For this residency Emily has written four short stories exploring class background in relation to labour, from multiple perspectives. The series starts during the recession in 2008 in Plymouth, and ends in London, 2018.
An Art Shipping Office
I hate oat milk. It is SO stupid. If you have porridge with oat milk you are essentially putting wet oats on top of more oats. Loads of the women in this office put oat milk on porridge and dress in discount COS dresses and are not very nice to me in, like, a really subtle way. One of them wouldn’t lend me her hairbrush in the loo as my hair is big and messy and she said my hair might break the brush but then smiled and apologised, and offered me the brush and said I could borrow it if I really needed it, to which I obviously replied ‘no thanks don’t worry!’.
I hate all my clothes. I have a red TopShop dress which I bought three years ago and have to keep wearing it as it is one of my only smart things, with this fucking awful purple knitted cardigan that I bought on Brick Lane. The colours don’t match and obviously I know that, but everyone looks at me like I don’t have a bloody clue that the colours don’t match. When I came for the job interview I had to do a literacy and numeracy test which I got a good score in and then, because it was art shipping and I am a ‘new graduate’, I think the bosses asked me questions to make me want the job more, like, who is your favourite contemporary artist and why? I said Pipilotti Rist. The boss said, ‘oh that’s great we work alot with her!’ That was a big lie. I have been made assistant junior shipping coordinator on the Auction House Team, and occasionally I get to work with big clients like Damien Hirst, and he gets hundreds of people at once to do things like gold leaf a wooly mammoth skeleton and send it to Abu Dhabi for an auction. I also have one of my own clients which is like a baby project for me to manage to give me some ‘responsibility’. The gallery is really posh and has a W1 postcode and the woman who works there is a total bitch and sent a letter to my boss, which was handwritten on cream paper with a gold letterhead, detailing all the ways in which I had not done my job properly as a bullet point list in fountain pen.
Basically, the job is mainly maths which I am kind of okay at, following a stint managing a Shakeaway whilst I was studying for my degree in Fine Art. Shakeaway is a milkshake shop and I had to be friendly and I always came home smelling of milk. Anyway, this new job is mainly doing difficult maths and calculating road freight for trucks and measuring stuff nine to five, Monday to Friday, except when it’s an art fair and then you end up working til midnight for 19K a year, and being patronised by the head of shipping, and the next in command in shipping, who are both men and one of them is so condescending I just don’t like, ever know what to say as it’s such a massive joke he is even allowed to interact with people, and the other one is sort of nice – one of those older guys who goes to soho alone and doesn’t really like, tell anyone he is gay except for his best friend Pauline, but he has a really bad temper so he throws papers at me occasionally and once he threw my orange up in the air as a punishment for errors on the shipping paperwork, and I normally placate him by sending him emails with smiley faces and kisses to try and avoid an orange tossing incident, and sometimes this works but sometimes he just looks at me like, I know what you are doing.
I really, really understand art now, I thought I really understood it before from learning about it but now I really get it, the commercial side of it has this mental hierarchy like the feudal system but worse, which goes like this: commercial gallery director, gallery staff, artist, artist assistant, thats the pecking order, and then a gallery staff member (registrar) or artist assistant (someone my age but cleverer, who went to university in London) talk to the shipping assistant (me) via email and I talk to the shipping department and packing technician and the drivers and sometimes the airport and then I invoice the gallery staff or artist assistant and then both of them normally direct the invoice back to the artist and then the work goes somewhere abroad and does or doesn’t get sold. And everyone in this sector laughs at project spaces, and that is where I occasionally do an exhibition outside of work.
I’ve realised there are a lot of things I don’t know about art theory though, and art history, like, a lot of things. I am trying to write a script while I am at work, in the draft folder of my inbox so I don’t get caught, which is called A TELEPHONE VOICE FOR THE ART WORLD and it is a satire about all the telephone calls I have to make, and simultaneously acts as a guide to making the telephone calls. I think it is really funny. I also have lots of time at this job to go on google so I am googling things like ‘capitalism’ and ‘communism’ and ‘post-punk’ and I’m finding out what they actually mean, and I am trying to read Karl Marx.
I have to keep telling my new assistant to stop asking questions about the fire. It’s a bit like ‘don’t mention the war’ around here, you know, all them guardian journalists sniffing around for years trying to find out what caused it, awful business. She’s so nosey about bloody everything and she’s always on fucking google as well. She thinks I don’t notice nothing. I wish the recruitment agencies would stop sending us these fucking women graduates, they behave like teenagers. I thought she was going to cry when I asked her to go and empty my bin the other day! I mean – the best thing about this one is the tits, she’s got a bit of a mouth on her but not too much of one, which is always a laugh. I like a bit of banter. I reckon she won’t stay here long, I give it two years (hopefully, she’s got an annoying voice) cos I reckon she either wants to be an artist or go and work in a gallery, more fool her. I used to be a ticket tout, that was great, but then Janet wanted to get married so I had to go and get an office job and save up to laser off the barcode tattoo on me neck because Janet hated it so much and said she wouldn’t walk down the aisle with me if I didn’t get it removed. I started off at an auction house doing shipping there, and then a shipping management job came up here, and bob’s your uncle, fanny’s your aunt, nice 50K a year with 18 days holiday.
It’s alright really as jobs go, because of the ticket touting I’m quite a good salesman, quite persuasive you know and I like the suits and I’ve got these really naff Monet cuff links that the clients really like, or think are ‘endearing’ or something. I like the client lunches in Canary Wharf. What I don’t fucking like, are the fucking art fairs. Art Basel Miami. Jesus Christ. That one was a disaster, the gallery staff looked at me like I was a piece of shit on their shoe the whole week, and the warehouse staff get a worse hotel than me so they was angry at me and me and them usually have a laugh, and then the other assistant (I didn’t take the girl one I took the lad) lost his bloody passport. He’s another one who thinks I was born yesterday. Nightmare.
I wish I could suggest we employed no more people who’ve been to bloody university. I really do. The problem being, we can pay them less than people who haven’t been to university, which is bloody hilarious. So this is how we are doing it, cos now our company has been bought up by an oil company. They own half of the companies in London and they really do not give a rats arse about the staff or ‘team compatibility’. Loads of people doing receptionist work who’ve been working since they were 18 won’t take less than 24K as a starting wage. The new graduate lot don’t have a clue! So it’s cheaper to get them in on a low wage, not train them properly, let them get fed up and then get a new ones in when they leave, I suppose.