April 5, 2015
Anastatia Spicer

Last Day (April 6th) to catch Labor in a Single Shot @HKW Berlin

Artists Without A Cause is researching and looking at artistic representations of political and social issues. I recently visited Eine Einsellung Zur Arbeit (Labor in a Single Shot), on exhibition at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt until 6 April 2015, which uses video to look at how labor differs throughout the world.

Coming into the gallery for the show, visitors see dozens of people, sitting comfortably or lying on the ground in a dark room,  staring up at fifteen scattered screens, each facing a different direction, and each showing different looped two minute clips of uninterrupted labor for one country.

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The project was created by Antje Ehmann and Harun Farocki, who held workshops in 15 cities around the world where they gave participants strict guidelines for making the shorts.

One short follows a man in Jerusalem, Israel kneading bread. Another shows a girl in Boston, USA typing an essay about Square-Dancing on her computer. Another depicts a German man biking through the city. Some have sound, most do not. The people in the room roam around from screen to screen or sit patiently watching each two minute clip from each respective country.

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The form of video gives us the rare opportunity to watch these different forms of labor and compare and contrast them. When standing up in the room a viewer can watch several screens at a time, allowing visitors to quickly see that labor means different things in different places.

The clips don’t¬†last long enough to get a sense of knowing any of the people very well, but watching a moment of their daily lives so close up becomes very personal, almost voyeuristic. The difference between what is being shown on the screens as well as the comfort of hanging out, lying down, and relaxing as we watch people in the videos perform all types of labor is an ironic part of the show.

The piece was inspired by The Lumi√©re Brother’s film, “Workers Leaving the Lumi√©re Factory” (1895), which portrays women and men leaving their separate doors at the end of their day. Floods of people exit, some running, as if too much time has already been lost. However, there are stark contrasts in the takeaway viewers get in Labor in a Single Shot and the Lumi√©re Brother’s film.

The Lumi√©re Brother’s depict workers as more than just their jobs. Workers are humanized by showing their urgency of leaving the work place and the transition into their real lives. Labor in a Single Shot¬†implies that work and production has become so varied and consuming today that in many ways we are¬†almost constantly working. Perhaps this is an element of intentional irony.

In the end, the viewer is left with many questions: What can labor be? Where does labor stop? And how do our understandings and standards for labor vary from context to context. The format of close shot, short films was essential to creating an artificially personal connection to the people on the screens.