A banner of the exhibition using a detail of Mark Heresy's Will to Power painting. It uses the motive of the snake and the apple tree with both the snake and the apple being Spiderman-patterned. The tree's lines are not coloured, the entire image evoking a comic book's style. The background has spiderwebs. Above the detail is the name of the exhibition: Affirmation/Transformation: Fandom Created.
Mark Heresy, American, b. 1965. Will to Power (detail), 1992, Ink on paper, 28 x 22 in, 2000.11.5, Gift of Peter Norton, Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University

Affirmation/Transformation: Fandom Created, an exhibition of fine art pieces and the fanworks inspired by them, will run from August 23rd through December 22nd, 2024, at Marquette University’s Haggerty Museum of Art, as well as online. This exhibition considers “creation” as the line between casual enjoyment and fandom. Fans are not passive; fans create. Fans from any and all fandoms are challenged to create fanworks inspired by both their fandom and one of 14 fine art pieces from the Haggerty’s permanent collection. Visitors to the museum and to the online version of the exhibition will be able to see submitted fanworks displayed digitally alongside the fine art pieces hung in the gallery, and will be asked to consider whether the fan creations are affirmational or transformational—that is, do they affirm the fan object as it is, or transform it into something new? Affirmation/Transformation: Fandom Created also happens to be the keystone of my dissertation project. 

My research focuses on the kinds of things that fans create, the ways in which fans and academics consider those creations, and the various ways fans are compensated for the work they complete. “The kinds of things that fans create” includes not only tangible creations—like fanfiction, fan art, cosplay, and collections—but also immaterial creations—like rules, rivalries, relationships, political movements, identities, histories, emotional responses, theories, community, meanings, alternative readings, and play. I am hoping fans will submit a plethora of different forms of tangible fanworks; I have already received art, fiction, original music, nail art, cross-stitch, cosplay, and more. Intangible fanworks are more difficult to gather and display; however, once Affirmation/Transformation opens in the fall, I will be conducting ethnographic research with fans regarding their experience with both tangible and intangible fan creations. Through my research, I hope to further break down what I see as an unnatural barrier between affirmational and transformational fandom, and expand on the ways in which all fanworks both affirm and transform their fan objects. Additionally, I will be investigating the various ways fans are compensated for their fannish labor.

In business, the idea of non-monetary compensation is commonly discussed. Things like benefits, time off, employee assistance programs, discounts, and other employer-provided perks are discussed as a part of an employee’s “total compensation package.” Yet, in most fan studies texts, fan labor is referred to as totally unpaid. At best, fanworks are discussed within the context of a gift economy: fans make fanworks as gifts, and are gifted more fanworks in return. I don’t disagree with this assessment of fan compensation—I personally consider each fanwork submitted to Affirmation/Transformation: Fandom Created to be a gift towards the completion of my dissertation—but it does not seem to go far enough. The “compensation” fans receive extends far beyond the (albeit massive) “gift” of the vast archives of fanfiction and fan art housed on sites like AO3 and Tumblr. Compensation can be social, emotional, communal, psychological, developmental, and beyond. If access to an EAP is considered part of the compensation package offered by a corporation, then should not access to a network of individuals within a fandom—all in possession of their own knowledge and expertise—be considered as similar compensation? Fans provide mutual aid for those in their community in ways often above and beyond what a business might do for an employee facing a period of struggle. Perhaps I am just a “cultural dupe,” but I feel I’ve gotten just as much or more from my fandom as compared to what I’ve put in, and I struggle to be fully convinced that my labor is being exploited for the mass media’s hegemony. 

Through my scholarship, I hope to contribute to ongoing fan studies research through the further analysis of these alternate forms of compensation, as well as through the cataloging and archiving of fanworks as valid, artistic texts worthy of academic consideration. Not only will the fanworks submitted Affirmation/Transformation: Fandom Created be displayed as a part of the exhibition, but they will also be archived with my dissertation in Marquette University’s institutional repository, preserving them for at least as long as the University exists and making them available for further academic study. 
Fan submissions for Affirmation/Transformation: Fandom Created are being accepted now, and will continue to be accepted through the close of the exhibition (December 22, 2024). In order to be on display in the gallery on opening night (August 23, 2024), fanworks must be submitted by August 1st. All types of fanworks are welcome, as long as they are submitted digitally. Sound will be available to be played in the gallery (fanworks will be displayed on tablets with headphones attached).  For more information, visit https://epublications.marquette.edu/fandom/Affirmationtransformation/, or email Kate Rose at [email protected]

Affirmation/Transformation: Fandom Created – a chance to see your fanworks on display in a museum