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While Working

By Bret McCabe | Posted 3/2/2005

Closing reception March 4, 7 p.m., 407 N. Paca St., Second Floor

The 29 artworks collected in While Working recklessly marry medium to message. Show organizers and local artists Nick Petr, Janine Slaker, and Olivia Fite sent out an entry call for pieces that dealt in any way with work, and the word of internet mouth netted them pieces from Stuttgart to Montreal, Tucson to Baltimore. It’s an entertainingly seat-of-the-pants show—all the title cards are typed onto Rolodex cards, the space exists for this show and more than likely this show only—that reveals what artists talk about when they talk about work.

The highs and lows are direct results of casting this loose organizing net. Pieces that literally depict work (Barbara Moore’s “Brick Layer” painting, Alana Riley’s photos of people on the job) or march up a conceptual slant to tackle the idea of work (the “A Server Is Not a Servant” waiter piece by anonymous, Jim Fite’s David Hockney-esque photo collage of his in-house “Wall of Pain” wall-drawing, Liz Ensz’s video performance “Office Instrumental”) pale in comparison to pieces that come from on-the-job mind wanderings. Gary Kachadourian’s “Drawing of Slot Car 9.21.04 Staff Meeting,” Gregg Cornish’s “Drawing on the Clock at Mailboxes Etc.,” and Nicholas Wisniewski’s hanging building materials collected from various Dundalk work sites take the quotidian and turn them artistic by the simple art of hanging. These read like momentary snapshots into the lives that made them, a thought bubble to a panel in a graphic novel.

The memorable pieces, though, are these blithe combinations of work-product and art-school; they’re also the simplest and almost inconsequential. The artist(s) identified as Mediaburn’s “Fuck This Job” sticks a fleshy dildo on the working end of paint roller, and it’s as joyously tacky as a Johnny Paycheck song. Poster restorer Alyssa Dennis creates a wall tapestry called “Paint Test” out of brush smudges of slightly varying pigments on identical white pieces of paper collected over a two-month period, turning castoffs into decorative thought. And M.E. King’s “All the Jobs I Remember” stands out as an arresting statement of inferred fact. Little more than a handwritten list of 35 jobs the artists has held from childhood (“paperboy,” “lawn mower”) into King’s 40-year-old adulthood (“line cook,” “odd jobber,” “janitor,” “painted lines in parking lots”), “All the Jobs I Remember” is a testament to the practicing artists’ daily toil. It’s a reminder that the work that artists want to create more often than not doesn’t pay a living wage, and that the committed do what they need to make sure they can continue doing what they want.

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