In Spite Of Labor

 

By Georgette Maniatis

 

 

Thinking about visual labor and labor of emotional interpretation, I began at the source of my curiosity - my father.  Demetre Maniatis was born in Athens, Greece, and arrived in the United States when he was twenty-four years old. Never having studied English, he found the ability to harvest words difficult- his native tongue quickly falling into spoil. Even after thirty-five years in the United States, a heavy accent soaks his speech. My father’s trade is mechanic work, specifically auto. His hands wear the permanent stain of such labor. They are large, calloused and heavily soiled.  

 

Obsession, collection of material. The amount of tools and artifacts my father has accumulated in relation to his trade is immeasurable. It’s a collection that spans decades. The old and new mix together against the walls and on the floor, both carefully and haphazardly existing against each other.  My father has physically claimed these tools by etching his first name into them. His livelihood depends on the interaction of these objects: hand to tool, day after day. Daily ritual. Can time and touch transform the common into the unusual? An absorption of energy. My dad’s tools become idols of daily experience. Items of purpose that give movement to existence and bind him to life.

 

An old hay barn, transformed. Brutally cold in the winter and achingly hot in the summer. This is the temperature of my father’s workplace, his chamber - a mechanic’s garage. The once bare walls of this animal space have been painstakingly and purposely dressed in paper clippings, family photos, advertisements - everyday materials that pass from one’s hands, evidence of what it takes to consume this life. Every inch is a canvas beckoning to be transformed into something new. My dad carefully takes the scraps of his consumption and later saves them as transformation, as decoration, as personhood. As an extension of my father’s imagination, the garage becomes a medium, a meeting point. This is a place imbued with the labor of creativity and industry where we could both meet and merge and encounter one another and start a conversation. This is a place where we could create something together.

 

Entering my dad’s workspace was not only entering a place of work but a place of being; a deeply personal extension of psychological landscape. There were two extensions of labor in which I was thinking of, one being the physical labor and energy that was released in solving a problem, fixing the broken components of vehicles. The other, was the labor of transformation, or installation, of what accidentally had become art on the walls.  Throughout my lifetime, there were years, months, in which my hands felt paralyzed, unable to make.  My dad’s ceaseless obsession with transforming the walls of his garage year after year had sparked a strange jealousy within me. During these period of stasis, I questioned who was the artist, my father or I?  What marks the definition of creation? These questions led me to wanting to get closer to him, to merge the mechanic and the artist. In wanting to explore the physical components of space, object and time, I was to also uncover the terrain of our relationship, acting as a translator between our demographics of identity, father and daughter.

 

The series, Spite of Labor, consists of images and videos of my father and I attempting to communicate through the action of experimentation. In Garage Portraits, seated and facing each other, my dad and I hold up a 17 in. x 22 in. piece of plexiglass between us with our left hands, and draw each other with our right. Our tools are a box of colored pastels. We look at each other through the plastic that separates but also connects us, and try to reveal and capture the image of one another- to draw what we see in that very moment.  No rules apply, we draw by the act of seeing, tracing, improvising, a capturing of selves. When the action of drawing each other’s portraits are completed, we take turns photographing each other while holding up the plexiglass with the hand-drawn images of one another. While taking his photo, I am looking at him in the flesh, while also looking at my own drawn self and himself through my drawing. The lines that make up our features are blurred and distorted - lineage collapsing on top of itself.  Bearing witness, we create icons of each other, emblems of devotion.

 

Focusing on the question of whether or not an image retains the capacity to produce a strong emotion sidesteps the problem that having a strong emotion is not the same thing as having an understanding, and neither is the same thing as taking an action. - Maggie Nelson

 

There comes a point in any work where its urgency does not meet the agency of language.  I sought out the creation of work with my father as a means that has no end, a labor of surplus to each other, to our purpose and relationship. Seeing one another beyond the tethers of our profession, beyond the identification of daily labor.  The painstaking transformation of his garage is an axis of respite from his routine, as the making of images is of my own - to break up the reality of this world.  My father’s permission and willingness to delve into a vision he did not understand but trusted me with is, ultimately, a labor of love.

About The Artist

 

Georgette Maniatis (b. 1984) lives in Queens, NY and works in and around NYC. She holds a BFA and MFA from the School of Visual Arts. Her work has been exhibited, among other places, at Performance Space 122, Paul Robeson Galleries, NJ, Visual Arts Gallery, NY. This past summer, she was chosen by A Women’s Thing publication to participate in Montez Press’ Summer Program at Mathew NYC. The program revolved around the theme of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

 

View more of Georgette's work at georgettemaniatis.com.