WorkWorld by Adela Picón

Marina Porobic

The difference between a loaf of bread whose "lifetime" in the world is little more than a day, and a table which sometimes survives generations of users, is undoubtedly much more striking than the difference in the lives of the producers, i.e. the difference between a carpenter and a baker. Hannah Arendt, Vita activa or From Active Life.

The theme of the worker has a long history in art. Since industrialization, when the value of work was redefined, the theme has moved from the edge of the image to the centre. Since Courbet, Millet, and later Dix, to name but a few, artists deal with the living and working conditions of the worker, they reveal and censure them. Later, video artists, such as Harun Farocki and Ursula Biemann, take up this issue. It is not uncommon for the theme to be linked to that of migration. Migratory influx has a lasting influence on social structures and challenges the understanding of the "I" and the view of the "other". In her video works, Adela Picón reflects on this change and creates an association. Migrants are inseparable from their history, which includes their work.

Her video works are compositions that are characterized by their formal simplicity and address socio-political experiences. The artist, originally a painter, manages with small gestures - with only a few insignificant movements. Sometimes it completely dispenses with language, on other occasions it has an important role to play.

Her latest creation,"WorkWorld" is part of the sequence of pieces that do not claim to be documentary, but are much more presentations of fictional situations that raise questions about the creation of identity, clichés and alternative points of view. In this video work, Picón uses an artistic médium, characteristically, to interrupt a linear narrative and create complexity: the montage of the image vertically, separating it in the middle and leaving two different elements. It is clear that the artist was trained as a painter. She was inspired by Cezanne's "Les Joueurs des cartes, 1894-1895. The formal similarity can be seen especially in the versions with two players. Thus, the background hardly plays a role in it and the image space is divided by clear lines. A bottle on the table divides the image into two halves and gives each of the players their own space.

In "WorkWorld" Adela Picón proceeds similarly. We see in ten videos with a fixed camera setting, two people, obviously of different origins. It turns out that one of them is Swiss and the other a refugee. What connects them is that they have each practised the same profession. They sit opposite each other. One holds an object in his hand, a brush, a microphone, a toy excavator, or a piece of fabric and begins to talk in his mother tongue about his work. His counterpart seems to listen, nods sympathetically, smiles, marvels. Then, very slowly, the speaker hands him the object. This is an important moment in two respects. On the one hand, because the viewer perceives this object during the storytelling as a symbol that is comprehensible beyond language barriers, but presumably pays no further attention to it, and on  the other hand, because the object reveals the illusion of a constructed encounter at the moment of its handover when it disappears behind the dividing line. Only through a time-lapse, can the other person pick up the object and complete its story. The observer perceives a new dimension.

At this moment, Adela Picón performs a shift in the planes of meaning and steers the viewer away from the narrators towards a void. This is not the first time she has broken off the encounter at the moment of contact. This is also the case in "El Saludo", where she lets two people, greeting each other, disappear behind the dividing line. Instead of shaking hands, they merge into each other and walk out of the picture space.

Such key moments are crucial to understand the work of Adela Picón. The artist's awareness of the topicality of socio-political situations, such as the refugee problem, is always reflected in her work, which does not have an illustrative effect. It is not documentary-linear and the artist does not provide clear answers in it. Rather, the artificiality of the setting contributes to raising questions and opening up fields of interpretation. The use of the medium of video to transmit her concern is therefore not surprising. Especially since it also uses the same language as the media, which influence our image of "refugees".