Member Dismemberment - Floor Scrapers

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Member Dismemberment
A Look at Limbs 
Curated by Kate Sims

Gustave Caillebotte, Floor Scrapers, 1875
“...It is only when a person has visited the slums of this great city that it dawns upon him that the inhabitants of modern London have had to sacrifice so much that is best in human nature in order to create those wonders of civilization... Every great town has one or more slum areas into which the working classes are packed. Sometimes,  poverty is to be found hidden away in alleys close to the stately homes of the wealthy. Generally, the workers are segregated in separate districts where they struggle through life as best they can out of sight of the more fortunate classes of society.” EngelsThe Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844.

Caillebotte’s depiction of lower class laborers explores a new genre of workers. Peasants and country workers had often been shown, but in a harmonious state with nature. There is little to glorify within the Industrial Revolution where death rates skyrocketed and only a small percentage reaped the benefits of lower classes. Caillebotte’s Floor Scrapers takes a straightforward and academic approach of the work. A high-angle perspective, has the viewer tower over the workers, transforming the viewer into the supervisor of the operation. This uncomfortable angle does not allow sympathy toward the workers, but distances the viewer from them.

The slanted angle of perspective and geometric structure of the room draw attention to the workers’ arms, which stand out as curved nonconforming shapes. The lengthening of arms along the floorboards intensifies the labor. Understandably, their faces are shamefully downturned focusing on the task at hand. The light shining in from the window, and only connection to the outside world, glistens on the floorboards and backs of workers. They have digressed into an animalistic state, which further dehumanizes them with no positive end in sight. These may not be the exact working conditions that Engels was referring to, but they seem pretty darn close.

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