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Posts Tagged ‘work’

Work About Work

May 14, 2015 | by

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Mika Rottenberg, Barbara from Mary’s Cherries, 2004, color photograph

Mika Rottenberg’s installation NoNoseKnows, showing now at the Venice Biennale, focuses on production, as much of her work does: in the video, we watch an assembly line of women making pearls. They turn hand cranks; they manipulate knitting needles; they partake of the despondent rigmarole that is factory life. Soon enough, though, the images lurch toward phantasm. Some of the women are dozing peacefully at their stations; some have their feet submerged in whole baskets of pearls; and their labor is directed from underground by a kind of Pinocchio-nosed queen bee, an exhausted, frazzled woman with a nasty cold. Then, as Randy Kennedy writes in the New York Times, comes the denouement:

the woman sneezes explosively, causing steaming plates of Chinese food and pasta to burst from her inflamed schnozz, which seems to provide the pearl workers’ sole nourishment; the process repeats, maybe endlessly.

Yum. Read More »

Your Job Is Totally Meaningful, and Other News

February 26, 2015 | by

ZUunJ

Keep working!

  • “A rare first edition of Thomas Bewick’s History of British Birds belonging to Frances Currer, the woman believed to have inspired Charlotte Brontë’s pseudonym of Currer Bell, has come to light.” That’s fine news. But it gets better: Currer’s edition includes “an engraving which depicts someone urinating out of a cowshed [which] was considered rather coarse by some contemporaries and was bowdlerized in some copies but is untouched in this.”
  • Since Hitler’s death in 1945, Germany has barred any and all reprinting of Mein Kampf. But that ban is soon to expire, and the first new German edition of the book in some seventy years is on its way. “The new edition is a heavily annotated volume in its original German that is stirring an impassioned debate over history, anti-Semitism and the latent power of the written word … Rather than a how-to guidebook for the aspiring fascist, the new reprint, the group said this month, will instead be a vital academic tool, a 2,000-page volume packed with more criticisms and analysis than the original text.”
  • Galleries are great for displaying and selling your art—but they’re getting better at losing it, too. We live in a Golden Age of misplaced artworks. “As art prices rise, gallerists are less likely to keep all the art consigned to them on their own premises, because of safety and insurance costs … There’s also been a boom in mega-big-box galleries that have multiple locations in one city, or around the world, occasioning traveling exhibitions. Add to this the fact that many pieces, on inventory lists at least, look nearly identical, and you see the problem.”
  • Today in insidious, nihilistic capitalist ploys: “Faced with a cadre of young workers who say they want to make a difference in addition to a paycheck, employers are trying to inject meaning into the daily grind, connecting profit-driven endeavors to grand consequences for mankind.” KPMG, an accounting firm, launched a new video encouraging employees to see themselves as “bricklayers or cathedral builders.” One employee said “it got him thinking about the lack of meaning in his day job.”
  • Alice Munro on Dickens’s A Child’s History of England: “This was the first book I ever read … in the sense that I had a private vision of what I was reading about—unexpected, incommunicable, painfully exciting.”

Sharing Economy

October 23, 2014 | by

tools

From a Dutch election poster, 1981.

I had never used one of those Web sites in which you list an odd job and ordinary people vie to do it for you. The arrangement seems almost too good to be true. So when I was faced with a household repair, I decided to make a go of it: I started a profile and posted a request.

“Small Welding Job” I titled it. “I have an old brass bed with a shaky frame that needs to be soldered. I think it will be a straightforward job if you have a welding machine/iron. Thanks so much!”

Within minutes, I had received a notification: I had a match! The young woman in question looked omnicompetent and had a bunch of glowing reviews. We arranged a time and I gave her my address, feeling very pleased with the whole business.

That night, I got a message. “Please call me by 10:30 P.M. or this task will be canceled,” it said ominously. I called. We reconfirmed our appointment. I gave her my apartment number.

At five A.M., I was awakened by an incoming text message. It was my handywoman. “There is no trace of the existence of your apartment online,” she wrote. “I do not feel safe with this situation. Thank you for understanding.”

I wasn’t sure how to defend myself against this. “I swear it’s real,” I wrote back lamely. Read More »

Another Bartleby, and Other News

October 23, 2014 | by

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Constantin Meunier, Pays noire (Black Country—Borinage), ca. 1893, oil on canvas.

  • “On a winter’s day in 1482 a scholar had an embarrassing disaster, leaving a blood-red blot of ink on the pristine page of a valuable book. He then compounded his crime by confessing, adding a note in the same red ink still legible after 532 years. On the desecrated page of the Historiae Romanae Decades, printed in Venice in 1470, he wrote: ‘Ita macula’—this stain—‘I stupidly made on the first of December 1482.’ ”
  • On George Whitman, the eccentric founder of Shakespeare and Company: “He could be welcoming. He could be gruff. He could be charismatic. He could be aloof … This was, after all, a man who on occasion expressed himself by throwing books at people, sometimes affectionately, sometimes less so—a love-hate gesture, or so it sounds, not unlike Ignatz Mouse hurling bricks at an eternally besotted Krazy Kat.”
  • Novelists, here is your picaresque, contemporary Bartleby: an Italian coal miner who shirked work for thirty-five years and is now collecting his pension. “I invented everything—amnesia, pains, hemorrhoids, I used to lurch around as if I was drunk. I bumped my thumb on a wall and obviously you can’t work with a swollen thumb … Other times I would rub coal dust into my eyes. I just didn’t like the work—being a miner was not the job for me.”
  • Let’s trade fossil casts: “In the first part of the twentieth century, casts of fossil specimens were key to paleo sciences. Because actual fossils were too valuable and rare to ship to international researchers, casts of fossils circulated in their stead … Paleoanthropologists would offer to trade casts of ‘their’ fossils to other researchers in different areas of the world, who had different looking specimens—the casts became a social currency.”
  • In praise of reading plays: “A great published script makes you understand what the play is, at its heart. Not just what a certain production was like, though it also ought to do a good job of that. It makes you understand how the play feels as a living work of art—how it sounds and behaves inside your head, a mental effort that matters more in reading a play than in reading any other kind of literature.”

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House-sitting and Other Work

June 27, 2014 | by

Precarity and creativity in other people’s homes.

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Charles Demuth, Modern Conveniences, 1921.

When I moved back to Portland, Oregon, in 2010, after four years away in New York and Arizona, no one would hire me. Not Whole Foods, not the local New Seasons market, not the upscale Zupan’s chains. “Thanks for your interest in the Deli Service Clerk/Courtesy Clerk/Cashier/Meat Cutter - Back up position,” an automated email said. “If your skills match up with the requirements of the job, we’ll be in touch to arrange an interview.” No one got in touch. Trader Joe’s wouldn’t even respond to my inquiries. If I, a thirty-six year old with college degrees and retail experience, couldn’t get hired to work a register, what hope could I feel in anything?

I subsisted on egg dishes and microwavable food. Whatever canned soups were on sale I bought by the armful. In lieu of a “real” job, I made it my job to spend very little money. Portland is a tough town for good employment. It has a glut of eager applicants and limited industry. Our main commercial offerings are arguably food, advertising, and stylishness. Combined with our large artist population, that means that countless musicians, writers, and painters are cooking and serving your meals.

Hope came from a local landmark, Powell’s Books, which hired me as a temp cashier in the summer of 2011. I’d worked at the flagship store full-time between 2000 and 2006, and the intervening years seem to have erased my employer’s memories of my often gruff customer service, my habit of sleeping on the lunchroom couch, and my tendency to use the company Xerox machine to photocopy material for whatever I was writing. That summer, by the large windows along Burnside Street, I stood at the cash register and pushed keys for four to nine hours a day. But when the season ended, the store created a few permanent part-time cashier positions, and I didn’t land one. “We’re sorry to say we’ve found somebody else,” my manager said weeks after my interview. He wasn’t as sorry as I was—he, with a job to cover his mortgage and health insurance.

I was back where I started. I struck out on my own and became a house sitter. Read More »

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Coming of Age

February 7, 2014 | by

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Valenciennes lace of Ypres, 1875

The summer before I started college, I worked part-time in an antique linens shop in an East Coast vacation town. The owner, Theresa, was a warm, elegant woman who taught me not just how to do bookkeeping and how to tell the difference between point lace and Valenciennes, but a great deal about how to treat other people, too.

The rest of the time, I worked as a waitress at a nearby restaurant. My fellow employees included a shifty-eyed Hare Krishna named Heather, a bartender called Kenny who liked to try to shock me, and a thirtysomething bodyworker, Julia, who had the unfortunate habit of telling people on the slightest pretext that she had attended “a little school in New Haven.”

At the linens shop, I helped iron and fold the stock and assisted customers. Mostly, Theresa and I would talk: about her family leaving Havana after the revolution; about the history of the town; about her dashing husband and how they met when she was a receptionist at a clinic. (He’d had a dislocated shoulder and she let him jump the line.) “Always spend more on flowers than on food,” she once told me. “Good for the soul, better for the waistline.” Read More »