Sunday, October 19, 2008

Victor Burgin's Office At Night

Conceptual artist Victor Burgin's series Office At Night, inspired by the iconic Edward Hopper painting of the same name, explores the politics of gender relations in a decidedly patriarchal society. In an essay written by Burgin entitled "The Separateness of Things", the artist discusses the impetus behind the series and shares some of his thoughts on the politics of Hopper. In the catalog which accompanied the Office At Night exhibition, Burgin wrote this about Hopper's Office At Night:

"Office at Night may be read as an expression of the general political problem of the organization of Desire within the Law, and in terms of the particular problem of the organization of sexuality within capitalism – the organization of sexuality for capitalism. Patriarchy has traditionally consigned women to supportive roles in the running of the economy, subject to the authority of men. The ‘secretary/boss’ couple in Hopper’s painting is at once a picture of a particular, albeit fictional, couple and an emblem, ‘iconogram’, serving to metonymically represent all such couples – all such links in the chains of organization of the (re)production of wealth. Such coupling for reproduction must of course contain its sexual imperative. The family functions to contain, restrain, this imperative in so far as it is directed towards the reproduction of subjects for the workplace. The erotic supplement to the biological imperative cannot however be contained in the family. It spills into the place of work, where it threatens to subvert the orders of rationalized production. [Hopper’s] painting, clearly, may represent such a moment of potential erotic disruption in appealing to such preconstructed meanings, items of the popular pre-conscious, as are filed under, for example, ‘working late at the office’. At the same time the painting stabilizes the situation by providing a moral solution to the problem of the unruly and dangerous supplement. That the morality is patriarchal goes without saying."

Burgin then had this to say in regard to his own work:

"My point of departure for the photographic work I made in 1986 was the position of the woman in Hopper’s painting. The woman in the painting is there to be looked at, an object of sexual curiosity.

My aim was to transform the role of the woman from object of curiosity to that of subject of curiosity – to transform showing into knowing, exhibitionism into epistemophilia. In an interview recorded at the time of my ICA exhibition, I described my own Office at Night in the following terms:

The office in Hopper’s painting is a very enclosed space. Most of the elements in my piece are derived from elements within that space. The fantasy is that the woman explores the space of Hopper’s painting, appropriates that space for herself. The pictograms [are] added as a counterpoint, in a sort of ‘möbius strip’ action – in that the pictograms refer to the inside of the office, wrapping around that enclosed space, but at the same time are continuous, in formal and thematic terms, with what’s happening outside the office. I thought of the ubiquitousness of that sort of symbol system in the contemporary environment: Walk/Don’t Walk; Stop; No Entrance; Passport Control. It’s the very index of the omnipresence of control, authority. For me, the pictograms serve as a sort of analogue of the universe surrounding the office."

All photographs from the series Office At Night

All Images © Victor Burgin