At The Top Table
'The Table of Power' by Jacqueline Hassink was at The Gallery of Photography in October 2000
Review by Fiona Kearney
In her recent exhibition at the Gallery of Photography, Dutch artist Jacqueline Hassink presents a series of photographs that depict the boadroom tables of those multinational corporations that make the top forty list of the largest industrial companies of Europe. Each image is accompanied by a small panel that informs the viewer of basic facts about the company such as its location, industry, turnover, and of course, its chart spot in this corporate top of the pops. The artist also provides us with a section of salient facts about the table and ends with her own special comments that document a personal impression of the space.
The photographs themselves are small format and have an accumulative rather than individual presence. Unlike much documentary work in this genre, Hassink does not privilege her subject in large colour prints, a deliberate gesture perhaps to render her tables of power less potent. The artist seems intent on undoing the solemnity of the spaces depicted. She uses the accompanying texts to insert the tables into the rhetoric of power adopted by the multinationals 'The former president of Phillips had a very clear influence on the design of the table. They chose at that time a round model, so it would be suitable to any future changes in the amount of board members.' But the deadpan style of reportage undercuts the pomp and circumstance of the statements.
Hassink often remarks on the security precautions, 'the meeting table is situated on the top floor of the headquarters where a special security guard takes care of the boardroom' but rather than reinforce the authority of the space, these carefully noted facts gently ridicule such vigilence. This is because the artist follows such comments with an ongoing evaluation of the company's hospitality, noting the quality of the coffee and style of service 'strong French coffee served in small plastics cups', even going so far at times as to include weather reports, 'hot weather - two cups of tea'. The gallery blurb may remind us that these photographs 'bring us into the heart of those spaces where nameless and faceless individuals make decisions that affect us all' but the artist's approach suggests a wry humour that is as much a dig at the self- importance of the corporate sector as it is at a world anxious to believe in conspiracies of power, secret meetings and covert actions.
The coherence of the series is intentionally subverted by literal black holes in the exhibition where the viewer encounters a black print the same size as the photographs of the boardroom tables. These black prints are dispersed throughout the show and also have text panels indicating the relevant company and its formidable statistics. lt is in the facts about the table section that the viewer learns why the artist was not given permission to photograph the table in question. The reasons range from curt decisions not to participate in the project to detailed explanations of company policy regarding photography. The inclusion of these gaps could simply indicate the missing members of this particular grouping or it could be absence as presence, a device to recognise within the project the impossibility of complete knowledge and the necessary partiality of documentary practice, Hassink doesn't provide any definite answers. As an exhibition, The Table of Power hovers between investigation and parody. The witty juxtaposition of text and image invites the viewer to review institutional images of power with a measure of irony but the repetitive representations of empty boardrooms have a gravity and impact that reminds us that satire only works on genuine power - a power cleverly exposed in these photographs.