artist / participant
5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours
23 April – 29 May 2016
Symposium: Saturday 23 April, 11am–5pm
Chisenhale Gallery presents the first solo exhibition in the UK and a new commission by Berlin-based artist, Maria Eichhorn. Highly responsive to context, Eichhorn’s work operates within the logic of institutional structures, enacting changes through precise and visually minimal gestures. Her ambitious, large-scale projects often take on the mechanics of legal, social and financial processes, making permanent interventions that evolve over time.
Following a site visit to Chisenhale in July 2015, which included a discussion with Chisenhale staff exploring their working lives, Eichhorn has produced a two part work examining contemporary labour conditions. The exhibition will begin with a one-day symposium on Saturday 23 April, addressing ideas raised by the project. The symposium will feature lectures by Isabell Lorey and Stewart Martin and will be chaired by Andrea Phillips. The afternoon will be devoted to a discussion with the audience, in which Eichhorn will also participate.
At Eichhorn’s request, the gallery’s staff will then withdraw their labour for the remaining five weeks of the exhibition. None of Chisenhale’s employees will work during this period and the gallery and office will be closed, implementing leisure and ‘free time’ in the place of work. At the heart of the project is a belief in the importance of questioning work – of asking why, within our current political context, work is synonymous with production, and if, in fact, work can also consist of doing nothing. Eichhorn’s conceptual gesture is an implicit critique of institutional production and broader neo-liberal patterns of consumption, but it is also an artwork that deals with ideas of displacement of the artist’s labour and of the artwork as work.
Eichhorn has previously made a number of works that present an image of capital that calls into question systems of value, including that of the artwork itself. For example for documenta 11 in 2002, she established Maria Eichhorn Aktiengesellschaft, a public limited company in which the company itself is the sole shareholder. Eichhorn stipulated that, contrary to the very purpose of the structure of the company, the capital that was initially invested cannot accrue value and doesn’t belong to anyone.
Historical precedents for Eichhorn’s Chisenhale Gallery exhibition can be found in conceptual art and institutional critique in the 1960s and ‘70s. For his Closed Gallery Piece, first shown at Art + Project, Amsterdam in 1969, Robert Barry exhibited only a notice on the gallery’s locked door, stating ‘For the exhibition the gallery will be closed.’ At Claire Copley Gallery, Los Angeles, in 1974, Michael Asher’s removal of the partition wall separating the gallery’s office from its exhibition space literally exposed the work going on behind the scenes. Eichhorn’s proposal operates a similar conceptual gesture, but here she foregrounds the work of the gallery’s staff through their absence.
In order to realise Eichhorn’s proposal and not compromise the ongoing operations of the organisation, Chisenhale Gallery’s staff are required to carefully unravel their working structure and address important issues relating to responsibility, accountability and commitment – from the financial security of the organisation to the distinction between ‘working’ and ‘personal’ lives within the artistic sphere. Eichhorn’s project is, ultimately, a consideration of how we assign value to time. She explores this by questioning how capital shapes life through labour, but also through a critique of the notion of free time and the binaries of work and leisure.
The work is constituted not in the empty gallery but in the time given to the staff and what they choose to do with it. This commission presents multiple opportunities for audience engagement, from attending the symposium to contributing to conversations that will develop around the work. Eichhorn’s project directly confronts audience expectations of the artist, the artwork and the gallery. It is an artwork that exists as an idea in the public realm, operating by generating discourse, rather than through objects or images.