Labor is delighted to present Labor Days, the second chapter of a two-part exhibition by New York-based artist Jill Magid. For Labor Days (October 1 - November 30) Magid presents a new body of work that expands on part I, Tender (May 27-September 15). Each exhibition explores the intertwining of the economy and the lives of individual people on both a small and large scale. Part I focused on flows of circulation; part II focuses on labor.
During the pandemic, the complex relationships between individuals, groups, institutions, and deeply rooted systems quickly came into stark relief. Magid was especially struck by the way public figures weighed the loss of human lives against the supposed costs for the economy. Against this backdrop, she developed Tender, a growing body of work first realized as a public artwork of the same name. In Tender (2020), Magid interceded in the U.S. economy with a dispersed monument that consisted of 120,000 newly-minted 2020 pennies, laser-engraved on their edges with the phrase “THE BODY WAS ALREADY SO FRAGILE” and entered into circulation. The number of Tender pennies was equal to the $1200 stimulus checks that were issued to individuals by the U.S. Treasury.
Some of these engraved pennies exchange hands in Magid’s film, Tender Balance (2021), which grounds the works in Part I and II of the exhibition. The film begins behind the scenes at the U.S. Mint, as pennies are packed and then transported, via armored cash-in-transit trucks, to bodegas throughout New York City. In footage filmed during the pandemic in New York, the film also finds haunting echoes with the refrigerated morgue trucks that appeared outside hospitals. The ambient, often ominous score permeates the space of the exhibition.
In the film, we see coins and goods change hands inside bodegas—ubiquitous corner stores that were deemed essential businesses during the pandemic. Open 24 hours and predominantly immigrant-owned and run, bodegas are iconic for their ‘bodega flowers’, low-cost, consumer-ready bouquets displayed outside the store’s entrance. During lockdown, as the pandemic threatened many floral farmers’ businesses, states began deeming agricultural work as essential. Farms resumed operations to meet public demand, and in turn, flowers emerged as a stirring kind of essential good.
In Labor Days, Magid begins a larger investigation of flowers, the floral industry, and the creation of value. Market Flowers (2022), a stall of fresh-cut flowers from "El Chorrito" market nearby, has been relocated to the entrance of the gallery. Diverted from circulation and recontextualized as art, these bouquets strike a bittersweet presence—ephemeral by nature and easily replaceable.
Displayed on pedestals throughout the gallery is the series A Book of Cut Flowers (2022), sculptures made from popular books about flowers. The works explore both classical floral illustration and modernist photographic representations. In the former, Magid considers the roles of these instructional illustrations within the flower industry and domestic space; in the latter, she considers how iconic images of fresh-cut flowers circulate on the art market. The book from which the series is named introduces “the world’s most elegant cut flowers” through descriptions and illustrations, then suggests how to arrange them. Magid takes the book’s title literally by meticulously hand-cutting the illustrated flowers within the pages. In doing so, she adheres to the arrangements suggested in the book's text as a set of directions.
The question of ‘essential labor’ is taken up in the series Labor Days, 2021, which includes two sets of drawings: Labor Day, 2020, proclaimed by Donald J. Trump, and Labor Day, 2021, proclaimed by Joseph R. Biden. Originally published in the Federal Register, these presidential documents are hand-drawn by Magid in pen on a larger-than-life scale. In the margins of the text, annotated timestamps rendered in pencil indicate the passage of time of Magid’s own labor in transcribing these missives.
Labor Days is part of an expanding body of work, earlier iterations have been shown at The Renaissance Society in Chicago, The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and as a live film and sound installation presented by Creative Time at Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburg in New York.