"Artists have solicited the talents of fabricators for hundreds of years, of course. Exacting technical processes such as bronze-casting or printmaking become collaborative affairs that position the artist at a slight remove from the finished product; the bronze, print, or whathave-you looks the way it does because the skilled fabricator, working from the artist’s direction, produced those effects. To engage a fabricator is thus always to blur, however subtly, the authorial signature. Conceptual art, from Marcel Duchamp forward, thematized the matter by elevating a de-emphasis of the artist’s hand, heretofore only implied, to an intentional component of the work. In exploring this (self-bestowed) permission conceptual art availed itself of the myriad production systems of the modern world. The use of industrial grammars and impersonal techniques to make art became increasingly familiar to audiences, since works that have their origin in ideas can engage a variety of media and take any number of forms. Additionally, conceptual art dramatically broadened our understanding of “fabrication” to include all the presentational aspects of the art context—the conventions of production, display, and reception—as informing our perception of a given work (and indeed of art itself). Conceptual art thus trained the viewer to regard art as, broadly speaking, a form of information packaging—an entirely appropriate stance in an information society.
It was perhaps only a matter of time before artists began taking this more expansive definition of fabrication as a basis for their own artistic practice. American Fantasy Classics, an artists’ collective and a company facilitating the what, how, and where of contemporary art production, adopts a wholistic approach. The AFC four will approach artists whose practice inspires, orchestrate production of a fresh body of work, such as Francoise Gamma’s laseretched crystal sculptures, and host the exhibition at their Milwaukee gallery. “Our medium is other people’s ideas, as a starting point. Through collaboration we arrive at something new for us and for the artist as well. Both parties get to a place we wouldn’t get to otherwise.” The collaborative process is understood as an occasion for connecting—initially to other artists then, rippling outward, to audiences. Rather than privilege critical theory—about authorship, craft versus art, divisions of labor within the elite economy of fine art—the content of the AFC program develops organically, deriving from what is actually made. It’s a flexibility they share with more traditional fabricators, and indeed AFC can be hired to fabricate work for exhibition elsewhere—Anicka Yi and Maggie Peng’s asymmetric wooden Shigenobu Twilight perfume bottles, and the site-specific version of my own Open-Air Writing Desk being examples. The AFC model consciously crossbreeds a commercial “bus-stop bench-ad American business thing” with a community-minded, DIY optimism and the experimental ethos of an artist-run gallery, arriving at a viable mutation that alters how we perceive the fabricator’s role."
David Robbins is an internationally active artist and writer. His most recent book is Concrete Comedy: An Alternative History of Twentieth-Century Comedy. All quotations from conversations with the author.