Curator, Always Working

Access Gallery, Vancouver, BC, June 23-July 28, 2012. 

Always Working explored the relationship between artistic labour and the politics of everyday life. Featuring works by Didier Courbot (Paris), Jamie Hilder (Vancouver), David Horvitz (New York), Kelly Mark (Toronto) and Carey Young (London), the show examined the repetitive tasks and excessive labour used by artists to activate work as a space for social critique and political action.

Although the merging of art with everyday life was a goal of the twentieth century avant-garde, in recent years this integration has been achieved through the globalization of the economy, where forms of affective labour, such as care-giving, lifestyle coaching or relationship counselling, are now legitimate forms of work that require monetary compensation. Always Working questioned this shift and proposed that useless and excessive forms of artistic labour might offer a position of political resistance to these trends. Whether using laborious methods in the production of their works, or assuming the role of the worker in their performances, videos and installations, the artists in Always Working prioritize useless labour: work that cannot be “put to work” in order to participate in the global economy.

For several artists in the exhibition, work involves assuming and exceeding the role of the everyday labourer, such as Carey Young’s video documenting her presentation of free, “how to” advice on public speaking in London’s Speakers’ Corner, or David Horvitz’s offer to stop what he’s doing and devote one minute to thinking about you in exchange for one dollar. For others, making artistic labour visible, both in and outside the studio, is a key concern, as in Kelly Mark’s artist contracts with Canadian galleries which have been renegotiated so that her work is renumerated according to the hourly minimum wage (an amount that is always higher than the CARFAC-suggested artist fee). Similarly, Didier Courbot’s photographic series captures his ongoing interventions meant to fulfil practical urban “needs,” such as painting in a crosswalk on a busy street, or installing a birdhouse on a streetlamp: a project he will expand on through performance and photographic works made during an artist residency in Vancouver. Finally, Jamie Hilder’s impersonation of a “downtown ambassador,” who provides tourists with an alternative history of the city focused on its management of the appearance of poverty, and his subsequent arrest by Vancouver police, suggest that there is something radical and even dangerous about the kind of “work” that art can do.

Public Programming:

Panel Discussion: Work is All Over
Saturday, June 23, 2012, 2 pm, Access Gallery

Exhibiting artists Didier Courbot and Jamie Hilder, curator Gabrielle Moser, and members of the Lower Mainland Painting Company discuss the political work that might be accomplished by art that engages with conditions of its own production. What kind of work is contemporary art expected to do in the current political climate? What happens when artists refuse or exceed these expectations? And, how can artistic labour be activated as a space for social critique and political action?

No Reading After the Internet: Hito Steyerl’s “Politics of Art”
Wednesday, June 27, 2012, 7 pm, Access Gallery

In tandem with Always Working, curator Gabrielle Moser co-facilitates a meeting of No Reading After the Internet, an out-loud reading group organized by Alex Muir and VIVO. Focusing on artist Hito Steyerl’s 2010 e-flux essay, “Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Post-Democracy,” the group will discuss the text’s call for an art that examines the politics of its own production and its relation to the works in the exhibition. No Reading After the Internet is a monthly opportunity to gather and read a text aloud in hopes that it might provoke theoretical illumination on particular art works, or the broader scape within which such work exists.

Let’s Talk About Love (and Work): Fillip Launch Party and Reading Salon
Thursday, August 29, 2013, 7 pm, Access Gallery

A special reading salon and reception to celebrate the launch of Fillip 18, featuring a special section on art and labour edited by Gabrielle Moser. Operating as an extension of the discussions about the financial and labour conditions of contemporary art raised by the exhibition Always Working, the special section of Fillip invites the critic and historian Sven Lütticken and the artist Natascha Sadr Haghighian to reflect on the conditions under which artistic labour is made to appear or disappear.

In tandem with the launch join us for an informal reading salon and discussion about love and work. How does desire motivate our complicity in systems of overwork? What are the different ways we might talk about love in relation to labour? Drawing on theoretical essays, pop songs, poems and other texts, Jesse Birch, Allison Collins, Shaun Dacey, Amy Fung, Vanessa Kwan, Erdem Tasdelen and cheyanne turions considered a range of modes for writing about desire and work.