3 min


Take this job and shove it

PLEASE HOLD. Nancy van Keerbergen thumbs her nose - and other body parts - at demeaning temp jobs and the men who make them worse. Credit: Xtra files

No matter who are, you’ve probably had at least one job you hated, the kind of job you dreaded waking up for and couldn’t wait to end. You probably felt demeaned on a good day, and humiliated on a bad one.

Nancy van Keerbergen’s Reception, a series of photographs about being a temp receptionist, is a spunky take on women and office work. Like many artists, she had to find a job with that delicate balance of bringing in enough cash, but also flexible enough to leave time for making art. Hence, the temp work.

As often happens, art takes its cue from life.

What she distills from the experience are rage, defiance, pathos, as well as the gallows humour that prevails among disgruntled workers. Sound familiar?

There are three parts to the show, van Keerbergen’s first ever.

In the series Kiss My Ass, she has painted well-worn receptionist phrases (“Please hold the line,” or “Would you like voice mail?” or “More coffee?”) on a model’s bare ass in cursive script. She lends the crude expression elegance, which sidesteps the predictability of her set-up, by using black and white film, and matting and framing the images classically.

For the series @work, van Keerbergen and a co-worker took turns photographing each other every day for a couple of weeks. The photographs have the flavour of those tourist vacation snaps: a full-body shot of the subject standing with landmark in the background. The office that replaces the landmark has all the requisite elements: the neutral colour scheme, fluorescent lighting, filing cabinets, the bulky photocopier piled high with paper, the anemic plant.

These images are van Keerbergen’s proof that she was there, which becomes poignant when you think that van Keerbergen got to leave and her co-worker is probably still there.

The last set of images, Untitled 1-9, are self-portraits of van Keerbergen trying on various brassieres. Some are too small, some too big, some torn. None fit. The overall greenish tone of the photographs (the result of colour cross-processing) gives them a cartoony ghoulishness.

Van Keerbergen describes this series as her reaction to all the men who came into the office and stared at her boobs while speaking to her. The photos conjure a scenario with van Keerbergen glaring at the offending wretch, saying “You want boobs?” and unleashing this storm of poking and prodding and shoving her mams into his face. She calls this a “playful disruption of restraint.”

Van Keerbergen uses photography to respond to her circumstances. This tits ‘n’ ass show is her way of thumbing her nose (and other body parts) at temping and all those other soul-sucking jobs. Life meets art and produces an affirmation of life beyond work.

You look at these photographs, and you think, “Yeah, I had a job that sucked, but I survived.” And you walk away humming Johnny Paycheck’s anthem to workers everywhere, “Take This Job And Shove It.”


Noon-5pm. Fri-Sun.

Till Sun, Nov 25.


1080 Queen St W.

(416) 537-8827.

If you’re in the mood for more art with critical bite, head to Barb Hunt’s show Antipersonnel, part of the Present Tense series at the Art Gallery Of Ontario. Hunt meticulously knits replicas of antipersonnel land mines in varied hues of pink wool.

Arrayed in several vitrines in the gallery, the woollen mines at first echo the forms of so many other familiar objects from the banal and the kitsch to the fetishistic: jewellery boxes, toilet roll covers, sex toys. And while this made me wonder about the limited imagination of the military’s industrial designers, it also brought the land mines’ destructive purpose into sharper focus: The familiar quickly became sinister.

Hunt blends activities traditionally deemed male (warring, science) and those deemed female (nurturing, homemaking) to create objects that are at once beautiful, cute almost, and horrifying. Her feminization – the pink, the knitting – of such weapons of destruction is truly subversive. Hunt brings war one step closer to us, blows a little hole in our complacency, and has us reconsider the consequences of conflict.

* Antipersonnel continues till Jan 20 at the AGO (317 Dundas St W). Admission is pay-what-you-can; call (416) 979-6660.