Review: Work/Place at MOCP

While the first floor at the MoCP is dedicated to Michael Wolf’s co-existing multiple realities and the sense of interpersonal isolation that typifies urban life, the upper floors of the museum are dedicated to a closer inspection of all that transpires behind close doors and away from possible public viewing. Nonetheless, it would be inaccurate to think of the upper tiers, featuring works by Thomas Demand, Lars Tunbjörk, Karen Yama, and Ann Carlson & Mary Ellen Strom, as focusing on the environments that Wolf deftly captured with his lens. After all, said artists works involves an insider–not a voyeur’s–perspective on the lives of office workers.

The slash between the two title words “Work/Place” drives an immediate wedge within the term and calls for a closer inspection of the seemingly banal corporate life. Demand‘s work depicts an office space entirely created from colored paper, thereby evoking notions of fragility, ephemerality and artifice–a far cry from the rigid, emotionless and systematic connotations one normally confers upon the office environment. Demand’s office is as reliable as a work space as a house of cards is as a shelter. Tunbjörk‘s work purports itself to be closer to the documentarian pretend-like-I’m-not-there approach that Wolf’s work has, but following Demand’s work it is difficult to see his works as devoid of personal input. Humorous as they are critical, his works at times appear as ludicrous as a sitcom script (think, appropriately, The Office), where exaggeration gives way to detailed subtlety that precludes the work from turning into a melodramatic caricature and instead gently tickles the mind. Likewise, Karen Yama‘s work zooms in on those subtle details that make a seemingly monotonous working environment livable if not enjoyable. Snapping close-ups of desks, file cabinets and bookshelves personalized with pictures of loved ones, reminders, post-it notes and other quirky ephemera, the importance of injecting personality into the humdrum of a working environment is highlighted. Yama digitally flattens the color on all non-personal items (including the walls, the furniture and the electronic equipment) to let the personal idiosyncracies stand strong. While the move could be considered as slightly didactic, visually it’s pleasing. And rounding off the exhibit is a video by Ann Carlson & Mary Ellen Strom. A group of four practicing attorneys in New York are seen at the lobby of a building, contorting their bodies, jumping, screaming, playing and mimicking one another in a playful and almost puerile state. The emphasis on the physical transforms the hot-shot lawyers into mere men, not unlike the way Yama’s flattening of the background in her images transforms the personalized details into the relatable denominator for the viewers. Given the current economic turmoil, it is nice to see that underneath it all, we are all the same.


Karen Yama, Untitled


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