Art & Development

Thinking on the job

Labor’s on the brain lately, thanks to Ben Davis’ 9.5 Theses on Art and Class and Martha Rosler’s Culture Class.

Funny thing: Reading about labor makes you start thinking about labor—including while you’re at work, for better or worse. Here are a few paradoxes of labor as an art handler/art installer:

1. “Hurry up and wait.” Art laborers’ time is expensive yet expendable. Waste is part of the process of productivity.

2. Exhibition-making is a combination of office work and gallery work; the contrast between salaried/white-collar and hourly/blue-collar workers’ valuations of time, modes of employment, and precariousness is telling.

3. Help others help you with clear directions. Experience and decisiveness are not co-developed skills.

4. If the risk of confidence in excess is egocentrism, safeguard with humility and gratitude.

5. The more powerful you are, the more tardy you can be.

always in a rush but seldom on time

Ben McGrath, “New York Time,” New Yorker, Nov. 4, 2013 

Happiness Is… Research Note #3

For being where you are, and knowing when you are:

Attitudes toward the past are key to the development of gratitude … which allow you to appreciate the present.

Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd, The Time Paradox

When we link ourselves to the future, we behave better today.

Shane Lopez, IPPA World Congress, 2010
Art & Development

Labor and Time

As posited by Art Monthly (#356: May 2012):

In a western world dominated by immaterial labour, and where scientists and philosophers have thrown into doubt our understanding of physical objects, how have artists – from John McCracken and John Hilliard to Wood & Harrison and Andrew Dodds – questioned and defended the nature of things?

‘Sculpture, of all the arts, must surely be responsible for mapping the various journeys of thinghood. “What is a Thing?” – the question Heidegger asked in the 1920s – turns out to be a question that we have to keep asking.’

As I help M prepare his exhibition, the challenges of working with materials become instantiated everyday. In contrast to clicking “undo” and swiping screens, sourcing, handling, manipulating and displaying materials—not to mention lending them the illusion of perfection and timelessness so often desired of art objects—is complicated, expensive, and risky. Entropy constantly threatens. Nothing gets done without physical energy and attention; things take time and skill. Labor has become, as Art Monthly put it, immaterial—and I wonder how this shifts how art objects are perceived and understood. So many of my recent art viewing experiences have conjured thoughts about production values, for better or worse. The drawback, for me, is over-emphasizing how something is made over what it accomplishes in content or concept. For those who are disconnected from materials and labor, perhaps the work triggers thoughts unencumbered by human and environmental costs, at best looking with “deadpan” eyes (as Rosalind Krass described of Minimalism) at form and form alone, and at worst, with the Like/Dislike, Instagram-worthy consumer browsing. In that mindset, to register visually, to click and upload, is the power to put a thing in a shopping cart, pay for it, bring it home, and store it in a vast garage, all in one instant.