Artstation Gallery, Ponsonby, Auckland.
Interactive Exhibition: October 14th – 24th, 2009.
Parade and Picnic: October 24th, noon (outside Artstation), travelled to Western Park, finished 2pm.
The FGS Unofficial Unpaid Labour Day Exhibition and Parade considered Labour Value.i Alongside drawing attention to non-economic values (like the value of friendship, the value of sharing, or the value of music for example); FGS wanted to draw attention to capitalism’s singular valuing of paid work, even though unpaid work accounts for the bulk of work contributed to the New Zealand economy.ii This idea was underpinned by the notion voluntary and remunerated work is interdependent.
The FGS Unofficial Unpaid Labour Day Exhibition and Parade was an interactive event set up to coincide with New Zealand’s Labour Day commemorations. The intention of this was two-fold: firstly, to acknowledge unpaid labour; and secondly, to cite the working class history of the Auckland suburb of Ponsonby, where Artstation Gallery is located, which is now gentrified.
Community organisations, schools and members of the public were invited (via an intensive facilitation process) to get involved in the project and the ideas sustaining it by making paper flowers and flags for an exhibition; the centrepiece of which was a float that was showcased in a parade and community picnic in the tradition of Labour Day, complimenting the Day’s customary commemoration of paid work.
Artstation’s tally of numbers revealed that at the conclusion of the project an estimated 1550 people had visited the gallery during the event, which took place over ten days. These numbers were made up of diverse organisations; including special needs programmes, schools, and small community groups. Most participants dropped by informally to take part; meanwhile others came just to look at the growing exhibition, or took part in the ensuing float parade and picnic.
The exhibition opened in an unaccustomed way as an incomplete work – just a little trellis-covered house in the middle of the gallery; some flagpoles and pennants; several tables and chairs; tissue paper and pipe-cleaners for making flowers; pre-cut blank flags and art materials for decorating them. The gallery walls were decorated to evoke a sense of a FGS ‘clubhouse’ with paraphernalia from this and past projects. A FGS tea party took place at the opening event – a gesture that has become a convention of all FGS openings. The exhibition was completed over eight days out of the community’s involvement in its making – and stood completed for its final two days as a flamboyant visual spectacle once the house was covered in paper flowers, and the flags had been attached to bias and strung throughout the gallery. Because of the emphasis on interaction and participation, FGS colleagues attended to the exhibition during all opening hours and were actively involved in welcoming people; talking through the ideas beneath the project; and providing tuition.
On deinstallation day, a perfect spring day, people gathered outside Artstation and travelled with the flower house (which had wheels attached) as it was towed along the footpath of Ponsonby Road to Western Park. Everyone pitched in to carry flags, flagpoles and cardboard trees. At the park the elements of the exhibition were reconfigured with the house as a centrepiece; deck chairs were set up; blankets spread out; and everyone shared a picnic under the flying flags and a clear blue sky. Those present were diverse in age and cultural background, and very few of knew each other on arrival.
The FGS Unofficial Unpaid Labour Day Exhibition and Parade was successful on several levels. It was conceptually robust; aesthetically appealing; and it was egalitarian and engaged the community. The common sentiment expressed by participants was gratitude they had been provided with the opportunity to work collectively and contribute in a real way to an event that they could find meaning in. Many indicated they felt a sense of loss over the absence of local community gatherings in today’s society. This ratified the success of the project within FGS wider conceptual concerns: to scrutinise the role of ‘friendliness’ in a commodified culture.
i The word Value derived around the thirteenth century out of Middle English, from Old French – a feminine past participle of valoir: to be strong, be worth; originating in the Latin word valēre. This description lacks capitalist, fiscal connotations, which is the immediate implication of the assumption: Labour Value.
ii “New Zealanders spend more time on unpaid work than paid work. Over the course of a year, we do over 4.2 billion hours of unpaid work. If this is converted into fulltime jobs of 40 hours a week, it equates to over two million jobs. By comparison, 3.5 billion hours is spent on paid work, equating to 1.7 million full-time jobs of 40 hours a week. Of the total hours spent on unpaid work, 2.7 billion are done by women and 1.5 billion by men. The value of unpaid work in New Zealand in 1999 was $40 billion, which is equivalent to 39 percent of GDP… The results clearly demonstrate the large investment of time in unpaid work and its economic significance …”