Flexible offices are the future. Co-working spaces have become so popular amongst freelancers and tech entrepreneurs within East London’s, ‘Silicon Roundabout’ that the Capital now has the highest number of them than anywhere else in the world. Collaborative workspaces such as WeWork, Second Home and even Soho House boast arcades, lunchtime meditation and rooftop swimming pools. Across the globe both start-ups and corporations have endeavoured to create stimulating work environments in order to foster creativity. This new office aesthetic is epitomised by one of the world’s most dominating tech giants, Google. Earlier in the year it’s co-founder, Larry Page sacked his former architect in favour of Thomas Heatherwick after stating the initial plans for the company’s Kings Cross HQ were not ‘Google-y’ enough.
Rising British art star Yuri Pattison, whose work predominantly focuses on ubiquitous consumer technologies, has acted as the proverbial ethnographer for his latest exhibition, ‘user, space’ at the Chisenhale gallery. Pattison has immersed himself within the local tech scene in order to observe the political dynamic within the shared workplace. His focus in particular centres on the utopian ideal of transparency within ‘The Office’.
For the show, Pattison has taken over the entire gallery with an installation resembling a plasticy dystopian office space for the technological age. Cables dangle, lights flicker, fans hum, monitors buzz and vapour evaporates. Tables made from metal and Perspex sit in the centre of the gallery, board room style, whilst transparent Eames chairs, some of which are still covered in their protective packaging, are scattered around the edges. Corrugated plastic and cheap pieces of wood punctuate the space, creating corridors and hidden segregated zones. A mini shelving unit contains a paper Amazon prime bag, a computer screen playing an office tour and cardboard cups with ripped holes for USBs to plug into.
Despite the immensity of the installation it is the details which make this work so compelling. Behind the conference tables stand two industrial scale, floor-to-ceiling shelving units containing stacked plastic boxes and chaotic entanglements of rubber coated wire. One box contains a miniature sofa with a similarly scaled laptop and water bottle placed upon it, like a contemporary new-age dolls house. A projection of an Eames chair onto a dustsheet is so subtle you can walk past it several times without noticing. A small screen placed under the table films your every move as you wiggle your arms in order to watch them replay in a slower sim-like dream world. Pattison’s films, which are dotted around the space on variously sized screens, at first look like renderings; fake emulations of sleek new-build offices. It’s not until you catch a glimpse of Pattison reflected in a glass door that you realise these bleak characterless spaces are in fact real.
Pattison highlights the paradox that as spaces become more open plan and less hierarchical, the technical ‘stuff’ we interact with has become less easy to understand. The cryptic codes used to gather data, monitor and survey our every move, are only understood by the few – ironic considering that the word co-working conjures ideas of sharing and collaboration but also a lack of privacy. If co-working spaces are meant to blur the distinctions between labour and leisure why bother leaving the office at all? Perhaps the real purpose behind these cool new future workspaces is containment, not innovation.
By Wilhemina Madeley
Yuri Pattison, ‘user, space’, Chisenhale Gallery, London, 7 July – 28 August 2016