Royal Academy of Art
The Hague, The Netherlands
Postboxes transformed into pinhole cameras sent to various unsuspecting galleries generate photograms if returned to their sender — charting the movement between and dependency on institutions at the mercy of transportation otherwise unseen.
The images attempt to be democratic by not depicting anything but the physical process by which the photograms are created, and the labour that has gone into producing them — the elements within the image, therefore, do not signify anything grander. The images do not promise anything that exists beyond the frame itself — except to make transparent the labour of which they are the direct result.
To democratise meaning in this way, however — specifically, to democratise the way the images are made by outsourcing their creation to the postal service — poses subversive as well as problematic implications.
The various galleries don’t get a say in how the images are made, merely whether they are made, by sending back the uncovered pinhole cameras — same with the artist who has outsourced their individual creative control. Both are alienated from what they set out to create, only witness to its outcome. The PostNL workers, however, are alienated from the work by not knowing that they’re part of the project in the first place. They are unknowingly part of a process affording meaning to an art object that will inherently disenfranchise them — because it exists only to reify the artist and the galleries, while the postman is left stacking boxes.
The photograms, in addition to being created by the physical process of movement, attempt to lay bare the exploitative consequences of this process, instead of obscuring it. This is illustrated specifically in the dependent relationship between artist, institution, and the postal workers they are at the mercy of, and in the eventual, perpetual subordinate dependency of postal workers on artist and institution.
Furthermore, outsourcing the creative process in this way subverts and redefines conventional notions of authorship. Something that sells itself is an idolatrous commodity. If it sells anything else it is an advertisement. These images do neither. They are neither seductive nor do they signify anything outside of themselves — they are merely the aleatory byproduct of an exploitative relationship.