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YBCA’s ‘Office Space’ deconstructs post-industrial economy

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Joseph DeLappe’s “The Mouse Mandala” is on view in “Office Space” at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Courtesy Joseph DeLappe)

Walking through “Office Space” at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has the effect of reading a lot of “Dilbert” cartoons.

Indeed, as its curators say, the exhibit of video, sculpture, painting and installation “cleverly subverts contemporary office culture as a means to explore labor practices in the 21st century post-industrial economy.”

The show is funny, provocative and sometimes mind-numbing, in the ways real offices are.

For example, the 36 minutes of Berlin-based Harun Farocki’s video, called “A New Product” (shadowing a business consulting firm at work, tasked with optimizing employees’ workspace at a Hamburg office with the goal of improving productivity) truly are patience-testing — certainly for anyone not dedicated to the minutiae of corporate culture.

Likewise, Finnish artist Pilvi Takala tested the patience of an entire business staff in her 2008 installation “The Trainee,” in which she got hired on as an intern at Deloitte, then proceeded to befuddle, and anger, people around her when she purposely did no work, but instead rode the elevator up and down all day, or simply sat and stared. The installation (slides, videos and the “trainee’s” work badge) takes up a whole room, and Takala’s “co-workers’” reactions to her, outlined in emails, are quite fascinating.

A couple of interesting sculptures employ everyday office items to interesting effect: Joseph DeLappe’s “The Mouse Mandala,” a circle with a 14-foot diameter artfully woven from discarded mice and mouse cords, is striking, as is Haegue Yang’s 2010 “Office Voodoo,” which is built from drying racks, casters, CDs, paper clips, headphones, pens, a charger, string and more.

Ignacio Uriarte’s 2013 “From Black to Blue” is a series of five framed drawings of pen scribbles, which he says, “imitate doodles made in boredom.”

On a more thoughtful note is KP Brehmer’s “Soul and Feelings of a Worker,” a large, graphic wall chart in which workers’ moods (a 12-point trajectory ranging from “very happy” to “neutral” to “fearful”) are tracked, by day. The mesmerizing piece is based on a 1932 study by American scholar Rexford B. Hersey, who theorized that people go through regular emotional cycles.

At first, Andrew Norman Wilson’s videos in “Leaving the Googleplex” (2009-11) simply look like a series of slowly paced images, of people walking in and out of buildings in an office park.

But in his audio, Wilson, who was employed by Google, reveals an interesting story, about how his observations regarding the difference between people wearing white badges (full-time employees) and those with yellow badges (data entry workers restricted to a particular building, and often people of color) led to his dismissal from the giant tech company.

IF YOU GO
Office Space
Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F.
When: Noon to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays, noon to 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; closes Feb. 14
Admission: $8 to $10
Contact: (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org/office-space

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