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


A Bigger Picture

David Hockney at the RA

“We see with memory. My memory is different from yours, so if we are both standing in the same place we’re not quite seeing the same thing. Different individuals have different memories; therefore other elements are playing a part. Whether you have been in a place before will affect you, and how well you know it. There is no objective vision ever – ever.’ (Hockney 2009 in interview with Martin Gayford, RA)


I have had the privilege recently to see the current exhibitions of Gerhard Richter at the Tate and Wilhelm Sasnal at the Whitechapel. Two contemporary masters of paint; their ability to use it to create an illusion of an image while being honest about its materiality I find overwhelmingly seductive.

My enthusiasm and emotional reaction to these works has prompted me to dig deeper as to what it is that makes a good painting and why I continued to be enticed and beguiled by this art form. How is it that some works have such presence that they make me want to stop still and look and can even create an emotional reaction. It is almost as if they vibrate at a different pace to the everyday.

These artists have the practiced skill of being able to place paint on the surface in such a manner that it creates an illusion of an image, event or feeling that moves beyond the flat surface. A gesture that communicates so much and moves beyond what is the present. In Sasnal’s ‘Robert Smithson’ the use of black white and grey tone and brush stroke creates such a seductive image that steps beyond the materiality of its existence. The black paint of where the boot merges into the dark background baffles me. The full shape of the boot is not illustrated, it is not visible, but we know it is there. Similarly in another work  (which I will locate the title of) the leg of the figure is only made visible through the highlights, the leg is also part of the background but we know its shape through as much as what is not there as well as what is painted. ‘Kackper’ is another of Sasnal’s work that I truly think is beautiful. His subtle ability to create the illusion of light streaming through the canvas is mesmorising.

Recently I have been reading ‘Painting is not a Representational practice’  by Barbara Bolt in ‘Unframed: Practices & Politics of Women’s Contemporary Painting ed. Rosemary Betterton (2004 IB Tauris) in which Barbara Bolt analysis her paintings ‘Reading Fiction’ and ‘Reading Theory’: “…at some indefinable moment, the painting takes on its own life, a life that almost seems to have nothing to do with my own conscious attempts to ‘control’ it. The ‘work’ takes on its own momentum, its own rhythm and intensity…. The painting takes on a life of its own. It breathes, vibrates, pulsates, shimmers and generally runs away with me. The painting no longer represents, nor does it merely illustrate reading. It performs it. The painting transcends itself and becomes a dissembling presence…” (p42)

Bolt raises the question “If a painting comes to perform rather than merely represent some other thing, what is happening?” (p43). Without citing her whole article on this, which is very worth reading, I think she raises some interesting theories on what a painting does. What it performs is beyond that of paint on a surface. A ‘good’ painting, i.e. one that has the power to stop me in my tracks, is one that successfully excels beyond that of its materiality and communicates on a very different level to that of its material substance; it transmits a resonance or vibration beyond its objectness.

I am excited that painting continues to inspire me and will no doubt continue with this investigation into its perfomativity and resonance, although I wonder if language and cognition will ever truly be able to sum up our fascination with the painted image.

Quotes: Richard Wentworth – Leaning

In an interview with John Reardon Richard Wentworth is talking about some stacks of tiles he saw leaning against poles when driving in France. “The mutual leaning had a wonderful sense of intention, a wonderful repetition.” When he returned to photograph these stacks he was disappointed and frustrated that tiles had fallen over. They weren’t the same “…they had lost that decisiveness.” “They’d lost their visual weight, which was partially the power of the leaning, with the pole coming out of the top. I love leaning, a sort of purposeful repose.”

(Richard Wentworth in Mollin, David & Reardon, John ed. (2009) ‘Ch-ch-ch-changes: artists talk about teaching.’ Ridinghouse (p361)