MANUAL LABOUR

A collection of photographic and film documentation of event recorded

as performance to camera.

April–September 2016

MANUAL LABOUR (return)  2016

looped video 

Following the accumulative photographic documentational works HOMETIME and Apple Pie Marathon, MANUAL LABOUR refocuses, fetishistically upon a localised body parts, particularly the hand. Shown from a manual subjectivity, MANUAL LABOUR attempts to take the gaze to a functional extreme. In the isolation of a actively functional body part the labour is made both anonymous and universal, with the visual accent stilled and resting upon partially identifying feminine details such as jewellery and clothing ‘it seems impossible not to recall the division of labour that has assaulted women throughout the ages and still persists as an effect of neo-liberal economies and even of globalisation’ (Oliveira & Coelho, 2016).

In repetitive bodily actions, Manual Labour makes subject what Guy Debord considers the “useless, vulgar and disturbing concept of everyday life” (Margulies 1996, p. 25) making a wry focus is literally ‘on my hands and knees’, the latter Manual Labour (return) taken singularly, can also be interpreted as an expression of domestic exhaustion to breaking point.

Considering labour as an event, the parameters of each work are defined by a finite, time variable labour action from start to completion. Unlike Apple Pie Marathon, each point is a progresssional image spatially located to the last, each individual moment is not a unique marker in itself but forms part of a holistic gradation of bodily action trace.

‘This shift in our understanding of motion, from impetus to inertia, changes the very basic mode of how we relate reality. As such, it is an event: at its most elementary, event is not something that occurs within the world, but is a change of the very frame through which we perceive the world and engage in it. Such a frame can sometimes be directly presented as a fiction which nonetheless enables us to tell the truth in an indirect way’ (Zizek, 2014)

By presenting the labour event as a whole singular entity a suggestion of hidden mystery is preserved. Domestic secrets, passed down through centuries, nuanced in technique are destined to remain in the land of fable. This idea hinges in liminality whereby the event or action could also be considered to be invisible or valueless in action and portrayal, it is a given – a non-event in it’s ‘everyday’ nature. They are not, ‘non- event’ in the sense related to Vanessa Beecroft’s performance works, whereby nothing happens, it is evident that a task is permanently being undertaken, but are comparable in the sense that ‘a rhythm emerges between moments of mobility and moments during which a pose is held, which serves to remind the viewer that filmic movement consists of a sequence of still images’ (Johnson, 2013 p. 135). In these Manual Labour works both stasis and motion exist as one.

In the showing of a blurred representation, there is also a sense of timelessness in juxtaposition with a sisyphusian endless repetition; these events are of no-time and paradoxically all time, existing in their own rhythm of minutiae. Just as Chantal Akerman ‘uses a fixed camera to emphasize the duration of mundane tasks’ (Johnson, 2013 p. 132) each of the Manual Labour works offers a fixed focal point of vision around which the axis of location and effect revolve, contributing to the mundane physicality of body effort.

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Manual Labour shares Mierle Laderman Ukeles positioning of domestic labour as artwork, classifying like Bruce Nauman the work done by the artist regardless of what it is as artwork. Unlike Annette Messager’s multiple notebooks supposedly detailing documentations of her own ‘individual mythology’ (DeRoo 2006) of daily life, instead sourced from domestic instructions manuals from the 1950s and 60s, the Manual Labour series suggest a temporal play of repeatedly authenticated actuality.

DeRoo, Rebecca J, 2006 in Johnstone, Stephen, 2008. The Everyday.  Whitechapel and The MIT Press.
Johnson, Clare. 2013. Femininity, Time and Feminist Art. Palgrave Macmillan
Margulies, Ivone 1996. Nothing Happens. Chantal Akerman’s Hyperrealist Everyday. Duke University Press.

Oliveira, Màrcia; Coelho, Maria Luisa, 2016. On appropriation and craft: considering the feminist problem of de-politicization’. N.paradoxa Vol. 38 p. 5
Zizek, Slavoj, 2014, Event. Penguin p. 10

 © SOPHIE CERO 2021

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