Letter of Support for Jessie Bullivant’s To Be Announced. With Special Guests. Refreshments Provided. Subject To Change. 2019 Public Programme Presented as part of Kuvan Kevät 2019 (MFA Degree Show of the Academy of Fine Arts of University of the Arts Helsinki) 4 May – 2 June, 2019.
I had the pleasure of witnessing a tragicomic crip drama unfold itself into my inbox. It happened over the course of four weeks in late spring 2019. The series of emails were signed by a character called Jacqui Bullivant, who introduced themselves as the artist’s mother. Every day an email from Jacqui would appear with a new excuse as to why their child could not attend the Kuvan Kevät group show. Day by day I became more and more immersed in the narrative, curious about how weird and particular the web of reasonings would get. With mixed feelings of desperation and amusement I enjoyed the growing thread of justifications. I read the piece as institutional critique dressed up as episodic small time drama.
The Kuvan Kevät Show has become an institution within the annual Finnish art calendar with art critics and journalists eager to present their lists on which emerging artists are worth noting and remembering. The media hype around the show creates pressure on the attending students. They can feel like they are put in competition with one another, comparing whose work gets the most attention and attracts the most buyers. I’ve witnessed people around me panic and break down from the sheer pressure of presenting in the show. Bullivant’s work exposes the anxiety inherent to taking part in the spectacle. The semi-fictional artist takes avoiding exposure to such extreme measures that it becomes absurd. As they enact their withdrawal a flood of messages from their oversharing mother paradoxically keeps drawing a lot of attention to themselves. The domestic intervenes with the professional. This focus on care work along with the employed tactics of refusal and negation connect the work to the lineage of feminist conceptual art.
The work plays with cringey feelings. What could be more awkward than having your mother defend your graduation work? The underachieving artist becomes a sympathetic character, easy to identify with. Jacqui is portrayed as the archetypal overbearing parent demanding special attention to their child who is gifted but unwell. The work critiques the ableist expectations of what it means to be a successful solo artist by making visible the labor of the mother as the invisible support structure of the working-child-who-can’t-work. The way the institution and the mother show their love are both examples of good intentions gone to hell. The institution tries to show love by presenting the artist and their art as the shiny final product of the elite art education program, all the while assigning them to the violent capitalist logics of the attention economy. The mother shows their love by acting as their child’s saviourly agent, at the same time depriving the artist from having an agency of their own as an adult. Both seem to speak to the impossibility of working in the neoliberal art world without sickness.
Writer and dramaturg