The exhibition will feature video, multi-media installation, works on paper and live performances from artists, Constant Dullaart, Hana Janeckova & Rob Lye, Jennifer Lyn Morone, John Wood & Paul Harrison, Matthew Britton, Millicent Hawk, Naomi Fitzsimmons, Office Vernacular and Rosie Carr.
The Roman philosopher Seneca, in On the Shortness of Life (c. 5 BC – AD 65) wrote that “Life is long if you know how to use it. But one man is gripped by insatiable greed, another by a laborious dedication to useless tasks.” To extend this thought, nearly 2,000 years later, Erich Fromm, in The Fear of Freedom (1942), made a similar remark when he stated that “modern man believes himself to be motivated by self-interest and yet that actually his life is devoted to aims which are not his own.”
Whilst employed as gallery workers, we applied these pertinent observations to our then current situation. We began to consider all aspects of the labour present within the art world that was not actually involved in art-making itself: traditionally, office work and artistic labour have had an antithetical relationship. The gallery – as the central administrative hub for art and artists – exists as the point of convergence where these two ostensibly opposing labour practices come together. Thus, the exhibition has emerged as a way to critique this precarious marriage of clerical and artistic work by uncovering and exploring the systems currently in operation within the art world, and reflecting on the questionable ethics of governing arts institutions and corporations, illuminating the (in)visible labour practices built into the gallery’s structure by operating within capital to analyse the conditions of capital.
A Laborious Dedication to Useless Tasks interrogates the emergence, since post-Fordism, of the white-collar proletariat, in particular its implementation within the art industry; the ever-growing reliance on the ‘precariat’ (which we see with unpaid internships, freelance work and zero-hours contracts); the relationship between gender and clerical work (think: the ‘gallerina’); and the standards by which productivity at work is measured. The exhibition will also display works that illuminate the performative aspects of labour, for example, what we might mean by the ‘professional’ and ‘professionality’ at work in relation to Nina Power’s concept of the ‘feminisation of labour’, that is, the objectification of labour, where “men and women are at all times supposed to be a kind of walking CV […] everything is on show, everything counts.”
Beyond the gallery, the concept of A Laborious Dedication to Useless Tasks can be thought of as a way to reflect more widely on the threat of cultural capital and the intractable bind between the various forms of labour (be that waged, governmental (think: New Labour, labour activism), affective, skilled, reproductive, emotional etc.) and a sense of meaningful existence. The exhibition aims to confront the precarious new reality for many, that, as the boundaries between work and leisure have incrementally become more blurred, who we are is defined by what we do. And perhaps even more generally, the exhibition will raise questions about the relationship between these multifarious associations with labour and one's own subjectivity, self-identity and complicity (that is, asking how much we, as individuals, act as self-destructive agents who blindly perpetuate the very systems which seek to oppress us and limit our ‘freedom’).