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Describing Labor

Price: $39.00

Edited by Matthew Abess and Marianne Lamonaca

This catalogue is produced in conjunction with Describing Labor, an exhibition by artist Esther Shalev-Gerz commissioned and organized by The Wolfsonian. The exhibition draws on Shalev-Gerz's research into depictions of work and working figures from the late nineteeth through the mid-twentieth century. Once an icon of class consciousness and national character--widely portrayed in the period of the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression, and the two World Wars--the worker has since receded from the forefront of the visual field. Through new works of video, audio, and photography, Describing Labor gives image to this often unseen figure whose labor fabricates the physical world.

The project took form through a participatory process. Shalev-Gerz gathered forty-one objects that depict the figure of the laborer--paintings, prints, sculptures, photographs, and rare publications--the majority drawn from The Wolfsonian's collection. She invited twenty-four people with a mastery of the language around art each to choose an item and describe it while being filmed, "letting the image talk through them." Shalev-Gerz then asked each participant to place the selected work in the museum's storage racks, where she photographed its representation of labor in situ with other products of labor such as furniture suites, decorative arts, and industrial objects. Through these faces and voices of the present day, Describing Labor engages with such dualities as the materiality of objects and the obstinancy of the image; the mediated gaze and the thing itself; historical moments and the current moment of recognition.

The exhibition comprises large format color photographs; a two-channel HD video installation; a selection of historic artworks; and an audio installation of recroded "voices" derived from the artworks and their era. The catalogue features color images of Shalev-Gerz’s photographs and video stills; transcripts of the video and sound installations; essays by Jacques Rancière and Marianne Lamonaca; an interview with the artist conducted by Matthew Abess; and an illustrated index of historic artworks.

Exhibition dates: November 29, 2012 - April 7, 2013
Publisher: The Wolfsonian
Softcover: 143 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9677359-5-5