In the prologue of The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt boldly states:
What I propose in the following is a reconsideration of the human condition from the vantage point of our newest experiences and our most recent fears…What I propose, therefore, is very simple: it is nothing more than to think what we are doing.
From this statement, Bunny Collective borrowed the title for their most recent exhibition held in the woodland of Alexandra Park on Saturday May 7 2016. What we are doing was the culmination of the collective’s two month residency as part of Alexandra Art’s Pankhurst in the Park programme and it took the form of a site-specific temporary exhibition held in collaboration with students from the Manchester School of Architecture. From the very outset, What we are doing was based on ideas of combined action and ephemerality, both of which are central to Arendt’s claims.
Where Bunny Collective’s previous exhibitions, most notably The Young-Girl’s Gaze at SOMA Contemporary, Waterford and SUGAR at TACTIC, Cork, primarily dealt with notions of technology, identity, feminine experience and the digital sphere, What we are doing sought to grapple with broader concerns anchored on Arendt’s distinction between labour and work. Due to the rich industrial history of the city, Bunny Collective wished to tap into ideas related to work, but with an aim to consider what constitutes ‘work’ in the first place: how work can be something other than waged exertion to produce profits or the manufacturing of commodities.
In The Human Condition, Arendt proposes that there are three forms of activity fundamental to the ‘human condition’: labour, work, and action. For Arendt, labour corresponds to the biological life of man as an animal, work corresponds to the artificial world of objects made by human beings, and lastly action relates to the human condition of plurality. Central to these claims is the labour-work divide whereby labour involves the necessary tasks undertaken by human beings in every aspect of their existence. Where the acts of labour do not leave behind a physical trace and are characterised by their momentary nature, work involves ‘making’ and pivots on the production of tangible objects, which are defined by their permanence and durability.
Hidden just off the cherry-blossom lined pathway, What we are doing unfolded in a shady woodland clearing. Set-up and displayed over the duration of one day, in its very essence the exhibition corresponded with Arendt’s theory as it was an act of labour in itself: almost as soon as the exhibition was set up, it was dismantled again, leaving behind no physical evidence that an exhibition had taken place here. In this regard, What we are doing felt like a brief but powerful intervention into the daily life of the park. On a regular summer Saturday, while families picnicked, friends lazed on the lawn and teams played cricket in their dazzling whites, What we are doing took over a little patch of the park but with an equally thoughtful and playful sense of purpose.
This sense of mischievous subversion was pervasive in both the architecture students’ designs and the artwork on display. For example, Hannah Le Feuvre’s and Carmen Hubbard’s piece is part of a larger project titled Secret Branch, which involves designing and creating wearable art objects during their lunch breaks whilst at work at a large London art gallery. The motive of the project is to challenge the daily routine and boredom of paid employment and particularly, to persist in making art when your waged role is to silently invigilate it. The piece itself consisted of a white-painted branch with a length of a thin white cloth attached. From here, cryptic symbols were appliquéd onto the cloth and multicoloured strands of braided material were tied to the branch and left to fall freely. Within the exhibition, La Feurve’s and Hubbard’s piece operated as a type of makeshift banner - a triumphant flag promoting a flight of transgressive fancy in the face of gruelling monotony and commerce.