The Soul at Work: Phoning it In


Commonwealth & Council
Los Angeles, CA

Salting Fruits

Camera: Christopher Cichocki, Gabie Strong
Editing: Juliet Johnson, Olga Koumoundouros
Sound: Juliet Johnson, Olga Koumoundouros, Michael Bizon
Performance: Collaboration with Troy Rounseville

The Soul at Work: Phoning it In is a third iteration of a body of work that maps connections between the Salton Sea in California at Epicenter Projects Online Exhibitions to Burlington City Arts at Lake Champlain in Vermont and back to its current permutated version in Los Angeles, CA. In each installment, I consider the shared relationship to industrial expansion, beliefs in ideas of materially productive work, a shift to touristic boosterism and its nostalgic depictions of leisure time, and the role of the information age and its immateriality. Like a telephone game, each context for the information reception shifts in translation. The same material is displayed in each venue, but an understanding of each site imparts something specifically different. It is in the work's cumulative life that a visage of the whole picture starts to become graspable.

These exhibitions are an evolving response to Franco Berardi's book, The Soul at Work, a psychoanalytic labor history analyzing conditions of work, feelings of satisfaction, and mental health in a time of neoliberal capitalism. According to Berardi, most of us are economically precarious in these times of unequal distribution of wealth and never have a full release from work while we continue to generate capital. Genuine leisure time is a thing of the past along with its defining middle class.

In my search to understand my current psychological and spiritual relationship to work, creativity, and survival within our precarious economy, I consider my own privileged position, identification and upbringing amidst the laboring and middle classes in America. In the video "Salting Fruits", an audio-visual composition is sourced from the landscape of the Salton Sea inspired by its geothermal energy, clay, chemistry, and history. Once showing a promise of an optimistic futurity as a vacation hot spot during modern boom times, the Salton Sea became a site of agricultural and industrial runoff in economic decline. This human-made runoff is the very action that created this body of water in the first place. Now it's former manifest destiny showcases a paradox of persistent natural and industrially made formations.


For the exhibition at Commonwealth & Council, Koumoundouros alters the objects again for the Los Angeles context. Sheep skin, ceramics, middle and working class job uniforms now include hand-made, sunny, dull, and shiny additions. Office furniture or bodies are built from found objects and structural materials, fused with malleable materials like ceramic, plaster, and paper mache. All together, the work devolves or grows into rudimentary elements such as water, air, earth, fire, people, animal, and plant to form a non-linear flow chart of natural resources with potential energy.

Good Space Carriage Gloria

performance by Olga Koumoundouros and Gabie Strong

Gabie Strong helped record some footage at the Salton Sea that was part of the video work, "Salting Fruits", central to the exhibition. During the second phase of the onsite performance, the artists had to negotiate the elements in real time. Everything from a stuck truck in mud, to the stunning sulfurous gaseous outbursts into the air, a burned foot by the geothermal energy, lack of drinking water, incessant wind, a group of wandering scientists on expedition studying rare birds, and emergency crews not able to read their distress signals. Each earth-bound element transferred energy through and against our bodies producing both a menace and glorious gift. For the closing performance, Koumoundouros and Strong seek to replicate this cyclical relationship by manifesting the gravity waves, sound waves, air waves, and electricity. In dialogue with the story, "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" by James Tiptree Jr. otherwise known as Alice Sheldon, the artists will recreate that day channeling the idea of the woman-run space traveling vehicle Gloria "rescuing" the mansplaining astronaut crew in space.

Gabie Strong is a visual artist and musician exploring spacial constructions of decay and affect.