Works of art are often used in commercial and other work environments for their ability to decorate and ornament a space. This exhibition, completed within the context of Sarah Horton’s current doctoral research, displays and documents artworks that relate to the visual and material components of workplaces. The decorative element within the objects works to question status and hierarchy as well as to reflect more widely on the role of the decorative in fine art practice and display.
Two site-specific locations for the research are Aviva’s Head Office in London and Berendsen, an industrial laundry in Norfolk. Art interventions made for these locations are documented through photographs in the exhibition. In addition, and made specifically for this exhibition, are a group of ubiquitous office chairs that have been ‘dressed’ to disrupt the sameness, repetition and bureaucracy which is typical of some workplace environments. Sculptural additions to the chairs create playful alternatives and indicate difference, diversity, domesticity, leisure and invention.
The title of the doctoral research is Decoration: Disrupting the workplace and challenging the work of art; the exhibition is intended to expose some of the activities and practice-based outcomes resulting from the processes of research. A wall-sized timeline shows the development of the research over a period of five years complete with all its stuttering false starts, complications and dead ends. The iterative research process, the many hours of reading and reflection, the articulation and re-articulation, the structuring and re-structuring of both the text and the artwork, can only partially be indicated here. It is hoped that this exhibition goes some way to revealing Horton’s concerns of the past five years and the belief that pattern, decoration and ornamentation can be a way of problematizing aspects of environment, work and status.
Reflecting on the repetitive nature of work practices that typify many offices and factories has shed light on the work and tasks that typically engage the artist. In both contexts, time is of the essence, though it may be that, as in this instance, the time spent making art equates to only a small fraction of the work of the artist. Much of this labour is hidden or only hinted at in the finished work. While the making of these artworks seems obvious to the eye, including making processes such as welding, stitching, pinning, tacking, casting, assembling, drawing and painting, there are many other activities that go to support the exhibited outcome. Making photocopies, emailing security officers, meeting managers, meeting the workers to get feedback about the work, negotiating the display of the work for exhibition – these may not be visible but are absolutely integral to the production of the work.
The artist would like to thank Aviva and Berendsen for their co-operation with her PhD.