Smile! Emotions at Work

Curators : Anne-Marie St-Jean Aubre, curator of contemporary art, Musée d’art de Joliette, and Maud Jacquin, independent curator

From October 2 2021 to January 9 2022

About —

This group show of artists from Quebec, Canada, and abroad addresses the role and nature of emotions in the world of work and, more generally, throughout our capitalist technological culture. The project is built in two parts, one devoted to emotions generated by contemporary transformations of the workplace, and the other to emotions that are literally put to work. These two broad sections of the exhibition are articulated around the following interrogations: What is the impact of the transformations of the market and of working conditions on the bodies, gestures, emotions, and behaviour of workers? How are emotions worked upon and how are they commercialized in a service economy where workers’ ability to master their emotions (what we call emotional work) plays an important role and where technology is used to transform what we feel into exploitable capital?

Emotions in the workplace

The self-employment model, touted for its more flexible pace and schedule allowing for better quality of life, is becoming widespread and giving rise to a proliferation of shared workspaces. Combined with the explosion of digital technologies, this model, which has several points in common with the status of the artist (who also works independently), leads to what has been called the “Uberization of work,” which adopts the logic of piecework in another form. The negative effects of this type of working relationship affects a growing number of workers, who find themselves having to take charge of all the entrepreneurial responsibilities, with the psychological and emotional weight this engenders, often without social protection and without being able to emerge from a state of precariousness. In this context, as with more traditional businesses, employers’ expectations are increasingly more demanding: it is no longer enough to do your job well, one has to demonstrate “proactivity” and creativity while accepting to engage in a rationale of permanent self-improvement. Managers set up seminars and team-building activities to promote well-being, but also, by the same token, to increase worker productivity. Thus, after having long-been repressed in the workplace, the emotions are now invested in by managerial processes, with both positive consequences (listening and communication are encouraged) and negative ones (instrumentalizing and normalizing the emotions, these methods become an increasingly intrusive form of control).

Emotions Put to Work

Taking an interest in emotions in the workplace also means taking into consideration how they are being worked upon. A service economy, in which customer satisfaction is king, values emotional competences—controlling feelings, interpreting and performing the verbal language appropriate for different situations, interacting with others, and so on. That being said, an emotional effort is required in all interpersonal relationships, such as interacting with one’s superiors, clients, or colleagues, which puts emotions to various degrees at the heart of all types of employment. Emotional work is often invisible, implicit, and little valued, which becomes the focal point of demands in certain environments. One can think of some professions linked to servicing people and to health care, historically—and still—mostly practised by women.
The artists in this exhibition prompt us to reflect on these topics and on the racial and gender injustices running through them, in works that illuminate, critique, and resist them.

Artists in the exhibition

Marjolaine Bourdua (QC), Jacques Poulin Denis (QC), Pierre Dorion (QC), Jean-Maxime Dufresne et Virginie Laganière (QC), Melanie Gilligan (CA), Matt Goerzen (CA), Lauren Huret (CH/FR), Marisa Morán Jahn (US), Wanda Koop (CA), Daisuke Kosugi (JP) et Ane Hjort Guttu (NO), Liz Magic Laser (US), Anne Le Troter (FR), Jacqueline Hoàng Nguyễn (CA), Elisa Giardina Papa (IT), Julien Prévieux (FR), Laure Prouvost (FR), Laurel Ptak (US), Karine Savard (QC), Romana Schmalisch et Robert Schlicht (DE), Joshua Schwebel (QC), Cally Spooner (GB), Catherine Sullivan (US), Pilvi Takala (FI), Carl Trahan (QC), Amalia Ulman (AR), Gwenola Wagon et Stéphane Degoutin (FR).

This exhibition contains several video works. We suggest you plan for a longer visit if you want to view them all from start to finish.

With the support of Institut Français and the Goethe Institut.

Bloc logo Institut français et Goethe Institut

Image in the banner:
Robert Schlicht and Romana Schmalisch, Top/Down, video, 2017