"Overload: A Tale Of Officide"
The workers accomplish their duties as if part of an organic, well oiled clockwork machine. Leaving little room for error, aware that it’s three strikes and you’re out. Live to work and work to live, it is all the same but somehow different. In order to fund a new found taste for the finer things in life, you must work harder. But the work down below is hard and gritty. The monotony of pressing buttons gives way to filing papers and the incessant tap-tapping of the typewriter in their multitudes leads some to eventual insanity. It may be inane but keep your head down and you’ll move up the ladder of success: the chair of power and the desk is your reward. Promotion is a by-product of progress, “should my company progress with my hard work I will be promoted and I can afford the latest prescribed appliance”. Everyone has to start somewhere, people very rarely walk into high powered positions, save for some friendly nepotism. It’s all friendly, he’s your boss and your buddy, you can talk to him just don’t bother him with any trivial matters and whatever you do, don’t ask any questions. When you were a carefree child, playground politics prepared you for office politics, remember to weigh your words carefully and know when to hold your tongue. It doesn’t have to be hard work, just remember to work hard and you’ll be fine.
Is the office work place a harbinger of dreams or the destroyer of them? Are you the type of creature who relishes the thrill of the conference room? Or do you work your 9-5 like a dreary drone who is a slave to the dollar? Liu Dao's latest exploration into the world of work takes its inspiration from Hong Kong's many skyscrapers and workplaces: a seemingly infinite field of offices.
“Overload: A Tale of Officide” offers up the island6 specialty of electronic cheeky nods and LED playful pokes which reflect upon life. This time it focuses its light hearted lens on the very serious side of business, through exploring the absurdity of office workplace stereotypes. It is estimated that the average human being spends 90,000 hours of their lifetime at work1- that’s 10 years without a coffee break. And that figure is only inclusive of the amount of hours actually spent in the office, not the time spent recovering from stress, the late night e-mails sent or the over time worked. Seeing as we spend so much time physically and mentally occupied by work, island6 HK’s prerogative is to serve some food for thought when it comes to the world of work.
Whilst work provides us with a means of putting our talents and skills to productive use, allowing us to realise our significance, there are certain absurdities that can get in the way. We can find examples of this in any workplace but for all intents and purposes, let’s take the office workplace as the narrative of our tale. Upon entering, the desks are lined up in a uniformed order, like a factory production line demanding hyper-focus and attention. Healthily fed on a diet of caffeine and cigarettes, discerning workers hunch themselves over their computer screens. Absorbed by their work they mindlessly forget their postures and forsake their eyesight as bright screens glare at them to work harder. Whispers of counterproductive office gossip feed curiosities and play on insecurities, office politics rule the roost for 9 hours a day. The office workplace could soon become a thing of the past, everyone at some point has thought: “Couldn’t I just do this from home, I do have an internet connection...” But just as millennia has seen the very idea of working to live evolve into something entirely different, let’s for now embrace the triumph of the “Age of the Office” with its stylish power suits and money making ways which bring so many joy and sadness.
Melancholic musings can bring one to consider the division between class, privilege and opportunity: Are we really free to choose our lines of work or do our circumstances pre determine these on our behalf? Hong Kong is dripping with money; some have more of it than others. And as skyscrapers built on international trading reach the skies in a dichotomized bid for survival and luxury, there is a distinction between those worker bees who slave away to put bread on the table and those company deities who work to maintain their lavish lifestyles. Fritz Lang predicted this in his German expressionist silent movie “Metropolis” which saw the towers of the wealthy being built on the lifeblood of the workers far down below. Although “Metropolis” was made in the earlier half of last century, there is a remarkable parallel which rings out clear in the 21st Century.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with success or ambition, German philosopher and poet, Freidrich Schiller reminds us that “In the society, where people are just parts in a larger machine, individuals are unable to develop fully.”2 It is with that in mind that island6’s latest exhibition encourages individuals to remember their worth and not get lost in the supposed drudgery of the “daily grind”. Employing a healthy work life approach, can negate any stressful effects work can have on your wellbeing. In Japan there is the very real problem of Karōshi, which literally means “death from overwork”3 the Chinese call this problem Guolaosi 过劳死. This problem is a testament to our limitations of being mortal, the human side of business is awash with error, emotion and fatality. In Čapek’s play “R.U.R: Rossum’s Universal Robots” upon the hour of apocalypse, Robots have over run their makers. Dr Gall, head of the physiological department at R.U.R answers when questioned why they would want to kill mankind “They've ceased to be machines. They're already aware of their superiority, and they hate us. They hate all that is human.”4 Humans being so prone to fault rely on their Microsoft Office spell checker and computer programmes. Bound to the physical constraints of fatigue, hunger and other bodily functions and man are far less capable of getting the job done than your average machine. Stephen Hawking warns us of the very real danger of computer technology developing and taking over the world. He urges us to consider genetically engineering ourselves to keep up with the constant technological advancements5. But as a species, instead of changing ourselves, we should embrace these limitations as a sign of our humanity. We weren’t built to merely work like machines, spending our entire existences devoted to the workplace. We were built to enjoy a healthy work-to-life balance, living the joys of life and feeling a spectrum of emotions from pleasure to pain beyond the workplace.
And then it all comes back to the original question: are you allowing yourself to become a mere cog or are you master of your own fate? The latter being able to recognize that your choice to work is a blessing and of your choosing, you’re not just a mindless cog fulfilling its duties without joy. Ponder this whilst looking at Liu Dao’s “Furphy Fishing”, an ode to the comfort we find in forging relationships with our colleagues over a water cooler moment. Or how about reliving the dreaded commute to work in the rain in “Yinglong’s Laughter”, there is a beautiful poetry in the humorously tragic. The island6 message of not taking yourself too seriously, might be key to changing your perspective of work life and overcoming stress, to put it simply: Smile. Liu Dao's “No Impact Man” reminds you of the allure of simpler times, whilst “Employee Of The Month” hypnotizes you into shirking your work duties. The pitfalls and build-ups of the workplace are evident in a new animation-video piece entitled “FYEO” which has 3 sleeping office workers at the head of a conference table, woken by a calling viewer. A flirty text is then sent to the caller “Let’s settle this deal in my office, on my desk”, serving as a stark reminder of the holy trinity: Money, Sex and Power. Far from glamorizing the connotations of this (un)holy trinity, island6 acknowledge the struggles that come with this, especially for women, we are reminded of this in “The Tempest”.
Liu Dao’s cross section into work life and office politics encourages you to throw off the shackles and celebrate your humanity. We are not mere machines whose only purpose is to dedicate our lives to work, we are beings built to laugh, play and enjoy our very brief stint on this planet... Don’t waste too much time chained to the desk and come explore the artistry of the absurd at island6 HK...
Source: Psychology Today – “Finding Happiness at Work” Article- 21/02/2011
2 “On the Aesthetic Education of Man” by Friedrich Von Schiller - 1795
3 Source: The Economist – “Death By Overwork” Article, Tokyo Print – 19/12/2007
4 “R.U.R: Rossum’s Universal Robots” by Karel Čapek - 1920
5 Source: The Observer “Alter our DNA or robots will take over, warns Hawking” Article - 02/09/2001