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Tally Sheet Drawing Series

Comments/Review by Sue Wilks

The desire to be a visual artist in contemporary society is almost always complicated by the need to earn money in order to survive as a human being, (that is, unless the artist involved is of independent financial means). As artists face being compromised by their financial circumstances so too does their art, whether it be by the need to associate their work with professional practices or by the need to constrain thoughts, processes and productions according to specific funding criteria. At times the preferred (or perhaps the only other) option might be to exchange labour for financial benefits in an unrelated field. These issues can present artists with difficult and often painful dilemmas, (with regards to how far they might be prepared to concede their aesthetic desire and integrity in order to provide themselves with the necessary monetary income). Such dilemmas are profoundly personal in nature because they impact intensely upon subjective beliefs and lived experiences. Already though, I am setting up a binary model by differentiating between an artist’s desire to make art and an artist’s need to make money, or, between voluntary and enforced actions. Binaries can be useful tools, however, as they’re inherent instabilities offer critical openings towards understanding the impossibility (for independent artists) of being able to rigidly and divisively segregate their subjectivities into specific and absolute roles.

Lesa Moriarity’s online exhibition Tally Sheet Drawing Series (1) presents an example of the ways in which an artist’s subjective experiences and desires refuse to become moribund by socio-economic dictates. Her drawings, produced while working with(in) the given boundaries of the call centre industry, and made using the everyday tools of her (then) trade as a call handler, (ball-point pens and tally sheets), give rise to aesthetic urges that exceed the restrictions and limitations imposed by her employers (applying their weapon of mass subjective destruction… the audit culture and its mind-numbing, repetitive, bureaucratic demand for measurable, financially-targeted outcomes). Advancements in telecommunications technologies (together with the decline of manufacturing sectors) have led to vast expansions in call centre industries, and while seeking to project a moral sense of concern towards the needs of their employees, charities (as with other employers) need to ultimately prioritise productivity, efficiency, consistency, accountability, and income over an individual employee’s job satisfaction. To this effect, those call centres which charities use (as mechanisms for fundraising) require systems of some sort or other that are capable of managing, monitoring and regulating specific data based information. Encouraging worker motivation in this context equates solely with the generation of increased charitable donations rather than with genuine human empowerment and development.

Lesa describes her methodological approach towards her drawings as ‘spontaneous’,(2) indicating that she was working with unknown aesthetic processes rather than with specific artistic intent. This approach provides a critique of traditional methods for the production of art practices because there are no definitive segregations being made between life and work. It is worth noting that Lesa does not attempt to blur, conflate or collapse these boundaries either, because instead her labour becomes her art practice, which therefore brings dimensional qualities into being, and this critical approach becomes apparent in several ways. She is not claiming to do what is described as her ‘survival-job’(3) and then removing herself to the exclusive space (or predetermined and restrictive frame) otherwise known as the artist’s studio in order to make art, and the work she has produced is itself critical of the traditional cultural distinctions that determine which forms of aesthetic production are eligible to claim the status of art practice. Her work also presents viewers/users with an opportunity to reflect upon their assumptions relating to artists and their practices, because while superficially these drawings may appear to present a form of doodling this would be an all too simplistic reduction of the Tally Sheet Drawing Series. The activity of doodling is generally undervalued, undermined and under-rated in Western culture, and when it is invested with significance, or value, this is often done in a stereotypical manner, for example, as an opportunity to attempt symbolic readings of specific images, or as a punishable offence by institutions and employers. My eleven year old child recently came home from school in a state of anxiety, saying that she had to cover-over the pages in her school planner (which she had doodled on) as they were due to be inspected by a teacher and she would receive an after-school detention if it was perceived to have been defaced. And yet, her doodles are of vital importance to her as a form of personal subjectivation and self-expression in the anonymous and alienating environment of a High School with over 1.5 thousand pupils. Regimented documentation designed to manage and control individual subjects is constituted of specific and particular social rationales. We have all doodled, or made our marks in some way, and doodling, while being an everyday activity is no less important because of this.

Lesa Moriarity’s Tally Sheet Drawing Series, (produced while she made numerous repetitive requests for charitable donations in telephone calls to strangers), do not provide us with the casual doodles of the telephone conversationalist sitting comfortably within a home environment. This is a different form of doodling that provides the artist with an urgent and necessary release from the relentless and merciless intensity of sustaining her role as a wage earner - day in and out, and is connected with the tortuous consumption of time and energy for nothing more meaningful than animalistic sustenance. As such they tell of a malnourished desire and yearning to be elsewhere, occupied by activities that are of personal significance. This longing, or desire, is inscribed onto and into the tally sheet documentation, which has a constituent form not unlike the cell walls of self-imprisonment. Lesa transforms the economic and managerial values previously associated with these documents and reinvests them with emotive value… price-less and meaning-full. Her non-compliant and unsanctioned inscriptions are marks of resistance that signify a refusal to be imprisoned by these structures (specifically designed to bind labourers to their laborious lives). This work is about spending, not in a monetary sense, but of duration and the spending of a time (that it is impossible to reclaim) as we sell our labour (and ourselves) to those with the means to consume it. Lesa finds it helpful that her call centre labour was of use to others in need, (in the sense of it being not for profit), but she is also acutely aware of the limitations of her laborious endeavour.

In virtual space, Lesa’s online exhibition is constructed within visible tables that echo the structure of the material tally sheets she has worked with. She presents us, not with an isolated art object but with contexts and processes for aesthetic production that speaks volumes about the current socio-economic state of global society and its effects on humanity. There is nothing destructive about this work, (even when the printed authoritarian constraints of the tally sheets are totally eradicated by Lesa’s drawings), for each drawing resonates with a yearning for space, time and thought, together with an irrepressible desire to enable the artist’s complex and interrelated subjectivities to co-exist and to be articulated.

Sue Wilks, Phd. Leeds, England, March 2006.

Go to Sue's worksite: www.feda.co.uk


(1) Lesa Moriarity, Tally Sheet Drawing Series, available online <http://www.exhibit905.info/index.html> accessed 18 February 2006

(2) Lesa Moriarity, Tally Sheet Drawing Series, available online <http://www.exhibit905.info/tallysheetpages/tallysheetbackground.htm> accessed 18 February 2006

(3) Lesa Moriarity, Tally Sheet Drawing Series, available online <http://www.exhibit905.info/TSpressrelease.htm> accessed 18 February 2006


Copyright of this website and all images, 2005, L. Moriarity. Permission required for copy and/or distribution of images. Contact: info@exhibit905.info