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An exhibition by the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden

A project in the "Future of Labour" programme, initiated by the Federal Cultural Foundation

Curated by the Praxis für Ausstellungen und Theorie [ Hürlimann I Lepp I Tyradellis ]




June 25, 2009- July 11, 2010



People have a hard time of it with work. Sometimes they have too much and sometimes too little; often it is badly paid and occasionally not paid at all. Some people are hopelessly overworked, while others are desperately searching for a job. Under the conditions brought about by globalisation, the financial crisis and climatic change, nothing seems less certain than the shape of work to come. Opinions differ greatly on this matter. Some people continue to believe in full employment, but many assume that in the future, employees with a permanent contract will be the exception and that work itself will become rarer. The concept of a trade or profession that, once learned, defines an individual’s place in society and gives it meaning seems to have been superseded. So what now?


There are no simple answers to this, as the meaning of the term ‚work‘ is not fixed once and for all. In the five sections of this exhibition, fundamental questions are posed about work as it is understood today. How can we properly tell whether work is being done, and how can work and leisure be distinguished from one another? What purpose does work serve in a capitalist society? How do our individual attitudes towards work develop during childhood and at school? What

importance does work have beyond power, money and recognition? What are the options available for the world of work tomorrow?


In contrast to most of the usual discussions, the exhibition shifts the focus of attention onto the perspective of the individual – worry about earning a living, the desire for self-fulfilment and social recognition and, not least, the function of work as an activity that bestows mean-ing. In doing so, the exhibition reveals that usefulness cannot be the

ultimate argument when it comes to understanding the significance of work, that payment is not the sole criterion for exerting oneself and that education and training programs oriented solely towards the current needs of the labour market are seldom beneficial. Seen from this perspective, it is evident that work is always work in society and on society. One task facing us in the future will be to broaden the scope of our thinking: from merely regional or national contexts to an increas-ingly international one.


Given that, the exhibition stays firmly rooted in the here and now, mak-ing use primarily of the power of moving image. Each section has been developed in close cooperation with scholars, designers, and artists – from documentary filmmakers and video artists to puppeteers. Together they have devised five wholly different approaches to the many and varied manifestations of human work. A special path weaving its way through the entire exhibition provides a wealth of background information, from current statistics to statements by individuals about what matters in work. Visitors are encouraged to join in the discussion by a game of dominoes, which explains in a playful way the key terms used when talking about the present-day world of work. This provides players with material for developing their personal thoughts about the subject later on, as does the extensive exhibition catalogue: an exercise book in the best sense of the word.



Ein Kurzfilm über die Sonderausstellung "Arbeit. Sinn und Sorge" des Deutschen Hygiene-Museums Dresden

Foto: David Brandt