Sean Grattan

Work And Not Work (2008)

41 min 4 secSingle channel / Digital Video / Colour / Sound

"The video is a hybrid documentary-fiction focusing on Faulkner Collins Ltd., which was established in 1895 in Bracknell, England by Robert Faulkner and Lewis Collins. Relocating in 1906 to Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland, New Zealand, the company produced, by the 1940s, metal goods such as shopping trolleys, commercial display units, and other wire metal products. Using impassive framing, the camera shows various details of administration and production, beginning in the offices where smartly dressed employees sit at desks in wood paneled rooms surrounded by the quintessential decor of stationery, company memorabilia and motivational posters. Moving to the factory floor, we witness the workers as they operate machines that cut, shape and weld the metal, loading raw material onto conveyor belts and stacking fabricated parts into bins in preparation for the next stage of assembly. The behind-the-scenes footage offers a careful document of the wage labour still present in late-2000s manufacturing, which in this case was employed mostly for the management of sales clients and operation of automated machinery.

Relocating to a supermarket, the video connects the production of the shopping trolleys with their commercial function. But a sly shift occurs and an unlikely character becomes the focus as she drifts through the aisles. What unfolds is a subtly jarring juxtaposition, the observational documentary transforming into a domestic drama (de)centered on a failing relationship. Suffering from a crisis of understanding, the sad couple have lost their sense of shared purpose, while the repetitive and purposeful sound of the machines fades into the background.

Frieda, the apparent protagonist of 'Work And Not Work', is being harassed by her boyfriend, Marco, for not earning enough money. He seems to value the structuring effect full-time employment has on one’s psyche, and is unbothered by the existential dilemmas that arise in an individualistic and competitive, profit-driven society, wherein the failure (or lack of opportunity) to produce anything that is financially lucrative can lead to despair. For most people getting work is essential, and spending your life as an employee has a profound effect on your experience of reality. But the economic doctrine of neo-liberalism sees labor as an impersonal resource, creating ontological gaps between those who buy labor and those who sell it.

As the mutated narrative disturbs the perceptual ground of the viewer, Frieda wanders the urban landscape burdened by the opaque demands of an uncertain future. The fragmentation of mechanized work is juxtaposed with the malaise that haunts human consciousness when our engagement with the commercial structures of the world is apathetic. Work And Not Work holds space for aimlessness, questioning the nature of identity as it relates to job-defined productivity. It is worth noting that the Faulkner Collins factory no longer exists as it was demolished in 2011. A connecting artery of motorway now ploughs through the area once occupied by the brand new shopping trolleys."

Artist's statement

Other works by Sean Grattan

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