Olivia Hernaïz and Ruth Waters: takedown of the caring corporates

Emotion Over Raisin (Still) Ruth Waters
© Ruth Waters -still from film Emotion over Raisin (2019) 

There is an apocalyptic aura emanating from late capitalism. As a descriptive term it simply defines the transformation of capitalism in the modern era. Perhaps more depressingly it implies that corporate culture, as framed by Marx, has adapted to survive into a post modern world despite the threat of implosion from its inherent absurdities. Marx did not predict that Thatcher-Blairism would dissolve the public/private sector divide. He would be horrified that social media now has the potential to transform us all into entrepreneurs, desperate to promote ourselves as brands. He would perhaps not be surprised by the emergence of the gig economy, led by missionary enterprises like Uber masquerading as liberators while tethering its freelancers to a precarious treadmill.  

This infiltration of capitalist values into the interpersonal realm was foreseen by French Marxist philosopher Guy Debord in the 1960s and this trend has accelerated as our lives have migrated to the internet. To remedy these injustices we have mostly rejected collective insurrection in favour of alternative routes to salvation including individualised “self-care”. At Koppel Project Hive’s exhibition All About You,  two MI artworks from Ruth Waters and Olivia Hernaiz are refreshingly direct and timely reminders of the way that the interpersonal values have been hijacked by our newborn capitalist masters. These artists consider how “care” has entered the corporate lexicon either through stress relieving programmes for their employees (Waters) or through romanticising their relationship with consumers (Hernaiz).    

Ruth Waters is her usual incisive self, gently mocking the mindfulness industry through a subtle and cleverly crafted film that alternates between the anodyne spiel of the trainer and the vividly realised thoughts of the participants as they fail to “live in the moment.” As so often in these types of session they have to follow bizarre instructions, in this case requiring them to relate in various ways to a raisin they have been handed. The impact of the film is ramped up by its rather spooky immersive installation. You sit in a semi-circle of padded office chairs with other carefully chosen props (a vase of flowers on an office cabinet, a functional wall clock) mirroring the film’s setting in the kind of hermetically sealed training room that I mercifully no longer have to experience since my escape from the corporate life.  After enduring such sessions someone tends to vent with the well-worn cliché:

“Well… that’s an hour/an afternoon/ a day of my life that I am never going to get back”

This sense of time spooling away pervades the film. A steady tick-tock marks time on the film’s soundtrack. Death is slyly referenced though a participant’s thoughts that the passing of her cat would at least give her “something to post on instagram”. The vase of flowers seems an anomaly. In this setting it might indicate the mindfulness of sensory focussing. But it also reeks of decay and loss. I’m left with the uneasy sense that mindfulness is an inadequate antidote offered by corporate culture to anaesthetise us, a post-Marxist version of “opium of the people”. Waters’ film is spiced liberally with her signature dry humour – even the title Emotion over Raisin seems to play on the Romantic poets’ valuing of Emotion over Reason, an idea also at the heart of mindfulness culture.

In her video installation All About You (2017) Olivia Hernaïz has allowed corporate advertising culture enough rope to hang itself with only minimal intervention from herself. As the major banks close local branches and move online they have become more impersonal yet with unconscious irony their slogans continue to convey the opposite by evoking a personal caring relationship of mutual respect. The Bank of America’s “Think  what we can do for you” sounds like it is a branch of social work. They might as well be promoting the lie: “It’s you we care about, not your money”.

Hernaiz has composed a romantic swoon of a song with a charming violin and piano accompaniment and deeply ironic lyrics patched together from the taglines of international banks. My favourite is “The more we know about you, the more we can give you”  which seems like a good summary of late capitalism and a frank admission that exploitation of your personal data is integral to their business model. Her video slide show of the banks’ logos and taglines is projected onto the gallery ceiling as we lounge back in the care of a fluffy beanbag. We feel like willing suckers in this sentimental, romantic quest for a financial saviour. Amusing, hard-hitting and thought-provoking take on the insidious nature of personalised marketing strategies.

The exhibition continues until 3 May 2019 at the The Koppel Project Hive at 26 Holborn Viaduct.

 

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