“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 to Lake Champlain in Vermont and back to its current permutated version in Los Angeles. In each installment, Olga Koumoundouros considers 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 information age and its immaterialty. Like a telephone game, each context for the information reception shifts its translation. The same material is displayed in each venue, but the artist’s 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 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. Genuine leisure time is a thing of the past along with its defining middle class.
In her search to understand our current psychological and spiritual relationship to work, creativity, and survival within our precarious economy, Koumoundouros considers the position of her own identification and upbringing amidst the laboring and middle classes in America. In the collaborative video “Salting Fruits” with artist Troy Rounseville, an audio-visual composition is sourced from the landscape of the Salton Sea inspired by its geothermal energy, materiality, 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 its former manifest destiny showcases a paradox of persistent natural and industrially made formations.
For the exhibition at Commonwealth and 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.
Olga Koumoundouros (b. 1965 in New York; lives and works in Los Angeles) currently examines the economics and flow of energy and resources within the dynamics of labor that provide sustenance for all humans. Her work has been exhibited at venues nationally and internationally including: Armand Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; REDCAT, Los Angeles; Salt Lake City Art Center, UT; Krannert Art Museum, Champaign, IL; Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, AZ; The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; Stadshallen Bellfort, Bruges, Belgium; Adamski Gallery, Berlin, Germany; Project Row Houses, Houston, TX; and The Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs, NY.