Manual Labours


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.

Through a series of workshops we have been assessing the health of different parts of the building staff work in. Employees have been diagnosing problems with the architecture such as cramped working conditions leading to the crippling of the building’s skeletal structure, lack of fresh air leading to structural respiratory problems and blockages in the digestive storage system leading to constipation and trapped wind.

Manual Labours are working with staff to develop and perform prescriptions to improve the health of the building they occupy on a daily basis.

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.


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.


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 ‘wondering 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.