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For Its Newest Exhibition, a Gallery Is Closed for a Month

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)
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)
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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