Sofia Caesar's presentation at Bâtard Festival
Recording of Sofia Caesar's presentation at 'Publishing & Performing Relationships. Caveat at Bâtard Festival', 3 November 2018
00:30 Introduction to the Caveat project by Ronny Heiremans, to the festival's programme by Florence Cheval and to the evening's programme and Sofia Caesar by Julie Van Elsande
I will start by talking about the project she did in Italy in 2017, followed by Sarah De Groof and finally there will be a performance. Starts introducing the 2017 project: important work, first time she worked with the idea of protocol or working instructions as scores. Shows photo of PAV (Parco d'Arte Vivente), museum in Turin, built in the area where Fiat built its first big industrial park. The museum was started by artist Piero Gilardi among others, has big educational department and experimental works. focus on the idea of ecology and art and has a large collection of permanent installations in the parc, including one of my works. The work is called Worker leaves the factory (Conditions for the Work) and is about the first film made by Fiat in 1911, a classical scene of workers leaving the factory, but one of them stops and stares into the camera. The work is based on the trajectory of the worker, retracing his steps. It consists of 60 tiles, each tile is tracing one second of the film with text and patterns, it can be arranged in different ways - like a puzzle. The tiles, as well as the installing of the work itself are both part of the work. Installed for the first time in 2017, through an open call, five women came to the museum and were given instructions. They were asked to write a new set of instuctions after having installed the floor, these instructions are intended for the next installation, which still did not happen to this day.
11:00 Shows pictures of the moment when they were writing the protocol for the next installation. One of the changes that were implimented is that they asked that for the second installation the people will be handed a pdf, to be able to reprint and reproduce the piece. The installation will be done in another parc in Turin, will take less time and involve more people. The set-up will be kind of theatrical and will be filmed and put on youtube as a copycat of the original Fiat film.
13:00 Sarah De Groof is invited on stage I accepted to be here, to push myself out of my comfort zone. I will be exploring the question why this work of Sofia is so meaningful to me. Went to law school to make the world a little better. Title Phd: Can we improve the employee's work-life balance through labour law? Work-life balance is a popular topic, but what can we actually learn from it? History and origins of labour law. Labour law has a 'demarcation function' , to ensure enough free time, but also a justice function, a labour-market function and a structural function.
17:00 Looking at existing research about this topic. Two sets of criteria: first of all how much you work, when you work and the itensity of the work - although here the social support from your colleagues is also very important; and secondly, which is the most crucial aspect, it is about having a sense of autonomy, free choice - it matters in terms of what you do, but also on when you work. How can you create rules without interfering with the worker's authonomy: how to regulate self-regulation? The rules we create become the risk, in a labour law situation we accept to become subordinate to somebody, that's why we create rules, with good intentions, but we end up dematerialising the individual.
25:00 SDG explains how, with her work, Sofia Caesar made the problems of the zero-hour contract so tangible to her. 0-hour contracts are very common in the UK, the worker basically remains available untill the moment when the employer contacts them to give them a job. It moved the risk of unemployment to the employee, instead of the employer. Sofia's work clearly shows what is problematic about this situation, but also about what is potentially problematic about contracts in general, as obeing set rules makes things legitimised. SDG explains a couple of examples in which contracts open the doors to abuse and unfair practice.
29:43 Intermezzo by JVE while stage is prepared for Sofia's performance
30:22 Performance by SC
Sofia Caesar's performance Zero Hour, part of her artist talk at 'Publishing & Performing Relationships. Caveat at Bâtard Festival', 3 November 2018
42:20 End of performance JVE announces Q & A
43:00 JVE: Sarah might want to add something about 0-hours in the Belgian context, we don't have these in Belgium, but there is a comparable situation within the freelance working conditions. In our research we are trying to open up the contract and Sofia's work is a nice example of how we can move away from the language of the contract. Can you tell us more about how you worked with this language? SC: I will explain the material aspects. The sentences in black all originate from the 0-hour contract, which was written in the UK in 2014. I came across this contract because of a reform in Brazil, where a version of the 0-hour contract was introduced as well. I started with the sentences from the contract and added their antonyms. I worked phrase by phrase so different combinations were possible and it can be spinned 360° and be turned upside down. But I would be interested to know if this kind of contract is potentially going to be used in Belgium or if there is an existing equivalent.
46:00 SDG: After my presentation I realised this was the actual question that was asked to me, but that I failed to address it. I will now: the zero hour contract, as such, does not exist, but the idea behind it does. The fact that you just have to wait for a job is very present within the indepentent and temporary work, like for exmple the deliveroo cyclists, or in the arrangement of chômage économique. The concept is known, but not by the same name. The issue is less present than in the UK, there is nothing to prohibit it in the law, but nothing that encourages it either. I think it might gain popularity. In The Netherlands there is such thing as a 'min-maxcontract', but I'm not sure it actually prevents the risk.
48:30 Question by the audience: I work around these topics a lot, especially within the context of the cultural sector. It is a essentially about the notion of care and my question is: is that something we can build into a contract? It is an ethical question, which is not implied by the rules - so is there something about how to regulate the 'taking care of people' in these contracts? SDG: There is a rule about taking good care of the employees - as 'een goede huisvader' (un bon père de famille) - in labour law, but as we cannot regulate in a detailed way, instead of describing what that means you should work with these open norms, but they should be controlled. Instead of having piles of legislation, we should have a lot less, but there needs to be a control. Audience: Maybe we can open the discussion, it could also be a matter of describing expectations on the work floor or regulations of the exchange between people within power situations. SDG: Something I really like, but is not liked by trade unions at all, and which we introduced into labour law, is the right to request occasional homework. Before you weren't allowed to work at home. They contacted me and I suggested that instead of formulating it as a right for which you get an allowance if your right is neglected, it would be better to formulate it as a right to request. You have the right to request, but the employer also has the right to decline, so you force negotiation. I can understand th objections of the trade unions, but I think it empowers the employees. In the UK it was shown that this resulted in much more requests granted than what they legally obliged to. I believe this is the way to go. To refer back to Sofia's work - Ronny asked her if would be interesting to print out the original 0-hours contract and hand it to the audience. Sofia, maybe you can explain why you didn't think that was a good idea?
54:00 SC: I thought that if people were interested they could come closer and look at the other possibilities from up close in the object. SDG: For me, you truly opened up the contract and showed thos the problems in this contract will not be solved by installing a new contract as it leads to the same mechanisms and abuse. You made it tangible that we forget who is behind the contract and, yes, we should inlude the aspect of care into the contract.
55:00 commoning Audience: In your performance and text apparatus there is 'them' and 'you', it seems like an opposition and an either/or. I was wondering if the machine was capable of producing an in-between, a less binary representation of fair-unfair. SC: The way I tried to go beyond the binary is to give it three demensions, the you and then comes from the form, the contract is between two parties, the form is then bended by offering the possibility to turn things upside down.
Member of the audience: That brings me to another option: what if we would formulate contracts in the contract? Does that ever happen?
SDG: No, I don't think so. There are always two parties, two sides, like employee and employer. Contracts are standardised. The question that strikes me is: is fairness binary? No - what we see in labour law is not merely an employer-employee relationship, but also about society at large. For example the case of Sunday-work. There are always three dimensions, but when looking at individual contracts we often forget that and tend to think in antonyms.
SC: Is it also about working time and free time? There is always that separation too, but what happens if that seperation is no longer there? SDG: Yes, that's a problem. I don't know if there ever was a clear separation, but we like to use these clear definitions in a contract - so the contract becomes the problem. It creates the problem of the defining what work is. Legislation then created working time, free time and on-call time (example of the doctors), which again opens up all kinds of discussions.
1:00:00 Question from the audience: I was wondering about this right to request that was mentioned before in the light of the performance. Wether it is stipulated in the contract that you have the right to propose, counter propose or change. In artists' contract it sometimes happens that the other party is not entirely aware of what your project entails, so you have to add things, which gives you the sense that you have to negotiate and create together, which in turn creates a sense of empowerment. SDG: I wish I had heard these ideas before defending my phd. 0-hour contracts are legal if some rules are accepted, if they are not accepted the only option is to say the contract is nul and void, and thus never existed. With fixed-term contracts, for example, insteadof having no contract at all, the sanction is an indefinite contract. I like the empowerment of the different parties, because we now have this example of the employee being at risk, but there are also examples of the employer being at risk.
1:02:20 Question by RH: I think we're in a context with a lot of artists here tonight, so I'm not sure if people will recognise themselves in this situation because labour law regulates things for society, but there is this concept and problematique of exceptionalism. Artist, at leastin our society and education, are supposed to be geniuses, super-individuals who in the end become successfull stars in the mega-universe of contemporary art and I'm sure labour law doesn't really apply there. So, how about this concept of exceptionalism and how can we deal with it in a constructive way? What you mentioned earlier is very encouraging, because to co-create contracts is one of the goals we set in Caveat - to use a contract as a tool to reduce the assymetry in power which usually exists between an individual and en institution. Maybe you could comment on that? SDG: Yes and no, because - following our previous discussions - we have a very different view on this. The assymetry with institutions is exactly the reason why labour law exists and I don't think artists are an exception. You are either a self-employed artists or an employee. You are free to contract with whoever you want, the law will only intervene when the relationship between people is not equal (example: minors or in the case of the employee, which is subordinate). RH: I totally agree.
1:06:00 JVE: I think we arrived at the point where we need to ask the question about what 'work' is. You say that there is not that much difference between the artistic sector and other sectors, but what we see is that with this tendency of short-term contracting, people are only engaged at certain moments, moments of productivity - what they call 'work'- but there is not that much space anymore for open-ended processes or activity without specific outcome. I know Sofia is researching a concept by the Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica, called creleisure. I was wondering how you see this related to a definition of work. How to create space in a contract to not work, or not produce? SC: genealogy The reason why I got into creleisure, a word invented by Oiticica and a combination of three words: to believe, leisure and creation. I was struck by the evolution and implications of that word then and now. Leisure is colonised and capitalised nowadays, it has become work. How can we free pleasure and leisure. SDG: I don't see artists as the exeption, but the example other disciplines can learn from. It's hard to define work in the artistic context. In labour law we try to guarantee a fair remuneration through the concept of working time - to ensure free time. We use time, because we do not have anything else. I don't immediately see a solution. There's also a distinction between paid and unpaid work. Emilie Jeunet's concept of time porosity, instead of using a distinction between working time and free time, she looks at the fluency between them. The contract is often hindering the goal behind it (example 38-hour contract).
1:12:50 Katleen Vermeir: I do not completely agree with the statement that the artist is not exceptional as there is a mixture of different economies, especially in the visual arts. A lot of the institutions do not pay artists, following a speculative economy in which artists are represented by a gallerist. The institution often acts as a fair, a profitable environment raising the value for the gallery representing the artist. That is also the reason why it is so difficult for artists to unionise and defend their rights. In this porousness of work and leasure the artist is often used as an example by employers. The artist has an avant garde position when we think about uberisation and the use of knowledge and creativity, the artist is often willing to offer free labour due to self motivation.
1:14:50 SDG: I see you are treated differently and not like 'normal' employees, but I do not get why. What you are discribing also applies to the situation of an employee. I think you are the exception because you accept to be the exception, there is no material reason. There's no reason why you could not get a time-based contract for a creation. The economic situation today is really different, but I do not see any material reason for it.
1:16:04 Audience: It is difficult time-wise, you have so many different relationships that you cannot manage them through this one to one relationship. I astonished about how much it is related to this power relationship, if we think about alternatives we have to think about alternative ways we deal with each other - which brings me back to the request for a 'we', a commoning. I think you can create as stable situations as the currently organised labour situations. SDG: That's what we call collective bargaining, that's the framework you have to agree upon and accept you are an exception today, but use it as an example and not put yourself outside. Use the innovative ideas.
1:17:45 Small interruption to announce start performance
Audience: I do see a very clear reason for the artist's exceptional position and acceptance of this position. It is the fact that there are too many artists, it is not a question and demand economy on which all of labour law is modelled on.
End and thank you by JVE