Born Ithaca, New York, 1987 / BS, Skidmore College; MFA, University of Kansas / Lives in Detroit
Eli Gold’s conceptual performances explore the value of labor in art by using the artist’s own body as medium, material, and live-tested instrument. To consider art as a form of labor places emphasis on measures of time and physical effort, and on the demonstration of the processes by which a work of art is made. In addition, Gold’s work exposes how gestures of doing are inextricably intertwined with gestures of feeling, as his practice foregrounds how institutions such as art galleries regulate human behavior. The conceptual approach to performance art in Gold’s work also makes intellectual labor significant, as an a priori plan prefigures each task-based event—whose execution is an ultimately perfunctory affair.
Gold was trained in Metalsmithing and Jewelry at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, where he ritualistically destroyed a silver-plated copper teapot in his first year of graduate school in 2012. By taking a hammer to his own craft, the artist metaphorically breaks his commitment toward the handmade and replaces it with a performative investigation of the body as a schema of behavior, rules, and laws. In Our Time (2014, University of Kansas Art and Design Gallery, Lawrence) makes visible institutionalized regimes of sociality. Here, the artist orchestrates how clock time and the human heartbeat regulate experience in different yet interrelated systems of time measure. As he listens to 10,000 of his own heartbeats through a stethoscope, he sets 10,000 white chalk hatch marks onto a room-spanning blackboard equipped with a contact microphone. Four additional performers, placed behind the wall, follow the rhythm of the amplified marks: playing solitaire suspends time, writing stories preserves the past, biking on a treadmill counteracts bad lifestyle choices, and filing a sterling silver egg echoes the laborious artistry of Metalsmithing. The Heartbeat Listeners (2015) channels the unmediated and unrestrained body as a direct vessel of skin-to-skin contact. In this performance, visitors to the Hamtramck Arts Festival allowed the artist (or a co-performer) to listen directly to 100 of their heartbeats without the aid of device or instrument.
In Full Time (2015, La Esquina Gallery, Kansas City), Gold conflates artistic labor with the highly regulated factory labor of the assembly line. He and Rena Detrixhe showcase a 40-hour work week as they sew and cast, time stamp, and inventory 30 white pillow cases and 30 gray concrete blocks to be sold during the opening night. The sale price of each item is $7.85. Simulating a regular office work day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a lunch break, The Monkey Chases the Weasel (How Did I Get Here?) (2016, 9338 Campau Gallery, Hamtramck) similarly indexes time and wage labor. For one day, Gold repeatedly lifts a heavy gray cinder block off a white pedestal, only to place it on a lower white platform at the other end of the gallery, and then moves it back again. He periodically pricks his finger with a steel needle, sterilizes the blood with dark orange iodine, and after every completed cycle of lifting and carrying, presses it onto a white gridded sheet with 366 pencil boxes that correlate to the days of a leap year. The drawing and performance serve as a visual trace of the Sisyphean nature of bureaucratic routine. Braced (2016, Defibrillator Gallery, Chicago) also presents an endurance test of sorts as the artist supports a 300-pound concrete block—resembling the height and weight of another human being—until he no longer can. The heavy slab then crashes and leaks black motor oil from an inner chamber onto a white sheet beneath it. As a metaphor for the act of working through a burdening relationship (the block’s surface holds text from an email correspondence), the act of letting the concrete shatter symbolizes the release of an emotional struggle. Here, Gold visualizes emotional labor as an act of working through a problem (very unlike the literalist spill and scatter process art of the late 1960s.) At the same time, struggle and fatigue become intrinsic values of the kind of labor from which creative action emerges.
Gold’s process-oriented practice variously explores and implodes the conceptual divisions that ostensibly separate art and labor, art and bureaucracy, manual and emotional labor in favor of a more holistic worldview of feeling and thinking.
Nadja Rottner, December 2017
Copyright Essay’d 2017