Satpreet Kahlon challenges notions of what labor looks like and how value is created. Her immersive, interactive installation explores the racialized and gendered thinking that dictates our definition of the handmade.
As part of the opening reception, Kahlon invites viewers to observe and interact with her during a durational performance that considers how we are individually complicit in both creating and fulfilling the endless demand for labor.
This show is a question I cannot stop asking. About my hands (which look like my mother’s hands, but are not seen like my mother’s hands), their labor (which, like the labor of all hands, is never good enough and never over), their perceived value (as extremities attached to an artist’s body that allow an artist to do what an artist should do, which is to create spectacle or object), and how the value that is granted to them (by institutions run by systems outside of my control and understanding) is conditional, limited, and fleeting.
The value that has been granted to me, my hands, and their produced labor (as evidenced by the appearance of my words here for you to read, my work in the gallery for you to see, and the $8,500 grant entrusted to me by 4Culture for the manifestation of this show) is conditional, and this conditionality is dependent on many things, including: my continued obedience to institutional norms and professionalized behaviors, my ability to sustain a pace of production that attempts to fulfill exponentially growing demands for consumption, and (in a time when we are seeing an increased valuation of critically engaged political art) the unspoken agreement that my critique of the institution must be both institutionally sanctioned and marketable by the institution to increase their social capital and standing.
This is not to say that I am not grateful for the things that I have received from 4Culture. Nor do I believe that any of the above mentioned conditions are unable to coexist with genuine good intentions, good outcomes, and good experiences. But the knowledge of one’s institutional acceptance cannot and should not ever be divorced from the precarious nature of this acceptance, as well as the fact that, although institutions may be benevolent when they deem a cause worthy of their benevolence, they can never truly be just, humane, or generous.
The institution’s conditional benevolence forces us to limit our imagination to the things that the institution can see, understand, and imagine. It erases and systematically eradicates, through a lack of support and recognition, entire populations’ ways of making and modes of thinking, while simultaneously proliferating a worldview that relies increasingly on the institution’s patterns of support and recognition to determine what is valuable.
This show then, while abiding (in order to benefit from) all of the above mentioned conditions and structures, is an examination of how value is determined, who is left out of and erased from these determinations, and how even the value that isn’t being erased must be continuously replicated and performed to satisfy our desire for consumption.
If answers to any of these problems exist, they likely won’t be found in this show. In their place, there is a desire to reflect on our individual complicity in upholding the structures that oppress and exploit us, and a hope that, even if we must exist within these systems, we can find a way to do so while honoring, revering, and remembering those who the institution chooses to forget.
– Satpreet Kahlon
About the Artist
Satpreet Kahlon is a Seattle-based multidisciplinary artist. Born in Punjab, India and raised in the Midwest, she is interested in creating visual language and immersive encounters that express and explore intersectional experiences as well as the structural systems of inequity that dictate their boundaries. In addition to her studio practice, which has been featured in Artforum, she curates with a philosophy of embedded equity at The Alice Gallery, is the founder of Deep Space Gallery, and, between 2015 and 2017, she designed and taught social engagement programming in partnership with the Seattle Art Museum. She is currently studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she received a full fellowship to pursue her MFA in Sculpture.