BUSY. Exhausted Self / Unlimited Ability

I havent seen the exhibition Busy. Exhausted Self / Unlimited Ability but I am quoting the transcript from the press release for it below. It is a theme that seems so relevant and one that I hope to return to to digest and reflect on further – when I have time!

“The exhibition BUSY. Exhausted Self / Unlimited Ability at the 21er Haus explores the relationship between work and creativity, discussing tendencies towards permanent efficiency and resulting disease patterns.

Nowadays, life itself is very often determined by the ability to cope with an increasing flood of exigencies. There seems to be an overwhelming need to be flexible, mobile, creative, innovative, autonomous, self-reliant, and proactive. While labour conditions on the whole have taken a turn to the positive—there have never been as many opportunities and possibilities as today—new liberties also have led to self-expenditure in various spheres of life, often resulting in exhaustion, depression, and burnout.

Efficiency and profitability versus pleasure gain and self-development
Life has become faster, and our private and professional lives are thoroughly organized. Time has become a precious, rare and increasingly valuable commodity. Within a system that is governed by efficiency and profitability, standstill is unimaginable or impossible. An optimal use of time and precise time management are the basic instruments for professional success or for a successful life. People define themselves through work, since it helps them in finding self-fulfilment and positioning themselves within the society. Of course work can strengthen people’s individuality, contribute to their personal development, and be enriching as well as enjoyable. In recent years, there has been a strong focus on creative work, as it holds the promise of pleasure gain and individual growth, while being based on flexibility and self-control. The traditional image of labour has given way to a creative image, producing not only a general sense of well-being, but also a host of problems; primarily concerning those who are unable to distinguish between work and leisure time, those who are expected to totally identify with their work. In times of great uncertainty, the opposites of anxiety and security challenge us personally. These tendencies are also reflected in contemporary art, where they are recorded, discussed, and processed visually. This increasingly happens from a personal perspective, since more often than not artists are in the focus of a debate taking on a widening social dimension.

Artists as role models for autonomous one-person corporations
Before the Industrial Revolution and due to alternative life and work styles, there was a tendency towards regarding artists as revolutionary counterparts of entrepreneurs. However, in times defined by flexibility, mobility, creativity, innovation, autonomy, individuality, and self-reliance, the artist has become a kind of ideal. While art used to be the utopian counter-concept of efficiency-oriented and heteronomous labour, we are now witnessing art turning into a model of mobile and autonomous one-person corporations. Artists are seen as role models of a transformed work situation defined by unlimited creativity, smart self-marketing, self-motivated productivity, passionate commitment, and innovative work and life styles. Hence artists are in the focus of an ubiquitous social debate. The exhibition sums up relevant issues which go beyond the sphere of art, and participating artists have made their own roles the content of their works. They observe and analyse the theme of labour in general, addressing aspects ranging from pleasure to overstrain, seeing boredom as a way out, or experimenting with various forms of denial.

Bettina Steinbrügge

The exhibition is accompanied by interventions and performances conceived by students enrolled in the Master’s Programme in Critical Studies at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in cooperation with their teachers Diedrich Diederichsen and Constanze Ruhm.

Exhibition catalogue – bibliographic data
Title: BUSY. Exhausted Self / Unlimited Ability
Editors: Agnes Husslein-Arco, Bettina Steinbrügge
Publisher: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Cologne
Brochure, 20×24 cm, 272 pages
English and German
ISBN 978-3-86335-249-3


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