14 December 2011

All I Can See is the Management at Gasworks review

Review written for BREESE LITTLE Prize for Art Criticism Volume IV (which I didn't win). Voilà, some (very) hurriedly thrown together words about this great Gasworks exhibition, which ran 7 October through 11 December 2011.

Immediately upon entering the Gasworks building one is confronted with the exhibition All I Can See is the Management, or at least some of the art works that have been curated into and thus contained by that exhibition title and the building that houses Gasworks contemporary art organisation. On first glance, it looks like a pretty exemplary example of a Contemporary Art exhibition in the early twenty-first century – a variety of media (moving image, still image, text work, silkscreen prints), no labels, works spanning the last thirty years or so, artists of various origins and ages, etc. – but as one delves further into the works presented it becomes apparent that this co-curated show is not your run-of-the-mill contemporary art exhibition. It seems to function in at least two at once complimentary and contradictory directions: All I Can See is the Management comprises a very clear critique of the hyper-managerialism that has been progressively integrated into our lives on all levels, whilst maintaining a certain consciousness (one senses) of the role that contemporary art itself plays in such managerial and neoliberal ideals.

Thus, perhaps it should come as no surprise that all we can see is the management when we enter Gasworks. That is the management of art works; more precisely the management of art works which themselves deal with ideas of managerialism and its effects on the human psyche, neoliberal indoctrination, so-called creative labour, the role of gender stereotypes and the family under capitalism, and the role of institutions and increasing institutionalisation of life. Hence the paradox: how to treat works who are consciously critiquing managerial principles from within a framework that is inherently so?

It seems that curators Antonia Blocker, Robert Leckie and Helena Vilalta are aware of this paradox without letting it detract from the individual works and their arrangement in the space as an exhibition. Instead, the exhibition allows the art works to serve as a powerful tools for examining – even interrogating – the constraints contemporary society (or post-Fordist society) puts on people in regard to work, bureaucracy and the legitimisation of practice (artistic or otherwise).

For example, in Filipa César's video Rapport (2007), the artist documents a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) session. César employs primarily close-up shots of participants' faces and body gestures during group psychotherapy tasks aimed at improving management skills and training workers for 'excellence' in the office by aligning their needs with that of the business. The result is quite a strange experience (particularly if you haven't read the room-sheet explication) of wondering why these people are performing such odd movements, saying such bizarre things and interacting in a very rigid, contrived manner. One realises that this sort of behaviour, where humans are trained to behave primarily as business-minded individuals, when taken out of context, is entirely abstract and almost pointless. Through this abstraction one becomes subtly aware of the way human interaction has been instrumentalised for entrepreneurial motives, and the way personal interrelations based on the business model have been made to seem commonplace, even desirable.

In a similar vein, Amy Feneck's film [image above] Government Workers (2010) reveals, through the seemingly mundane aspects of a Hackney secondary school, a certain bureaucracy and administrative pressure that pushes subtly on all existing within that institution. She does this via long observational shots of the classes, offices, playgrounds and communal areas of the school, showing how those inhabiting these spaces are effected and controlled by such educational models – both physically and mentally. This prosaic account differs from Allan Sekula's School is a Factory (1978-80) series, for which the artist takes a somewhat more humorous track in his critique of educational institutions as spaces of continuous production. Sekula utilises documentary and staged black and white photography as well as diagrams to illustrate the socio-economic make-up of various South Californian community colleges in the late 1970s. His approach seems to flag many of the issues around, race, class and gender which continue to haunt (and produce) education systems today.

Whether we choose to see All I Can See is the Management as an overt attempt to expose the oppressive nature of managerial tendencies in neoliberal society, and as a successful exploration of how late capitalist society has so successfully blurred life and work (in that even the exhibition itself must be considered to function within this double-bind), or as a self-contradicting enterprise, we really can see the management here, which is fine by me.

[Please excuse the cheese!]


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