(NON)WORK: COLLECTIVE WRITINGS
Not so long ago it was a challenge to get artistic practice recognized as ‘work’. Even today, art is sometimes treated as a kind of unwieldy force that just comes out of you, almost effortlessly, depending on if you have inspiration or talent. Artists could be seen as parasites or as idlers leading a bohemian lifestyle. In practice, however, today artists are rather precarious self-managers, multitasking with self-promotion and presentation, application writing, networking, and actual artistic production, often also having other ‘normal’ jobs to make a living. As most freelancers, they have neither stable income nor social benefits. In return for such a stressful and vulnerable life and working conditions, they are supposed to get their ‘artistic benefits’ – pleasure, fame, and etc., which in reality are rather substituted with nervous breakdowns, burn-outs, anxiety, and depression. At the same time there is an old idea that artists are meant to suffer – that’s how their artistic production happens. But in the modern world artists are expected to be not too crazy or depressed but just sane enough to keep it safe and convenient for management and networking; in other words artists should foster business relationships.
To cope with this situation there are several tools that normalize artistic production: the most common of which are artists’ unions or having a legal status as self-employed. The former in Eastern Europe nowadays unfortunately turned out to be mostly corrupt and has a conservative bureaucratic structure, while the latter does not eliminate all the struggles that go along with the precarity in the worker’s life mentioned above. If an artist becomes a worker, whom are they employed by: the state, society, curators, critics, or by themselves and other artists – aka within ‘the arts field’ itself?
So maybe we should move the opposite direction, or not move, but turn to the non-work in order to finally experience pleasure and joy as a political statement, practice radical idleness, and become unproductive and uncreative without any guilt, stress, or regret! The non-creative non-work of the artist. This idea is not so new but can be found within a political and artistic tradition. In 1883, Paul Lafargue wrote his The Right To Be Lazy where he claimed that the workers should not demand more work or improved working conditions but rather work less and demand the right to laziness and reap its pleasures.1 Marcel Duchamp stood for the refusal to work as a refusal to be an art producer or performer who has a social function and artistic identity.2 Given today’s obsession with self-performance and constant presence (this phenomena is well analyzed by Hito Steyerl in her lecture and essay “The Terror of Total Dasein”, 2015), this demand sounds particularly acute.3 Kazimir Malevich praised laziness and criticised both capitalism and communism for being labor-centered in his text “Laziness as the Truth of Mankind” (1921).4 Mladen Stilinović believed that “there is no art without laziness” and criticised the Western art tradition as a system of artistic production in his “In Praise of Laziness” (1993). He writes: “Artists in the West are not lazy and therefore not artists, but rather producers of something.”5 While artists in the East, he claimed, were deprived of that system and therefore “had time enough to concentrate on art and laziness. Even when they did produce art, they knew it was in vain, it was nothing.”6
Practicing laziness in our work-oriented society is however not so easy as it might seem. As Maurizio Lazzarato puts it:
Let us start with the socio-economic critique. Laziness is not simply a ‘non-action’ or a ‘minimal-action.’ It involves taking a position with respect to the conditions of existence under capitalism. First of all, it affirms a subjective refusal of (paid) work and of all the forms of conformist behavior capitalist society demands.7
Laziness, unproductivity, and non-work are not eccentric selfish deals, but collective political issues, which should be approached systematically and with complexity. Being lazy efficiently could become hard work in itself; it could be violent and painful. So a really important point is to keep the shared joy and pleasures of the non-work.
Olia, great! Thank you a lot for starting the conversation!
I just wanted to comment briefly that in the contemporary context of St. Petersburg there is a network of horizontal laboratories, which stands for a world without labor – n i i c h e g o d e l a t (Scientific Research Institute for doing nothing). ‘Employees’ of SRI for doing nothing want to undermine labor and attend to social behavior through inaction. They write that doing nothing can be or become the possibility of inventing new ways to coexist and live in alternative times: “The development of new labor relations and total laziness are necessary tensions that create a field for uniting workers and non-workers.”8 They are into the themes of time (burn out – acceleration, decay – stopping), connectivity of spaces (intimate interfaces); exploring the body and its ability to slow down and accelerate; and the role of the social parasite, procrastinator, precariat, and slacker. They often refer to UNI (universal basic income) + social assistance (such as free healthcare, education, vocational training, social services). On the 1st of May, LABOR DAY, they went out to the annual demonstration for solidarity with the working people and parasites. Here are some of their slogans and catchwords →
Thank you, Olia and Dzina, for touching on the issue of practicing non-work from the collective perspective! I want to share an example of an activity of n i i c h e g o d e l a t (SRI for doing nothing).9 It is a moving/movement performance-report “Temporal liquidity in revolving doors of ‘Galereya’ shopping mall in St. Petersburg” made by Marina Shamova as part of Symposium of SRI for doing nothing in ‘Galereya’ shopping mall (2017). Here is the link to video documentation.
And here are some screenshots if you don’t want to work for social-media-corporations and create accounts in their social networks:
Here are some theses on the reasons why I find the occupation of the revolving door important:
- Transparent, anti spectacular activity.
- Collective practice involving strangers.
- It is an action of occupying already existing structures, cultural machines that produce division of modes of leisure/rest and work.
- It is the production of a temporary zone without any claims to be sustainable (very problematic word that is co-opted by self-entrepreneur discourse).
Thank you Dzina and Kolya for bringing the practice of n i i c h e g o d e l a t to the discussion! I am also captivated by their performance in the revolving doors. The revolving doors of the mall are the transit space between the space of consumption – which today is often almost equal to the space of leisure – and the mundane everyday space ‘of work’. The performers refuse to pass from one space to the other. There is also something particular about the very circular movement of walking in the door, the loop and repetition, the reference to khorovod or kolo dance and carousel, but the structure of the door is made of segments, separating the passers by into temporary and accidental groups.
Dear all, thank you for bringing in actions with a political dimension into our effort of collective writing. The performance in the carousel reminds me of an international anti-capitalist project named Buy Nothing Day (on the 25 of November). A group of Swedish artists organized processions of empty shopping wagons in malls. They were told to stop their action by guards. This art-activism practice used to be seen and understood as a protest against consumerism, but the global ecological crisis has changed everything. The big issue today is the climate-crisis. A lot of people are working hard to destroy the ecology of our planet. On a global scale, big capital is made on the destruction of the fundamentals of life. It seems that all the dystopies produced by Hollywood will be real. Stopping dystopias from being real! should be the first argument for the non-work line. The second argument is that it takes a lot of work to keep up the non-work line, as Olia mentioned. We should create a sphere of luxurious laziness that opens up the mind and invites to joys and pleasures.
It could work for a lot of people because nowadays the technological and production level of humankind could provide for us all.
Back to art. I think it is important to defend art from the ideas and system of creative industries. The concept of creativity is dangerous. We are better off with the concept of non-creativity. The point when art says no. No. A big no-no.
I reread your thoughts in the doc. I was somehow caught by the slogan “Stopping dystopias from being real!” and as you also mentioned: luxurious laziness. That made me think about the utopian project that often refers to predictions about technology that can bring equality and freedom. Maybe even freedom of work as we see it in fully automated luxury communism that claims that new technologies will liberate us from work, providing the opportunity to build a society beyond both capitalism and scarcity. “Automation, rather than undermining an economy built on full employment, is instead the path to a world of liberty, luxury and happiness. For everyone.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmQ-BZ3eWxM
Hello again, I am trained as a practice based artistic researcher and received my Phd in 2017. The fundamentals of artistic research are radical because it gives the artist the right or duty to explain his/her work. It breaks up the division of labor between the artist as a producer and the curator, and the art critic /historian as the explainer. The concept of research also means that the artist/researcher has to work in a more open, non-mystical-way. Artistic research at its best creates a multi-disciplinary dialogue between different artistic and theoretical traditions and also acts as a bridge to other fields of research and innovation. The academic learning apparatus has severe problems to cope with it because the structure of higher education is not constructed to host practicing artists. We have the problem in Sweden to create an environment where art and research can thrive and bloom.
What we often get is an institutionalized art crippled by bureaucracy in sterile office like settings. (IKEA HELL)
For you people in Belarus this may sound like spoiled children complaining over nothing.
About creating labs and centers for artistic activity: http://uniarts.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A1139775&dswid=-9809
The publication is a collection of texts discussing ways to create an environment where art-research and education could meet and communicate.
Nils, thank you for your contribution. What you say about instrumentalizing and bureaucratizing art really resonates with me. Not only in reference to the marriage of art & research in the academia, but also more generally. I think I tried to say something related to the above when I mentioned that artists today are expected be comfortable to work with: they can’t have depression or be too crazy. I also have a feeling that maybe today the text or research accompanying the artwork sort of proves that the artist really worked, as the artwork itself often does not look like some effort of production. Of course it’s not always the case.
We should also keep in mind a certain difference between the Belarusian and Swedish situation, as we are obviously not talking about just local or vice versa just universal issues here, and even within our ‘home’ contexts some of us have different positions. Actually, sometime as an artist from Belarus, I may feel a kind of gap, trying to balance in-between the western and post-socialist systems of arts production.
Yes, I also think that Swedish art context differs a lot from Belarusian context. As a rule, it’s not only impossible to live from one’s art in Minsk, but there are certain difficulties from the bureaucratic side. It is completely opposite to the Swedish situation. Here, I refer to the “law against social parasites” in Belarus that I am sure you are familiar with. This policy requires anyone who works for less than 183 days per year to pay 20 basic units (around 230 euro) for “lost taxes” to help fund welfare policies. Just so you know, it’s quite a lot – around a half-month’s wage. As the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection argues: it’s important to “stimulate” employment of the population.
As an artist, in order not to pay “tax” (actually the word “fine” works better here), you would need to show your art to the special commission that can give a professional certificate issued in accordance with the law (or they refuse to issue it if you do not have a classical education in the art sphere). So you know what it means for contemporary artists – almost no chance to get it.
The law was in use from April 2015 until very recently. On February 2017, there were series of street protests against the law and the economical situation in Belarus. The anti-parasite ‘tax’ and its reflection on the sphere of culture made the space between the market and the authoritarian control of the state evident.
On 1 December 2018, a database of the unemployed was compiled. We know already that the unemployed will have to pay “for the services determined by the Council of Ministers at prices and tariffs ensuring full recovery of the economically justified costs of providing them,” like medicine, education, a communal flat, public transport…
Hey all again!
How are things with you?
Just wanted to point out the importance of your thoughts for me about artists that are expected today to “be comfortable to work with,” “they can’t have depression or be too crazy.” I found myself in this situation when I was invited, for example, to a residency where everybody was very helpful and nice, but expecting and ‘looking forward to’ something – which is also ok if this ‘forward’ is not expecting the production of a comfortable situation for the visitors. I am like: why are they inviting me? Don’t they know what I am doing? Or a lecture where you need to present your artistic method that is sometimes treated as radical and can also provoke inconveniences or discomfort for some people. However, this is needed as a provocation and as a method to unlearn what you were learning or to deskill – how to use a tool in another way than it was programmed for in order to break the convenient, cozy, and familiar user-experience scenario. I often spoke about this with my friends from Night Movement who often struggle with the organizers of different events for being too crazy.
By the way, they made the Night Without Movement (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1er3GHmQH-4JnEC58ZrFpgyUM3de2y3Qb8udQ_5pNel8/edit#gid=1712260849) and the Night of Sleep (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1er3GHmQH-4JnEC58ZrFpgyUM3de2y3Qb8udQ_5pNel8/edit#gid=1547741311) that highly relates to the ideas that we’ve been discussing in Brest and online.
Concerning ‘pauses’, ‘stops’, and ‘resting moments’, me and Kolya recently made an online-conference about the useless concept of the ‘Traffic Loop’ that is basically an infinite loop of data going round-and-round. During the conference, people who were hired to perform a script had a 7-
We are talking a lot here about non-work, cultivating, and growing it in ourselves, but also in a series of SWS – simultaneous work sessions – Kolya and I invited our friends and colleagues to join a work activity for an hour span of time:
This is a digital union of non-material workers, the virtual space of multi-user processing – so try not to distract each other – you can watch someone doing her cognitive work.
The synchronized sessions are designed to unify participants into one working mode. Being united by one of the online-communication tools, we will simply work and listen to each other’s work. Being silently present in the imaginary space.
Rationalized time management of production processes is the contrast to joint silent sessions: when we unite not to produce something together but rather to help each other to overcome the accelerating communication and production processes reinforced by online tools. Using the same tools against their
This gap that you are mentioning could be a cave or a cathedral. The position of art in Belarus gives artists, curators, and other cultural workers a position to create something that could be ……………… (outstanding, depressing, new, or special).
Belarus is still outside of the international system of contemporary art. For you, the white cube has just started with Ў gallery around 10 years ago. I get the impression that the artists, curators, and cultural workers from Belarus gathering around the Status project are representing a strong new generation. You speak English, travel, study, and have internships in the US, Norway, Finland, Sweden, etc.
I think we as artists and cultural workers can and should take all possible opportunities to collaborate on an international scale, but we should also be conscious of the fact that we are also played with (or can be played with) by others. I think that we, in our collaborative process, should make it a priority to create examples. Making art with limited resources and discovering a system for critical reflection in our own process/project where everybody in the project contributes.
Olia Sosnovskaya Sunday, 25 nov., 19:30
to: Dzina, nicola, Nils.Claesson, tania.arcimovich, Nastya, maximsarychau
I want to share with you today’s experience, which fits perfectly to our agenda. I was paid to do nothing for 2 hours (7.5 euro per hour) with four other art students. It was a performance by my friends, artist duo Martinka Bobrikova & Oscar de Carmen Non-logic Devices in Logic Processes. Though of course our ‘doing nothing’ had some protocols and instructions, which we had to follow: we were to either sit on the chairs holding a rope or stand by the tilted wall, and not communicate or make contact with anyone, including each other. That practice also felt a bit like meditation or hypnosis because at some point of immobility I could neither feel some parts of my body nor the time. I’ll attach the photo.
I’m so sorry for my late reply! As a ‘personal enterprise’ (I hope I’m kidding here) I am overwhelmed with the multiple tasks that I need to conduct. My everyday practice – the way I procrastinate in order not to write a completed text – is composed from words-findings and words-that-are-playful. So please let me invite you to my uncompleted never finished ‘procrastination machine’:
I am very much concerned about a less work-centered future. To put it more precisely, when I actually write ‘future’ I mean the present, following science-fiction that counts itself as “science-fiction of the present day,” imagining or speculating on the current state of society rather (or sometimes even if) writing about previously non-existing worlds at new planets hundreds of year from now. So read it as “a less work-centered present” that is imagined but not yet real. ↓↓↓signpost phrases↓↓↓signpost phrases↓↓↓signpost phrases (something like “From this I want to go deeper into the subjects identifying themselves as competitive” or posing a question might be good – “Is it possible to overcome the work ethic?” or smth).
the figure of the enterprise
the desiring being
investments in creativity
The apparatus of efficiency is a particular kind of subjective normalization from which the ‘efficient man’ was born. Viewing a human as an active subject who must participate fully, commit herself utterly, and engage completely in her professional activity. This is the subject of total self-involvement. And even more – this person is becoming the desiring being. As Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval in The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society put it:
The new techniques of ‘personal enterprise’ doubtless reach a peak of alienation in claiming to abolish any sense of alienation: following one’s desire and obeying the Other who speaks softly within the self are one and the same thing. In this sense, modern management is a ‘Lacanian government’: the desire of the subject is the desire of the Other.
↓↓↓ (something from my personal life – yesterday I was in the lecture of my friend Gleb Napreenko who was defining the Other as a constituent legitimation of one’s identity and what happens when you dismiss the Other…, or that sometimes a part of your own body can become the Other…) ↓↓↓ from this I can somehow go to the idea of parts of the body and their transformations that can break the logic of/transform the understanding of the Other ↓↓↓ or maybe that goes too far↓↓↓
The word ‘cyborg’ comes from the words ‘cybernetic organism’ that is an organism that has bio-, or mechanical extensions in the body↓↓↓ Do we want to develop extensions at different levels?↓↓↓ A body works pharmacologically even when we are asleep↓↓↓ Maybe the word ‘work’ should be dissociated into thousands of meanings↓↓↓ How to raise new sensibilities within ourselves?↓↓↓
I want to get back to the fully automated luxury communism for everyone, brought by Dzina. I think it is important to mention that laziness and refusal to work, even in its radical form, can be a privilege. Who can afford to be lazy? Is it only those who are relatively safe in terms of their basic needs, like was Duchamp? Laziness is also often linked to white privilege, particularly in terms of being lazy to educate oneself about racism, for example. On the other hand, migrants and persons of color are often portrayed as lazy, as parasites, or Eastern Europeans are stereotyped as cheaters, avoiding work and study. I would like to problematize the list of male theorists and practitioners of non-work and laziness, which I referenced in the very first comment when I spoke about the history of the issue. It is the same old question about representation and access to resources. To put it in a bit of an exaggerated way: while the male artist is already refusing to work, the female artist is still working hard to get noticed and be acknowledged as an artist. Or, while in the exploitation of the working class, men were conscious of this, and they were organised enough to demand their ‘right to be lazy’ – the exploitation of women was mostly invisible, and took place in the separated (‘private’) spaces of homes. Kathi Weeks in her book The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries explores those intersections.10 I agree with Dzina that perhaps the word ‘work’ should have many more meanings, like non-work should not be neutral but always be nuanced and have particular social, political, gender, and racial biases.
Olia, thanks for commenting! Your comments are great!!!
The gendered aspect of the conceptions of ‘work’ should be a key part into building post-work imaginaries. Social reproduction and care – such as raising of children and domestic issues – still require a lot of the female dominated ‘private’ work.
As Silvia Federici puts it
while production has been restructured through a technological leap in key areas of the world economy, no technological leap has occurred in the sphere of domestic work significantly reducing the labour socially necessary for the reproduction of the workforce.11
Jozi Stolet and Polina Shilkinite (St.Petersburg / Moscow) in their project world of work / world without work face invisible work of activists, artists, mothers, volunteers, and possible solutions in cooperation with machines: http://workhardplay.pw/en/2017/projects/shilkinite-stolet.html#
Today I was also thinking about a collaboration between Uliana Bychenkova & Zhanna Dolgova Welcome To The Doll House! (Kyiv / St.-Petersburg) and the notion of play and procrastination that they find important in order to reclaim language and voice. They write:
Finally, our desire is to play. This wish connected to the lack of our meaning in the hegemonic discourses, to the blockage of non-normative types of pleasure of the weak – female, childish, any pleasure of the other. Playing, we can produce ludic commonality – in an attempt to install, to foster new ties (friendly, affective, sensible, somatic, ontological). We put search and affirmation of the most intimate and at the same time shared wishes and hopes into the form of play – commonality, which can be political.
Dear Dzina, thank you for introducing or reminding us of the institution of play. Play is a radical force that unites not only humans but also animals into non-productive, non-work activity. (In a collection of old fairy tales and myths from the Sami people one story is how the sami-children made a truce with the bear-mother to play with bear-cubs. I think this story goes from Scandinavia along the white sea all the way to Siberia).
Even a cat knows when it is time for play and not.
This is a calligraphy made by Takao Mumiyama in summer 2018. I asked him write the term karoshi. It means death by overworking. Around 200 persons die that way every year in Japan. The signs have the same meaning in Chinese and Korean.
|Date:||Tue, 25 Dec 2018 17:05:11 +0300|
|To:||Dzina Zhuk, Olia Sosnovskaya, Nils Claesson, tania.arcimovich, Nastya Ranko, maximsarychau|
Thank you Dzina and Olia for shattering our two pole system where only ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ exist. I think that nuancing neutral term of ‘non-work’ and elaboration on the notion of play and procrastination have a big potential to make our analysis more accurate. Your ideas pushed me to speculate about the situation that unfolds even before the division between ‘work’ and ‘non-work’. In desire to do so, I found myself in thoughts spinning around the notion of ‘activity’ and something similar to the word ‘activism’.
Last week I was in the discussion “Past and Present of Activist Art: Dialogue of Generations” (speakers: Oksana Vasyakina, Artem Loskutov, Pavlo Mitenko, Natalia Nikulenkova, Ekaterina Nenasheva, Make, Dasha) that was in frame of “Marathon of Activist Art”. A large part of the conversation was about different methods of juxtaposing art, actionism, and activism.
The term of activism was formulated there as _activity_ with political aims and _activity_ that goes beyond any forms of alienation.
Pavlo Mitenko during the discussion – and in his text “How to Act in the Public View (Moscow Actionism and the Community Politics)” (available here in Russian: http://magazines.russ.ru/nlo/2013/124/20m.html) – proposed some ideas that can be useful for our purposes as well.
Here I’d like to re-formulate several of his theses:
– because it’s a-sociality and socially dysfunctional, an action cannot be evaluated through the grid of institutional forms of art and politics.
– an action is an act/leap-of-faith. Therefore it’s a phenomenon that does not belong to divided spheres of labor, but to the tissue of unformalized relations, to immediate relations in other words.
Based on this, I want to bring to our discussion this very notion of the attempt to deal with relations before establishing any alienating forms of institualization, relations that belong to the activity understood as intensity of life.12
Maybe the marxist theory of establishing human subjectivity elaborated in late Soviet times by Evald Ilyenkov, for example, could be useful to unpack the relation between activity and various social and political grounded forms of work and non-work. But give me a bit more time to think about that.
At the end, I would like to share a bunch of issues of “Pervasive Labour Union Zine,” which I think is firmly connected with themes we’re discussing here. Here is the link: http://ilu.servus.at/
And a small excerpt from an introduction to the issue #11 the entreprecariat:
The strategic colonization and commodification of relationships with
others and with the self is one of the predominant features of the
‘entreprecariat’ , which is the focus of this issue. The term emerged
from the realization that, while an array of diverse forms of precarity
(financial, professional, and even existential) is becoming the norm for
a growing number of people, so it is the necessity to tackle them
entrepreneurially. As witnessed by the emergence of terms like
‘entrepreneurism’, individuals as well as institutions are increasingly
urged to think of themselves as brands, companies or startups. Against a
backdrop characterized by relentless destabilization, entrepreneurship,
the practice of starting and managing a business through risk, turns
into entrepreneurialism, a universal doctrine with its own dogmas,
martyrs and plans of salvation.
- P. Lafargue, 1907. The Right to be Lazy and Other Studies, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company.. ↩
- M. Lazzarato, 2014. Marcel Duchamp and The Refusal of Work, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).↩
- Steyerl, Hito, “The Terror of Total Dasein” Lecture, Public Editorial Meeting Former West, Art and Labor after the End of Work, Museum of Modern Art, 9 and 10 October, 2015, Warsaw, PL, [online video], https://vimeo.com/147260974, Accessed 31 December, 2018.↩
- Malevich, Kazimir (1921). “Laziness as the Truth of Mankind”.↩
- Stilinović, Mladen (1993). “In Praise of Laziness”, See http://monumenttotransformation.org/atlas-of-transformation/html/l/laziness/in-praise-of-laziness-mladen-stilinovic.html?fbclid=IwAR1-H1ogRW-PdV4pIWXddBEN_Ab3vq4_xzc7UR7e7dzSbPrKDab7hOC_TS0. Accessed 31 December 2018.↩
- M. Lazzarato, 2014. Marcel Duchamp and The Refusal of Work, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), p. 9.↩
- From the unpublished correspondence with n i i c h e g o d e l a t (Scientific Research Institute for doing nothing) and the author.↩
- Here you can find some traces of activity of the collective: https://www.instagram.com/niichegodelat/↩
- K. Weeks, 2011. The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries, Durham and London: Duke University Press.↩
- Federici, Silvia, (2013). “A Feminist Critique of Marx” in The End of Capitalism See http://endofcapitalism.com/2013/05/29/a-feminist-critique-of-marx-by-silvia-federici/. Accessed 28 December, 2018.↩
- Massumi, Brian, 2018. 99 Theses on the Revaluation of Value. A Postcapitalist Manifesto. Minneapolis and London: UP Minnesota. See https://manifold.umn.edu/read/99-theses-on-the-revaluation-of-value/section/7a105a04-8cb5-4b6f-8818-2ca4cd070862 ↩