Manual Labours

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The Building as a Body

In 2017 Manual Labours are in residence at Nottingham Contemporary.

The Building as a Body is a project between Manual Labours (Sophie Hope and Jenny Richards) and the staff at Nottingham Contemporary.

During our residency at Nottingham Contemporary we have been working with staff to explore the architecture of the workplace, looking into the ways in which buildings and bodies are fluid ecosystems which affect each other. The metaphor of the building as a body has allowed us to map body systems onto the different areas of the building in order to identify symptoms or blockages and diagnose the conditions that perpetuates them.

Our discussions with staff have focused on the ways the building makes them feel – physically and emotionally and what systems are in place to maintain a healthy body. This has meant working with staff in all roles of the organisation and understanding the everyday life of the building and the myriad of work that goes on here. As a public institution the focus of the organisation is outward facing. This can mean the inward facing job of caring for the building and bodies that work in it can sometimes be overlooked. As Graham and Thrift point out in their article, Out of Order; Understanding Repair and Maintenance (2007), the role of buying milk for tea and coffee, or booking a room for a meeting only come into focus when they don’t function accordingly. Our research has highlighted some of these overlooked everyday sources of irritation, which, left untreated begin to take their toll.

Diary of process:

November 2016: We facilitated a workshop with staff to explore their physical and emotional rela tionship to work. Out of this came the idea of the building as a body. With the group we started to map body systems onto the building and visited different parts of the building to identify symptoms and then diagnose the conditions. This resulted in a series of health assessments drafted by the staff which we then turned into prescriptions.

body systems

January – May 2017: We updated the prescriptions and sent them to staff with first aid packages to see how they might use them.

Packages

May 2017: We produced a public event at the gallery which involved a screening of a film we commissioned by Sarah Browne, ‘Report to an Academy’ in 2015-2016, exploring the contemporary academic environment as a neoliberal, Kafkaesque workplace. We gave a talk about our work to date and did a performance – an architectural endoscopy of the building which led visitors through different areas of the building. Our workshop with staff in May discussed each of prescriptions and started to develop ideas for a hysteroscopy of the building.

Endoscopy

In August 2017 we spent a week at Nottingham Contemporary carrying out interviews, doing some filming and exploring the building in more depth. We are working with artist, designer and technician Effy Harle on developing designs for a ‘wandering womb’ kitchen for staff and with gallery assistants and performance artists Olwen Davies and Maud Lannen on developing a performance with/for gallery assistants. We are continuing to work on a literature review, write up a health assessment for the organisation and prepare some public events for Spring 2018.

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