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Critical Writing

Kitchen Sink Drama

Joshua Simon

None of the old productive labor-based economy issues were resolved. We simply moved to an exploitive economy of a different order, where profit is extracted from reproductive labor divorced from employment. Life itself generates profit through the speculation on its sustenance. With finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE), value was replaced by price and labor by debt. That is how profit is suddenly rent-based and everything behaves like real estate.

The enormous new buildings erected in cities all around us are not homes. They are currency. Money that has to be materialised somehow: wealth accumulated and stored temporarily in concrete and glass. These empty buildings represent the imaginary stability of unsustainable markets that put these buildings themselves in a state of constant speculation. The debt we are subjected to through mortgages and other financial devices makes every single thing around us, including our living spaces, a form of negative space. Things are no more than a plasticization of debt. If we think of education, housing, health, transportation, communication, and culture (services that are paid for or are subsidised by our taxes), they have become totally privatised commodities. This does not mean that we can do without them, but rather that now they are life-taxes: routine expenses we are subjected to even before entering the employment market. We get into debt in order to enter the employment market. Debt is the anti-matter that allows for matter to appear. In Marxian terms, debt is anti-value through which value is produced. Therefore, objects are debt in the form of a thing; they are anti-matter materialised.

Maayan Strauss’s The Service Room constructs a new environment for the collective exchange of services, placing disparate activities on the same literal and symbolic plane. The object here has a concrete relation to reality: it is both a participant in the world and a marker of a certain condition. A metonym, if you will. The authored artifact is reporting on the world from which it came and in which it is displayed—forms of living, gendered work, spatial usages, standardised proportions, lines of distribution, production protocols, and marketing strategies. Different types of labor are treated through this countertop-sculpture, kitchen-sink installation: computer work, a built-in massage table, a manicure/pedicure space, a sewing and craft area. This setup is accompanied by an online scheduling system ( with slots assigned for each object or service to be exchanged.

The Service Room is informed by how artistic practice has been cornered by the forces of financialization to facilitate gentrification but at the same time provides means to engage with these issues and reroute them where possible. The “Island” kitchen is a working space turned into an object. It involves tools to operate but also attributes of display. Its maintenance is not only operative but performative as well. Operation and display are merged in a way that not only domestic labor becomes a performance, but the performance of the installation becomes actually utilized. The setting of The Service Room and the repertoire of interactions the installation offers relates directly to the immaterial and reproductive labor which finance captures. On the one hand the setting suggests itself as a participatory apparatus whereas on the other it stands as display in a showroom—an object with markers of class, gender and culture, on which we are to project social meanings of home, kitchen, bar, beauty salon, spa, etc. But while we project a bodily relation to this installation (reclining, lying down, eating, drinking, washing the face or hands, our body being touched), it stands aloof, ignoring any somatic presence with its smooth surfaces and pipes. The intimacy we have with such structures/furniture renders them portraits of us by way of our projection of subjectivity onto them, but also through the traces we leave on them. The smooth and seamless surfaces of contemporary product design like iPhones and iPads are dominated by shiny buttonless surfaces. The traces of our body on these screens and surfaces leave marks by our fingers and hands caressing and touching them. We see ourselves reflected in these devices not only as an image on a black screen but also through the traces we leave on them—our fingerprints. With touch screens the surface is the function itself, and with the marble counter as well, the surface is the material itself. So here not only is the display the function, but the function is the display.

The relation between cooking, smartphones and real estate might seem arbitrary, but when we think of where we are today, we can see how metabolic synchronization takes place where the digital and the city converge to make everything real estate by combining productive and reproductive labor: Airbnb, heartbeat monitoring apps, the tide of organic stores, superfoods and health stores, Instagram foodies, and the food truck revival, in addition to all kinds of marathons and cycling races in downtown areas. Together they synchronise bodily metabolism with the processes of urban gentrification.

Strauss’s The Service Room is both performance and platform. In both cases its operation is double; it allows for exchange without one-sided extraction of profit, and at the same time it performs the realities of financialized space and time. As a platform it shows concrete ways of doing things outside of direct monetary exchange while it provides multiple practices of reproductive labor of care and attention. As a performance it models an interior design structure of a studio apartment while engaging people to touch, talk, confide, and relax.

The clean, untouched real estate aesthetics here correspond with the shiny surfaces of post-political, post-internet art. But Maayan Strauss is not interested in affirmative aesthetics. As much as the image of water and liquid have become synonymous with capital flow, financial hyperactivity and all-in-all resignation from any commitment to hard-edged dichotomies, water is still the precondition for life itself. This is our kitchen sink drama.

About the artist

Joshua Simon


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