|SOME THOUGHTS ON PARACHUTE NO. 122|
I would like to call attention to a recent issue of Parachute (no 122, June 2006) which takes as its theme ‘Work’. I have attached the full text of this issue for your review. [abbreviated online ]
The series of articles in this journal approaches many issues inherent in the project ‘PART-TIME,’ yet doesn’t quite provide a conceptual grounding that may be of full use to the artists developing this project. Overall, it undertakes a specific look at global economies as experienced in the west. This includes a sense of shifting relations, as factories and actual manufacturing relocate to the south and east, and as culture, administration and consumption emerge as dominate forces in social relations and social regulation. Several articles describe specific artists’ works, some of which are more relational, others which are more representational, but all in which the depiction of work is an inherent question.
Parachute begins with a short introduction by Chanal Pontbriand. In it, he outlines some features of immaterial capitalism, one “linked to knowledge on cognition,” and suggests that there is a political crisis “bound up with a conception and a management of work that is outdated.” He writes that work is “the interfaces between self and other. A social bond, it is indispensable to the to the constitution of the self, to the production of the self. It links the symbolic universe of the individual with the real.”
The next group of essays describe the work of five artists: Raphaelle de Groot, Steve McQueen and Coco Fusco, Jean-Luc Moulene, Tatiana Trouve, Au Travail/At Work, and BGL. Of these, only one, Raphaelle de Groot’s work, 8_5_363+1 entails an artist actually working in residency in a place of employment. Au Travail At Work (http://www.autravailatwork.50megs.com/) collects things that workers, mostly those in the knowledge industries, produce while at work, using means available to them in the workplace and subverting their own work time in making. The work of other artists written about here involves some sort of depiction, abstraction, or representation of aspects of working experiences.
De Groot’s 8_5_363+1 differs from the enactment of ‘PART TIME’ in a number of ways. An Italian textile factory is the site of her residency, one that lasted two years. The artist was openly an artist-in-residence, and in fact her role as an artist was integral to the work. Her process involved three activities in which workers were asked to participate, ultimately contributing to a sense of the factory as a social space. De Groot first had departments vote on a color system for mailboxes in each area, then had workers describe their work, and finally had workers respond to questions developed by fellow workers via photography. This work is strongly within the sphere of “socially engaged art,” and in fact it is pointed out that the workers abilities to speak, or to confide, resting in their knowledge of de Groot as an artist and creative person.
The next article, by Derek Conrad Murray, compares two video-based works, ‘Western Deep’ by Steve McQueen, and ‘Delores from 10 to 10’ by Coco Fusco. Both of these works portray the exploitation of workers, in ‘Western Deep’ the viewer is immersed in the experience miners in South Africa; ‘Delores from 10 to 10’ enacts an interrogation of a female maquiladora worker and union organizer. Murray questions the politically effectiveness of these works, the tension between formal aesthetics and content, and the status of the artist, within the arena of global art markets. He contends “that there is little separation between aesthetic judgment, the effects of globalization, multinational capitalism, identity, and the structures of value within the international art world.”
Tatiana Trouve created B.I.A.—Bureau d’Activites Implicites (Bureau of Implicit Activities) as a means to make material the bureaucratic and administrative forces in both her career as an artist as well as in life. She is playing with the idea that “the administration is interested only in ‘artistic activity,’ which is always easier to quantify than works of art.” The resulting work is often installation; objects which embody and abstract this administrative attitude and are designed for specific tasks. In the article by Joseph Mouton on Trouve’s work, several interesting questions as to the role of the artist. Mouton begins by quoting from ‘Portrait de l’artiste en travailleur’ (202) by Pierre-Michel Menger, which posits the artist as model for workers of the future, identifying “flexibility, mobility, mulit-tasking and short- or medium-term missions as characteristics of the work of contemporary artists which could be transposed to the conditions of workers in general in the most advanced sectors of society.” Mouton also traces a strand of thought about society as comprised of activities. Hannah Arendt distinguished between ‘vita contemplativa’ and ‘vita activa.’ In Arendt’s categorization, workers and artists and craftsmen fall under vita activa, and she in fact laments the loss of vita contemplative in a workers’ society. Dominique Meda builds on this to create four categories of activity—work, politics, personal relationships, and culture, yet takes as a given that human being are always active.
As written about in this issue, the work of Jean-Luc Moulene and the group BGL are involved in undermining consumer experience. Three different photographic series by Moulene are discussed, each in which products made by specific groups are represented—subversive objects created by workers on strike in France from 1970-1990, commoidties produced by Palestinians, and portraits of women prostitutes in Holland. These series all involve portraying the products of labour that are complicated by their situation of production. BGL seems to have least relation to actual work, but rather offers as way, as the essay suggests, of ‘Working the Real.” That is, the presentation of their work is often not framed as art.
There are two more philosophical essays in this issue of Parachute, “Art and Work,” by Maurizio Lazzarto, and “Alienation De-Realized / Alienation Canrivalized,” by Victor Tupitsyn. Both essays attempt to address the politics of art in a situation dominated by mass forms of culture.
I have described this issue of Parachute primarily as way into discussion about the core issues of ‘PART-TIME.’ “PART-TIME’ is, in fact, very different than the works presented in Parachute. Although “work” is a strong component to this project, the specific jobs that the artists have undertaken are local rather than global. The works presented in Parachute seem to come from above, with a sense of overview of contemporary capitalism. In the segment of society working in low-status jobs—the types of jobs encouraged by Prime— immaterial capitalism appears as service and low pay rather than as culture and knowledge. What do you feel is the significance of this?
In the article on Raphaelle de Groot, “The Factory as Social Transformer,” the author presents three different ways in which artists engage in factory art—as social activists, now no longer criticizing worker’s alienation, but to protest the elimination of workers; emphasizing the Utopian potential of the factory and nostalgia for the possibility of an egalitarian economy; and immersion of the artist in order to bring about change within the factory.
Although these strategies may be possible through ‘PART-TIME,’ its seems to directed toward a sense of empathy, not merely for workers, but for the artist who must work in one way (for others) and then work in another way (for oneself, or for art, or for Prime). In the history of investigative journalism, there have been instances when a journalist goes undercover, posing as someone else in order to experience as another, and ultimately to portray this experience to readers. (Nelly Bly pioneered this in the 1880s: she had herself committed to an insane asylum, got a job as a servant, and went around the world in 80 days, all to report on these experiences in the first person) The effect is to create empathy, to ask one to put oneself in another’s situation, first by the reporter, then by the reader through the reporter.
Having artists enter into an ‘employment residency’ without doing so openly as an artist (or acquired without the mediation of an institution) and doing so in a part-time basis, essentially splits time yet also makes ambiguous the categories of ‘real’ and ‘art.’ Both time at a job, as well as work made to reflect that experience are encompassed in the project description.
One aspect of this process that has become prominent in this project is the actual finding of a job by the artists involved. In a sense, the artists have been turned away from the world of work. How does this experience ‘count’ within the scope of ‘PART-TIME’? It could be interpreted in a number of ways: that jobs have been relocated, that there is economic insecurity throughout society, that artists are not in fact the model for new forms of capitalism, that one activity is the same as any other (is looking for work the same as working?).
And finally, how is this work to be depicted? In Parachute, the works discussed, for the most part, are presented via large art institutions, and utilize frames of art, such as specific mediums (photography, video, sculpture). ‘PART-TIME’ has no such requirements, and the only known form of public presentation is a publication. The project is essentially experiential, a process in time. The artists in ‘PART-TIME’ thus far have engaged in various documentary practices in order to produce some artifact of this experience.
I would like to hear your thoughts on these issues, as I feel a dialogue about the context of ‘PART-TIME,’ the actual enactment of the project, the ideas we all bring to it, the work of others, and the ways in which these ideas and experiences develop are the reasons for our engagement. I look forward to your response.