A Day’s Work
This exhibition brings together a group of 21 international artists who address issues around temporality, subjectivity, labour and art.
Some of the artists in the exhibition are concerned with the rationalization of time and natural phenomena; others investigate the alienating effects of new technologies on workers’ lives while others still engage in a more private, personal struggle with the capricious nature of the materials they have chosen to work with.
Often these overlap, such as in the work of KP Brehmer which, as Margaret Iversen argues in her catalogue essay Diagramming the Day, takes the form of a struggle between the effort to systematically record things, such as the changing colour of the sky over 24 hours, and the unruly nature of the watery paints he uses for the task that leak out of the very system he has created to contain them. Similarly, Mike Meiré’s crushed newspaper reconfigures the grid-like ‘journal’ as chaotic splotch.
In Renaissance frescos, the giornatae refers to the area an artist could paint in a single day. A measurement of human labour is thus embedded in artwork dating from the 14th and 15th century, its calculation based on how much physical energy a painter may have set against the material properties of the paint itself, such as the time it took to dry.
In everyday usage, the phrase ‘a day’s work’ might be an expression of satisfaction, signalling the end of a task. However, it could also be the amount of paid labour you need in order to survive.
Artists such as Francis Alÿs, Jeremy Deller, Mathew Hale and Philip-Lorca diCorcia address ways in which the variable value of labour is determined. Their work aims at exposing exploitative practices where the body of the worker is traded and/or rated for productivity and ‘like-ability’. Here a technologically permeated subject is set against that component of selfhood which can’t be measured: the ungovernable and unquantifiable moments of introspection or pleasure.
Nick Koppenhagen’s Witterungsreporte diagrams (2013-ongoing) record every day of every year according to a set of colour coded definitions. Susan Morris’s Jacquard tapestries also record her own day to day activity, alongside ambient light conditions, over extremely long time periods. Both practices address pictorial abstraction on the one hand while on the other diagram the body and soul within a system that attempts to leave nothing out.
Echoing the original definition of the giornata, On Kawara and Stanley Whitney’s paintings, Rakish Light’s photographic prints, Joey Kötting’s video work and Pete Smith’s poetry engage with the physical properties of materials set against the limits of what might be possible to get done before the day’s end.
For Jill Baroff, the day is measured not by a clock or by the limits of human capability but by the intervals and cycles in the natural world, with works dictated, for example, by the rise and fall of sea levels, the tide times, or the amount of daylight in each passing day. The data from which her ink on paper drawings are sourced, however, comes from the internet. Works by Inge Dick and Spencer Finch similarly engage with the way technology mediates the way we encounter natural phenomena.
Counting provides the parameters of Ignacio Uriarte’s audio piece and Hanne Darboven’s drawings while, for Helen Mirra, the count of her footsteps operates as a frame for the meditative rhythm which is at the heart of her field recordings, where objects encountered during a day’s walk are printed in ink on linen.
James Howell and Rudolf de Crignis return to the question of paint, to its materiality, as explored in the almost invisible labour of layering colour as well as in the interrogation of the compositional field itself – the problem of how it may be divided up or arranged. Running counter to ideas of maximising productivity, their paintings take their own ‘slow’ time while nevertheless registering the passing of the day.
The question of what constitutes a day’s work changes alongside industrial and technical developments. Artists can comment on these things but they themselves are constrained by the limits of the materials they use and the time they have to do something with them. Considered within the context of contemporary conditions of work therefore, A Day’s Work examines the activity of artists in relation to this mutable unit of measurement – a subject that Micheael Newman explores in his catalogue essay A Day’s Writing.