BLT19 Exhibitions

Keep the Door of My Lips :

The Unspoken Cost of Work in

Victorian/ Austerity Britain

The second of our exhibitions, and the first large-scale one, takes place at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, Stockwell Street, Greenwich, London SE10 9BD ( View Map ) 11 July – 14 August. 2019.

A public conversation with the artists takes place on 25 July at 3pm. The event is free but please register through Eventbrite here.

Work, working conditions, the effects of work, escape from work, being without work, gender and work, ethnicity and work, class and work together form part of the core of the news media. The workplace and the structures of work are the foundation of hit shows from The Office to Casualty, from Star Trek to Killing Eve and Lucifer. Work is embedded in the story of our lives.

We talk about work endlessly. But what is ‘work’? Where do our ideas about come from?

This exhibition – by turns beautiful, heroic, shocking, comforting, unsettling – wants to get us to think about what work means for us by colliding images from Victorian periodicals with powerful and provocative art by four contemporary women: Catherine Hoffman, Emmanuelle Loiselle, Sarm Miccichè & ‘Home is not My Home’ by Dr Joyce Jiang, Tassia Kobylinska & The Voice of Domestic Workers.

The title ‘Keep the Door of my Lips’ comes from an illustration in the British Workwoman, a Victorian women’s temperance periodical, copies of which you can see on this website. It struck the curator Connie Gallagher and me that it summed up what we wanted to do: open discussion about our silent assumptions about work and their history.

Working and speaking with young people today I see a very powerful return to Victorian conceptions of work, not least in the casualisation of the relationship between employer and employee, ideas of self-worth and practical possibility more generally. Furthermore, despite decades of equality according to the law, how far have our conceptions of different work for men and women really changed?

This question is closely tied up to an anxiety about other kinds of work that is not formally recognised as ‘work’ – the work of transforming others through parenthood and the labour of transforming oneself to actualise some idea of potential perfect happiness.

By colliding the hope and promises that the Victorian images suggest with the visceral outcries of today’s artists caused by the valorisation of certain kinds of work and the abjection of others we want to make audible what each does not say, as well as lend an ear to what they do.