WORK WORTH DOING
9 September 2020 - 12 February 2021
La Trobe Art Institute, Bendigo, Victoria
Installed on the façade of La Trobe Art Institute, this multilayered photograph addresses the View Street arts precinct and neighbouring cafes, restaurants and wine bars. It calls attention to ideas of work, service, hospitality and the value of artistic labour that have become urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Melbourne-based artist Kay Abude created the photograph for a La Trobe University project at the 2019 Castlemaine State Festival. The image shows a hospitality worker undertaking his duties in the manufacturing and production zone of Castlemaine’s Shedshaker Brewery. The worker wears an artwork modelled on a high-visibility vest and screen-printed with the words ‘WORK WORTH DOING’. Abude took the phrase from a speech made by Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, in which he stated: ‘Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing’.
Through this staged image, Abude asks: What is the value of doing a good job, working hard and giving it our best? She asks this of herself too.
Abude’s photograph loosely refers to a history of artworks that similarly frame the precarity of work. A bar at the Folies-Bergère, the French Impressionist painting by Édouard Manet, portrays an enigmatic barmaid at a Parisian cabaret in the 1880s. Artists such as the Australian realist painter John Brack (The bar, 1954) and contemporary Canadian photographer Jeff Wall (Picture for women, 1979), among others, have made works that link Manet’s famous picture with their own context.
The portraits of locals in the background of Kay Abude’s image were part of an exhibition by artists Daniel Butterworth, Jennifer Barnett, Donna Anderson and Emilie Hanson held at the brewery’s taproom as part of the 2019 Fringe Festival.