M. Lý-Eliot is delighted by SALT’s issue with an anti-work theme, finding much to think about in its pages
SALT magazine was born in 2012 in super lo-fi conditions, Issue 1 printed and hand-bound in the Goldsmiths College library by four fine art undergraduates: Hannah Regel, Thea Smith, Saira Edwards and Jala Dahlia. A labour of love, SALT is dedicated to feminism and contemporary art. Each issue includes a range of visual and written art work and art essays exploring a particular theme; previous ones include Salirophilia, Transparency and Pageantry. Since its debut, the audience and contributors for the magazine have grown; the latest issue, themed ‘Anti-Work’, is by far the thickest and the most theoretical.
The pieces in the ‘Anti-Work’ issue all set out to examine how work both shapes and is determined by gender, especially in the creative industries where one’s personal branding is so important, and in the heavily gendered service industries that so often serve as steady work for those who would rather be in the creative industries. The editorial note goes so far as to ask, when such a big part of work is the “labour of self-maintain,” whether there is anything much left of us that isn’t colonised by work: “How do you confine performing enthusiasm and the feigning of self-realisation and confidence you wish to project to others, solely within the realms of labour?”
Indeed, for those of us who use social media to develop our professional lives as much as or more than our social lives, that boundary is highly permeable. The editors then pose the provocative notion that, rather than attempting to futilely reject this colonisation by work, it could be more subversive to use those same tools of self-maintain to undermine the parts of the self that made us good workers, “to think of time-wasting, narcissism, melancholy and boredom as collective subversive practices.”
Pieces range widely in topic, including Huw Lemmy’s witty opening essay on Dolly Parton, drag and the changing nature of the American work force since her 1980 hit, ‘Working 9 To 5’. We then move swiftly on to an essay by Regel on power and relationships in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and by Wahid on Lana Del Rey’s video for ‘Born To Die’. We have a jocular yet penetrating promotion of the selfie by Daisy Grove Lafarge and an experimental playscript dealing with affective labour, the painter John Lowry and Pret a Manger by Smith.
Written works are interspersed with stills and images from the subject matter as well as stand-alone pieces, such as a reprint of the 1978 Wages for Housework manifesto. I found one of the most arresting visual pieces was by Smith, named ‘After The Salon’, where a woman poses as a classical nude in front of a mirror, the trope subverted by the sight of her DSLR camera peeking over at us from her sunburnt shoulder, like an artist’s initials, showing us that she has captured the image herself: it is, in fact, a selfie.
In some of the more critical written pieces, the disjunction between mainstream pop culture analysed through the lens of critical theory can initially make for a slightly frustrating reading experience – do we really need Antonio Negri’s seal of approval to tell us that Dolly Parton makes for good class analysis? Yet it is clear that the writers are truly invested in the work of the artists that they critique and if the joke is on anyone, it is on the theoreticians for reducing ideas often more subtly expressed by artists, both inside and outside the mainstream.
Another point of contention for me is that not every piece convincingly presents how strategies of radical self-destruction in art could genuinely become “collective subversive practices.” I agree that there is a kind of power in the “measured and manageable” sadness of Lana Del Rey and in the “suicide disguised as martyrdom” of Buffy. To take control of one’s own destruction could be a powerful reclamation of agency when options are limited and if your destruction by patriarchy is inevitable anyway, but I’m not sure whether the pieces truly shows me that this power is anything more than just being allowed to choose the method of your demise – effectively a choice to die on your own sword rather than being captured by the enemy.
Ultimately, what I admire so much about SALT is the editors’ attempts to maintain a seriousness and dedication to contemporary art and writing from an accessible standpoint outside of art and academic institutions. In this sense, SALT promotes the radical labour of self-education, unpaid but not exploitative. There is nothing lazy or unproductive about this ‘Anti-Work’ issue: it successfully hijacks and redirects a strong graduate work ethic and employs it in the service of feminism and experimental art.
The next issue of SALT is Manifestos, which was released 6 August. You can find previous editions of SALT on M. Lý-Eliot is a writer, currently working on a book proposal about vegetarian Vietnamese food