The artist giving emotional labour 4 FREE

Bex Ilsley is an artist based in Coventry who started her career on Instagram and has even been promoted by Miley Cyrus. Ilsley explains her work, Fire Sale! about women’s emotional labour.

“Fire Sale! was a streamed performance which was projected live onto a huge wall at the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea in October 2016. I was asked to show there as part of their Recent Graduates portion, rather than showing work in a booth with the specific intention of selling. After some discussion with the curator, the fantastic Medeia Cohan, I decided I wanted to use that platform to play around with the idea of what can be bought or sold at an art fair. Following on from the thinking outlined above, about commodity and the body in a late-Capitalist post-Truth world, I pitched the idea of playing a sexy shopping channel host that was selling nothing. This then developed into a piece about ’emotional labour‘, a term that had entered my consciousness semi-recently to that time, something that has of course been part of a lot of feminist discourse over the last 5 years or so. My good friend Brooke Kelty, in particular, gave me some excellent insight into what ‘work’ means – a wider definition than the obvious. I thought ‘what if I offer my emotional labour for free at the Art Fair?’ – its kind of a sarcastic comment that doesn’t really need explaining too much…. I wanted to be a live agony-aunt, comedian, whatever was asked of me by the audience – as they are the ones who shape my incarnations. It’s a piece about sharing validation, about wanting to please – desperately so – and the pain of constantly courting attention.”


“There was an iPad in front of the projection fixed to a Facebook messenger window, which allowed people to converse with me while watching my live reaction, and they could see my text responses. I wish people had gotten a little deeper with me, but this was really rather experimental and I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of engagement. I still think its a funny piece, I had a lot of fun doing it. Ones that stick in my mind were requests for a horoscope reading, a good chat about aliens, the person who told me I ‘needed Jesus’ and invited me to a church meeting and of course the 10+ requests for me to undress.”

Words and Images courtesy of artist, Bex Ilsley

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