Good Assistants
by Miriam Stoney

I worked for one year as a studio manager in Berlin before leaving to study in London. During my time in the artist’s studio, I came into contact with artists, assistants, gallery and museum staff, writers, journalists, manufacturers, suppliers, producers of various artefacts, and altogether many interesting people. Drafting emails for most of the day, five days a week, I began to hone a writing style that blended diplomatic euphemism with stern insistence – a voice that was intended to make the needs, expectations and desires of the artist clear while maintaining a cooperative stance. On the basis of this writing practice, one person – someone I met directly through the studio – asked me to write a text to accompany one of her video works. This was the first commission I received; it formed the passage from one career to the next. I carried everything with me, I left nothing behind.

You can write on a wall with a fish heart, it’s
because of the phosphorus. They eat it. There
are shacks like that down along the river. I am
writing this to be as wrong as possible to you.
Replace the door when you leave, it says. Now
you tell me how wrong that is, how long it glows.
Tell me.

Prologue on Enigmatic Desires
       I have had an odd pipedream for around five years now: to write about being an artist’s assistant. If I were to be bold, I might even suggest that my decision to become a writer was borne of this very desire. I used to work in an artist’s studio, sitting at a computer for forty hours a week in an office, typing long emails and taking calls, observing the rather mundane realities of art production in the twenty-first century. I didn’t have any particular grievances; I was contractually employed with health insurance. Which is to say, there was nothing upon which to base a scathing exposé. I felt compelled to write about my job, not in terms of the work I was doing, but as an occupation, after Hito Steyerl: “Occupation often implies endless mediation, eternal process, indeterminate negotiation, and the blurring of spatial divisions. It has no inbuilt outcome or resolution. It also refers to appropriation, colonization, and extraction. In its processual aspect occupation is both permanent and uneven—and its connotations are completely different for the occupied and the occupier.”[2] Such distinctions between the occupier and the occupied are difficult to draw with regard to artistic assistance; instead, I was drawn toward the idea of a site of occupation as an effective way of blurring the dichotomy that is otherwise assumed between artist and assistant. As I began to piece these ideas together, however, there was always something that intervened: perhaps discretion and respect for my employer, a lack of real juice to squeeze, some legal hurdles, the need for perspective on what it was I was actually doing there or a broader consensus from others doing similar or even vastly different work, also as assistants.

      The somewhat wilful uncertainty out of which this text was borne was fuelled by questions about where it could be published and, more importantly, who would read it. Both considerations relate closely to the prerogatives of genre. To write about being an assistant could involve mediations of the confessional, criticism, perhaps journalism or memoir. I wanted to write something that was personal in its intent, but relatable in its scope and relevant in its contemporaneity. I started looking at how others had approached the topic of artists’ assistants, and whether I could take cues from them.

      First I toyed with an art historical reflection on the changing roles of artists’ assistants in Western Europe, which would have taken us from the early Renaissance workshop of collective and interdependent craftspeople to the High Renaissance studiolo, where occasional workers were employed for single commissions to serve the greater glory of the master-artist; through a more complex division of labour with the industrialisation of art production and the commercialisation of the art market; and up to a more “immaterial” mode of artistic practice, defined by forms of management and logistics, in the present. What might have emerged in this account would have been a periodisation of labour forms, signalling for example, the relocation of artistic training from the artist’s studio to the academy, or the intellectual ennobilization of the artist, as exemplified by concepts such as disegno in the sixteenth century, which fused formalised skill and philosophical reflection into one measure of artistic prowess.[3] All of this, of course, had already been written, and I’m not especially interested in instrumentalising a teleological historical account to make a point about the present.

       After a cursory Googling session, I found a few recent articles about artists’ assistants. These were quite fun, usually focussing on the transmission of genius across generations, tracing lineages of influence through artistic movements, according to who worked for whom, particularly in the twentieth century. Such accounts tended to focus upon aspects of assistance that I would call familial, even nepotistic, and certainly romantic. The featured artists and assistants were often white, often men, their stories unsoiled by the feminised forms of labour (affective, emotional, reproductive, maintenance) that being an assistant almost inevitably involves. There is no risk and no vulnerability in these stories; just two sovereign individuals at different intervals on the same trajectory towards greatness. All the Andy Wahrhol-George Condo stuff makes for a good story, but it’s not one that I could extrapolate any further than it’s already been taken.

      A labour-theoretical take on the contemporary moment of artistic assistance might have led me down another, much more cynical path entirely. I spent some time pondering Maurizio Lazzarato’s concept of immaterial labour as structured around the “general intellect”, which collapses distinctions between conception and execution, labour and creation, author and (he says “public”, but I say) everyone else.[4] Lazzarato also refers to the Duchampian moment, in which art was briefly able to side-step an imminent dialectic between production and management by inserting the timely category of “choice”.[5] The artist simply chose the objects that become art. Since then, however, choice has become a plague in itself, the stuff of FOMO and endless circuits of participation. The contemporary artist’s studio, in which the greatest proportion of labour time is taken up by writing emails, drafting budgets and attending to contracts has been restructured by the logic of a capitalist economy in which immaterial labour has become the preeminent means of post-industrial production. This theoretical configuration of artistic production would not spare the authorial figure from commodification either – the artist effectively becomes a brand. The work of the assistant, then, would be to manage the informational content of the cultural commodity. But if I understand this line of reasoning correctly, it seems to me that it too misses something vital, which is the relational aspect of artistic assistance – precisely the aspect that I had scruples about narrating all along.

     There remains something unspeakable about being an assistant – which is quite different to that which is constantly being reiterated about the changing nature of the work and working conditions of artists themselves. This unspeakable quality might be behind the lack of assistants’ voices in the general discourse around artistic production. Or perhaps I just couldn’t write about it because that would have been to reify an experience that continues to resound variously in the work I do today. Admittedly, it has been difficult to reconcile my former role as an assistant with my attempts to gain recognition for the things I have done since then. I don’t even write the position on my CV. Being an assistant requires – in my experience – a certain amount of self-effacement. Being an artist of whatever kind, requires – again, in my experience – a move in the opposite direction. This antagonism is what remains interesting to me today, especially as many artists’ assistants are also inspiring artists. Yet, it seems to me that being an assistant neither precludes nor guarantees future success and working as an assistant cannot be said to be wholly compatible with the development of an artistic identity, or rather subjectivity. Nevertheless, a stint as an artist’s assistant is for some a rite of passage on the way to a more independent career – be that as an artist, a writer, a curator, or any other occupation in the arts. For others, there is fulfilment to be found in being an assistant, and not as a means to some other end. Only with a plethora of different voices could these distinctions be traced effectively; writing a first-person account of my singular experience would never live up to the task.

     Instead, I sought a way to write about being an assistant that foregrounded the polyvocality and multi-positionality of assistants in a sector that asks them to be voiceless and invisible. That is not to insist upon the monumentality of this text, but rather to ask how the superfluity of assistants’ voices can find voracious discord with some of the convictions that buttress myths around artistic production today.

      Hence, I decided to write to a number of peers and colleagues in Vienna, all of whom have either worked as assistants to artists or employed others as assistants, to ask them to share their thoughts on their labours of assistance. I also decided to anonymise their accounts. This was important to me because there are risks involved in speaking publicly about oh-so-precarious work in the art world, in which everyone professes to know everybody, and the ethical standards of a studio often feed into interpretations and judgments of the work produced there. Perhaps rightly so, but that’s not the aim of this text. I wanted to shift the focus from the artist as discursive centre to the assistant as something other than just a facilitator, or supporting player, or care worker, or however we see ourselves. In doing so, maybe just offering a brief glimpse into the hours and hours of work that could be said to constitute the field we called art today, which is in turn a form of politics, as David Graeber puts it: “something both magical, and a confidence game – a kind of scam.” [6]


    The responses from my peers were divergent, reflecting a variety of modes of working in different artists’ studios. All were attentive to the frictions generated by their personal engagement with my somewhat tendentious questions about artistic assistance.[7] It is necessary to highlight this, as the above introduction (an early draft of which the respondents all received) could never offer anything more than a subjective lens onto a highly variegated field of labour and expertise. Each person who took time to give an account of their experiences contributed to a much more nuanced picture of the milieu in which the role of the assistant is constituted, nurtured, nourished and sometimes exploited or constrained. The following synthesis of their responses attempts to group and extrapolate some of the recurring themes, as I perceived them.

The Task of the (Assistant as that of the) Translator
      Impossible as it is to condense the work of the artist’s assistant today into a neat, conceptual framework, much of what was described in the accounts I received took up the analogy with another occupation I know well; namely, that of translation. The linguistic basis of translation – communicating the meaning of source material into an equivalent target language – can be taken as an analogy more or less generally, according to the specific work in process. If we stick with a rather abstract, and thus also romantic conception of art making, the notion of an “artistic vision” as the catalyst of interdependent labour within the studio would provide the source material in need of the assistant’s translation. One person proposed that the artistic vision was the very foundation of viable cooperation, stating that “the relationship between artists and assistants becomes precarious if there is no artistic vision prepared before they start to work on a project together.” I found this intriguing for a couple of different reasons. Firstly, because we are generally more accustomed to hearing of artists themselves “translating” their ideas across mediums (although the linearity of this model is questionable, as any assistant would likely attest). Secondly, because the source of precarity in artistic work is rarely ascribed to a lacking vision – but rather to the lack of employment contracts, low wages and the knowledge of one’s replaceability.  The precarity that this person describes weighs on the person of the artist. It can only be felt indirectly by the assistant, insofar as it determines their further collaboration. The artistic vision, when it does exist, relies upon its subsequent translation for its additive qualities, the movement between mediums being the generative process through which a work comes into shape. How the assistant comes into this will depend on the relationship with the artist.

      I also recognise in this statement a contention that is central to my belief in the intersubjective nature of assistance-work: there is always a certain thirdness at stake, or perhaps at play, in the otherwise dyadic relationship between the artist and the assistant. Here I lean heavily on relational psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin’s theory of intersubjectivity, in which the process of grasping thirdness is “in how we build relational systems and how we develop the intersubjective capacities for such cocreation.”[8] For me, that third thing is the artist-subject. The artist as an individual, a human being, pre-exists the role of the artist-subject as well as the engagement and employment of an assistant. However, as the assistant relates to the artist-individual by way of their very specific labour, the artist-subject is continually being reconstituted between the two individuals as something more and something less than either of them. The work of translation here would be the move from an artistic vision to a viable artistic subject, and not to a specific material outcome.

      This model of relationality could just as easily be mapped onto any other party whose (mutual) recognition bestows artistic subjecthood on an individual, such as gallerists, critics and viewers. An example of one assistant’s material labour demonstrates my point more concretely. As this assistant collates the archive of their artist – installing and deinstalling paintings for photographic reproduction, selecting and editing images – they are shaping the way in which a body of work is perceived from outside the studio. By configuring a scanner that archives a series of drawings, the assistant calibrates the lens through which we subsequently see the artwork. In the space of the exhibition, the traces of assistants – as well as art handlers, technicians, professional manufacturers, curators, funding bodies: the list goes on – are scattered everywhere. It is only the condensation of all these different labourers’ efforts under the single name of the artist as subject as sole author that we are usually able, or willing, to see: the forest for the trees.

     Perhaps more specific to assistance are the forms of emotional or social translation, often required in mediations between the studio and the institutions that channel the artwork. This work would fall under what I’m calling “immaterial labour”, insofar as it cannot be reified and hence commodified or properly recompensed; it is also often invisible and gendered.[9] More than one of the respondents described having to take messages from artists in one register, which then had to be “translated” before they could be relayed to their intended recipients. Whether the source material is too casual or general, requiring translation into a more specific and operable demand, or the original message comes from a place of anger and frustration, peppered with expletives, the assistant’s job is often to facilitate communication across different emotional states in order to manage the flow of artistic production. Furthermore, a certain familiarity with artistic discourses is required when explaining concepts and intentions, as well as feeding back to the artist the requirements and expectations of the institutions with which they are working. The assistant must be attentive to the different contexts in which he or she is expected to perform. This observation reminded me of the work of poet and translator Sophie Collins, who has formulated an alternative model for literary translation based on intimacy: “Ultimately, my promotion and application of this term is intended to shift the translation relationship from a place of perceived universality, heteronormacy, authority, and centralized power towards a particularized space whose aesthetics are determined by the two or more people involved, thus amplifying and promoting creativity and deviant aesthetics in literary translation.”[10] Collins’ commitment to what she calls experientialism over objectivism in translation resonates nicely with the analogy between translation and artist assistance, insofar as it also accounts for the role of the assistant in contextual translation as being necessarily distinct from the work of translating an artistic vision into a material outcome.

Staying Power, or: Far-sightedness, Humour and Time
     However, Collins is not naive about the problematics of intimacy as an ideal of any kind. Cognizant of the binds of intimacy, which parallel some of the risks of care (coercion, co-dependency, exploitation and manipulation – in every direction) she quotes cultural theorist Lauren Berlant, who has written that “we see how hard it is to adjudicate the norms of a public world when it is also an intimate one, especially where the mixed-up instrumental and affective relations of collegiality are concerned”.[11] The mixing up of instrumental and affective relations in the assistant’s occupation came up a number of times in the responses I received. A motif common to all accounts was shared meals; each described the significance of eating together and the daily gathering of workers around a table. These encounters were usually described in positive terms; for some they were the most appealing aspects of the job. One person spoke of the importance of lunch when working together, the assistant having to ensure that the artist was properly nourished before they could even start their day. This kind of reproductive labour is rarely taken seriously, but – as another person put it – “There is lunch to fetch, which is material labour. Lunch to eat, also material.” Spaces usually considered exterior or auxiliary to the workplace are often vital places of exchange, or sites of occupation between artists and assistants, the latter sometimes even selected for employment based on their ability to sustain an interesting and engaging conversation. This example of overqualification (among many, to be dealt with in due course) can mean, however, that an assistant is expected to provide more “sociality” than they perhaps ever wanted to give. The important stages upon which the art world, so to speak, takes place, are not confined to the studio and therefore, the work of the assistance is often not either.

     It is for this reason, though, that many of the respondents described their time as an assistant as an important period of learning about what it actually means to work as a professional artist. Whether that meant learning how to express an opinion or to respond to the structural conditions of an institution, or rather which forms of labour underpinned exhibition making, generally speaking, or how to understand the different timescales configuring the longue durée of artistic production. On the latter point, one person stated that their job as an assistant gave them “farsightedness and humour”, which later became invaluable in their practice as an artist. These were things they had not learned in the academies where they had studied, but which could only be gleaned from everyday observation of how a studio was run over a protracted period of time: witnessing the separation of a work’s production from its presentation, and from that point on, the reception of this work by others. Much can go awry in these different processes: “As an artist, you need humour to accept this, and you need the farsightedness to decide if and when you have to re-enter the opinion-forming process in order to shape it back to your initial ideas.” In today’s highly mediatised art world, the formation of discourses around an artist’s work is both highly malleable and very quickly concretised. The contemporary version of apprenticeship that this situation gives rise to is therefore less about learning material skills than understanding the techniques by which art as a (social, cultural, economic, intellectual, political, etc.) system is kept in motion.

      Now we are at risk of adhering too closely to a lofty, intellectual and sterile account of artistic assistance, which would belie the repetitive and mechanical labour that is also an important constituent of much artistic production. Of course, many assistants are significantly less involved in the intimate lives of their artists, but instead perform manual tasks (sometimes requiring a certain amount of skill and qualification, sometimes not) for an hourly wage. One person brought up an interesting point about the hierarchies of assistants within a studio, with those responsible for communications and therefore sitting at a desk perceived (by whom, no one is really sure) as being superior to the more “hands on” labourers in the workshops, for example. This arbitrary division of labour and stratification of workers is enacted in tension with an increasingly post-Fordist reorganisation of production, characterised by workflows that rely on information and communication technologies and digital labour in order to sustain small-batch, material production. The Post-Fordist studio devalues the “white collar” worker by demanding and then discounting their vast array of qualifications to have them perform menial IT and communications tasks.

     The assistant who sits at a desk all day, shifting information capital around the knowledge economy, might well see in their work something of a “bullshit job” (after David Graeber), especially in comparison with those who can apply specialised training with materials and techniques to produce bespoke and aesthetically compelling objects. The differentiation I have already made between contextual translation and the translation of an artistic vision into a material outcome is quickly soured by such hierarchical oppositions between assistants. While I can say with experience that those “white collar” assistants are often vastly overqualified for the mundane work they do in artists’ studios, I would imagine there are also manual labourers polishing sculptures whose repertoires of skills are exasperatingly overlooked. Alienation occurs across occupations, in those moments when one’s work is reduced to a set of tasks that dissociate the sense of personhood from a notion of fulfilment. I would state here that the scale of most artists’ studio is rarely so gross that such intense feelings of alienation arise and persist. However, I feel that the distinctions that emerge between different kinds of assistants are experienced most negatively when they activate hierarchies. In any case, the very vital differences in labouring modes must be smoothed over momentarily if we are going to consider modes of solidarity between assistants here. Whether humour and far-sightedness are indeed the best means for an assistant to accept that their working conditions and identity as an assistant are probably not fixed interminably is not for me to put into aphoristic terms.

Stability Before Parity
      It has taken some time for me to attend to the salient fact of financial solvency as a motivation and structuring principle of assistance work here in this text. Almost every single person I spoke to cited a need for financial stability as one important reason why they took up the job as an assistant. This is understandable in those instances where assistants are employed with contracts and insurance, holidays and sick pay, but I know that this is not a given for everyone in the job. Freelance work as an assistant can sometimes be lucrative enough to sustain oneself, but it does not offer any job security or safety nets where unanticipated need arises. Nor am I sure that the precarity of many assistants’ positions can be explained away with all of the positive points raised so far (tutelage, some camaraderie, studio experience). As one person noted, working conditions in some artists’ studios are known to “create a lot of people who are working in anonymity – and for not enough money.” Moreover, any assumption that precarity as a product of relatively new employment structures based on short-term contracts, flexibility, insecurity, and fluidity of labour could be mobilised as the assistant’s own strategy of resistance or a resource misunderstands the fact that, as the same person then went on to say, “Flexibility, insecurity and fluidity are three values that only bring joy if you have lots of assistants that lay the ground for it.”

      For most people, the need for stability overruled any desire for parity in the artist-assistant relationship. The power relations in the studio are generally such that one is employed by an artist whose status dictates the terms and conditions under which work can take place. Still, while no one was under any illusions that they were irreplaceable, most were able to see in the work they did an important contribution to the artistic endeavours they assisted. For some, the reality of labouring for another artist was not categorically different from the work they did on their own projects. The responsibility that the artist as author carried for the outcome was an essential difference – and with that, of course, the artist fee they received for their participation in an exhibition, or the profits generated in a sale. Nevertheless, I think it is important to question the kinds of hierarchies that prevail between artists and assistants and what ends they serve, even beyond the period of employment. Former assistants reported feeling dependent upon artists for recognition and longing for their appreciation – for their work as assistants and even as artists themselves. Some hoped to receive a commendation or further opportunities as artists from the people they worked for, fearing that they had been forever cast in the role of the assistant. There is a certain sobriety to the way many reflect on their struggles as an assistant, whereby any notions of self-realisation under the auspices of a senior artist quickly fell away when another job arose – whether as an assistant or another role entirely – which offered a better salary with fewer interpersonal challenges.

Self-Effacement: An Improper Metric of Performance?
     That being said, I feel it necessary to insert a few caveats into this somewhat ambivalent perspective. It can’t be that the occupation of the assistant is always stamped with an imminent expiry date. In a first draft of this text – which the respondents received – I claimed that assistants in general must be self-effacing. One person took issue with this statement, voicing a very valid contention that my use of the term ‘self-effacement’ disregarded the fact that there are people who take up the position willingly and do the work well. Not all assistants are budding artists who see a temporary position in another artist’s studio as a stepping-stone on their way to an independent career. For some, the possibility of another dynamic exists, whereby the occupation of the assistant does not immediately suggest that they are merely ‘occupied’ but more variously engaged in the site of occupation.

       Most people I spoke to, however, went on to become artists, and some of them were insistent that their time as assistants was largely unsuccessful. There is a familiar chorus of ex-assistants, who claim to have been bad at their jobs, unable or unwilling to fulfil the demands of artists whose perceived intrusion into their personal and, indeed, artistic lives made a sustainable work-relationship untenable. I began wondering what made a good assistant, and if there were measures that didn’t tie into the stigma perceived in my use of the term ‘self-effacement’. The kinds of self-mythologisation that accompany assessments of one’s own “performance” as an assistant feed into a view of the role as being marred by this kind of self-effacement. Someone with an insatiable capacity for self-expression – perhaps like those young artists, fresh out of art school, looking for insights into the real workings of the art world they aspire to become part of – might declare their unsuitability as an assistant, as though this were a statement in favour of their uniqueness or unattainability, their unwillingness to be pinned down. The idea of self-effacement as a “metric of performance” – in tune with the rhetoric of corporate management – is ugly because it suggests compromising oneself in the interests of profit and accumulation, with one’s daily labours inextricably linked to the gradual degradation of the self. In this view, it is inevitable that good assistants cannot exist, in that they would otherwise be implicated in their own crisis.

     Instead, I want to consider self-effacement as a continually wavering process that cannot be measured nor correlated with something like performance. I have already posited my conviction that the dyadic relationship between the artist and the assistant is always directed toward something third, namely the artist as a concept, product, cult, idea, or however authorial figures exist today. Similarly, the ways in which many of my respondents regarded their time in the studio as a period of learning, with some under the active tutelage of their artists, suggested to me that the place of the assistant in the studio can also be one of shelter – that the ‘artist’ being continually reconstituted might not be an individual, but a blueprint. The reproductive labour, the emotional and immaterial labour of the artist’s assistant must not necessarily be channelled unilaterally, in just the same way that a translation will often produce new insights into the source text. The point of thirdness is that it is a reciprocal position, to which both parts of the dyad must surrender. To practise self-effacement, then, would not involve becoming something less, but rather withdrawing from the limelight, while the artist-subject steps into view. If the conditions exist in which an assistant can move freely back and forth over the threshold of this “shelter” for oneself, the occupation of the assistant might no longer be marred by self-effacement but sustained by its possibility.

Epilogue on Delayed Gratification  
     I land here for a moment, unsure of where this endeavour has taken me. The desire I wrote of initially, to write this text, was not the kind of Freudian Unlust that could be satisfied by scratching an itch or satiating a hunger. I have engaged with questions around immaterial labour, authorship in translation and intersubjective thirdness perhaps only as a performative gesture – a constitutive articulation of this former assistant’s voice, almost my own. But this voice could only be heard in conversation with those who share in a certain desire for verbalisation. When the assistant speaks, the question arises of whether they are able to do so in this capacity, unimpeded by their relation to the artist-employer. I knew I couldn’t, which perhaps underscores my aptitude for the role. This is why I enlisted the help of my peers to try and find out what being an assistant might mean to them, and if there was some overlap in our impressions. I don’t know that we have said anything in particular, only that what has been said is indeed particular. We can only continue this conversation if we recognise each other’s particularities as the basis of our solidarity.

     I have neglected some important positions, that is certain. Feedback from different people contested my account of being an assistant as overlooking the realities of those who do not seek affirmation further down the line, whose daily conflicts are less clustered around artistic subjectivity than scattered across the broader landscape of labour in which one person works for another, closely and intimately. I wonder if this mode of assistance, non-instrumental as it is, fulfilling in and of itself, could help to disentangle the assistant from the artist-individual in their common aim to produce the artist-subject. Might this be the configuration that effectively shapes a site of occupation in which neither party is occupied nor occupier? This is a digression for which I don’t have the words, they must fill someone else’s mouth.

     The desire I wrote of initially, to write this text, has not been fulfilled. I do not believe that this desire should ever be fulfilled, lest the multitude of assistants feel themselves spoken for, conclusively. Lest I start to believe that we are always powerless in our role as assistants, and that only as writers, chroniclers or spokespersons can we locate the means (discursive, intellectual, conceptual, abstract) to stomp out a potentially fruitful imbalance (relational, intimate, material, knowing, embodied). But I couldn’t have done anything else, five years ago, nor five paragraphs ago. As both a former assistant and as a writer today, I am propelled by the desire to write something unbound and indecisive, something inoperative in which my voice resounds, his lips pressed firmly together. I hope that this bears witness to the power relations that Maggie Nelson so cherishes in her quotation of Michel Foucault, stating that:

Power relations are possible only insofar as the subjects are free. If one of them were completely at the other’s disposal and became his thing, an object on which he could wreak boundless and limitless violence, there wouldn’t be any relations of power.[12]

     To exercise power and negotiate the terms with which we work together, now that we’re no longer working together, but aren’t we still working together? With the possibility of my timely disappearance, years having passed since being someone’s assistant, I now happily deliver nothing but the spectre of a point-well-made. Writing this to be as wrong as possible to you. Trace the echo back to another voice, who is surely saying something interesting, now. I’m waiting. Tell me.

[1] Anne Carson, “Short Talks: On Shelter” in Plainwater: Essays and Poetry (New York: Vintage Books, 2000), p. 45.
[2] Hito Steyerl, “Art as Occupation: Claims for an Autonomy of Life” in e-flux (Issue 30, December 2011).
[3] See: John Roberts, The Intangibilities of Form, Skill and Deskilling in Art after the Readymade (London: Verso, 2007).
[4] Maurizio Lazzarato, “General Intellect: Towards an Inquiry into Immaterial Labour” trans. Ed Emery. 1st November 2005 [Accessed 4th November 2021].
[5] See: David Graeber “The Sadness of Post-Workerism or “Art and Immaterial Labour” Conference, A Sort of Review (Tate Britain, Saturday 19th January 2008)” in The Commoner (2008) & Maurizio Lazzarato. “Art, work and politics in disciplinary societies and societies of security” in Radical Philosophy (May/June 2008) [Accessed 7th December 2021].
[6] David Graeber “The Sadness of Post-Workerism or “Art and Immaterial Labour” Conference, A Sort of Review (Tate Britain, Saturday 19th January 2008)” in The Commoner (2008).
[7] The questions I posed related to assistants’ perceptions of their work as immaterial or material, how these qualities impacted upon their sense of agency within their occupation. I have chosen not to reproduce the questions in full, as each person understood my reasoning differently, and the divergences in their responses were significantly more interesting than the starting point I gave them.
[8] Jessica Benjamin. “Beyond Doer and Done-To: An Intersubjective View of Thirdness” in Psychoanalytic Quarterly, LXXIII (2004), p. 7.
[9] I had to laugh while reading Females by Andrea Long Chu (London/New York: Verso, 2019), who writes: “I’ll define as female any psychic operation in which the self is sacrificed to make room for the desires of another.”
[10] Sophie Collins. “Intimacy: An Alternative Model for Literary Translation” in English, vol. 69 no. 267 (2020), p. 345.
[11] Lauren Berlant. ‘Intimacy: A Special Issue’, in Intimacy, ed. by Lauren Berlant (Chicago; London: Chicago University Press, 2000), pp. 1–8 (p. 2).
[12] Michel Foucault cited without footnote in Maggie Nelson. On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint (Minneapolis: Greywolf Press, 2021), p. 79