Katie Lenanton (she/her)
curator / producer / writer / editor / proofreader / etc
Co-Founder & Co-Director, Feminist Culture House
21 December, 2020
To Whom it May Concern,
RE: LETTER OF SUPPORT, THE TOWER (2020)
I write in support of Jessie Bullivant.
I have followed Jessie’s practice since meeting them in 2014 through their residency at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, where I previously worked.
I am a sentimental person with collection tendencies. Around a year ago, I found something they gifted me in these times of first meeting(s). I’d stashed it in the pocket of a toiletry bag, and it was like finding $20 in a winter jacket. It’s a pocket-sized “trading card” print—a digital collage of the Olsen twins with their faces cut out, flipped, and swapped. Two versions were made. It’s pretty lol. I am a twin, too (not identical). I can’t remember if Jessie knew this.
I’m not sure if Jessie feels comfortable with me displaying this artwork (it’s currently in my lounge room, in Helsinki), attributing it to them, or acknowledging it in this context. But I do so in the spirit of their invitation to reflect on “unacknowledged / unpaid” exchanges within our relationship. Until now, I didn’t remember that our friendship began with this gift.
I’m not sure how to apply currencies or value to different offerings bartered in the spirit of friendship. How can that ledger ever be balanced? Jessie has recently seemed a bit anxious that they ask too much of me, but to date their requests have not felt burdensome.
I work as a curator, but supplement my income with writing and editing work. I usually try to place value on this work (€35p/h), but it’s also hard to ask friends and acquaintances for money when they’re asking for small-sounding favours (and they have artist incomes). It’s further complicated when I predict I will be fulfilled by the task. Editing can be draining, and at its most horrible, can prompt resentment for the time and energy spent making someone whose rhetoric you’ve found wanting present as more articulate. Money helps in these instances. But when I’m refining a comparatively interesting text, and feeling flattered that the artist desires my guidance, then it can be difficult to want to monetise this meaningful opportunity to work together.
The most recent instance of my “unacknowledged / unpaid” editing work with Jessie was for “The Tower” (2020), an editioned publication artwork presented for big wet, a one-day exhibition at the Haukilahti water tower. The text was 4460 words, well-written, and tbh not in need of much attention from me. 100 copies were printed, pink paper, enclosed with a novelty-print Band-Aid. It was hard to open the publication without the Band-Aid tearing the cover. It contained a collection of thoughts, facts, memories, speculations, and diaristic excerpts. These were dispersed under headings of different bodily fluids—saliva, spit, piss, pus, diarrhea, cum, blood, blood 2, milk, tears, shit (no sweat, snot, discharge, or ejaculate). The rhythm of the text oscillates between gushes and trickles. It steadily leaks exposure and vulnerability, balanced by wave upon wave of recollections. We swim through it all, the body of the text and the spillages of bodies, a lazy river of writing that ends with freefalling. After reading it a few times, I feel sodden with juicy memories and intimacies squeezed from their recent years.
In retrospect, it would have been nice to be acknowledged or thanked in the publication, but we spoke about this, and realised that acknowledgement is something we both need to work on recognising, and asking for. Acknowledgement is a currency.
I acknowledge that since 2016, I have offered editing suggestions for some of Jessie Bullivant’s residency and grant applications; advised about letters written to institutions; edited and proofread their artwork “To Be Announced. With Special Guests. Refreshments Provided. Subject To Change.” (2019), and their thesis, Site Specific Illness (2020). I’ll soon read through and offer thoughts about a forthcoming commissioned artwork comic. In 2020-21, we are also working together on a durational project that I’ve initiated with collaborator Bogna Wisniewska, but we will both be paid something for our efforts, and whatever outcomes arise will be acknowledged 😎.
If one of my currencies is editing and working with texts, and one of Jessie’s is artworks, then maybe their gift of the Olsen artwork—immediately and generously upon meeting me—means that all this time I haven’t been unpaid at all. In fact, living with an artwork-trading card-object from an artist whose practice is largely immaterial could mean that I possess a rare thing.
I am happy to be contacted if you have any questions about this letter, and strongly encourage you to fund the undoubtedly worthy artistic activities that Jessie is currently undertaking.