Overtime, The Art of Work
Art History II Gallery Write Up
On Saturday, March 21 I went to the Albright Knox Art Gallery and viewed several different galleries that they had to offer. One of these galleries was titled “Overtime, The Art of Work”. This gallery was a collection of pieces that featured a multitude of different artists including Jackson Pollock, Tehching Hsieh, Agnieszka Kurant, among many others. Not only did this gallery include many different artists, but the gallery also had a variety of mediums showcased in it’s gallery from photography and paintings, all the way to videos and sculptures. The purpose of the gallery was to focus on the working conditions of invisible jobs, and showcase the harsh reality of what it is like to work in the factories during the rise of industrialization as well as other laboring jobs that take a toll on the human body.
One of the pieces that really spoke to me was elements from Tehching Hsieh’s “One Year Performance 1980-1981”, April 11, 1980- April 11, 1981. This featured a “framed poster, statement, explanation, two witness statements, DVD, photo, missed punches record, time card, and film strip.”
This installment showcased the repetition of work and how it can eat away at people. It also showed how laboring can make somebody feel less like a person and more like a cog in the machine of industry, simply existing for the better interests of big business. In the video portion of the instillation it is clear that the man starts out looking healthy, and while each day he looks relatively similar, he slowly starts to sulk and look progressively more tired as the video plays through. It’s interesting how much of a toll that one year of work can take on a persons body. This piece demonstrated how intense labor can dehumanize employees and transform them from human beings with lives, to pieces to a puzzle with strict regulations to follow, and important jobs to do.
Another part of the gallery that spoke to me was the section from artist Josh Kline. Kline contributed a video and three 3D-printed sculptures to the gallery all relating to the unfair labor conditions of working for FedEx.
The video played on the wall as onlookers were allowed to walk among three FedEx boxes filled with styrofoam marshmallows and various 3D printed body parts with the FedEx logo printed on them. The three 3D printed sculptures are titled “No Sick Days” “Unpaid Overtime” and “No Vacation Days” Again, these pieces tell stories about how working for a company can lead to dehumanization, and take a toll on somebodies life. They also lead to the notion that in the grand scheme of life, big business value money and profit more than they do the well being of their employees.
The FedEx logo printed on the body parts of the people makes them seem more like physical assets to the company rather than actual people. It makes it seem like a person is no more valuable than a truck, or a conveyor belt, or the mere boxes that house the
packages. In the eyes of the owners of the company it doesn’t matter that the workers have horrible working conditions, all that matters is how full that they can stuff their pockets with money. It was a very powerful feeling seeing hyperrealistic severed heads sitting in the box cold and lifeless. Plastic instead of skin, embodying the fact that people are simply products; tools of the industry. Hearing the video of the FedEx worker on the wall explaining all of his grievances with his job and just being very straightforward about what he is put through every day in an effort to get by and earn the money that he needs to “live”. It was almost surreal being able to walk among these pieces and to see what they had to offer. The physical entity of these works of art embodied a feeling of somber structuralism. Not only did I witness the hardships of working for FedEx, but I could also feel it. The pieces send a very distinct and powerful message to the viewer, and communicate something that is very important about how our society is structured. The main idea of this piece is that if
you aren’t positioned at the top of the work pyramid, you are going to have to deal with horrible working conditions and are going to struggle. This struggle is not only dealing with the unpaid overtime, no sick days, and other associated “work” problems, it is also the fact that as a result of these problems at work it also bleeds into the workers’ personal lives and overall decreases their quality of life as a whole. It is something that is unavoidable. Society tells us that as humans in a working society it is necessary for us to have jobs so we can make money and fit into the place that we are destined to fit in. It’s something that is engrained not only in American society, but in society all over the whole world and it is holding us back from moving forward.
As a whole, the gallery sent a very powerful message and led me to ask myself a lot of questions about how our society “works” and why it is set up how it is. It made my ponder things like: “Why do we have to struggle between maintaining both a work, and a personal life?” and “Why do we spend our life working, to earn money for entertainment and basic survival needs, when in the end the very jobs we are doing are literally taking those two things away from us?” This gallery helps the viewer question not only the society that they live in, but also the purpose they are serving in society. “Am I being dehumanized?” was something that constantly ran circles around my head as I viewed the various pieces and thought about life. This gallery is one that taught me something about society, and myself and the questions I asked myself and lessons I learned are things that I intend on carrying with me for years to come.