STEVENSON is pleased to present How to Fix a Lift, a project by Simon Gush and Bridget Kenny.
Initiated in 2019, Gush and Kenny’s ongoing research project is presented here in the form of an immersive installation. Video documentation is combined with photography, text, wall drawing and ‘elevator music’ to create an ambient environment for the contemplation of labour. In How to Fix a Lift, this machinery is observed as a resonant metaphor for labour’s role as a conduit between work, life and recreation. The authors have written:
A lift is an often invisible infrastructure to transport a body up and down. Lifts sustain the city, making living and working possible in high-rise buildings. Throughout Johannesburg there are a number of elevators; some are new, but many are old. The older ones were installed when the buildings were built many decades ago. While some have been replaced, most are repaired, and others don’t work at all. Though temperamental and prone to disrepair, the older ones operate through fragile persistence, allowing the precarious lives of their buildings to continue. They connect the spaces of home and work, enabling their users to travel up and down with some ease, to carry shopping and groceries, boxes and furniture. The elderly and families with young kids rely on them the most, but everyone arriving at the lift lobby shows their disappointment when the lifts are broken and they have to walk up the stairs.
A manual that makes transparent the intricacies of the lift is central to this project. Using extended descriptions, extracts from interviews from engineers and simplified diagrams, the manual functions to render visible a myriad key processes often considered peripheral to this mode of transport. As a metaphorical exercise, How to Fix a Lift brings focus to the circulation of ignored mechanical parts, foregrounding unseen economies, objects and modes of work to offer a renewed sensitivity to the cost of daily needs. They continue:
The verticality of the lift provides a physical link between the entwined work of the home and the street. Horizontally the networks of parts, labours, skills and technology extend across the city and beyond. Multiple forms of labour sustain a functioning lift: replacement, repair, servicing and maintenance. The labour of lifts offers insight into our own daily living. Few of us can afford the relentless drive of replacement; we rather service and repair, and engage in the ongoing labour of the maintenance of life
Bridget Kenny is a Professor of Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She works on political subjectivity, gender, class and race in service work and precarious employment in South Africa and comparatively. Her books include Retail Worker Politics, Race and Consumption in South Africa: Shelved in the Service Economy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and Walmart in the Global South, co-edited with Carolina Bank Muñoz and Antonio Stecher (University of Texas Press, 2018).
Gush was born in 1981 in Pietermaritzburg, and lives in Johannesburg. He completed postgraduate studies at the Hoger Instituut van Schone Kunsten in Ghent, Belgium in 2008, and was a 2011 Fellow at the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts, University of Cape Town. Gush was also the recipient of the 2016 Tierney Fellowship at Wits University.
Recent solo shows include Simon Gush: Sala10, Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico (2020); Al final del trabajo, Ex Teresa Arte Actual, Mexico (2018); After Work, Galerie Jette Rudolph in Berlin (2015) and 9 o'clock, National Arts Festival, Makhanda (2015). His films have been shown in museums and film festivals including, Avant Noir, 1&2, BOZAR, Brussels (2019); Avant Noir, vol 3, ICA, London (2017); Focus South Africa, Vision du Réel, Nyon (2017); International Short Film Festival, Oberhausen (2017); Les Rencontres Internationales, Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt, Berlin (2013) Palais De Tokyo, Paris (2013).
Andrei van Wyk
Research was supported by a grant from
'The Everyday and Public History'
History Workshop, University of the Witwatersrand
The exhibition opens on Saturday 1 October, 10am to 1pm.