Cornford and Cross
The Abolition of Work 2007


Artists’ fee and budget in one-penny coins laid on gallery floor
Curated by James Green
Exchange Gallery, Penzance, England

 

Cornwall is known for its history of copper and tin mining, while Newlyn is famous for its nineteenth-century copper industry. The principal use of copper is as a conduit for water, electricity and telecommunications. This gallery was once a telephone exchange.

Today’s one-penny coin was initially minted in 1971 from bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. It is the lowest denomination of currency in the UK, barely worth picking up. World copper prices rose, making the ‘use value’ of the metal greater than the exchange value of the coin. By 1992 the penny was worth less than its weight in copper, and the Royal Mint substituted copper-plated steel for the bronze, thus debasing the coin.

We asked for our artists’ fee and production budget to be delivered to the gallery in one-penny coins. With a team of helpers, we arranged the coins by hand – heads or tails upward as they came – to cover the gallery floor. The labour of laying the coins did not transformed their material properties. After the exhibition they were returned into circulation.

Though the multitude of coins does not represent anything, it may resemble many things. The installation can be viewed as a vast puzzle, but one in which all the pieces are the same. The ‘picture’ formed invites reflection on the definition of labour and the paradoxes of the relationship between art, money, and the value of time.

‘The Abolition of Work’ is the title of an anarchist pamphlet by Bob Black, who asserts that ‘work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world’ and advocates the complete transformation of society towards a way of life based on play.



Newlyn Tidal Observatory, site of the UK fundamental benchmark, from which all heights above mean sea level are based.
Newlyn Harbour, England, 2007


Newlyn copper plate, 19th Century


Submarine telephone cable to India being laid.
Illustrated London News, 1870


Cutaway diagram of transatlantic telephone cable showing copper core. Circa 1950




Installing The Abolition of Work at the Exchange Gallery, Penzance, England, 2007


Installing The Abolition of Work at the Exchange Gallery, Penzance, England, 2007
Many thanks to volunteers Claire Benson, Rachel Campbell, Rebecca Griffiths, Ann Haycock, Louise Hodges, Yasmin Ineson, Victoria Lingard, Jess Morgan, Jane Pitts, Judi Rea, Jo Tabone, and Karen Thomas



The Abolition of Work (detail)






The Abolition of Work (2007)
Artists' fee and budget in one-penny coins laid on gallery floor
Exchange Gallery, Penzance, England
Photograph by Isabella Pitisci


The Abolition of Work (2007)
Artists’ fee and budget in one-penny coins laid on gallery floor
Exchange Gallery, Penzance, England