The Washington Post

Art in focus: ‘Toil’ is repetitive but not robotic

View Photo Gallery: At Project 4, British artist Jill Townsley turns dull jobs into through-provoking art.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

That’s true for Jill Townsley too. The British artist is being featured in a surprisingly playful solo show at Project 4 Gallery, where her repetitive but never monotonous work questions the nature of artistic authorship and human fallibility.

Called “Toil,” the exhibition features video, drawing and sculptural installation that often involves laborious and sometimes seemingly pointless effort. A series of pen-and-ink drawings, for example, were made by scribbling obsessively until the underlying paper is almost entirely obscured. A video documents a 2 1 / 2 hour performance in which the artist counted from 1 to 840 on a chalkboard, pausing to erase each number with her hand before moving on. It’s the moments when she slips and loses count that the show reveals its true message. Does art’s value come from machine-like perfection or imperfection?

Read my review, and check out a selection of images from the show in the gallery at the top of this post.

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Michael O’Sullivan has worked since 1993 at The Washington Post, where he covers art, film and other forms of popular — and unpopular — culture.


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