Opinion: has doing nothing become a work of art?

A new art installation that gives gallery staff five weeks off work should prompt us all to reconsider the balance between work and life, writes Cathryn Newbery

Head down to Chisenhale Gallery in central London before 29 May and you’ll find no art on the walls, no phones ringing, no staff ready to greet you. Because its current installation, 5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours, by German artist Maria Eichhorn, is a totally empty gallery, closed to the public for its duration.

Staff can do whatever they like during their break: there are no rules, no guidelines and no stipulation that they must report back at the end.

In the show’s notes, the exhibition is framed as “a consideration of how we assign value to time”. Is time only valuable when we are at work and being ‘productive’ (whatever that means), or can we still derive personal value from our activities outside of the workplace, it asks.

“The concept of free time and our striving for a mythic ‘work-life balance’ are worth consideration,”writes the Guardian’s art critic, Adrian Searle. “When working life is so precarious and borderless, frequently conducted on short-term or zero-hours contracts, and our social lives become ever-more instrumentalised in the service of it, balance goes out the window.”

Think of all that time you spend outside of work, keeping up with your personal development, networking or reading articles – let alone the hours in the car or shower mulling over things you’ve forgotten to do or crises you’re trying to solve. When was the last time you truly switched off? Has time truly ‘off’ work become a luxury that the modern-day professional simply cannot afford? And should we, the HR community, be doing more to lead by example?

Before they were sent home, Eichhorn interviewed gallery employees about their jobs – what they enjoy doing, how they keep on top of their workloads and how they hope to progress in the future – a mini appraisal, if you will. One modern bug-bear was singled out for particular criticism.

“Emails can be a tyranny… striking a balance between big-picture thinking and immediate tasks can be difficult,” said one member of staff. The good news for them is that no emails will pile up in their absence: all messages are being automatically deleted for the duration of the project.

I might just try doing that the next time I take a holiday.

Story via – http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2016/04/29/opinion-has-doing-nothing-become-a-work-of-art.aspx

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