Instances of humor in contemporary art are as sporadic as they are fleeting. That said, it was a refreshing happenstance to stumble across some recent photographs by Liliana Porter.
Overall, her work tends to be playful. Porter incorporates strong element of interaction and theatre into her pieces, which help to develop a relationship between the viewer and her work. Yet in her “Trabajo Forzado” (Forced Labor) series, she graduates from mischievous abandon to rely rather on a somewhat derisive sense of humor to connect with her audience.
The “Trabajo Forzado” photographs capture the plights of tiny, nameless workers who are tasked with the most ridiculous and insurmountable of chores. They are commanded to drive in gargantuan nails with tiny hammers, deconstruct the ledge on which they are supported, and sweep a perpetual trail of dirt which stretches into the distance. While on the one hand her prints may draw attention to the injustices that many laborers face throughout the world, the obvious sense of dread and impossibility within those images appeals to a common schadenfreude amongst the viewers. Faced with such hopeless assignments, the absurdity depicted throughout this series is nothing short of laughable.
But this tacitly malevolent humor offers something of a life lesson. In varying capacities, we are all laborers who must stare into the rictus of life’s unassailable challenges. Assuming the viewer is the least bit self-aware, these images may very well embody an ever-beneficial dose of humility. Much of life is mundane and insurmountable. Yet as Porter’s work reminds us, perhaps humor is a gift by which to abate the pangs of such (forced) labor.
Feel free to scroll through the gallery to take a look at a few images of her “Trabajo Forzado” series. You can also see more images on her website through the link above, or you can click here.