My interdisciplinary work, which includes sculpture, photography, installation, and sound, proposes a critique of corporate bureaucracy. I am particularly interested in the contemporary open-plan office as a space marked by the continuous operation of disciplinary power. Applied to the open plan office, Foucault’s theory of the Panopticon lays bare the disciplinary power permeating the work place leading to the creation of “docile bodies”. In other words, office design, landscaping, furniture systems and the technology contained within the office serve to rationalize human activity, maximize efficiency, increase profit, and perpetuate hierarchical structures of administration and oppression.
The old schema of confinement and enclosure by cubicle is replaced by openings, passages and transparencies as characteristics of cutting-edge office design. A fluid spatial arrangement and dispersed lighting is designed to facilitate communication and collaboration, as well as continuous surveillance; partitions are lowered to offer a limited amount of privacy, whilst allowing for maximum visibility. Ergonomic features such as chairs and keyboards are built to make us work longer hours, while furniture systems and shelving units compartmentalize and rationalize our working process. The body becomes an object of knowledge that is studied, manipulated, shaped, used, transformed, and improved so that its efficiency and economical usefulness can be maximised.
What happens though, if the objects found in the office fail to conform to their standard mode of operation?
Many of the images incorporated in my installations are appropriated from commercial catalogues published by office furniture manufacturers, where they are used to promote the seemingly inconspicuous objects, technology and systems organizing the office space, such as lighting, desks, chairs or plants. After removing them from their original context, I manipulate these images by cropping, enlarging, framing or mounting them onto architectural features like vertical blinds as part of a larger installation. Installed in space, they mimic the clean, cold, and detached language of corporate display. At a second glance however, they reveal themselves as deeply uncanny. ComSystem, for instance, a large-format photograph of a desk in the shape of a swastika displayed against a backdrop of carpet tiles, becomes a chilling reminder of the detached efficiency and compartmentalised bureaucracy with which the horrors of the Holocaust have been perpetrated.
In this sense, instead of promoting the operations of disciplinary power, the objects featured in my photographs and installations undermine the very structures of corporate bureaucracy they are designed to support, their disruptiveness destabilising any belief in the authority and inevitability of an otherwise unyielding bureaucratic system.
BioSandra Erbacher is a German artist living and working in New Jersey and New York. She has earned her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2014) and her BFA from Camberwell College of Art, London (2009). She also holds a BA and MA in Sociology from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Erbacher has exhibited nationally and internationally, at Spring/ Break NYC, Grin Providence, the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, the Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, Parisian Laundry, Montreal, Space, Portland, Umbrella Gallery, Leeds, and Five Years, London. She has participated in the 2018-19 Artist Alliance Inc LES Studio Program, the 2017-18 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Residency and the 2015 NARS Foundation Residency. She is the recipient of the 2014 Chazen Prize to an Outstanding MFA Student, a University of Wisconsin fellowship and the Blink Grant for Public Art 2013.
Her work is included in the Fidelity Investments Corporate Art Collection and numerous other private collections.