“As spectators we have access to a colossal amount of information about artists and their practice. I am talking about a type of information that exists beyond the realms of the gallery and the work. The type of information that is transported and consumed, through the art world’s mechanisms; the artist’s name, sex, age, nationality, origins, education, family commitments, friends; everything from the college they went to, to the car that they drive. Hence, the public work and the private life of the artist are inseparable. Taking this into account, it becomes evident that as an art audience we not only read the work itself, but increasingly consider and interpret the conduct, practice, and position of its producer in relation to the work and to society. Therefore, the context for an artist’s work can be adjusted by the type and amount of personal information (or at least that not directly relating to the work) offered to the public. At the point that an artist becomes aware of this, there becomes a use for it, and the spectator’s prior knowledge of the artist’s life and working practice becomes a tool or working vehicle that can be appropriated to tone or articulate the work. This mode of practice is not solely entailed with the production of the object, but as much with the monopolization of diverse spaces, with a foresight to priming or preparing a target audience for their encounter of the work. If a text in a magazine or the image on a private view invitation adjusts the audience’s reading of an artist’s work, then surely it can no longer be regarded solely as support material, but must be regarded as an integral part of the work. The structure behind the work, beyond the practice and before the context, provided by the artist, becomes the tinted lens through which the work is viewed.
Throughout the history of art, the notion of role-play has cropped up regularly. There are countless cases of artists providing their audience with a fictitious persona, to enhance the articulation of the concerns of their practice. The most obvious and unenthralling example is Warhol’s factory, but there also exist many more subtle examples that function on a variety of levels. The Belgian artist Panamarenko can be seen as adopting the character of a mad inventor or aviator. When appearing in catalogues and publications, the artist is represented by an image of himself wearing a pilot’s uniform or standing in front of a blackboard as if he is about to give a seminar on aerodynamics. Similarly Maurizio Cattelan in his work allocates himself the role of the clown/court jester/piss artist/village idiot/con artist/comedian. Cattelan freely states that he is not a real artist, but fell into the art world, because a friend had told him it was a profitable profession, in which he would get to travel and meet a lot of girls. Immediately, a comment such as this tones the work we are about to confront; we now approach the work with an expectation of cynicism or a one-line joke. As with Panamarenko, Cattelan’s labeling of practice is assisted by the manner in which he presents himself publicly and by the way in which he operates within the mechanisms of the art world, as well as being dictated by the nature of the work being produced. When we are confronted by images of these artists in adverts, posters or monographs, we do not see an artist, but an artist in a role.”
from Ryan Gander