Reading Rämistrasse #56: Brit Barton on Débora Delmar at Shedhalle

The Shedhalle – a city sponsored institution dedicated to alternative artistic formats inside the former industrial Rote Fabrik site – is currently exhibiting the group exhibition You're So Busy. In the spirit of encouraging artists and curators to think beyond the traditional constraints of contemporary art, You’re So Busy is split into two; the static, seven-week long group exhibition is shown alongside weekly events, installations or interactive performances that are characterised by low and high-intensity projects. Week four was marked as low intensity, reserved for a more reflective audience experience with Débora Delmar’s newly commissioned installation Working Conditions (2021) that acted as a side-stage and solo display to You’re So Busy.

Installation view of office chairs chained together, facing inwards.

On first impressions, the installation is a manifestation of eroding corporate aesthetics met with the tribulations of a daily corporate mantra to survive and thrive. The physical materiality is equally ubiquitous and heavy-handed: the ergonomic office chairs that have obviously worn over time are bound together by bright and new metal chains in a circular, claustrophobic grouping of three. Although an accompanying video echoed those aspects, the pacing offered some levity. A fifteen-minute, single-channel video is broken into three occasionally congruous perspectives of the artist’s commute through London. There isn’t a soundtrack, but it is easy to imagine the quotidian sounds of traffic, construction, tourists and train stations that obstruct Delmar and in turn, the viewer, along the way. But all the visual indications that choreograph a pedestrian through life within any city, anywhere, does offer up its own sense of frenetic energy and absurdity. Repetitive checkpoints and card readers exist as symbolic, automated glimpses of privilege and access, only for the work to end in the arrival of a cruel view within the tiniest of spaces. 

The given of the installation is a critique of a monotonous corporate rat race. But the sharper edges are where Delmar does and doesn’t discuss the institutionalisation of minimalist aesthetics or the trendy cliché of artist as entrepreneur. The current commission, alongside a previous three-part sound piece that deciphers the late David Graeber’s “Bullshit Jobs: A Theory” text, a self-designed corporate logo and a widely-shared Spotify playlist (labelled “Work”), burrow deep inside the structures of a capitalist critique but the irony becomes muddled in the midst of it. What labour means in terms of office spaces and attitudes in a current COVID-19 world – or, really, what work breaks down to for a transnational artist – is never fully addressed. The fragmented elements dispersed on and offline are most of all a reminder that our – artists and audiences alike – free time is more defined by work and capitalism than ever before. 

You're so busy, Shedhalle, Seestrasse 395, 8038, Zürich

11 June–25 July 2021

Programmed by Michelangelo Miccolis, produced by Cora Gianolla and nick von kleist

Images courtesy the artist, photography: Claudia Schleiffer

Reading Rämistrasse: 

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