The gallery cleared out the old storage space at the back of the building to make way for a stable. Pomodoro didn’t want a fuss, but the gallery had never had an artist-in-residence before, let alone an artist that was also actually a horse. They had a welcome committee: the head curator organised a banner making workshop with kids who lived nearby and when Pomodoro stepped out of her horse box, everyone was waiting in the cobbled courtyard. They pulled the trigger on a confetti canon and unfurled a banner that read WELCOME POMODORO! with big red potato stamped hearts instead of Os.
Pomodoro took the in-residence thing very seriously. She slept in the storage room stable where they had arranged stacks of old press releases into a kind of bed. Every morning she followed the same routine. She would brush her teeth and her mane in the gallery toilets, trot around the courtyard, warm up the expensive coffee machine in the gallery cafe and make herself a fancy latte. At first she had to be careful not to burn the oat milk with her clumsy hooves, but eventually she got really good and could pour the milky foam out into a cute heart shape. She’d read the newspaper and gaze out of the big gallery windows. When the gallery opened, Pomodoro was at her place behind the front desk.
She thought the front desk was the right place for the artist-in-residence to be. Ready and waiting with her typewriter. Present, visible, definitely and unquestionably In Residence. Pomodoro, an elegant palomino wearing tortoiseshell glasses on the end of her big blunt nose, wearing a gallery lanyard and name label. If visitors stopped to talk, Pomodoro would write something for them. Something, anything. She would tap-tap-tap on the typewriter and tear the thin paper away, handing little scrolls to people on their way in and out of the gallery. A haiku about bees. A clipped sentence from the novel she was reading. A brief description of the dream she had last night. Directions to the toilet. She called them poems, but really they were just an excuse to be there at the front desk, chatting to people and watching the way the gallery moved around her.
When night fell, Pomodoro lay awake in her stable, feeling discretely weird. At first she felt like the phantom of the opera, haunting the gallery with her constant looming presence. But putting aside the feeling of her own omnipotence, there was another deeper weirdness. Was this what she, the artist, was meant to be doing? Was this art? I mean, sure, call it social practice, the artist was present — very valid! But it also felt weird. Mostly the feeling was that, really, she just worked there. Which, she did — she was an artist making art in a gallery. The gallery was the place where she, an artist, was making work: art! To go in the gallery, a place to put art, made by an artist — which is what she was — At that point, Pomodoro bucked her hind legs up behind her in frustration. Something felt incongruous, she couldn’t tell what it was but going round in circles about it was beginning to make her feel genuinely nauseous.
Maybe it was because she was an actual horse, maybe it was because she was an artist, maybe it was the accumulated mix of intimacy and fatigue, spending so much time in one place? The kind of work she was doing felt weird or different or set apart from what other people at work in the gallery did. The girls on the ticket desk sold tickets. The curator sat in his office and sent emails. The guy in the cafe rang up the till, frothed milk and brought little cakes out to people. The cleaners polished and mopped and sometimes, at night, they would bring out a big machine to shine the floor. But what was she, an artist, doing? If the curator had sidled up to her during one of his coffee breaks and asked, she’d have said I AM MAKING ART, OF COURSE. But was that work in the same way as selling tickets, polishing floors, even sending emails? What quality did making art have, to set it apart or to make it the same as those other kinds of labour? Should it feel different, special? Or should it have felt the same — Pomodoro couldn’t tell.
The next morning Pomodoro slipped red wooly socks over her hooves so they didn’t scuff the gallery’s shiny parquet floors. She brushed her teeth and her mane in the gallery toilets, raced fast across the yard, and went straight up to the gallery’s reading room with her foam heart latte. Sat at a laptop instead of a typewriter, she tap-tap-tapped away on the keys, typing with the full frontal force of the internet on her horse brain.
In 1973 Mierle Laderman Ukeles performed a work of art and an act of work: Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Outside. She washed the steps of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford Connecticut, she cleaned the gallery floor. What made it art was that she wielded a mop like a paintbrush, not instead of a paintbrush. What made it art was she wrote a manifesto four years earlier, about how there are two basic systems of work that govern the world: development and maintenance. Development is associated with the avant-garde, the individual, the novel, the productive. Maintenance is associated with tasks of preservation, sustenance, protection, repetition. Development is pure creation, Maintenance is keeping the dust off the pure creation. The manifesto states that our culture values development over maintenance, probably because development is key to facilitating growth under a capitalist system that values expansion above all else. People had been washing the Wadsworth Atheneum’s steps for years before and after 1973, without it being considered serious art. That was just work. But Mierle Laderman Ukeles was an artist, so therefore had the transformative power to make work into art, or art into work — Pomodoro wasn’t quite sure — either way, it fucked with the whole structure and system. Like a glitch, I guess, in the structure and system of value. The art brings a new perspective to work, the novelty makes the art Development work rather than Maintenance work. But the fact of the labour being performed makes it quite literally Maintenance work. But it is conceptually different to the usual kind of work being performed, so it is Development. But the entire conceptual premise is that the artist is performing an act of labour that falls within the category of Maintenance — that is literally the whole and entire point of Ukeles’ work of art. WORK of art, ha! You see! The clue is in the name! artWORK! I am very clever, you see.
Pomodoro stared into the distance, her big horse eyes glassy and dark. I guess what it is, is that art is slippery and work is slippery also. Horses understand work intimately, of course. Is art actually real work? Is a horse a real artist if they make works of art while also knowing deep in their horse bones what work intimately is? Does that make them the realest artists of all? What is real work! What is art! Define a chair: a chair has four legs and you can sit on it, therefore a horse is a kind of chair because it has four legs and you can sit on it — you see? We all know what a chair is, we all know what a horse is, and we all know that a horse is not a kind of chair, but as soon as you apply a circular definition it breaks any attempt at understanding apart. Labour is work is art is work is labour, the horse works and the artist is a worker, the horse is an artist and horses understand work intimately, therefore the artist is a kind of workhorse. And HORSE is the only stable entity in that whole conundrum: art, work, horse. Those three things trotted round and round in a circle in Pomodoro’s mind like a carousel. She was sweating in her chair, splitting horse hairs about whether art was work — does it matter!? If it is or if it isn’t? What even is work anyway! Hooves hammered on the keyboard, tap-tap-typing.
Karl Marx defined work as the physical mental act of transformation, activity that transforms your environment to meet your needs and wants. Work is an act of production. Work is just kind of an action, when you really look at it. I guess it is the most active action one can act out. Every action is a kind of work. Every act of work is an actual action, an act of action.
Pomodoro shook her big horse head with a big horse sigh, air shuddering out of her big blunt nose.
In 1969, at a gallery in Rome called L’Attico, Jannis Kounellis staged an installation called Senza Titolo (12 Cavalli) (in English: Untitled (12 Horses)). Twelve live actual horses were positioned around the gallery, tethered to the wall, leaving a void at the centre of the exhibition space. Nothing else in the gallery. Just horses and blank walls. Live horses became readymades, art objects. Kounellis considered himself a painter, considered this work a kind of painting. At least, painting as pictorial intervention. The gallery’s walls or the rectangular exhibition space became a canvas and real living horse became image. Is image the right word? Maybe object? Shape, colour, line, form. Horses have often been subjects in paintings, but in 12 Cavalli they were past subject. The horses were positioned up against the wall like elements on the painter’s pictorial plane. Flat, but actual and real life. The horse as object became mass, something that occupied pictorial space.
If work is an action, the most active action, then maybe we are only at work when we act like we are at work. The horses in 12 Cavalli were acting as the shapes in a painting, they were acting, acting is the only kind of work because in acting we perform work as an action. Yes, yes, horses understand work intimately. Work integrates you within an economic system, within social, political modes of co-operation. Work makes you human, in a way, even if you are actually a horse. Horses pull carts, plough fields, carry Napoleon into battle, act like painted shapes up against a matte white wall in a gallery called L’Attico.
Pomodoro left the reading room and stood in the gallery courtyard, hooves in red socks and silent on the cobbled stones. Her head tilted up and she looked at the sky. It was nearly night. Draft horse pack horse work horse. Horse as artist. Artist as worker. The girls on the ticket desk sold tickets. The curator sent emails. The guy in the cafe frothed milk. The cleaners made everything so shiny and clean that Pomodoro could blink at her reflection in the parquet floors. They were all on the gallery’s payroll and at the end of every month, the lady from accounts (Sue) filled in a spreadsheet and everyone got a payslip. Everyone except Pomodoro. The girls at the ticket desk, the curator, the cafe guy, the cleaners — they all got to leave the gallery. When they left the gallery, they stopped being at work. Pomodoro hadn’t left the gallery since the welcome committee unfurled their banner. But even if she had, she wouldn’t stop being at work. The work of being an artist was weird or different or set apart from what other people at work in the gallery did. Pomodoro didn’t stop being an artist at 5pm, or when she left the gallery — she couldn’t stop being an artist, in the same way that she couldn’t stop being a horse.
Work integrates you within an economic system. You do work and you receive money for your labour. Artists exist within an economic system that works in a strange way. Artists do the work of making work (art) and maybe they sell it to a collector for money. Artists do the work of making work (art) and maybe a gallery pays them a little bit of money to show it to people in an exhibition. Artists do the work of making work (art) and maybe they don’t get paid for that work at all.
Pomodoro stared at the sky until it was definitely dark, until she could definitely see the stars blinking back at her. There they were, whizzing around above her making their patterns and shapes, doing a dance as they got into their constellations. Pegasus appeared, a winged horse made of stars, rising out of the sky. He cleared his throat.
‘Horses understand work intimately. I, myself, used my hooves to dig out a spring: Hippocrene, which blessed those who drank its water with the ability to write poetry. Beautiful Pomodoro, you must know. If art is work, the artist is a workhorse. If art isn’t work, then we are all horses. Labour is work is art is work is labour, the horse works and the artist is a worker, the horse is an artist and horses understand work intimately, therefore the artist is a kind of workhorse. So art is definitely work. Maybe art is the only kind of work, ever.’
Pegasus flapped his starry wings and rose up out of the sky. As he flew away, he blew Pomodoro a kiss. Alone with the empty night sky, no more stars in sight. With the red socks on her hooves, Pomodoro clopped silently into the gallery. Carefully, she slid a can of spray paint out of her red sock. She shook it, steadied her hoof and wrote one last poem on the perfect, matte white gallery wall.
The curator arrived to open up the gallery at nine every morning. Pomodoro was not at the front desk. She wasn’t in the cafe. She wasn’t in the storage room stable. He peered into the gallery’s exhibition space. The cleaners were polishing the wall, but the red spray paint was glossy and wouldn’t budge. On the perfect, matte white gallery wall and reflected back in the gallery’s shining parquet floor a poem was waiting for him: GOODBYE POMODORO.