Representations of labour have a long tradition in art; anxiety, fear, and terror equally so. In the years since the 2008 global financial crisis, many artists have showed a renewed interest in examining the relationship between personal calamities and social catastrophes, employing different forms of therapy as tools for reframing perceptions of ourselves and our surroundings. As philosopher and sociologist Maurizio Lazzarato writes in The Making of the Indebted Man (2012): “From one financial crisis to the next, we have now entered a period of permanent crisis, which we shall call ‘catastrophe.’”
Foregrounding film, video, and performance, The Working Life borrows its title from a piece by Copenhagen-based artist collective Superflex, and features works made post-global financial crisis by eight Australian and international artists. The exhibition addresses a broad affective and political spectrum, providing space both for hands-on audience engagement, such as in Melbourne–based Stuart Ringholt’s Anger Workshops (2008–ongoing), and time for contemplation and introspection, as in New York and Los Angeles–based Andrea Fraser’s self-scrutinising Projection (2008). Artists in the show explore a world in perpetual upheaval, and, in the case of Superflex’s hypnotherapy video The Working Life (2013), ways of leaving it all behind.
Artworks in The Working Life use, mimic, or subvert therapeutic methodologies to analyse how individual psyches relate to modern working conditions. With humour and self-awareness, the artists treat themselves, their subjects—human or anthropomorphised—and their audiences as patients, not to heal heartaches but to expose hypocrisy and invoke reflexivity. It would be an overstatement to suggest that the works in this exhibition could solve the problems that they externalise. However, as Andrea Fraser articulates in her essay There’s No Place Like Home (Whitney Biennial catalogue 2012), if we took note of fraud, hypocrisy, injustice, and our own anger, we would open the door to further discussion and perhaps, someday, to change.
The Working Life is developed from The Talking Cure, an exhibition at Oakville Galleries, Oakville, Canada, curated by Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh.