Manual Labours

Manual Labours is a research project exploring physical and emotional relationships to work, initiated by Jenny Richards and Sophie Hope. This project reconsiders current time-based structures of work (when does work start and end?) and reasserts the significance of the physical (manual) aspect of immaterial, affective and emotional labour.

Manual Labours started in April 2013 with a 35 hour ‘working week’-long investigation into the embodied, sensory, emotional affects of work which included meetings with our co-workers, a 9 mile walk to work, hosting a film screening and eating together during a Public Lunch Hour. This initial stage of the research was documented in the first issue of the Manual Labours Manual.

In Autumn 2013 we held a series of reading groups that explored issues addressed within the Manual within different sites of work including an artist studio, a hospital and a bank.

In 2014 we carried out a programme of workshops with a local London council’s complaints team and workshops with cultural workers in Melbourne, Helsinki and Stockholm. The material from these workshops formed the second Manual Labours Manual.

Manual Labours continues in 2015 with an investigation of the ‘complaining body’. We will be working with complaints teams across different sectors to explore in detail the physical and emotional experiences of receiving and managing complaints. These workshops will also provide the backdrop to three new commissions by choreographer, Hamish MacPherson, visual artist Sarah Browne and writer Ivor Southwood. The resulting visual, written and performance pieces will be presented in different constellations at Preston (In Certain Places), Worcester (Movement) and London. A public site-specific Film Club and Reading Group led by special guests running throughout 2015 will bring together a network to develop a greater understanding and critical positioning of complex, overlapping experiences of work-life entwinement, contributing to a timely discourse on the body at work.

Through this project we are interested in exploring the transformation of labour processes through an investigation into the ‘physical’ (in its most expanded sense) relationship to work in order to map complex and overlapping experiences of work/life entwinement. Through our various activities including screenings, exhibitions, discussions, publishing and workshops we are developing an archive of artist film and video and a collection of publications, to help inform ways in which we can recapture a sense of agency within our current positions.

About Jenny

Jenny Richards is a freelance curator and writer based in London and Stockholm whose research focuses on the politics of collaborative practices. In 2012 Jenny completed an MA in Art and Politics from Goldsmiths University. Prior to this she worked as Programme Manager of the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh, working with artists and audiences on long term projects of mutual interest including Jesse Jones Against the Realm of the Absolute 2011, Tessa Lynch Alexandrite 2010, Aleksandra Mir The How Not to Cookbook 2009.

About Sophie

Sophie Hope’s practice based research focuses on the relationships between art and society. She has worked as an independent curator (B+B), a writer and evaluator of public and socially engaged art and is now a full-time academic in the Film, Media and Cultural Studies Department at Birkbeck, University of London. Sophie has developed practical projects through which to research cultural policy, labour conditions and community art histories. These include a three-year participant-led investigation into socially engaged art and a large-scale community performance in a Dutch new town. Her PhD, 'Participating in the Wrong Way? Practice Based Research into Cultural Democracy and the Commissioning of Art to Effect Change' explored the limits and possibilities of criticality in the context of an artists' contract.