Jessica Vaughn’s practice considers how materials - new, used and discarded - accumulate and inhabit space. Vaughn’s investigation into specific materials interrogates the nature and site of their production, their position and circulation through different spaces as well as the relationship between their intrinsic functionality and the lived meaning they take on.
Exit Strategy is a continuation of Vaughn’s investigations into how architectural structures reinforce segregation, addressing the modes in which minority bodies are expected to perform, comply and participate in American work environments. Comprised of sculptures and printed works, Exit Strategy reproduces the paperwork, office materials and furniture that fill bureaucratic forms of architecture: namely the office cubicle structure, stackable paper trays and different formats of documents.
As placeholders for the standards and efficiency of the bureaucratic system, both the pa- per trays and the flesh-toned cubicles represent basic but constitutive structural components that keep bureaucratic forms in place: the cubicles are stripped back to reveal the metal frames that support the structure of the mass-produced workspace, while the paper trays hold in place stacks of paperwork. As skeletal components and concealed materials, the two function as metaphors for the unseen people that care for and maintain the institutions that structure these forms of labour. Vaughn obtained the documents contained within the paper trays from US government Affirmative Action reports. These files are present and within reach but remain physically unobtainable in their presentation.
Echoing the countless pages enclosed in the trays, seven sheets of continuous form paper installed across the far corner of the gallery list an index of job titles and their respective wages collected from American job posting websites. Paraprofessional occupations, professions performed to take care of others, professions that keep both private and state institutions running, clean and in compliance comprise this list - work asked of, requested and expected for minorities and women to participate in. The information catalogued here is gleaned from employment websites made available in a range of American cities: Philadelphia, New York City, Washington DC and Chicago. Many of these professions, in turn, can be found enacted in Vaughn’s video Visible Hands, in which close-up scenes of hands reproduce seemingly infinite motions of production. Thus, the material repetitions that come together in Exit Strategy resonate with the repetitive de-individualised nature of these modes of labour. Particularly the images of women’s hands operating televised lotteries speak of the income-generating state apparatuses that instrumentalise and dictate those who participate in their production. As such, this body of work points to the forms of architecture and design that exist in workspaces as a starting point to identify elements that reproduced lived experience of economic and racial segregation.