The Working World
This exhibition comprises a variety of responses to the theme: the working world. There is a shared sense of playfulness in approaches to the subject which subverts the more socially concerned tone of the traditionally realist theme. Works in this exhibition indicate an interest in the world of work as providing an insight into real experience and implying a belief in a certain universality. Here the real is understood in terms of the mundane and the common place; the everyday actions of seemingly average people. The architecture of the working world appears familiar in these works: generic spaces that could exist in any town form a vernacular: implying a communality of experience and recognition.
The works grant attention to the quiet nobility of the individual going about their daily routine. On an immediate level, this is banal and fairly uninteresting. And yet here, the artists create insights into the humanity of the working individual, depersonalised by the institution, and by the repetitious monotony of their routine. We are allowed glimpses into private worlds, drams and ambitions. Positioned against the repetitiveness of a nine till five routine, this provides spaces for humorous and, at times poignant reflection on the condition of the modern individual.
Simon Bolton is a documentary photographer whose images of business conferences aim to make public what goes on behind closed doors. Work from his Agenda series recall glossy commercial brochures, and yet here they acquire a sense of humour in revealing the mundane. United only by the work, the suited figures appear generic, and non-distinct in grey pinstripe.
The perceivable awkwardness of dislocated exchanges and disinterested glances cause us to consider their lives outside of this envrironment. These photographs are set against dull images of undesirable conference buffet food, and images of male speakers on podiums conveying a self-contained sense of power, which is undermined by the complete picture.
Dave Wall's work Preferring to State the Existence of Things (Arriving and Leaving Work for Year) comprises a folder of some 400 photographs of the outside of his workspace taken between 9 November 2001 and 7 November 2002 on his arrival and departure from work. The series focusses on the architecture of the workplace an of its continued existence but also, through the classification of each image with specific dates ad times, Ball aligns his own existence with that of the building. His presence in taking the photographs turns the repetition of meticulous documentation emphasises his own existence, defined through his presence at and absence from work, and the passing of time.
Minna Kantonen's Line of Height features a selection of large scale images form a series photographed in the UK and Finland. They reflect on the idiosyncrasies of different work environments; cluttered offices and sparse, brightly lit factory floors; opening up hidden spaces not ordinarily granted attention and yet which appear strangely familiar.
The title refers to the workers that inhabit the spaces, whom the artist has systematically arranged in rows. Figures stand in order of height, perhaps subverting conventional hierarchies amongst staff. Stood in this unnatural formation, the people are presented objectively, each defined in relation to each other. The surrounding environment absorbs them, appearing dominant through the angel of the camera, and yet when we look closely, we discover individual attempts to personalise workstations, with photographs and ornamentation, impressing their quirks on the otherwise generic surroundings, and thus merging public and private worlds’
Mandy Bray's performative installation Untitled take the form of a jigsaw puzzle which visitors are invited to piece together througout the duration of the exhibition. The fragmented scene is photographed outside a factory, where rows of plastic chairs accommodate workers on a cigarette break. This is a scene where employees are caught between work and private time, revealing glimpses of themselves as individuals in an environment where they are otherwise stripped of identity dressed in standard factory uniforms. The durational completing of the puzzle refers to factory shift work, in which designated institutional systems (here the gallery opening hours) mean that a task is completed by several operatives; the departure of one makes way for the arrival of another. This sifting sequence is also references in Situations Vacant (Series 3)- 1,000 JOBBS: An installation made up of job adverts from the local paper, whereby the departures open up new opportunities.
Jenna Colins' video Certain Private Conversations takes its name from the subtitle to Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman Situated in commercial settings of a corner shop, an actor reads the play from start to finish, and yet speaking only the stage directions. Striped of all dialogue bewtween its characters, the play is rendered meaningless, in line with the play's thesis: the futility of a ilife in business told through the experience of a salesman at the end of his career. The protagonist, Willy Loman agonises to make sense of a life devoted to working and striving after the American dream, who at he age of sixty has beens swallowed by the system and left with nothing.
Playfully trivial, in both the setting and in the actor's rhythmic, mundane delivery, and yet imbued with a sense of paths and humanity lent it through the recounting of emotional stage instructions, the piece holds a particular resonance here; the average working man is rendered a tragic hero. Miller's play ends with the suicide of its disillusioned protagonist, and with the notion that 'attention must finally be paid to a such man'; the average man. And yet in the Collins' vide , the surroundings of the corner shop begin to dominate, and the tragic salesman's story becomes absorbed by other elements, the newsagents, whose presence as a mdeorn salesman suprasse that of Willy, and the acitivity in teh shop. This highlights the cuclicl fashion of the working world, whre one individual is replaces by another and the attempts of the individual to discover the meaning of their place in a world of work.