Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hours of Labor - WPA's Options 2011

The above piece is from a series of work titled Hour of Labor, wherein I approached a Day Laborer at Home Depot and worked with him for 30 minutes (combined = one hour) on a manual task (sanding, driving screws, building a saw horse, sawing a board, driving nails), while I asked him questions about labor conditions. If he was from another country I might ask him about what brought him to the United States (contrary to some popular belief, not all day laborers are "Mexicans."). Ideally, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between my work and my collaborator's work. The above image is certainly one exception.

Four of the five works from the series will be on exhibit beginning tomorrow in Options 2011, the Washington Project for the Arts' biennial exhibition of emerging and unrepresented artists in the region. The exhibit runs through October 29 at 629 New York Avenue NW, 2nd Floor, Washington, DC 20001. (Next to the Midas shop and near Marrakesh restaurant).

The work displayed above was completed with the help of Mauricio, a man from Bolivia. His contribution is on the right, and as you might assume, he was a bit engaged, politically. Of course, we were also using screws, so while he argued in defense of Socialism, he was simultaneously screwing Socialism. Anyway, his story is below the break.

The first in the series exhibited at Aqua Art in 2010 as a part of William Brovelli's Coil Contract installation with Horse Trader Gallery in Brooklyn, New York. The Coil Contract - roughly put - contractually links artist and collector together in a manner that prevents the artist from making a duplicate of the work sold, and prevents the collector from selling or loaning the work. The contract nullifies upon the death of one member int he contract.

So, while Hour of Labor is partly about labor issues and immigration, it also has to do with the art market and art as commodity. So, the work sells for the cost of parts and labor (+ gallery mark-up). So, while the project gets into that Duchampian/Manzoni space of "the artist declares the hammer is an art object," a hammer is still a hammer whether I declare it is art or not, and it would be bullshit to pay $1000 for the same hammer you can buy at Lowe's for $5.




It had been nearly a year since I produced a work in the series, Hour of Labor. Back then, no swarm of men approached the car. This time it was completely surrounded, as if we were rock stars surrounded by masses of adoring fans. One man tried to get in the car. After some effort we finally got out of the car and negotiated with the mob for one interested person to work for 30 minutes. Expecting to receive hourly wages from the day laborers, most of them insisted I give them a quote for how much the job would pay. Considering the nature of the job, $15 seemed reasonable, and several men returned to the shade of a tree to play cards. Several men seemed to linger to watch, but it was clearly down to two guys – one loud who seemed to know a lot of English, and another guy who was more stoic, and visibly weary of the other loud boorish guy.

The quiet guy won out. He assessed the job and gestured to the drill in his bag. I said we would only use manual screwdrivers. He wanted to know how far apart they should be, and my translator, Ramon, clarified that the placement of screws was entirely up to him. For the next 20 minutes I tried to engage this man in conversation. Every question I asked him received evasive responses. He is who he is, and he was from his country. His family is back home in his country. Often the loud guy answered for him with more specific information, which made my working companion rather frustrated, to the point where he began yelling at him in Spanish. Ramon would later tell me that some of the onlookers would apologize for the loud guy, who apparently was drunk. “He does not represent us,” they said. After 20 minutes had passed, the drunk walked to the card game, and soon after my colleague warmed up enough to tell us his name.

Mauricio was from Bolivia, and the design in his board reminded me of Pinocchio in profile. I had asked some frivolous questions about food and futbol, which resulted in vary unsatisfying answers. Since our half hour was nearly over, I asked if he had questions for me, and he wanted to know why we were not using drills. I explained that I found some parallel between how laborers felt at a disadvantage when they began to be replaced by machines, and how some people claim that imported labor puts domestic laborers at a disadvantage because they might cost less. When I saw that the half hour had concluded, I let Mauricio know we were finished.

He wanted to keep working. He wanted to finish his design.

Mauricio came to the US for work. In Bolivia there was no work. For years the government had been corrupt and there were no jobs and no money. I asked if Morales was to blame for the lack of work, and he said he thought things were beginning to improve under Morales because he was a democratically elected Socialist, and he got rid of all the corrupt politicians that preceded him.

Mauricio railed against Capitalism, which I described as a vicious circle of the people blaming the president, the president blaming business, and business blaming the need to satisfy investors and patrons – which are the people. It’s a system that works great if you are at the top, but someone always has to be at the bottom. “Exactly!” Mauricio said, loudly, slapping his hand on the trunk of my car. Capitalism makes rich states and poor states, and capital enterprise, from his perspective, has turned Bolivia into nothing but golf courses; the only jobs for Bolivians are maintaining the golf courses (for foreigners), and Bolivians don’t play golf. The conversation remained political throughout the next half hour, and it became clear what Mauricio was designing: a sickle and hammer.

With his design finished I pulled out my wallet to pay him. Mauricio just shook his head. For him, this was not a real job. “I no take.” Ramon, my interpreter, and I just looked at each other, dumbfounded. I urged, “how much?”

“No. I no take. I’m a Socialist,” replied Mauricio, and he walked away, disappearing in the parking lot.

1 comment:

Pave the Whales said...

I love Mauricio. What a great story.