I wish there was more I could do to help | Tori Abernathy


July 11–31, 2013 | Littman Gallery

Reception: Thursday, July 11, 2013 | 5–8pm

The value of a worker in our post-Fordist economy is based on his mental, rather than physical, faculties.  The ability to communicate effectively in group settings and multi task is more important than whether he can lift over 50 lbs or stay detail-oriented. The conditions of alienation have shifted as the factory fades into the shadows of the American industrial landscape. In this wake, new concepts like the ‘precariat’ and the ‘cognitariat’ arise alongside one another. The ‘cognitariat’, as a concept, references the typical forms of labor associated with this new class of workers. The ‘precariat’ references the precarious position of these workers whose experience is marked by instability, a lack of job security, and a future of uncertainty. At the intersection of these conditions is an explosion of anxiety - a paralyzing performance anxiety that threatens to render old coping mechanisms trivial, or inadequate at best.

The coping mechanism employed by the American working class is an apolitical romanticism that stands in for the possibility of mobilization. It materializes as a lively, locked stare between neighbors, marrying for love over money, or a father reassuring his daughter that ‘at the end of the day, at least we have each other’. These behavior patterns perpetuate the conditions of inequality insofar as they make us feel better about doing nothing but work. I wish there was more I could do to help is an exhibition that attempts to shed light on the reality of this anxiety while positing new methods of coping with its effects. 

Tori Abernathy is an artist, educator, activist, and writer from Miami living in Portland. She is founder and co-director of RECESS, an independent arts initiative based in SE Portland. Her work adopts methods from advertising, surveillance, media, and other large institutions to expose their limits on autonomous movement while championing the capacities of human subjectivity. She studied art & anthropology at Reed College.