WATERWORLD: Ian Treasure's installation conjures up an army of water coolers.
Those of us not blessed with jobs as test pilots, deep-sea divers or street mimes spend most of our lives in offices, where we are privileged—or condemned—to muse on the futility of the human condition.
My cubicle—if one partition wall maketh a true cubicle—can be found in close proximity to a copier that daily exacts terrible tributes from all who dare use it. Curses, deprecations and pleas can be heard as the machine steadfastly refuses to accept its assigned chores, protesting instead that it is missing some vital piece of properly sized paper or needs its fusing oil unit replaced. Banging, rattling, slamming, sometimes kicking follow, all to little avail.
Some of the spirit of this helpless searching for shards of meaning and job satisfaction in Sisyphean challenges informs a new group show called ‘The Office’ at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. Eleven artists have contributed works that either comment on or repurpose the materials and rituals of the workaday world.
Jonn Herschend’s conceptual piece Proposal for Copy Machine Location Change makes use of the gallery’s own copier, moving it into the public realm, where it occasionally spits out documents detailing future artistic endeavors. It’s more than a readymade in the Dada sense; it’s functional art at its best. At least, it seems to work better than the machine by my desk.
Some of the artists grasp the mundane and present it in new and striking ways. Kirk Crippens’ five large archival pigment prints of office potted plants focus on what is often overlooked in our daily rounds. These token bits of greenery, attempting to flourish in a fluorescent environment, appear especially forlorn under Crippens’ pitiless gaze. One spider plant sits atop a metal canister that comes with a warning label about its toxicity. No wonder the underwatered leaves droop, curl and brown. Are the employees next?
In Drift, an exquisite array of 15 small framed pieces, Alison Foshee uses staples, straight and kinked, minutely applied to paper, to create tiny metallic feathers caught in mid-waft as if shaken loose from a mechanical bird. The results are as beautiful as the repetitive process must have been numbing.
Equally as meticulous are Jill Sylvia’s ledger-paper cutouts. With a fine blade, she has precisely eliminated the informational spaces of an accounting book, leaving a lacy, see-through grid, like a rectilinear doily. Here is the superstructure of capitalism with no substance—a perfect metaphor for the financial meltdown.
Also recycling (or maybe liberating) office supplies, Mitra Fabian has connected scores of binder clips and draped them on the high back wall of the gallery in descending swags. From a distance, they look like cracks in an ancient rock face; close up, they seem more like a sagging organic organizational chart.