Harun Farocki (DE), Liam Gillick (UK), Tehching Hsieh (TW/USA),
Fiona Jack (NZ), Roman Mitch (NZ), Oussama Mohammad (SY),
Beatriz Santiago Muñoz (PR) and Kate Newby (NZ).
Opening performance: Sam Hamilton plays music from Free Trade Zones

15 May – 26 June 2010
Curated by Robyn Pickens


In 1997 Artspace relocated to what were once the first floor offices of the Newton Post Office. Although not exactly ‘industrial’, the title post-Office is intended to function as an oblique reference to the retooling of abandoned, or under-utilised industrial spaces into contemporary art institutions and museums, that has occurred over the past thirty years or so under globalised capitalism. It is designed to act as a type of backdrop, not only to the role of the contemporary art institution and its position of privilege in the new knowledge economy, but to frame the key focus of the exhibition, which is the relationship between immaterial labour and artistic practice.

The transition that saw the blue-collar worker swap hard-hat for post-industrial keyboard, is descriptive of the changes in labour practice from material or Fordist to immaterial or post-Fordist. Immaterial labour as process is characterised by precarity, flexibility, mobility, casual and/or free labour, and as a product; creates and disseminates ideas, information, knowledge, taste, style, fashion, culture and public opinion. Comparisons with artistic practice are immediate and obvious: indeed it has been described as a prototype for the type of decentralised, deregulated labour common in most Western countries.

The local and international artists’ works in this exhibition explore through their practices several interrelated aspects of this changing labour paradigm. Earlier works like Oussama Mohammed’s Step by Step (1979), present the impact a limited range of employment opportunities, and the complex grip poverty and disciplinary power structures have on labour choices and subject formation in Syria. The effects of the Fordist labour apparatus on the individual are portrayed by Tehching Hsieh albeit in an ‘artificial’, performative guise which sees the artist punching a time clock on the hour, every hour for one year (One-Year-Performance, 1980-1981). ‘What if the factory were to close?’ is one question Puerto Rican artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz asks workers of a packaging plant in Puerto Rico, in a staged discussion that hypothesises the transition to a post-industrial society (Fábrica inútil, 2002).

Muñoz’s film draws attention to the inconsistent and unequal global distribution of labour, and the dangers of fetishising the exodus of the factory when, in actuality they have simply been relocated to cheaper (non-Western) zones of production. German veteran filmmaker Harun Farocki highlights such an inconsistency in a film aptly titled In Comparison (2009) which tracks the construction of bricks using a variety of techniques from artisan to early industrial, to post-industrial across a number of different countries including Africa, India and Germany, and the ways in which individuals and communities are formed and affected by varying labour practices.

Bricks, clay and other humble materials and ephemeral gestures, both within and without the gallery, and their relationship to the presence of the body in the built environment, are emblematic of Kate Newby’s artistic practice. For post-Office she takes issues of productivity, play and the built environment into Myers Park, Auckland.

Liam Gillick has an ongoing interest in labour, systems and modes of production and responds to the themes of the exhibition with a text, presented in a large stack, that the visitor can takeaway, or alternatively download from the website.

Fiona Jack works with a large reproduction of a photograph, taken in 1893 of the first New Zealand women voting, and a publication that opens up discussion of women, art, labour and the contemporary state of feminism.

The co-existence of the immaterial and material is present in Roman Mitch’s Pocket Paintings (2007 ongoing), although they occupy and operate in a distinctly different context. Over time the folded A4 sheets of paper in Mitch’s pocket (originally documenting hours worked with pen on paper) accrue clothing dye in the folds and planes, transforming the once functional sheet into an aesthetic object. Mitch trips up the binary; he makes art (immaterial labour) on the job, (material labour) as an art technician.


See available publications by Liam Gillick  and Roman Mitch 


See available editions by Kate Newby  


Exhibition text (PDF) ► 


EyeContact review (PDF)