A Florida Artist Is Filling Hourglasses with the Dust of a Minimum Wage Salary

Representations of labor and time are ground into dust in Agustina Woodgate’s show, 'Power-Line.'

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02 October 2016, 11:45am

Time capsule (detail), Agustina Woodgate, 2016. Photo: Jesus Petroccini, c

ourtesy of Spinello Projects

Held up on stainless steel rods shaped like field goals, the hourglasses in Agustina Woodgate’s installation, $8.05, are mini-monoliths. They resemble elongated vessels for tiny ships, delicate and seemingly precarious. They contain a gradient of blue-green-gray powders, a dark color that’s mirrored on the walls of the surrounding space. That dust inside is money—or, as the show’s press release describes it, “ink extracted from U.S. banknotes.” It’s eight dollars and five cents exactly, Florida’s minimum wage. Balanced like statues, these glass encasings are objectively beautiful manifestations of that classic bummer adage: Time is money.

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Agustina Woodgate’s Time capsule 3, 2016. Photo: Jesus Petroccini, c
ourtesy of Spinello Projects

According to Title 18, Chapter 17, Section 333 of the U.S. Code ("Mutilation of national bank obligations") the destruction of a bank bill is subject to punishment, though it seems this law’s in place to prevent counterfeit money. Woodgate’s goal, however, wasn’t nefarious. In fact, she refers to these structures not as hourglasses, but as time capsules, literally capturing a historical moment. $8.05 is one-half of Woodgate’s latest show at Spinello Projects, Power-Line, the other half of which is National Time: past a wall painted safety-belt orange, fluorescent enough to cast a glow, there’s a room chock-full of clocks, your standard classroom timepieces with “NATIONAL TIME” emblazoned on the front. They’re synced in unison, like a silent chorus, all linked to a digital clock.

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Agustina Woodgate. 
Photo: Jesus Petroccini, c

ourtesy of Spinello Projects

There’s a prescribed and unequivocally horrible name for this relationship: the “master/slave” dynamic. The digital clock is referred to as a master; the other clocks, its slaves, are synchronized to whatever time it reads (the “master” has a GPS antennae connected to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s satellite time base). In an act of subversion directed by the artist and enacted by the clocks themselves, Woodgate has discretely attached chunks of sandpaper to the clock’s hands—even as they perform their work, they erase it, slowly and continuously. It’s likely similar to the process she used to extract the ink from the dollar bills: representations of labor are cut down to sand.

When I was 14, I stared impatiently at the clock in my math class and wrote an inelegant ditty in the corner of my notebook: Wishing I could force the minute hand forward/to free myself/why must I learn the Pythagorean theorem/if one day I will be dead. I was melodramatic and stupid, but my awful verse is telling: labor is inextricable from time, and time from mortality. Time, though, can be relative, and how we choose to define the value of what fills it can be arbitrary. “Congress sets the minimum wage, but it doesn’t keep pace with inflation,” Woodgate tells The Creators Project. “Because the cost of living is always rising, the value of a new minimum wage begins to fall from the moment it’s set. The futility is that we lose no matter what in the current system.” The minimum wage, she continues, is “a perpetual hot potato among politicians. The money is everything, or it’s useless.”

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Agustina Woodgate’s Single, 2016. 
Photo: Jesus Petroccini, c

ourtesy of Spinello Projects

There are eight time capsules total, staggered in placement so that one must weave through them to examine their contents. The powder within is so fine, the pile so small: $8.05 feels like an unfairly miniscule amount of pay. In earlier works, Woodgate has erased the borders on maps and globes, collecting their dusty remains and leaving behind worlds with undefined territories. In $8.05, this erasure purports to represent the value of labor and the power infrastructure guiding it. It’s worth considering, too, these piles of dust are both bigger and smaller than elsewhere in the world, its meaning malleable depending on its placement. What does labor look like when it’s valued for even less; when it’s forced; when it’s illegal? “There are two sides to seeing the process of erasure,” she explains. “One of removing a surface and the other of polishing. Both are violent, both are tender. Shining is an erosion.”

Power-Line is on display at Spinello Projects through November 8.

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