All I Can See is the Management at Gasworks, London (7.10 – 11.12.2011) by Anja Isabel Schneider

Clockwise: Pil and Galia Kollectiv, Co-Operative Explanatory Capabilities... (2010); KP Brehmer, Soul and Feelings of a Worker (1978-1980); Allan Sekula, School is a Factory (1978-80). Photograph by Matthew Booth

All I Can See is the Management, Gaswork’s current exhibition brings together works that explore the concerns of labor politics from the 1970s until today. In addition, the show underlines the continuously fading boundaries between life and work, as poignantly illustrated in the September issue of last year’s Texte zur Kunst. ‘Life at work’ takes over the journal’s cover, functioning as both title and visual poem. Multiplied in a chain, these words feed into a geometric pattern, evoking an assembly line. While the reading is two-fold, the words’ tactile quality is underlined. ‘Life at work’ is something that one may actually feel…. Extending on the show’s title All I Can See…, it thus seems relevant to focus on the notion of ‘feeling’ which informs several works on view in the exhibition. Undoubtedly, the exhibition’s theme resonates powerfully within today’s social, political and economic debates, as well as within the artworld in general.1

Curated collaboratively by Antonia Blocker, Robert Leckie and Helena Vilalta, the exhibition’s title All I Can See… thus mirrors the evergrowing awareness and presence of ‘managerialism’ beyond corporate spheres, while referencing one of the works in the exhibition, i.e. Stuart Marshall’s video Distinct (1979, 38 min.) from which the show’s title is taken. Marshall’s video depicts a couple in a domestic environment, in a repeated discussion of gender roles, subject to further tension and alienation between the two protagonists. The work finds an echo in Eulàlia’s collages Discriminació de la dona (Discrimination of Women) (1977) composed of worn-out black and white media images in an exploration of gender stereotypes, distribution of work and feminist critique to which it is linked.

Clockwise: Stuart Marshall, Distinct (1979); Eulàlia, Discriminació de la dona (Discrimination of Women, 1977). Photograph by Matthew Booth

“How does that feel?” is a question posed in Rapport (2007) Filipa César’s video documentary. A therapy session to “perceive yourself and to feel yourself,” it unveils the management training tools via a psychotherapeutic approach, such as neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) with the aim of improving one’s performance. Like César, KP Brehmer’s political work Seele und Gefühl eines Arbeiters (Soul and Feelings of a Worker) (1978-1980) finds a visual language to the above question. In a series of large-scale abstract paintings, Brehmer here transcribes the findings of a sociological study about the state of mind of workers while on the job. A composition of rectangles and squares in different colors represent the worker’s emotional state. However, while the artist does not provide an exact key to decode the painterly diagram and color symbols, each of the canvases carries a sub-heading (here 10th, 16th, and 33rd week) which provide glimpses into the study’s time-frame.

Clockwise: Filipa César, Rapport (2007); KP Brehmer, Soul and Feelings of a Worker (1978-1980). Photograph by Matthew Booth

Within the realm of sociological investigations, Darcy Lange’s video Work Studies in Schools (1976-77) a survey of public and state schools in Birmingham and Oxfordshire relates the experiences of both teachers and students, here reciprocally subject to critique. In turn, Amy Feneck’s film Government Workers (2010) documents daily life at a Secondary School in East London. One learns how to perform in school, at university, on the job as independent producers. Among the works investigating the educational sphere, Allan Sekula’s School is a Factory (1978-80) stands out as an early precedent of performance-driven production in a series of photographs commented on by Sekula and exemplified through several diagrams. One of the photographs shows an artist in a studio-like setting, turning her back to the camera and the following caption:

“An artist paints her loft, an abandoned yeshira in a Chinese neighborhood in the Lower East Side of New York City. She works as a clerk and barely makes ends meet. Although she’s in her late thirties, she is considered a ‘young artist’ because she’s just begun to be noticed by curators and critics. Six months after her first one-person show at a Fifty-Seventh Street Gallery, she mysteriously disappears from the art world.”

Clockwise: Allan Sekula, School is a Factory (1978-80); Amy Feneck, Government Workers (2010); Darcy Lange, Work Studies in Schools, 1976-77. Photograph by Matthew Booth

While the exhibition adresses the transformations in the workfield, focusing on the ‘worker’, ‘manager’ and ‘entrepreneur’ within different social structures, it seems vital here to reflect upon the role of the artist and more generally speaking, that of the cultural producer. This is evident in the artist’s appropriation of business strategies and role-play, foregrounding the performative dimension, exemplified in the exhibition through works such as César’s Rapport or Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz’s Normal Work (2007). While capitalism cleverly adopted and usurped the vocabulary and flexible working method formerly attributed to artists and cultural workers in a process of ongoing reinvention (as demonstrated by Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello in The New Spirit of Capitalism), the logic of the factory seems to prevail within the art-world.2

The performance-expectations one is subject to as an artist, or more generally as a cultural producer, as Jan Verwoert succinctly pointed out in ‘Control I’m Here: A Call For the Free Use of the Means of Producing Communication, in Curating and in General’ are not to be underestimated. According to Verwoert: “The industry’s ideal is a curatorial type operating like a factory, which, hydraulically powered by the ceaseless ebb and flow of e-mails between in and outbox, would churn out an unending stream of exhibitions, events, publications, etc.” (Verwoert 2010: 24). Awareness precedes control, yet it does not necessarily offer an alternative. All I Can See is the Management, conceived as a research project in which the exhibition is but a first instance, may be felt as one step in the right direction.

Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, Normal Work (2007, detail) . Photograph by Matthew Booth

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