LOVE THY LABOUR ( 2018 Auckland Art Fair)
Hand silkscreen on wool and linen, sewn into coats and aprons and performed by staff at the 2018 Auckland Art Fair
Kay Abude's LOVE THY LABOUR explores conceptions and conditions of work. The ongoing project stems from the experiences of the artist and her family. Relocating to Australia from the Philippines in 1986, Abude's parents moved from white to blue collar jobs. Her mother worked in an electrical factory, supplementing her income by bringing components home that were assembled by members of the family. The artist notes, 'Working was a way we spent time together and socialised. It's how I developed fine motor skills at an early age and it sparked my interest in the factory and systems of production.'
For the current iteration, Abude invites service staff at the 2018 Auckland Art Fair to don aprons, pinafores, and coats screen-printed with the eponymous exhortation 'love thy labour'. Reminiscent of the halftone images of Andy Warhol, as well as newspaper headlines and protest placards, Abude's garments allude to the artistry of factory and service workers alike. The artist signals her solidarity with such labourers by making all the clothing and by working at the Fair as a Fair Guide – an outwardly unglamorous role that remains vital to visitors' enjoyment of the event, and especially the Projects program of which her work is a part.
At the same time, Abude invites us to reflect on our own work. How many of us living in the western world in 2018 conceive of our work, which might be largely unphysical, as 'labour'? How many of us prefer to think of our job as a vocation, a calling, regardless of the drudgery it might entail? In the context of the Fair, LOVE THY LABOUR cannot help but draw attention to the fact that art-making today is often treated as a 'labour of love', being poorly paid and risky, so much so that the majority of Australasian artists are employed day-to-day as educators, gallery assistants, or service people – living for their art, not by it.
However, Abude's work is not wholly or predominantly cynical. If the somewhat anachronistic language of the expression 'love thy labour' makes it sound a bit like the mantra of some totalitarian regime, it also has spiritual connotations, reminding us that despite the dissolution of unions, the outsourcing of production to poorer countries, the rise of unpaid internships, and ever present demands on the artist to stump up the funds for work that might never turn a profit, many of us not only do what delights us, but would also feel quite lost without our daily grind.
Written in March 2018 by Francis McWhannell, co-curator of the 2018 Projects at the 2018 Auckland Art Fair.