Friday, March 13, 2009

Q&A: Getting Corporate with Carey Young

Brit artist Carey Young is known for mixing up corporate costumes with art critique. So it was a pleasure to chat with her earlier in the week in advance of her exhibition at the Power Plant, which opens tonight. She had lots to say, so only a bit of it made it into this condensed Q&A in the Post today. Still, I'd recommend checking out her Toastmasters collaboration on Sunday if you love a good speech or two. Also her website provides tons of images. (Text is also after the jump.)
Image of Young's Body Techniques (after Sculpture II, Kirsten Justesen, 1969) 2007 from her website.

We're all corporate now
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Friday, March 13, 2009

Many critics have started suggesting that the current economic downturn will be good for art, prompting both artists and gallerists to get back to aesthetic essentials. But what about artists such as Britain's Carey Young, whose creative work is intertwined with corporate culture? Whether it's suits spouting revolution or call centre reps divulging intimacies, Young's done it as art. Now, with her first Canadian solo show opening in Toronto tomorrow, Young tells Leah Sandals more about her brainy take on conceptual-art bailouts.

Q You originally studied photography. How did you shift to performing corporate roles instead?

A I unexpectedly ended up with a corporate part-time job, which caused the shift. But I do still orbit through photography. I've just done a big project called Body Techniques, a series of photographs set in Dubai that's just been sold to the Tate [Gallery in London]. And when I was in the corporate sector I happened on a huge photographic archive that they were throwing out, and I managed to take it home for a project.

Q How did your corporate job come about?

A A few weeks after I finished my master's [degree], I ended up in a course for digital media. On this course, there was a woman working for a management consultancy part-time. She happened to be leaving her job, so I ended up with an interview only a few weeks after graduating. At first I wondered what I was doing, because I had an ideological issue with corporations. But it ended up being really fascinating. I became very interested in that idea of being an insider and making artwork that seems to engage that.

Q Body Techniques shows you staging classic performance art in a suit in Dubai. Why?

A As soon as I went to Dubai I knew that I wanted to do a project there because it's corporate HQ land, it really is. Essentially it's the most globalized place I could imagine, coming straight out of some corporate imagination. And performance art is a genre where the desire to escape the marketplace has been particularly active. By re-enacting it in Dubai, I kind of wanted to play one against the other, using a suit as a costume to show I'm complicit, not an outsider.

Q How are corporations and artists alike?

A [Laughs] Well, that's a complex question. In some ways they don't understand each other. In other ways it's the most immense flirtation. From a business perspective, the interest has been in trying to seem creative, because that's a differentiator to shareholders -- seeming innovative. And then the art world is obviously interested in money and philanthropy.

Q Has the recession affected your art? Many people in your pieces look like they could've worked at Bear Stearns or Merrill Lynch.

A Well, some of them have worked in those places. I try to collaborate with real businesspeople. The trainer in the video I'ma Revolutionary is a real corporate trainer. I've also worked with a venture capitalist. And several artworks are legal instruments, so having lawyers involved is very important. I want authenticity.

Q About the legal piece you're showing in Toronto, Donorcard: How does it work?

A It's based on the organ donor card you likely have in your wallet. For a start, I think the wallet is a really interesting place for artwork. It's underused; it's so personal and it's also about the financial dimension. Everyone can pick up a Donorcard for free. The card has a contract on the back I've already signed and when you sign it [the card] becomes an artwork only as long as we're both alive. So it's like a very loose marriage contract between me and 2,000 people.

Q You also make art with call centres. How will that function in Toronto?

A In the gallery there's a red phone on a table, and a photograph of a telephone agent. As soon as you pick up the phone, you're connected straight through to that agent. And the agent answers with a script that I've written. It's a mix of personal and commercial.

Q Finally, you're performing with Toastmasters on Sunday. How did you get into that? It's hardly the hip, young thing.

A [Laughs] No, it's not the hip, young thing. Whenever I bring people, I say: "It's so untrendy!" But everyone loves it. I found it by accident. I just heard the word "toastmaster" somewhere and eventually joined a chapter in London.

One of the things I like about Toastmasters is that everyone's a student and everyone's a teacher. You're just working through the manual, and the people who are further along give you generous, constructive feedback. It's almost nicer than the art world!

Carey Young: Counter Offer opens tonight at the Power Plant in Toronto. For details, visit

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