Day Job: Georgia struggles with its workload

Hit-or-miss works in Atlanta Contemporary Art Center’s current show

Catholics fear hell, children fear Monday, and artists fear work. At least the soulless variety described as the antithesis of creativity in Douglas Coupland’s Generation X. With its monotony and lack of personal fulfillment, work for too many artists is a means of paying the bills and the penance they perform to create on the side.

In Day Job: Georgia at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, labor is not just an instance of “the man” digging his boot heel into the worker’s soft, compliant flesh. Work, in some cases, is inspiration. Shrewd artists keep their eyes open to the world around them and take their content from the quotidian stuff of life.

That idea is best expressed in Day Job successes such as Lane Ketner’s nasty little caricatures of porcine office tyrants. Ketner’s scabrous images convey a thrilling streak of rage. There is something cathartically, stupidly teenaged in Ketner’s filthy, furious drawings that feels utterly appropriate. Nothing quite takes you back to the powerlessness of childhood like a terrible work experience. Though her technique could use some refining, Romy Aura Maloon’s frilly, grandiose use of the materials of her day job as an event designer to create installation art is a shrewd connection between two different kinds of temporal, everything-rides-on-it creativity.

But mostly, Day Job is an intriguing concept with too many disappointing artistic missteps. It’s simply not enough to detail in wall text the double lives artists lead as architects, restaurant workers, or human resource managers. The work has to be good, too. Some of these artists have allowed the theme of the group show to buoy them and submitted what in many cases looks like tentative, rough draft student work. Without tight curatorial reins, the good work gets lost in the melee.

Some of the best pieces illustrate how work can carry over into making art. Andy Moon Wilson’s 24 fastidious, manic, hypnotic abstract ink drawings suggest TV pixels, stained-glass and mandalas, and hark back to his job creating rug designs for corporate clients. Moon’s pen mimics the weaver’s loom, both creating graphic, colorful, repeating forms.

Day Job’s real triumph is the concise interconnected show-within-a-show curated by Beth Malone and Courtney Hammond, the duo behind Dashboard Co-op. The four assembled artists, Nikita Gale, Andrew Hammond, Takuro Masuda, and Matt Sigmon, fugue on endless hours logged staring at hypnotic computer screens, the office slave insubordination of illicit photocopying and the empty pleasantries and busy work BS of office “culture” shared around the water cooler. 100,000 Cubicle Hours conveys workday tedium in terse, visually appealing artworks. The workplace supporting cast of the copy machine, water cooler, desk, and phone detail an architecture anyone who has labored can relate to: the iron bars of the soft-bellied First World’s prison. Where the rest of Day Job plays the field, flitting from work-is-hell to work-is-inspiration to work-just-is, this meta-show benefits from a honed-in approach and cleanly executed work that cuts to the chase.