“8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest, 8 hours of leisure” is a slogan coined in the 19th century by a man who didn’t have to feed himself or otherwise do much “adulting.” He had a wife to do all the housework for him. Times have changed, but the eight-hour workday model persists. The wealthy might outsource domestic labor to migrant workers or people of color. The rest of us are doomed to burnout.
To capture this familiar feeling—of needing to do several things at once, of there not being enough hours in the day, of commuting in a state of zombielike exhaustion—the Danish artist Hannah Toticki has created a series of garments that double as life hacks. Her debut museum solo, on view at the National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens (EMΣT) through May 28, includes apparel that allows you to sleep anywhere: puff coats that expand into sleeping bags, a sweater with decorative stitching that culminates in ear plugs.
Toticki made another group of garments to ease your housekeeping burden, and her craft is stunning: You might not even notice that a peplum-y tunic, titled Reproductive Labor (2022), comprises dish towels and sponges. With this outfit, there’s no problem if your shirt gets wet, and you will never wonder where you left the towel. It also lightens your laundry load.
I asked Toticki, who has a background in theater, why she decided to make these pieces artworks—edition of one, shown on mannequins in museums—rather than a line of clothing she could sell. (I asked partly for this article, and partly because I wanted one.) She said convincingly that reusing found fabrics to create unique editions is one thing, but trying to mass produce an affordable fashion line ethically and sustainably was its own beast. For my part, I think the garments work better as sculptures anyway: they are more about making a point than they are earnest, labor-saving gimmicks. Plenty such gimmicks already exist—like slippers that can be used to clean your floor as you walk around the house—but they have yet to save us.
In addition to the sleep and housework attire, the EMΣT show, titled “Everything, Everywhere, All the Time, has a set of outfits devoted to production. Prayers for Protection (2016) renders clergy garb in safety orange, drawing a continuum between the protestant work ethic and the cult of capitalism. The exhibition text characterizes our obsession with productivity as a kind of “religious devotion.” A set of gloves features keyboard keys on the fingertips, so you can type on the go. One pair spells out PAY: RENT.
But the show’s standout work is not a garment at all. Instead, RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE: (2021) is a kinetic sculpture in which a series of flappy green “hands” ascends a yellow conveyor belt to smack a keyboard that sits at the top. Figures from Karl Marx to Elon Musk have claimed that robots will liberate us from work and free us to create art. But in our time brimming with both technology and workaholism, the opposite seems true. Door Dash drivers and Amazon workers can attest that, instead, robots often demand that humans work more like machines.
In fact, Toticki said the work was inspired by injuries born of industrialization, like carpal tunnel syndrome, which often results from long-term repetitive movement. “We need to develop a new working culture, not just more machines,” she said.
It’s become almost boring to complain about capitalism, or how busy you are. (First off, same. Second, we already know.) But Toticki said she was pleasantly surprised by how many strangers reached out about RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:RE: to say “that piece is like … my life.” The defeated apathy with which the lifeless hands keep hitting the keyboard in an infinite loop of email replies is almost as silly as it is sad. Certainly, it is an artwork that captures the feeling of exhaustion endemic to our times.