When does (art)work work?

Jovana Blagojević


May 10th – 25th


“Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: ‘Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.’ Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told, and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment.”

Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness, 1935


Jovana’s project is focused on the question of values around work. When does work bring value and meaning, vs. when is it turned to meaningless overworking, sophisticated slavery? Sociology offers two definitions of work: through an anthropological lens, as a conscious, purposeful practice by which a human produces itself as a cultural and historical being; on the other hand, in an economic context, work is the production of material goods or professional social services in a way that meets basic human needs and the needs of the one who is doing the work.

This double meaning, two sides of the same coin, points to the function of work in the construction of a cultural framing: that a human can only become a historical being by producing material or non-material commodities for oneself and others. We are already imprinted with this notion from early childhood on, through all the thoughts and phrases around work, with which we are brought up, and which Jovana finds in literature as well as in memories of her own childhood: ‘Oj, lenjosti, gora si od bolesti’, her mother uttered frequently; in translation: ‘Alas, laziness, you’re worse than sickness.’

The biggest part of this work was developed during the residence period at AIR InSilo (Hollabrunn, Austria) between February 13 and March 18, 2024. Jovana based her research on the ‘crosswords’ between the thoughts and sentences around work, which shape our values of work and our need to create, and the ones that restrain us and keep us in a pointless workaholic state of mind. Furthermore, it explores the virtues of leisure, often regarded as the contrary of work; it should bring quality to life, as the time when we can reassess the reasons why and what we are doing, but is more and more gnawed away by a social demand for self-optimization through fitness and wellness, which again serve to enhance our productivity. The research was done through reading and interviews with local artists, starting from the Serbian diaspora, on the topic. The research outcomes are rendered as a final big-scale ‘crossword’ displaying the interwoven imprint of work (un)conditioning our individual and collective mindsets – in the form of a physical flag with selected and sewn keywords and expressions of labour, excerpted from the interviews*.

Jovana Blagojević and Ksenia Yurkova and Martin Breindl (AIR inSilo)

People with whom I had conversations – interviews, from which the sentences on the ‘flag’ are derived: my mother, my father, Dejan Kaluđerović, Elet, Erwin Wurm, Jelisaveta Rapaić, Ksenija Erjavec, Miroslav Mandić, Sanja Anđelković, Željka Aleksić.

People who helped in the realisation of the flag: Kaja Ćirilović, Anita Spasenović, Ksenija Erjavec, Hemnalina Miresković, my mother, Ratka Marić, Sun Mandić, Zoka Ignjatov.

Video works are recorded during the residency and in it`s space – AIR InSilo. They are made using the site-specific installation of a previous artist, Emirhan Akin.

*There are also a few derived from Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness, one by Chat GPT and another from a money cheat code from Sims – motherlode (meaning in English: something that supplies a very large amount of a supply, quality, etc. that you want).

Photos: N. Ivanović