give a sense of transparency) seem to be made of the same – even though not quite graspable – matter, Phelps presents with mathematical precision the actions of her everyday life, her economy in genetic-like sequences. Being the subjects of her drawings portraits of people close to the artist or of the artist herself, the viewer can familiarize with the characters of her daily life, can recognize her-/himself in them and in their actions, can get accustomed, comforted, intrigued, surprised by them as it happens with friends known for a long time. Phelps thus creates not only generations of everyday rituals, but also a network of collectively shared subjects. The transition between the subjective and the collective takes a further turn in the recently developed series Gratitude Project (since 2017). Phelps has been auctioning her drawings to help sustain the activities of several NGOs in order to support through her artistic practice the causes she believes in (spanning from human rights to environmental issues, from education to working conditions). In this series of works the artist connects her daily activities with the ones of the organizations she raised the money for. Affected by news on the radio, she started to develop this project that shows, within the frame of (global) economy, how everything is connected, how every existence influences others’ lives.

In the present day the value of life has been reconfigured, it is not commodified, but financialised. A transfer from the economical exploitation of bios – the human life that starts and ends – to the exploitation of zoe – life in itself – occurred.4 In the exhibition Phelps balances different perspectives, focuses at once on the micro- and the macroscopic, on the private and the public, and she reconfigures them through her drawings. She thus takes on the possibility of building resistance against capitalization of both bios and zoe. In her tracings the hands are indeed often magnified. They do stress the importance of (manually) tracing, recording, memorizing and acting, in a de-standardized way.

1. Cristina Morini and Andrea Fumagalli, “Life put to work: Towards a life theory of value,” ephemera. theory & politics in organization [vol. 10 (3/4)]: 234-252
2. See Karl Marx “The Fragment on Machines.” General intellect as “general social knowledge [that] has become a direct force of production”
3. See footnote 1
4. See Melinda Cooper, Life as surplus: Biotechnology and capitalism in the neoliberal era (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008)