All I Can See is the Management, Gasworks

January 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

I thought this exhibition would make me feel very left out. I’ve never worked for any substantial period in an office environment. I have no boss to hate, no co-workers to dislike, no staff to share a slightly crap christmas party with… I prefer to inhabit the free spirited world of the perpetually panic-stricken ‘freelancer’ and I become acutely aware of this during the festive season.

So, no better time to visit a show called ‘All I Can See is the Management’ because I all too often can’t. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there, hiding. How naïve of me to think myself exempt. The management is everywhere, creeping into all aspects of existence as this cleverly curated exhibition presents. It’s presence is felt at school, in social situations even in the home…

Which is where the exhibition opens and the setting of the video from which the title is borrowed: a satirical spin on typical domestic TV dramas, Distinct (1979) by Stuart Marshall. In it a couple self consciously role-play the various gender politics of the home, assessing their effectiveness throughout, alternately taking charge of the situation. At one point the home is compared to an unproductive factory and this becomes a running theme throughout All I Can See is the Management. In Allan Sekula’s series of neat diagrams School is a Factory, (1978-80) the education establishment is analogous to a governmental department turning out ‘products’ to fit demand. Sitting appropriately alongside Sekula but with an altogether more obtuse message is Amy Feneck’s video Governmental Workers (2010) where calm scenes of children behaving appropriately within their setting is, according to the press release, a comment on the top-down regulation of student behaviour. Architectural choreography is surely appropriate within a school, as is hierarchy. The comment, if there is one, is lost.

Certainly not the case with the Co-Operative Explanatory Capabilities in Organisational Design and Personnel Management (2010). The nebulous idea of productivity once again is paramount and explored with acerbic wit in Pil & Galia Kollectiv’s entertainingly alarmist video featuring a fictive narrative of a sham office established purely to monitor the unwitting employees productivity levels. It backfires. They turn feral.

Conversely, in real life the workers fear of productive failings is altogether more repressed and troublingly portrayed in Filipa Cesar’s video Rapport (2007) of a Neuro-Linguistic Programming workshop. Fly on the wall documentary style, such as this piece, with no overt interference by the artist features heavily as an honesty reassurance device (see also Darcy Lange’s Work Studies in Schools (1976-77)). A technique exposing the hidden manipulations of the subject serving to highlight a prevailingly veiled form of sly subjugation. In Rapport we see tears and tortured souls confessing their worst views of themselves, all too often a fear of not being creative enough or lacking ideas… Not a fate that befell Victorian maid Hannah Cullwick whose extraordinary photographic series displays her in various ‘class drag’ guises from aristocratic gentleman to black slave. The photos are re-enacted by artists Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz’s Normal Work (2007) video and serves as an effective counterpoint; the roles we adopt are role-play and by no means fixed.

But, back to the case in hand, teasing out emotional breakdowns is just a part of modern day management moulding, nothing to worry about, dear. The company can shape your mind, body and soul. Management becomes life, life becomes management and the jargon becomes unstoppably normalised. Now as our once-upon-a-time neatly compartmentalised existences melt ever more together whilst simultaneously falling apart to the tinny ping of a smartphone and exemplified no better than in an email, from an investment fund manager to a romantic interest, that recently went viral. In it he outlines her ‘serious relationship potential’ and shared interests equating to time efficiency. She never returned his calls. This case illustrates one of the key points of AICSITM, the unhealthy leakage of personal, social and work life endemic of our generation. It’s timely, to call up for questioning corporate cultural subjects from the late 70s, another era on the brink of recession. We can appreciate the prophetic trajectory bourne of the era, the ignored warnings. An affecting show and a disconcerting message, indeed.

Disclaimer: I realise several artists are omitted from this review. This should not be taken as a report on their failings or relevance. In all honesty I ran out of viewing time. I’ll endeavour towards better efficiency. Perhaps I need a manager…

7 October – 11 December 2011
Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz, KP Brehmer, Filipa César, Eulàlia, Amy Feneck, Pil & Galia Kollectiv, Darcy Lange, Stuart Marshall, Allan Sekula

Curated by Antonia Blocker, Robert Leckie and Helena Vilalta

http://www.gasworks.org.uk/exhibitions/detail.php?id=695

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