Personal Collections

Share this Collection

1 Citation in this Annotation:

Annotated by:

Yuxin Wu on Art Without Work and Work Without Art

12 February, 2024

For a few years, a handy book has rested by the side of my desk: Städelschule Lectures, published by Koenig Books in 2019. The book is a compilation of lectures, conversations, and interviews spanning two decades of the lecture series at Städelschule, the esteemed art school in Frankfurt.

Städelschule Lectures, published by Koenig Books in 2019, image courtesy of Yuxin Wu.

The purchase of the book holds a special significance for me because it was the last physical book I bought before the outbreak of COVID-19, and it has been good company and an inspiration for me ever since. Among the diverse array of texts, the most memorable is the opening text by Greek artist Georgia Sagri, which is a transcript of her lecture ‘Art Without Work and Work Without Art,’ delivered to art students at the Städelschule in May 2018. Prior to this, I had been unfamiliar with Sagri, and the text was my first encounter with her personal life and artistic practice.

Sagri’s lecture begins with a recounting of her formative years and the pivotal moment when she decided to pursue art. At the age of 16, she found herself working clandestinely at a bar, relying on under-the-table wages to sustain herself after her father’s death. At the preparatory drawing class for entrance to art school, she found it difficult to pay the tuition fees. Instead of quitting the class, she decided to become a life drawing model for her peers. In this way, she was able to earn wages through modelling work while continuing to attend the class for free. The practice of modelling became a self-exploration of her physiological limits and patience. Sagri noted the very breathing technique required for modelling to minimise the movement of her naked body when she is posing. Through accepting the process of being exposed to the gaze of others, she realised that the sensitive state of her naked body already implied the eventual drawing before the bodily information was put on the paper by her peers. She wasn’t interested in refining her drawing skills any more. Instead, she adopted a fresh perspective, viewing art as a dynamic interplay between passive and active roles, material and immaterial labours in representation.


Georgia Sagri, Breathing Score (1_3_1), Breathing Score (3_6_3), 2017, Glass, iron, acrylic paint, each 80 x 250 x 30cm, image courtesy of Georgia Sagri and The Breeder Gallery.


Subsequently, I encountered Sagri’s work Breathing Scores at Frieze London, presented by The Breeder Gallery from Athens. The series of glass sculptures, suspended on metal rods and arranged like a musical score on the wall, evoked a profound sense of rawness and immediacy, as if freshly formed in a glass-blowing workshop. The glass blobs seem still melted and hot, while the metal rods resembled blowpipes that had not been hastily removed. The title Breathing Score is borrowed from a medical term and alludes to a breathing test that is based on a patient’s ability to count to 30 seconds in a single exhalation. Each sculpture, without specific indication of shapes or forms, seemed to have been blown with a gentle continuous breath, embodying Sagri’s own breathing technique honed during her early modelling days. Amidst the bustling and noisy atmosphere of the art fair, Sagri’s work stood quietly in a corner, deliberately catching less attention than the surrounding pieces. Yet, upon seeing it, I was instantly transported back to Sagri’s text, as if witnessing her posing in stillness and carefully controlling her breath in a drawing class.

Sagri continued working part-time after she was accepted at the art school. This time, however, the work is no longer related to gaining financial independence, but about satisfying her everyday needs as a human being. She continues working as a waitress. For her, the work at the bar seems much easier and calmer compared to all the adventures and satisfactions of the artistic practice. Her earlier investigation, testing the premise of not choosing between modelling and drawing, made her realize that she did not need to choose between paid work and artistic work. The moment she tried to choose between the role of the waitress and the artist, she recognized the recurrence of a familiar pattern observed among her peers in the drawing class, where she was pressured to choose between modelling and drawing.

I continued to do my breathing research between the bar and art school, and this is the way I continued to work since that day. It is a balance between work and art. Doing work without art and doing art without work is the way I have lived ever since. This is how I try to organize with others beyond the limits of art and through what I do, which is art.

Georgia Sagri, ‘Art Without Work and Work Without Art’, Städelschule Lectures.

The balance between work and art becomes an inspiration for how I see my own architectural practice. After graduation from  architecture school, I decided to work for a large architectural firm in London. This made sense for me as a non-EU national, since the employment provided me with a stable residence permit in the country and a decent salary which paid my bills and a bit extra for me to explore metropolitan life. However, sometimes the work can become repetitive or even unbearable. During the last year, to maintain my critical thinking and free creativity, I decided to dedicate my weekends to personal design and research projects. These projects served as a means of self-expression and exploration, allowing me to delve into architectural research and design again without the constraints of corporate structure, as I used to do as an architectural student. The intention of this weekend work is not about seeking for commissions or establishing a future business on my own. For me, it is no different to reading a book, going to the cinema, or running in the park. It serves a fundamental need for my creative fulfilment and personal expression. Coincidently, it is also what I do for a living Monday to Friday.

Like many young professionals, I started my exploration through open architectural competitions. I intentionally submitted designs that defied norms, whether by using expired IDs, surpassing site limitations, or purposely missing deadlines. My approach is rooted in the idea of non-participation — a deliberate choice not to conform to the expectation of winning or committing to further work. This tactic allowed me to work and think without the constraints of financial or contractual norms typically associated with architectural offices. Moreover, it removes barriers to participation based on factors like practice size or experience. As a result, there is no time pressure or commitment to produce a specific quantity of work. The competition provides a reality basis and conditions for me to start thinking, however the direction of the design may be shifted far away from the original competition brief, as it will gain autonomy again though the process of reinterpretation and suits to my own research interest.

Through this experience, I have gained a fresh perspective on architectural representation. While the profession often prioritises tangible built structures, I have come to view the representation of architectural ideas as equally significant. Whether manifested on paper or in physical form, these representations serve as vehicles for conveying visions and ideas, each enabling the other and transcending traditional notions of architectural practice. The strategic approach of my practice allowed me the freedom to navigate between different modes of working without feeling constrained to choose one over the other.

Art Without Work and Work Without Art. Thank you, Sagri, for this beautiful advice on not making a choice. In the fluidity between roles, I found myself breath freely again beyond the limits.

Yuxin Wu on Art Without Work and Work Without Art

For a few years, a handy book has rested by the side of my desk: Städelschule Lectures, published by Koenig Books in 2019. The book is a compilation of lectures, conversations, and interviews spanning two decades of the lecture series at Städelschule, the esteemed art school in Frankfurt. The purchase of the book holds a […]