“The American spelling wasn’t pretentious enough,” says Ryan Dunn—one half of the Anglophilically named Labour—in a studio near Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal. Dunn shoots a glance at the other half of the team, Wyeth Hansen, and they both start cracking up.
With the camaraderie and comic timing of longtime friends, Dunn and Hansen set out a year ago to create a studio that was more than a place to trade jokes; they wanted to establish a sensibility, a place where it was possible to do everything. “We wanted to keep an openness and be able to do any project that came up, like doing music or more conceptual systems—type work or things that have a lot of novelty and room for exploration,” says Hansen. Dunn elaborates: “What we’ve tried to do here is develop the approach—and develop the thought process—that’s the core to everything, so whether it’s music or motion or print, it still has the same core.”
It all began with the serendipity of living on the same floor at the Rhode Island School of Design. They collaborated on a class project, creating a hyper-elaborate space to display Jeff Koons’s 1988 sculpture Michael Jackson and Bubbles. “It was an absurd amount of work and planning going into a really bad joke,” says Hansen. “The fact that we could stand back and giggle at what we did was really gratifying, and that’s the attitude we try to keep going. We treat everything we do seriously, but the actual content we try to keep engaging and fun and direct without getting too heavy-handed.”
Their name is a perfect manifestation of their quest to avoid stuffiness at all costs. Hansen remembers, “Originally—I think we were 22—we wanted to call it Child Labor, but spell it with a u, so you’d get these images of Dickensian kids in coal factories. But you do have to stick with it when you stop being young. It’s sort of faux-pretentious.” Then he changes his mind. “No—the pretentiousness is real. The Britishness is faux.”