Maria Eichhorn

Chisenhale Gallery, London, UK

It looked like a simple brief: write around 800 words on ‘5 Weeks, 25 Days, 175 Hours’, Maria Eichhorn’s first solo exhibition in the UK and a new commission for Chisenhale Gallery, London. It looked simple because the show consists of nothing – nothing physical, at least. From 23 April, the artist has requested that the gallery’s staff withdraw their labour for the period of time delineated in the exhibition’s title. In order to question the equating of work with physical production and critique a neoliberal economy that has seen labour become a precarious enterprise, every contracted employee, from the director to the weekend cleaner, has now slipped into a curious state of enforced ‘free time’. Doors have been locked, out of office emails set and all social media accounts frozen.

With the press release standing as one of the show’s few evidential components, I could have penned a review in any place, and I would have had a number of historical examples of institutional critique from which to draw: Robert Barry’s 1969 Closed Gallery Project, for example, Tehching Hsieh’s One Year Performance 1985–1986 (No Art Piece), or maybe, to expand upon Eichhorn’s neo-Marxist foregrounding of the labour that is so often obscured by the ‘product’, I could have alluded to Michael Asher’s 1974 intervention at Claire S. Copley Gallery in Los Angeles, that saw him remove the partition between the exhibition space and the office. 

maria_eichhorn_5_weeks_25_days_175_hours_2016_exhibition_view_at_chisenhale_gallery_london._courtesy_the_artist_photograph_andy_keate

Maria Eichhorn, '5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours', 2016, exhibition view at Chisenhale Gallery, London. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Andy Keate

Maria Eichhorn, '5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours', 2016, exhibition view at Chisenhale Gallery, London. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Andy Keate

Things weren’t so simple at all, as the second component of ‘5 Weeks…’, a symposium held two days before the grand opening (closing) demonstrated. Opening with presentations from political theorist Isabell Lorey and philosopher Stewart Martin, the event concluded with a public discussion that was attended by both Eichhorn and the soon-to-be considerably less burdened staff. While the artist’s supporters filled the room, with praise for her continued conceptual experimentation bookending every remark, it was the confused, frustrated and bitter voice of the younger generation – my generation – that rang the loudest. Unsurprising, considering their – our – presumably more intimate relationship with notions of precarious labour, internalised debt and imposed value systems that were being put on the stand.

How could a registered charity like the Chisenhale Gallery, which receives GBP£165,000 of taxpayers’ money per annum, justify the staging of such a (non-) event? How was this particular project funded? (To defend Chisenhale: a single trustee picked up the majority of the bill on this occasion.) Why address the issues surrounding wages in the arts sector (they are many and abiding) within the context of a finite artistic project? Is it not problematic to host such an exhibition in Tower Hamlets, London’s most deprived borough? Could we work towards organising a more generative, community-focused debate around these topics? Or, to echo one attendee: ‘Why the fuck is this place being closed?’

documentation_of_symposium_as_part_of_maria_eichhorn_5_weeks_25_days_175_hours_2016._photograph_andy_keate

Documentation of symposium as part of Maria Eichhorn, '5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours', 2016. Photograph: Andy Keate

Documentation of symposium as part of Maria Eichhorn, '5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours', 2016. Photograph: Mark Blower

This indignation was rarely directed at Eichhorn – who held her tongue for much of the discussion – or indeed ‘5 Weeks…’ as a conceptual work, but at the Chisenhale’s staff, who quickly became the spokespeople for the cultural sector at large, warts and all. It was frustrating to watch so many valid, pressing questions meet with reticence, silence or the diplomatic regurgitation of a meticulously crafted press release. But in retrospect, the fact that so few solutions were thrashed out seems curiously appropriate. At no point does ‘5 Weeks…’ set out to answer the questions that it proposes. What it does promise to do, however – what it already has done – is encourage consideration, frustration and actual anger. At some point over the coming weeks, it might just tease out certain pertinent opinions on these real-time problems that may have otherwise gone unheard, like a single voice in an otherwise vacant gallery.

Writing in 1967, Sol LeWitt was emphatic: ‘Conceptual art is not necessarily logical’. Accordingly, the scepticism of this symposium alone demonstrated how at this point in time ‘5 Weeks…’ seems like an illogical venture. I maintain that the action of instigating inaction is not the most effective way to broach the subject of contemporary labour conditions; and given the current state of arts funding – or lack thereof – the timing of this project could also be construed as insensitive. That said, logic can often be used to reinforce the status quo – what does that say about illogic? Breaking from convention will always appear illogical; it will always be seen as irrational, counter-intuitive and slightly irritating. But that doesn’t deem it superfluous. Why the fuck is this place being closed? For the same reason that Barry locked a gallery and Asher removed a wall: to make you leave your house, engage in a public discussion and ask that very question.

Harry Thorne is assistant editor of frieze. He is based in Berlin, Germany.

Issue 24

First published in Issue 24

Summer 2016

Most Read

With the opening of the 15th Istanbul Biennial this week, a guide to the best exhibitions around town
Ahead of the openings of EXPO Chicago and the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, a guide to the best exhibitions...
Florine Stettheimer, Beauty Contest: To the Memory of P.T. Barnum, 1924, oil on canvas, 1.2 x 1.5 m. Courtesy: Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut and Ettie Stettheimer
The Jewish Museum, New York, USA
Highlights of the exhibitions and performances taking place during Berlin Art Week 
Reflections, a favourite verse, and a new poem dedicated to one of the English language’s most renowned poets of the...
Nicole Eiseman, Sketch for a Fountain (Skizze für einen Brunnen), 2017, Skulptur Projekte 2017, bronze, gips, wasserbecken. Courtesy: Skulptur Projekte Münster
Various venues, Münster, Germany
Buoyed by Manifesta announcing it will dock in the port city in 2020, is Marseille becoming the new LA? 
Ahead of this year’s DC Open and gallery share Okey-Dokey, a round-up of the best shows across the Rhineland cities
From artist Enoch Cheng’s nocturnal balletics to fascist violence in Charlottesville, rethinking the political agency...
Opened 15 months ago but remaining empty until now, the inaugural show at the landmark Palestinian Museum in Birzeit
The dual sides to the city’s Cph Art Week
Queer cringe at the BBC and other diversity dilemmas
Marta Minujín, El Partenón de libros (The Parthenon of Books), 2017, under construction in Kassel as part of documenta 14. Photograph: © Rosa Maria Ruehling
On documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel
Chris Kraus’s biography of the first female ‘Great Writer as Countercultural Hero’
Remembering the artist whose occultist experiments transformed her body and biography into art 
In this microcosm of the disenfranchisement of ‘Late Great Britain’, what use is art?
Public debate around Confederate insignia has little to do with historical fact, and everything to do with collective...
A multi-faceted collaboration between Matthew Barney, Ragnar Kjartansson and the Iceland Dance Company reflects on...
What Luc Besson’s Valerian and a number of recent artists’ 3D films are getting right about our current reality
The removal of the Confederate monuments in Baltimore shows decisiveness after years of inaction – already they stand...
Yayoi Kusama to open her own museum; Confederate monuments removed in Baltimore; David Roberts Art Foundation to leave...
From a tribute to Straub/Huillet to Valerie Massadian’s portrait of teenage motherhood, the turn to real situations and...
Japan’s growing number of art festivals tread a precarious path between state-sponsored leisure-culture and soft-power...
Fifty years after the term was coined, a show in Samos reflects on ‘the unlikely liaison between love and politics’
Arsenale and Giardini, Venice, Italy
SoundCloud has been invaluable to the new music community for both documentation and discovery – now the audio-...
The extraordinary life of the late, great, gallerist and collector Alexander Iolas
Various venues, New York, USA
At a time of instantaneous information and fetishized immersivity, artists are evoking scent as an alchemical, bodily...
With her current show at Gasworks, London, the Kuwaiti artist shares some influential images
Romare Bearden, Pittsburgh Memory, 1964, mixed media collage and graphite on board, 22 x 30 cm. Courtesy: © Romare Bearden Foundation / DACS, London / VAGA, New York 2017
Successfully layering a broader socio-historical narrative onto a period of radical non-conformity, this is an...
With a strong surrealist strain, and including a welcome number of female artists, highlights from the 48th edition of...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

May 2017

frieze magazine

June – August 2017

frieze magazine

September 2017