A five-piece art exhibition evokes how office life, and our world, is changing.
The movie “Office Space” satirizes white collar office jobs during the 1990s, mocking the hierarchical structure, rows of cubicles and endless amount of paperwork found in office life. Although movies and television shows have parodied office life for years, conventions appear to be changing, as the virtual and physical worlds continue to collide.
This being so, the “Out of Office” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is timely. A giant progress report and oversized woven bank receipt, for example, lure visitors into this one-room, five piece show to contemplate how these now archaic features of office life are changing.
Most telling is the virtual impact on the way business is conducted today. The transfer of money is one example. Gabriel Kuri’s “untitled tsb mini statement details,” a large-scale woven tapestry that replicates the front and backside of a bank receipt, and Hugh Scott-Douglas’s “Untitled,” two over-sized depictions of the Yen, Japan’s currency, point to traditional modes of exchanging money: using a bank and paying with cash, respectively. But Bitcoin, a digital currency, is gaining in popularity — even in the art world. In fact, last year some galleries at Silicon Valley Contemporary, an art fair in California, accepted Bitcoin for payment. And this year’s Moniker Art Fair in London will also accept compensation through this digital currency.
More broadly, virtual advancements are eliminating the need for some physical office supplies. With the advent of “the cloud,” referring to software and servers running on the Internet, employees can virtually store information, instead of filing tangible pieces of paper in filing cabinets. Eric Wesley’s “DPS #9 (Pomegranate),” a large-scale version of a “daily progress status report,” recalls a similar primitive practice. It resembles a form used to monitor an employee’s progress, where workers physically wrote out the assignment being worked on or completed each hour of an eight hour day. Times have changed. Rather than filling out a timesheet manually, employees can fill them out electronically today. The purple pomegranate “splat” near the middle of his piece suggests workers’ disgust with being watched, monitored and assessed.
Above all, by physically exaggerating outdated qualities of office life today, this exhibition implies how the economy has changed to an interconnected, knowledge-based economy. The show does not explicitly make the connections between past and present — the onus is on the visitor to do so, which seems to be the point. “Out of Office” effectively uses art to get visitors thinking about life outside the gallery space: not only how office life is changing, but how our world now operates.
“Out of Office” is on show at the Museum of Contemporary Art until September 6.