Marianne Flotron, Fired, 2007, still from a color video, 7 minutes 51 seconds.

Marianne Flotron, Fired, 2007, still from a color video, 7 minutes 51 seconds.

Marianne Flotron

Marianne Flotron, Fired, 2007, still from a color video, 7 minutes 51 seconds.

In recent years, politically engaged artists have confronted viewers with a multitude of current and historical conflicts. Yet they rarely enter the realm of daily life in the business world, where the microstructures of economic power are formed among individuals. So much more exciting, then, is the work of the Amsterdam-based Swiss artist Marianne Flotron, who disturbs these subtle and seemingly unremarkable routines in videotaped scenes.

With the support of the Kunsthalle Bern, Flotron created the four-part video piece Work, 2011, as one component of her first solo institutional exhibition, curated by Philippe Pirotte and also called “Work.” The first section, “The Play,” shows scenes that take place in an open-plan office in the glassy ambience of a Dutch insurance company. In “Rehearsal,” a group of employees along with some actors, under the guidance of a director, practice scenes from a typical office day. “Interviews” consists of a discussion or debriefing session about this action in smaller groups, during which several employees speak very personally. In “Hector,” the director himself, a Colombian whose experience is with the “theater of the oppressed” that emerged in Brazil in the 1960s, takes stock of the action: He appears astonished by the naive enthusiasm with which the Europeans conform to the expectations of their superiors in the demands they make on themselves.

“Positive thinking” and “flexibility” are maxims that have become internalized in our society. They reflect a corporate culture in which working from home, recreation at the office, and flexible work schedules enhance a comprehensive sense of personal identification with the employer. As part of this exhibition, Flotron hung a row of “mindmaps” on flip charts, reflecting the workplace jargon in which personnel management is presented as “staff self-expression.” The manipulative nature of this jargon and the ease with which it leads to self-deception were also demonstrated in Fired, 2007. In this piece, a manager is filmed during a training session in which he is taught techniques of selling a termination as a chance for “mobility.” Such euphemisms reinforce the cynical idealization of actual power dynamics.

Of course, Flotron’s videos are not direct interventions in or even documentations of the world of work, but rather images intended to provoke reflection, though they emerge from a camera that seems simply to record without dramaturgical effects. Yet Flotron also resorts to blatant formal techniques. In Fired, for instance, the heads of the two figures are cropped from the film, so that attention is concentrated on the choice of words and the accompanying gestures. Ultimately, this demands the active participation of the audience, as reality is doubled and mediated through theater and the camera.

The fictive self that appears happy because it is always smiling may be useful as self-protection for an employee in daily life. Placing a camera in front of the stage of this daily life nonetheless lends the empty gestures and trendy jargon a mildly embarrassing theatricality. In a society that defines personality primarily on the basis of one’s position in the workforce, the continual performance of accomplishment becomes a naive exercise in avoiding an unhappy fate. If art, with its historical role models of self-organized creativity, were actually to be imitated in the relaxed office lounges—“Only the result matters!”—the tragedy of economic self-exploitation would reach its end as an artistic farce. Regardless, Flotron continues to use the tools of art to reflect on a culture that dupes itself about its own theatricality.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Anne Posten.