Gabriele Hofer-Hagenauer

Bodies of Work

In terms of physics, work equals force times distance, and power is defined as
work per unit time. Two months is the unit of time that elapsed between the two photographs of a ship’s hull that also represent a starting point and a finishing point for Katharina Gruzei’s photo series entitled Bodies of Work. The work performed both industrially and manually lies between the pictures, made perceivable to the senses through the visible changes in the workpiece.

For all the high-tech production processes involved, there is still ‘proper’ work being done at the Linz shipyard1)Österreichische Schiffswerft AG (ÖSWAG) was founded by Ignaz Maier in 1840 and looks back at an eventful history lasting more than 170 years; today, it is the last Danube shipyard of its kind in Austria. Besides renovation and repair work it still builds new passenger ships and river ships for inland waterways and rivers. ÖSWAG consists of the shipyard proper and a mechanical engineering firm. where the series was created. Hard physical labour, dirt, dust, sweat, shavings and filings: here the clinically meticulous world of full computer- controlled automation has not yet taken over completely, an aspect that was of significance to the artist from the moment she began working on her concept. The title deliberately alludes to two different levels of meaning. Bodies of Work is to be understood not just in the sense of a complex of works, a body of work, a workpiece, but also as a ‘working body’: It is about the human body (in this instance exclusively male) that performs the work, embedded in an industrial environment. Gruzei’s focus is trained not just on the classic relationship between man and machine. She depicts actual work situations, often melding the human body with the mechanical, apparatus- based body to evoke hybrid beings, cyborgs, and astronauts. Gruzei’s sensitive image concept is not aimed at glorifying industrial technology or hero-worshipping the working body. Kitted out in protective working gear designed to ensure their safety, these ‘working bodies’ seem strangely fragile, at times even insecure, almost lost among these oversized machine parts.

A river cruiser pulled ashore for repairs seems to fade into the autumn mist like a phantom ship, mirrored only in the gently lapping waters of the Danube. In the photographs that opens the photo series, that same ship appears utterly radiant, like a shimmer of hope, contrasting with the darkness of the shipyard workshop that provides the architecture framework. The workshop, built in the 1970s as shipbuilding flourished, seems porous and brittle: a symbol of the changing industrial work environment and its socio-cultural and socio-political aspects.

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Gabriele Hofer-Hagenauer is the director oft the collection for photography and curator for modern and contemporary art at the Landesgalerie Linz at the Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum.