Books Magazine

Ad Infinitum

By Jaac
It has taken me until now to realize that all the objects that we imagine ourselves to be surrounded by in Ulvi Haagensen's latest solo exhibition, Ad infinitum, at Defiance Gallery -- each apparent tea towel tucked onto its apparent hook -- the spectral clothesline perfectly, wantonly pegged (how I cram my own line!) -- a bobbing poppy field of vacuum cleaners -- a propped mop, stilled aprons -- that all of these conjured objects are themselves so alluring, so magical to me, precisely because the 'unimportant work', as Haagensen calls it, is the very work that I find most troubling of all -- this work whose restful, simple and rarely celebrated monotony and value has never had any simplicity for me whatsoever: I have to suspect that I have never felt it to be monotonous enough, so difficult I still find it -- never having experienced this work as restful or allowed it to be valuable, despite my conviction that without this very same netting of everyday tasks that I (mostly with the help of others) sort-of fashion, I'd be holing up in a doorway somewhere on King Street now, stiff and stinking in a cardboard box.
Men, perhaps, are more prone to this difficulty. In the meantime I hanker for wall after wall of nothing at all (except for a single drawn wire of one of Haagensen's tea towels). In her last showing, she drew -- what was it? soap? -- onto the floor only to clear the whole of it away; in another, strings of white washing multiplied itself into a fine, gray density on walls that were finally washed clean. Ah bliss.
Her work: perhaps the opposite -- or rather the epitome, the end-work? -- of not writing.
She writes:
I am interested in 'unimportant work' and professions, whether as unpaid in the home or outside. Cleaning and housework is generally an invisible 'art' that is only noticed when it hasn't been done. Why do we do these jobs day after day -- for love, money, a sense of duty or because it is expected of us? Or do we do them to appease, as a form of atonement or out of a sense of guilt.
How does it affect us to do a task repeatedly?

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