Matthew David Rana
Matthew David Rana
Social Work: Politics, Police and the Legalistic in Art
This project analyzes contemporary artworks that take the form of government policies and legal precedents. These works can be situated alongside strategies within activist communities and left-leaning political projects that aim to ensure equality through the law. However, strictly legalistic practices have the effect of reducing concepts of politics to an ability to negotiate with and create laws. Countering this reduction of the political as well as the assumption that increased protections through law are necessarily capacitating or protective, the works discussed in this paper begin to question not only the relationships between life and law, but the relationships between artistic practice and political efficacy as well.
I focus specifically on a project begun in 2007 by French artists Patrick Bernier and Olive Martin: X&Y vs. France: The Case of a Legal Precedent. In this work, the artists collaborated with immigration and intellectual property lawyers to develop a legal argument whereby undocumented immigrants, posited as co-authors and guardians of immaterial site-specific artworks, can avoid deportation.
By prioritizing its aesthetic content—here understood as the delimitation of spaces, roles and times—this work emerges as a productive site in which established debates surrounding immigration are expanded and rights claims are complicated. As an articulation of subjectivities in transition between legality and illegality, counting and not-counting, author and artwork, the project by Bernier and Martin not only points to the limits of law to address the promise of equality at a fundamental level, but also to the ways in which the law itself is constructed to perpetuate this condition.