Oddly, no one else was there. When I asked the gallery attendant he confessed that he hadn’t heard anything about it—except for a mysterious phone call he’d received earlier in the day, informing him that he should expect to “receive services” around 5:30.
I stood alone in the gallery. I began to wonder if the point of the project was to promise something free for art gallery owners, then leave them hanging. I suppose that could work.
But, no, at 5:45, Cornelius appeared, small entourage in tow.
She wore a black baseball cap and an orange jumpsuit emblazoned with the words ART SERVICES. She also wore a surfeit of protective gear: safety goggles, a dust mask, knee pads, bright blue rubber gloves. She brought along a large rolling trash can full of cleaning products—paper towels, lots of plastic bags, mop, bucket, etc.
She began by cleaning the front window. Her actions seemed labored and methodical--ineffectual, really, more for show than for actual cleaning. Her squeegee made preposterously loud, stuttering high-pitched sounds, sticking and slipping as it was dragged across the glass. She kept walking in and out of the gallery, fetching handfuls of paper towels, then wrapping them in plastic bags, and disposing of them.
I took a few pictures. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay to the end of the performance—I left while she swept the floor.
My first thought about the piece: Is every performance in the SiteProjects DC series going to involve bright orange jumpsuits? Janis Goodman, Peter Winant, and Tom Ashcraft wore similar outfits for their birdhouse debacle.
Granted, the jumpsuit is an indispensible component in most pranks--say, defacing billboards. People respect uniforms, even bogus ones, and you're less likely to be questioned or disturbed while wearing one. "Too busy to talk!" the jumpsuit says. "Official business!"
But does a piece like this require that sort of cover? Really, both Workingman Collective’s bird habitat piece and Cornelius’ Art Services (Waste) seem like gentle, civic-minded projects. Whether or not they're meant to, both play to the popular conception of contemporary art as more or less unnecessary—an inscrutable but harmless addition to public life. Hang that orange fabric between two 16-foot uprights and you've got the general idea.
What I like about Cornelius’ project, though, is that she’s essentially infiltrating these spaces. From what I’ve read, she sends faxes and messages to the gallerists, telling them to “expect services”—but it doesn’t seem as though she asks for permission. The galleries are dupes, not willing accomplices: They validate her actions whether they intend to or not.
Seems like a model for other young D.C. artists to follow.