The Unspoken Cost of Work in
Victorian/ Austerity Britain
The second BLT19 exhibition, and the first large-scale one, took 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 took place on 25 July at 3pm. The event was free, registered through Eventbrite here.
A small selection of images of the exhibition space is available at the bottom of this page.
Some visitor comments
“A fantastic and utterly fascinating exhibition! Thoroughly enjoyed it – gave me lots to think about” (Alison C)
“Very inspiring and thought-provoking…very much appreciated the guidance provided in the comments – they generated more questions than giving one, straight answer which I liked very much” (Kara W)
“really important work. Thank you for curating and putting on the exhibition” (Paula Geraghty)
“A powerful combination of past and present” (Pauline)
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.
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 and feelings 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? Caring jobs (with the exception of doctors) are still overwhelmingly carried out by women, very often in low-paid jobs: these jobs keep us alive and safe, but how valued are they?
This question is closely tied up to an anxiety about other kinds of work that are 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.