Report of Caveat Reading Room #4
Introduction on Caveat and the reading rooms by Julie Van Elslande Introduction on Dieter Lesage by Ronny: philosopher teaching at RITCS. Relevant interests: artistic research, labour conditions.
Stijn Van Dorpe. Artist. Will work with Eté 78. Relational contract...
Sofia Cesar. Artist, involved in the Batard Festival. New version of work Zero Hour Ronny Heiremans, Caveat Florence Cheval, Caveat Annemie Knaepen, Jubilee Jesse van Winden, Caveat Nina Janssen, No New Enemies Phil, Internship with Filip Vandingenen Filip Van Dingenen, Ecole Mondiale Lola Martins, Caveat Sarah De Groof, legal expert, on balance between labour time and free time
Excerpt from 'Permanent Performance' by Dieter Lesage - 2013 Belgian philosopher, writer and critic. Dieter Lesage is a Professor of Philosophy, Politics and Arts at the Department of Audiovisual and Performing Arts Rits (Erasmus University College Brussels) and a Professor of Art Criticism at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
"... If, however, the crucial insight from this debate is that all labour tends to become performative, then it makes sense for theory not to focus any longer on the articulation of the difference between material and immaterial labour, but to give up the struggle with the bad binaries of a hopeless ontological discussion and to begin to imagine the consequences of the general tendency of labour becoming performative. This tendency has been dubbed very aptly as ‘general performance’ by art historian Sven Lütticken: "The term ‘performance‘ is slippery even within relatively well-defined contexts. In today’s economy, it not only refers to the productivity of one‘s labour but also to one‘s actual, quasi-theatrical self-presentation, one‘s selfperformance in an economy where work has become more dependent on immaterial factors. As an artist or writer or curator, you perform when you do your job, but your job also includes giving talks, going to openings, being in the right place at the right time. Transcending the limits of the specific domain of performance art, then, is what I would call general performance as the basis of the new labour." (2012a)
In his analysis of ‘general performance’, Lütticken sees the emergence of performance art in the 1960s as a symptom of the culturalization of the economy (Lütticken 2012a). Whereas in the 1960s fluxus performances deconstructed the boundaries between life and art, and insofar as art is to be considered work, one could argue that fluxus, as a collateral effect, also deconstructed the boundaries between life and work and thus paved the way for the hegemonization of immaterial labour within post-Fordism. Fluxus as proto-post-Fordism, as immaterial laboratory, if you will. In his text ‘Performing Life’, Allan Kaprow reflected upon the way in which normal, daily actions, like ‘brushing your teeth, getting on a bus, washing dinner dishes, asking for the time, dressing in front of a mirror, telephoning a friend, squeezing oranges’ could be considered art (Kaprow 2003 : 195). Kaprow was very much influenced by Erving Goffman’s sociology of daily life in, among other writings, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life: 'Its premise was that the routines of domesticity, work, education and management of daily affairs, which because of their very ordinariness and lack of conscious expressive purpose do not seem to be art forms, nevertheless possess a distinctly performance-like character.' (Kaprow 2003 : 186)
What is needed today, however, is the acceptance that normal, daily actions should be considered labour. In this respect, Lütticken’s concept of general performance allows us to operate a strategic shift in the 20-somethingyear- old discourse on immaterial labour. Not only has performance become general, as Lütticken rightly claims, but even more, I would like to argue, performance has become permanent. Indeed, labour today is characterized by a regime of ‘permanent performance’.2
However, the basic discursive operation implied by the introduction of the concept of permanent performance, as different from Lütticken’s concept of general performance, is that it re-inscribes a notion of (measurable) working time into the debate on contemporary labour. This notion had been evacuated from the debate by the debate’s initiators, as a consequence of the idea that post-Fordist productivity can no longer be measured. Thus, time as a system of measurement par excellence became a nonissue, whereas in the ordinary lives of the multitude, it is in fact a very important issue. Obviously, the permanent performer is different from the full-time labourer. Full-time labour is not what is meant by permanent performance. It is possible to be a permanent performer and a full-time labourer at once, but being a full-time labourer is not a precondition for being a permanent performer. What we see is that fewer and fewer people are fulltime labourers, while at the same time more and more people are permanent performers. As a consequence, the regime of permanent performance produces a gap between labour time and performance time. From the point of view of employers, permanent performance is the capitalist strategy to reduce labour time in order to cut expenses, while maintaining or even raising one’s expectations concerning the output of waged labour. As a trade-off, employees get flexible working hours and working arrangements, for example they are allowed to work at home, as long as output goals are met. This means that the idea that the post-Fordist working time can no longer be measured is happily applauded in the first place by employers, because it allows them to set ambitious performance goals, without having to pay all the working hours that are necessary to achieve them. The time of performance is experienced by the labourer as labour time as well, even if juridically it is not recognized as such.
The labourer, whether she works part-time or full-time, does not experience a difference between labour and performance. And as the labourer performs permanently, her feeling is that she labours permanently as well, even if her labour time is well-defined, by law as well as by contract. According to law and contract, the labourer today lives in a regime of nonpermanent labour. Indeed, the reduction of the work week was an important social(ist) goal and in many countries; the reduced work week seems to have been successfully established. However, if we review this social(ist) success while taking into account the subsequent establishment of a regime of permanent performance, we may understand that capitalists have made a bargain once again. The reduction of the work week, while intended and hailed as a worker’s victory, has been implemented as the reduction of the worker’s fee. Whereas the reduction of the work week was intended as the right of the worker not to be obliged to work longer than, say, forty hours a week (or thirty-eight hours or thirty-five hours, according to more or less insignificant national modulations), it has become the right of the employer not to pay more than the salary of forty hours (or thirty-eight or thirty-five hours). Hence, what does full-time employment mean in a regime of permanent performance?"
Not read, but relevant:
"Contrary to the lyrical apologies of Facebook and the likes as instruments of revolution, it is time to consider the particularly conservative edges of the most advanced social media. At a time when we all are potentially co-workers on collaborative projects, giving body and flesh to the Negrian concept of the multitude, social media pledge not to consider one another as real or potential co-workers, let alone as ‘comrades’, but as – fans, friends and followers. Social media does not mean socialist media; far from it. By pre-determining ‘the other’ as fan, as friend, as follower, the design of social media controls in a very subtle way the orthodox capitalist development of the monster networks they create. Once the other is given these names, users are pushed to get as many fans, friends and followers as possible, because users’ social performativity will eventually be measured by the sheer number of their fans, friends and followers. With Facebook’s introduction on the stock market, the design of social media is there for all to see; but do we?"
Julie: We stopped counting time. As a legal adviser, I've seen a tendency for artists to have a desire to be free in their working time. On the other hand, we hear often the complaint that there is too much labour pressure. Do we want more or less flexibility?
Stijn: Marcel Duchamp didn't have a job. It's a romantic idea that we as artists are not working.
Florence: It's interesting that Lesage mentions Fluxus in the context of permanent performance, because artists are often considered victims of capitalism. Here they appear as fore-runners of neo-liberal capitalism.
Jesse: it's problematic to suggest that Fluxus artists have been instrumental in changing capitalist practices, from an economical point of view, they have been very very low key and inconspicuous in anything they did. Julie: But ///// Ronny: It's like an unintended effect. Julie: The artist is not a victim of something that just happens to him. Ronny: Maciunas was part of the SoHo warehouse studio movement that led to the gentrification of Manhattan. Julie: Practices are sometimes appropriated by companies Sarah: I don't agree with the two sides, because artists may be on the fore but they are like any other. One may think that artist need different rules, but artist need the same rules! Pay or not pay should be the consequence. 'Work' is very difficult. A doctor sleeping at the hospital is at work, yet he is not working. I gave up on the idea of work. I keep the notion of subordination. I mean work (hierarchical) relationships.
Julie: I do think that artists are kind of front liners. Flex working seems to be introduced by the way artists work. Some regulations have been applied, but also some very problematic ones. Jesse: historical excursion Sarah: Psychologists argue that the employee is happier when they have more control over their working hours/circumstances. ("The concept of work is not helping us.") Giving autonomy doesn't always help, because it may lead to a lot of stress. Filip: It's a perceived sort of autonomy.
Julie: The Mythology of Work. How Capitalism Persists Despite Itself: "/////" (please insert quote). Novel form of resistance which puts the paradigm of work in question. Sarah: It is thought that there will be more work than there is labour (force). Stijn: Meaningful work is often not paid. Real critical work is often not paid.
Sarah: Even if I pay you enough to eat, it's way less than a manager earns. So there's a difference between individual/personal justice and justice on a social level. Ronny: Kunstenaarsstatuut is inspired by French statut intermittant...
Julie: But it allows unequal relationships to persist. That is the discussion going on at the policy level: the artist as entrepreneur.
Ronny: For the kunstenaarsstatuut, you have to prove all the time that you're working more than 50%.
Filip: It's interesting because those people don't have a clue why you cannot apply for a solo exhibition at the MoMA.
Julie: I've been working with VDAB, and during budget cuts much of the knowledge of the art field has gone lost there.
Ronny: 51% movement: a group who argues that at least 51% of the people employed in the cultural world should be artists. Annemie: Wheras performance arts have their own Paritair Comité, visual arts are under social cultural work. Julie: As a small structure in visual arts you can decide to by under that PC, but many structures don't have the means for it. The idea is still that an artist will be remunerated when their work is sold.
Julie: I haven't seen many artists changing their relationships with institutions, because they would be cutting their own flesh.
Sarah: The only way out for the artist is to unite. To have minimum wage accepted, etc.
Stijn: That may mean that nobody wants to work with you.
Sarah: It depends on how you define your sector, there are a lot of people who make a lot of money.
Julie: You mean that a regulation of the market could be a solution.
Stijn: What's the problem with unions? Philippe: I did a PhD, but not the way they wanted. I tried to bring another model, but they refused it. Specialists say that I've did that at the wrong university. Because having a PhD means sort of having a union membership card.
Julie: A union could be a body that would help you being persistent. Sarah: Trade unions in Belgium defend unemployed people as well. Jesse: How about the possibility of being paid a wage instead of a one-off artist fee? Julie: Some residencies do that, but only for example 50 euros a day, which is not enough for social security, etc Filip: We had that in Ghent, Tondelier, "Now we're five artists and a missing sculpture"
(Discussion about (im)possibility and (un)desirability of hiring artists instead of offering a one-off fee.)