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‘The Measure of All Things’ Presents The Art of Labor

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The Room Gallery, located in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, is what it sounds like — a large white-walled room that functions as an art gallery. Yet with the addition of work by five contemporary artists from around the world, the entire space radiates with a powerful and relevant message.

Courtesy of Eli Heller
Courtesy of Eli Heller

“The Measure of All Things,” an exhibition curated by first-year Curatorial and Critical Aesthetics MFA students, Andrew McNeely and Amy Sanchez, explores the concept of labor as something that human bodies are designed to produce, while making bold statements about race and gender, and demonstrating visual art’s vast political capabilities.

Each of the artists’ featured in the exhibition — Julian d’Angiolillo, Tomashi Jackson, Rodrigo Valenzuela, and duo Katie Bachler and Jade Thacker, are represented by one work of art. “The artists come to us from different contexts in terms of their practices, but also geographically,” Sanchez explained.

Native Chilean Valenzuela’s “The Diamond Box,” recalls the artist’s past as an undocumented day laborer in California. The brief black-and-white video alternates between close ups of the faces of several underpaid Latino day laborers, accompanied by the sounds of their voices, reflecting on the hardships they faced upon entering the United States. “We slept on the ground between the stones and branches,” one offers. “I am alone in this country and I have no one.” Valenzuela paid these individuals their usual hourly wage for their participation in his work.

Photographs of Jackson, a New York-based performance artist, creating her work “Red Handed,” for which she dressed as a house servant and, using oil sticks and red ink, produced illustrations of herself as a maid and caretaker for a white family’s children on public storefront windows, appear beside hanging reproductions of the actual images. Jackson, who herself also works as a nanny, hints at the idea of an artist as a laborer with this work of art and uses the public sphere as her canvas.

“What this comes back to is the dignity of labor. The right to work is the right to dignity,” Sanchez explained.

“In light of all these conversations and politics, we’re thinking about this as a point of departure; to think about labor beyond the monetary notion of it, to root it within the intellectual framework of the university setting,” she continued.

D’Angiolillo’s “Hacerme Feriante” (Become A Stallholder), a 2010 documentary about La Salada, the largest informal market in Latin Aamerica, located near Buenos Aires, again plays upon the idea of the artist as laborer, as the documentary itself eventually became one of the products circulating within La Salada.

Bachler and Thacker’s collaborative “Worker’s Rug,” is the result of a project conceived by the artists, for which they traveled to downtown Los Angeles and invited day laborers to the Downtown Community Job Center to shred their work clothes and weave the scraps into a colorful rug.

“The Measure of All Things” complements two other graduate student-curated exhibitions on campus and is a spectacular representation of the dualities between physical and artistic labor. The exhibition will be on display until February 8.