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Maria Eichhorn, installation view of ‘5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours’ (2016) at Chisenhale Gallery, commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery (all photos by Andy Keate, courtesy the artist)

If you visit Chisenhale Gallery in London during its opening hours any day over the next four weeks, you’ll find its door locked, its lights turned off, and not one employee around to hear your hopeful knocks. If you call, no one will answer; if you send an email, you will receive an automated reply. Only a sign greets you; reminiscent to the label of an artwork, it reads, in part:

Maria Eichhorn
5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours

23 April–29 May 2016

The remainder of the sign explains that for that duration — 175 hours of 25 days within a total of five weeks — gallery staff are not working, and it directs visitors to a website for more information. The leave of its eight employees was granted by Eichhorn, who is currently showing at Chisenhale: the empty gallery is her exhibition, which intends to explore the meaning and value of labor and of time in a world where the line between work and personal life is increasingly blurred. Each staff member will also continue to receive pay, and, as if in a dream, all are completely free to do as they wish until the exhibition ends. When they return at the end of May, they won’t have to make up any work, as any emails sent to the gallery inbox during the show’s run are automatically deleted.

Maria Eichhorn, installation view of ‘5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours’ (2016) (click to enlarge)

“I am interested in the fundamental possibility of suspending the capitalist logic of exchange by giving time and making a life without wage labour imaginable,” Eichhorn said in an interview with Chisenhale’s Exhibitions and Events Curator Katie Guggenheim.

“[The exhibition is] conceived so that the time itself does not belong to
anybody. That is, time cannot be economized, it does not allow itself to be exchanged, and it breaks with the law of equivalence.”

The Berlin-based artist’s first solo exhibition in the UK, 5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours, emerged from Eichhorn’s numerous meetings and extensive conversations with gallery staff about the tasks they most enjoy and dislike (often the small, repetitive ones), and what they would change about their working situations (their conversations are recorded in an accompanying publication, available online). The “art” here — Eichhorn’s own form of labor — consists of granting time to the staff.

“Once the staff accept the time, once work is suspended while staff members continue to receive pay, the artistic work can emerge,” she said.

Commissioned as part of the program How to Work Together, the project received funding from Bloomberg, Cockayne — Grants for the Arts, The London Community Foundation, and Jerwood Charitable Foundation. Typically, Arts Council National portfolio funding covers 50% of the core costs of running and maintaining the gallery, including some annual staffing costs; the gallery uses none of this during the run of Eichhorn’s exhibition. During conversations with the artist, director Polly Staple also noted that she likely spends 75% of her time fundraising — public funding reportedly makes up 27% of the gallery’s resources. So unless Staple chooses to spend her time off searching for endowments, there is still some financial risk involved. Chisenhale is also not a commercial gallery so Eichhorn’s art would not be “for sale,” as a spokesperson told Hyperallergic.

Other risks include maintenance of the gallery’s reputation or keeping supporting stakeholders happy — factors that exist beyond the gallery’s physical walls. So this temporary interruption of work intends to question the visibility of work done and of the potential impact of when that work stops. As Isabell Lorey writes in the publication:

[W]hat can it mean to stop working when the work at stake encompasses the whole person and their sociality and subjectivation? When individuals practice the institution — including and beyond their institutional work in the narrow sense — when they become the institution, when the institution spreads into their subjectivation, when social relationships are economically productive and instrumental? Every conversation, every smile can mean capital, symbolic or monetary — both for the persons who maintain contact with the staff and for the individuals who make up the staff, especially for those without fixed contracts, and their CVs.

The implication of Eichhorn’s exhibition, then, is that work can be absolutely nothing, inviting reassessments of our expectations of work and spare time.

“Why is it still not possible to distribute resources in such a manner that all people can live well?” Eichhorn asks. “Why is it not possible to let those work who want to work — and not make those work who cannot or do not want to work — and secure a sufficient basic income that is the same for all?”

5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours continues at Chisenhale Gallery (64 Chisenhale Rd, London E3, United Kingdom) through May 29.

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

6 replies on “For Its Newest Exhibition, a Gallery Is Closed for a Month”

  1. What about the gallery Technicians, who work on contracts and are not considered “staff” in this document or otherwise? Were they paid as well? I get a sense that they were more likely dismissed for the run of this programme, leaving a number of freelancers whom are dependent on income from show installs out in the proverbial dust.

    Often comprised of actual artists, the gallery Technician crew are consistently – maybe even wilfully – overlooked both for their contributions to the spaces within which they work, as well as the final result of shows. But also, in a circumstance like this, are left out of press materials entirely. It seems counter-productive and actually makes this work feel disingenuous to have the most marginalised group of gallery workers absent from the project’s manifest. Everyone knows that very few galleries have a Tech team on payroll, keeping the costs and responsibility to those workers to the barest minimum. Why not take an opportunity like this to appreciate the value of those workers continual commitment?

    What’s more, it is not as if Technicians ‘dip in and out’ of the work at will. In fact, it is quite the opposite: Technicians tend to stick dutifully to a small number of spaces, and consider that commitment a requisite of the work. Getting to know a space, understanding it’s strengths and weaknesses, working within the gallery’s politics and any range of an artists’ emotional states are all requirements of good technical gallery installs.

    Why was the decision made to omit the tech team from this work? Why aren’t Technicians considered to be as important or representative of a Gallery’s work as the paid staff? Their inclusion on the ground is critical to the gallery), except in a circumstance like this where they can be ignored. Why have they been made invisible?

    1. I think you missed the point Mike. This is clearly not a workable solution to the world’s economic problems. It’s a political/social statement made with art.

      If you care to know, the correct solution is a Basic Income created by taxing the entire economy. We need to share a good sized percent of the world’s economy wealth as an unconditional Basic Income for everyone in the world- no work required. This is not money taking from those that work and given to those that are lazy artists, this is money that represents the wealth of the non-labor components of the economy — land and natural resource values for example. Due to advancing technology, the human labor side of the economies are shrinking and with it, the values of natural resources are rising. When you replace a human with a robot, the human labor value drops to zero, and the iron and electricity costs rise to replace it. Those who own the machines, then get the wealth that was once paid to human workers. Today, in the US economy, as much as 50% of the GDP is likely non-labor — though it’s impossible to measure accurately. All that non-labor rent income should be converted to free Basic Income money shared by everyone equally instead of giving it as a free gift to the rich like we do now. If that is 50% of the US GDP, then we we are talking about being able to support a Basic Income of $2K a month ($24K a year) for every man woman and child in the country without hurting the economy. Maybe the number needs to be less to prevent hurting the economy (we must leave enough reward in the system to motivate people to work as long as we don’t yet have machines to replace them). But we should do this — and it would act as as a lifetime form of grant money for the people to choose to be creative artists if they so desired. We need to do this. Today. This exhibit is a great expression of that need.

      1. Hi Curt,

        I re-read my post, and at no point was I vouching for a “solution to the world’s economic problems”. Whilst I appreciate that you are interested in some of the ideas prompted by this exhibition, I feel as if you’ve used my comment as a springboard into a conversation largely unrelated and certainly uninterested in addressing my concerns.

        Two things to consider foremost: 1) my issues are localised, and quite specific in regard to the actual project’s execution and 2) artists do not need to be held accountable for their actions, but perhaps public institutions might feel it pertinent to address the concerns of their patrons and the public they’re intended to serve.

        I get that galleries couldn’t possibly provide credible, thoughtful or even reasonable defences for all of the ideas they decide to put into action. But I’m talking about a part of the working body of the interior of the Chisenhale space, the Gallery Technicians, whom are directly responsible for a lot of it’s success and ability to execute shows. It does feel relevant to bring up issues of negligence or neglect in the context of a show that seems to be precisely about the names and thoughts of people whom are typically marginalised in a gallery context.

        How does this project not start to fall down amongst it’s own incongruities? How is the exhibit, and what it expresses, not also a part of those things and people that it neglects to give a voice to? (And don’t tell me that the Hyperallergic comments section is the antidote or I will get my cousin 2 hack u.)

  2. I would like to see this exhibit repeated in the world of actual reality, where there would be no grants to cover the bills. All conceptual questions would be resoundingly answered. The answers might not be to everyone’s fantasy, however.

    “Eichhorn asks. “Why is it not possible to let those work who want to
    work — and not make those work who cannot or do not want to work — and
    secure a sufficient basic income that is the same for all?””

    I believe I got the answer to this absurd question by my parents, teachers, and the observable reality of a small farming town at a very early age, and I didn’t need grants to process though it!

  3. This is the most idiotic disguise of the fact that no artistic talent actually exists. What is more frustrating is that other idiots encourage this shit by moronically supporting it.

Comments are closed.