Artist Veronica Cela unveils new exhibit at Daugherty Arts Center in Austin
Veronica This held two jobs after graduating with her Masters in Printmaking in 2014. The first was as Master Printer at Austin’s Flatbed Press, a role that involved the skillful use of printing presses, tools, materials and processes. to help other artists realize their visions. It is a high-ranking position in the art world. The second job, which This took when she realized that printing wouldn’t be enough to pay the bills, was decidedly less elated: cleaning lady in a day spa, doing endless laundry and cleaning the bathroom. treatment rooms, bathrooms, and shared spaces after guests have enjoyed their expensive massages and facials.
Both jobs were physically demanding and required attention to detail, but one garnered much more respect. “I was really struck by how much the two positions had in common, but to one I was treated like, ‘Oh, well, you are an important person’, and to the other, I was an invisible person, ”says This. .
This thoughts on the value we place on cleaning – the work of women, both stereotypically and in her personal experience – inform ‘Keeping House’, her exhibition which was exhibited at the Daugherty Arts Center in Austin in September and October. This is a tidy show in one room of less than 20 pieces that manages to make a strong impression. Céci’s work presents a sharp social critique, an engaging use of materials and a clever appropriation of ideas from art history with a barbed feminist attitude.
Consider “Working Hard, Hardly Working,” a woodcut that depicts a scene, perhaps the lobby of an office building or conference center, with several men standing and talking on cell phones. There is also a female figure, more of a figure than a stuffed human, holding a mop and a broom. The faceless woman nevertheless attracts our attention as her hunched and angry figure is outlined in electric pink; men are depicted in the same cool monochrome colors as the background, existing on a less energetic plane.
“I push them away,” This says of male figures. “They’re usually the main characters in the story, the big business people, but they’re actually the less important people in this particular story.”
This print recognizes both the faceless invisibility usually accorded to women and women who cleanse for a living, and also suggests a different view. For This, this kind of vision requires critical reflection on the broader societal gender roles and questioning of what she calls a “layer of expectations that hangs over anyone who presents themselves as a female person, whom she calls a” layer of expectations. is going to be the person who makes the coffee.
In This’s analysis, there is a direct line of misogyny between the identification of cleaning as a woman’s job and the disrespect in the workplace experienced by those who clean for a living. “When I went to work in an industry that was dominated by my gender and, almost naturally, therefore poorly paid and undervalued, I felt I really needed to point it out,” says Cette. “To be like, part of the reason you don’t respect this job is because you expect women to do it.”
The problem of disrespect at work is extremely personal to This. In 2018, she was sexually harassed by a male client at the day spa where she was cleaning. She eventually quit her job in part because of her dissatisfaction with the way management handled the incident.
While the ‘Keeping House’ prints were all made before the pandemic – This left Flatbed Press in 2019 and refocused on sculpture, performance, and materials found since then – his review resonates today. Cleaners cannot work remotely. Some, like this, who has had lifelong breathing problems, are at increased risk during a pandemic, and many must choose between their job and their health. “There has been a lot of talk about essential workers, but in reality people see work as essential, but the worker is treated as consumable. And most companies still don’t protect the health of their employees, ”says Cette.
Staying at home has been fruitful for This. “Keeping House” includes samples of two jobs she did during the pandemic. The first, “White Paintings,” is a series of found object wall hangings that turn cleaning materials into makeshift canvases. Materials used in white paints include mop strings, a towel, and brush bristles. Instead of pigments and frames, they’re decorated with dirt, spit, and jagged edges.
Perhaps the most striking of the white paintings in This is the seventh in the “WPVII” series, consisting of 100 face fabrics sewn onto a canvas. This is made up almost every day and removes make-up at night with a disposable cloth. At one point, she decided to put the clothes together into a strange array of crumpled, overly colored faces.
For This, the play consists of taking a critical look at the detritus of a traditionally female mode of self-expression. “That said, ‘Look at this’. It’s my face. It’s my face a hundred times. That’s what I do to be acceptable to you, and watch how distorted it is when I take it off, ”says This. “Again, I get back into this emotion of resentment about where I am in society because of things I can’t control.”
This describes his White Paintings as “an abstraction, but it’s also utilitarian, it’s everyday. It is the object representing art, as opposed to art representing an object, ”says Cette. “They were painted with dirt from the floor they cleaned up.”
Viewers interested in this aspect of Cette’s work can look forward to her next performance at Contemporary Austin in January, in which she will mop the museum floor with a “canvas” made of taut mop ropes, then hang the work. on the wall.
This Upsweep sculptures – a series of driftwood brooms she also worked on throughout the pandemic – are an exception to the fury of helplessness that swirls through much of “Keeping House.” Delicate and finely crafted in collaboration with broom maker Hunter LV Elliott, brooms are perhaps the most enchanting objects on the show. This describes scavenging the beaches of Galveston in search of aesthetically interesting driftwood, curved shapes beautiful enough to subvert and ennoble the utility of a broom for cleaning, and possibly also to suggest female witch magic.
Despite this, This ends up seeing the gilded and painted brooms as complementary characters occupying the same struggle for visibility and dignity as the human housekeepers in his prints. When she sent the lumber to Elliott, she learned that driftwood is particularly unsuitable for making brooms because it is too brittle. Elliott had to dig out the driftwood pieces and fill them with healthy wood so they could handle the strain of being converted into cleaning tools.
This saw in this fragility a powerful metaphor for the figure of an underrated housekeeper, which is often stretched beyond its breaking point.
“To me, it really reminded me of someone who would love to retire but just isn’t allowed to,” says Cette. “The worker sleeping soundly and the alarm goes off and they’re like, ‘Oh, I have to get up again to work. I thought I was done with this.
Opening image: “Performance Still from Futility II”. Courtesy of Veronica Cela.