The Smallest Murmur…

Part two of the 3-part Workspace ’19­ exhibition series, featuring new work by residents of AAI’s LES Studio Program

Sandra Erbacher’s exhibition The Smallest Murmur… is an exploration of the structural and conceptual parallels between the open-plan office and the Panopticon prison. Using Foucault’s analysis of the Panopticon Erbacher explores the contemporary open-plan office including its design, landscaping, furniture systems and the technology contained within it, as a space marked by the continuous operation of disciplinary power.

In the contemporary office, a fluid spatial arrangement and dispersed lighting is designed to facilitate communication and collaboration, as well as continuous surveillance; partitions are lowered to offer a limited amount of privacy, whilst allowing for maximum visibility. Ergonomic features such as chairs and keyboards are built to maximize efficiency, whilst furniture systems and shelving units compartmentalize the working process and rationalize human activity. The body becomes an object of knowledge that is studied, manipulated, shaped, used, transformed, and improved so that its economical usefulness can be increased.

The images incorporated in her present installation are appropriated from commercial catalogues published by office furniture manufacturers, where they are used to promote the seemingly inconspicuous objects, technology and systems organizing the office space. After removing them from their original context, Erbacher manipulates these images by cropping, enlarging, framing or mounting them onto architectural features.

One such image included in the show is taken from a catalogue by the technology company Nixdorf and depicts a series of ergonomic exercises for the eyes to ease the strain associated with continuous computer use. Another, smaller print focuses on the installation of a Herman Miller office panel system complete with metal storage construction. The exhibition space is further punctuated by large strips of wallpaper featuring a fractured open-plan office landscape. This is juxtaposed and contrasted with a partial portrait of the God Hermes, who, according to ancient Greek mythology, slayed Argus Panoptes, the all-seeing hundred eyed giant and name giver of the Panopticon, in order to rescue Zeus’ lover Io.

Installed in space, Erbacher’s prints and sculptures mimic the clean, cold, and detached language of corporate bureaucracy. At a second glance however, they reveal themselves as deeply uncanny. Instead of promoting the operations of disciplinary power, the objects featured in her installation undermine the very structures of the corporate workplace they are designed to support, their disruptiveness destabilizing the perpetuation of hierarchical structures of administration and oppression.

Sandra Erbacher is a German-born artist currently residing and working in New Jersey and New York. Erbacher’s work has previously been exhibited in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

Artists Alliance Inc. is 501c3 not for profit organization located on the Lower East Side of New York City within the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center. Cuchifritos Gallery is supported in part by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Cuchifritos Gallery programming is made possible by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts. We thank the New York City Economic Development Corporation and individual supporters of Artists Alliance Inc for their continued support. Special thanks go to our team of dedicated volunteers and interns, without whom this program would not be possible.