“Don’t Give Up Your Day Job.” That might be discouraging advice from a parent, but it takes anxiety induction to a whole other level when it’s coming from the Australia Council for the Arts. If you are an arts practitioner and don’t want to waste your already overstretched and underpaid time ploughing through the grizzly details of this 2003 survey, skip to the dot-pointed highlights.
I’m going to make an assumption that readers will already have some abstract belief that ‘making it’ in the arts is hard. Real hard. So lets pour some fiscal salt in your financial wounds with some figures. Ten years ago, visual artists could expect a median ‘creative income’ of $3,100. Ouch. A pretty clear indication that times were getting tougher. And that was pre-GFC…
So I can understand the motivation of the nameless individual who inspired Jodie Whalen’s latest performance piece Day Job with the innocuously mundane enquiry into her ‘real job’ (read: not artist).
Jodie Whalen’s practice is the perfect embodiment of the philosophy that when life gives you lemons, make artworks. In her dedicated inquiry into the ritualisation of fat vs. fit polarities, Whalan established herself as an artist who blurs the boundaries of art and life with an unselfconscious honesty and conviction. Day Job extends this integration between art and the everyday.
Performed as part of SafARI 2012, Day Job, like most jobs, involves specifically stated tasks, expectations and rules. When the gallery was empty, Whalen would prepare ‘promotional packs’ containing a ludicrously inclusive and extended CV, images, and copies of articles reviewing her work in the popular press. When the entrance of a visitor broke this administrative monotony, Whalen would submit them to a deluge of education and conversation about her artist practice, thus transforming them into an unwitting participant in the performance. Not only do we see the familiar contravention of the artist/audience divide, but we also see the more nuanced subversion of the role of the gallery attendant. This transgressive cross between attendant, artist and artwork springs from Whalen’s real life role as a gallery attendant.
The audience is left with an uncomfortably ambiguous cocktail of art world roles that is seeded in reality and sometimes ventures into the theatrical. For example, audience participants are presented with Whalen’s ‘prop’ business card stating only her name and occupation: Jodie Whalen, Artist. The absence of web references or contact details renders this networking memento without function. The object only maintains its purpose within the context of the gallery and the duration of the performance.
Whalen’s performances are characterised by principles of everyday endurance; they are repetitious activities of banal familiarity taken to obsessive and often disturbing extremes. In Day Job, this consisted of the endless, unaltering drudgery of shameless self-promotion, and like her other performances, was maintained for a predetermined amount of time. Day Job may be over along with the rest of SafARI, but rest assured – Whalen does not give up.
 Throsby, David and Hollister, Virginia. Don’t Give Up Your Day Job: An Economic Study of Professional Artists in Australia. Sydney: Australia Council, 2003. Download PDF