Bureaucracy

    Friday, January 13, 2012 to Saturday, February 18, 2012

    Opening
    • Friday, January 13, 2012 to Saturday, February 18, 2012
    BUREAUCRACY Immony Men and René Price • Curator Leanne L’Hirondelle Panel Discussion: Immony Men, René Price and authors Dick Bourgeois-Doyle, Christian McPherson Immony Men and René Price are two artists who are interested in the subject of bureaucracy. Each tackle bureaucratic systems within their work in different ways while maintaining similar concerns and views. Price is multi-disciplinary artist, and he would argue that we all work within bureaucracies no matter how small our organization. Immony Men is also a multi-disciplinary artist, who would state that he has escaped the bureaucracy by leaving his job to be a full-time artist. While many of us who work outside these systems would find the subject of limited interest, perhaps—dare I interject—mundane, these artists give us insight and an interesting and wider understanding of the systems that affect us on a daily basis; not just as those ‘trapped’ within, but those who have had the misfortune of trying to tackle any type of bureaucratic bungling. Price explores the human politics within the bureaucracy, while Immony Men tackles the sometimes dehumanizing tedious monotony of repetitious daily tasks within a system that, in many instances, breeds mediocrity. But what is a bureaucracy? Does it have to have many people to make it work, or is the common conception that it takes many people not to work to make a bureaucracy? There is the bureaucratic personality espoused by Merton that states that strict over-adherence to rules helps to reinforce the hierarchical nature of the system, which makes it stagnate and become ineffective. This type of personality is essential, remains in, and is possibly constructed by, the system, despite adverse outcomes and ineffectiveness. Whether it is constructed or it attracts certain personality types, or if the personality type really exists and is not just the system itself, is debatable.1 Price aptly calls his body of work Bureaucratic Balls. His entire working career was within Parks Canada, a division of the Federal government as an exhibition designer. For Price, any system that has a hierarchy is a bureaucracy. He deals with oh-so-humanness that is an escapable part of any system, as we are not machines, nor simple cogs within. His paintings are stylistically loose with effective handing of the material as seen in such works as Sleeping Beauty. Here a portly man, with a clock for a head set at what appears to be 4:35, sits with his back towards his work desk. He appears to be twiddling his thumbs and waiting for the day to end. The only personal item is a nondescript photo on his desk—it appears as the singular form of individual attachment to the place that is he is spending a large part of his life. Interestingly the photo is portable; remove it and the man, and it could be any countless number of similar work stations within a cubicle world. Depressingly counting down time becomes the man’s only preoccupation—his work is taking over his psyche, becoming who he is, dehumanizing him to be only about keeping time, not producing results. Golden shackles is an expression often heard in Ottawa. It implies that employees stick to their federal government jobs for the high wages and the promise of a lucrative retirement, not for the challenge or the interest in the work. Some would say that entitlement to a job within this system is based on longevity, not on productivity nor performance. There is a common expression within many government bureaucracy’s about someone who is long term and non productive: R.O.J., meaning retired on the job.2 Within many a bureaucracy, there is commonly an insane stick-to-it-ness to strict rules and regulations as one of the few sources of autonomy and/or power that an individual can exercise within the system. Sometimes following the rules are counter to getting anything constructive accomplished. This adherence to rules becomes the only means to exercise control over other’s beneath them or those who have to utilize the system from the outside. For example, have you ever tried getting an answer to a simple question from say a large bureaucracy only to get passed from one department to another countless times to wind up at the same department in which you started in the first place, the final result being that you lost precious time? In other words, it becomes a means to blame the system and not accept personal responsibility, as it is instead the system that requires anonymity and conformity.3 Immony Men worked in office administration for a short time. His large installation/performance piece, Taking Care of Business, is inspired from this experience. The work is constructed of numerous Post-it® notes and is so large that it can fill up an entire room. In the performance, he meticulously creates the work piece by painstaking piece. The creation is tedious in construction. It speaks to the nature of certain work that seems to be useless, boring and possibly more about maintaining a system than producing tangibles. His environment and reality is created by the materials that are used to provide short reminders to sort or file, for example, and therefore, like time, are not permanent. Seconds not attached to others are singular and non-descriptive to a whole, just as a singular Post-it® notes become meaningless in their short encryption. Together they become the descriptive, tangible, yet impermanent comment on his experience. Obsessive and ritualistic in observance, Diamond writes that this type of behavior “facilitates individual attachment to hierarchy and conformity to impersonal rules, regulations, and procedures. Bureaucratic managers function to perpetuate hierarchy and ritualistic behavior by selectively attending to control and accountability of subordinates.” René Price and Immony Men both critically engage in dialogue about a system in which some of us spend out our working careers. We all have to work, and many within a bureaucracy find it a rewarding and challenging experience. Systems well run are essentially part of any large organization, whether public or private, and serve to maintain a certain status quo. The work of these two artists forces us to think about how we spend our time, our work and our lives. After all, life is not a race but an individual road in which time is precious, pertinent and not always predictable or stable as these systems would invite us to believe. Leanne L’Hirondelle, 2011 Bozeman Barry and Rainey Hal G., “Bureaucratic Personality” American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 42, No 1 (Jan. 1998) pp. 163-189., http://jstor.org/stable/2991751. Diamond Michael. A., “The Social Character of Bureaucracy: Anxiety and Ritualistic Defense”, Political Psychology, published by International Society of Political Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Dec. 1985) pp. 663-679., http://jstor.org/stable/3791022. Merton, Robert K., Social Theory and Social Structure, Bureaucratic Structure and Personality. Glencoe, IL, Free Press, pp. 195-206, 1957. Zeitz Gerald., “Bureaucratic Role Characteristics and Member Response in Organizations”, The Sociological Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Summer, 1984)., http://www.jstor.org/stable/4106266
    1 Bozeman, Barr and Rainey Hal. G., p. 165. 2 The is the interesting theory that within a bureaucracy that people rise to their level of incompetence through promotion by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull, The Peter Principle, Why Things Always Go Wrong, 1969, William Morrow & Co. Inc. 3 How can we forget the recent story of the unnamed women who worked for Taxation Canada who was not fired from her job for losing 2,700 personal tax files but was instead given a settlement for her grievance because her bosses not understand her fibromyalgia as a disability? Most would see these as two separate issues, a department spokesman stated her actions were judged to be ‘low risk’. (Canadian Press, November 6, 2011).