In the suite of works by Enrico Freitag from the series LabOra, we are presented with several harmonious yet ominous compositions of uniformly clad (and poised) workers sitting at benches, desks and tables. With its title fittingly borrowed from the Latinised Christian monastic phrase Ora et Labora (Pray and Labour), the figures in this series evoke an aura of both contemplation and of action. Solemnly and yet actively engaged in an anonymous craft, these figures fix their gaze on what could be the last vestiges of handwork not automated by technological advancement.
This subject matter, along with Freitag’s oeuvre as a whole, departs from the dramatic shift in European painting of the 19th Century from portraits of noble men and women of the aristocracy, to the heroic depiction of the workers, the people. It is these same people that Freitag presents to us. Only now, however, our 21st century world is far from a heroic celebration of the worker in the act of heavy physical labour.
Rather, we see today an image of exploitation of the weak, as they pick through consumer waste products in less industrialised, ‘automated’ nations, along with the mechanisation of the individual through repetitive gesture in generic, homogenised factories and interiors. Freitag creates for us a silent, humanised void in which to contemplate the quietly hanging expectations of a ‘good’ life, of the promised satisfaction and sense of fulfilment that is perpetuated by the very culture of consuming that fuels such industries.
Header image: Enrico Freitag, LabOra, 2018, Oil on Canvas, 160 x 145cm