Archived entries for labour

Art strike 1977-1980

Artists engaged in political struggle act in two key areas: the use of their art for direct social change; and actions to change the structures of the art world. It needs to be understood that this activity is necessarily of a reformist, rather than revolutionary, character. Indeed this political activity often serves to consolidate the existing order, in the West, and in the East.
The use of art for social change is bedevilled by the close integration of art and society. The state supports art, it needs art as a cosmetic cloak to its horrifying reality, and uses art to confuse, divert and entertain large numbers of people. Even when deployed against the interests of the state, art cannot cut loose the umbilical cord of the state. Art in the service of revolution is unsatisfactory and mistrusted because of the numerous links of art with the state and capitalism. Despite these problems, artists will go on using art to change society.

Throughout the century, artists have attacked the prevailing methods of production, distribution and consumption of art. These attacks on the organisation of the art world have gained momentum in recent years. This struggle, aimed at the destruction of existing commercial and public marketing and patronage systems, can be brought to a successful conclusion in the course of the present decade.

The refusal to labour is the chief weapon of workers fighting the system; artists can use the same weapon. To bring down the art system it is necessary to call for years without art, a period of three years – 1977 to 1980 – when artists will not produce work, sell work, permit work to go on exhibitions, and refuse collaboration with any part of the publicity machinery of the art world. This total withdrawal of labor is the most extreme collective challenge that artists can make to the state. The years without art will see the collapse of many private galleries. Museums and cultural institutions handling contemporary art will be severely hit, suffer loss of funds, and will have to reduce their staff. National and local government institutions will be in serious trouble. Art magazines will fold. The international ramifications of the dealer/museum/publicity complex make for vulnerability; it is a system that is keyed to a continuous juggling of artists, finance, works and information – damage one part, and the effect is felt world-wide.

Three years is the minimum period required to cripple the system, whilst a longer period of time would create difficulties for artists. The very small number of artists who live from the practice of art are sufficiently wealthy to live on their capital for three years. The vast majority of people who produce art have to subsidise their work by other means; they will, in fact, be saving money and time. Most people who practice art never sell their work at a profit, do not get the chance to exhibit their work under proper conditions, and are unmentioned by the publicity organs. Some artist may find it difficult to restrain themselves from producing art. These artist will be invited to enter camps, where making of art works is forbidden, and where any work produced is destroyed at regular intervals. In place of the practice of art, people can spend time on the numerous historical, esthetic and social issues facing art. It will be necessary to construct more equitable forms for marketing, exhibiting and publicising art in the future. As the twentieth century has progressed, capitalism has smothered art – the deep surgery of the years without art will give it a new chance.

Art strike 1977-1980
Gustav Metzger, 1974

an early example of the hacker class grasping its unity as a class, and trying to work out issues of authorship and autonomy outside the constraints of state and market patronage

Ross: “More important than laws the Communards were able to enact was simply the way in which their daily workings inverted entrenched hierarchies and divisions – first and foremost among these the division between manual and artistic labor.” (50) The way I would recode this is to think of the Commune as an early encounter with the problem of the worker and hacker alliance. How can repetitive labor and the art of making new things, be brought together not only politically but practically? My interest in figures such as Alexander Bogdanov and Asger Jorn has to do with their attempts to grapple with the relation between these as different phenomena, not well suited to reduction to assumed common ground as the same kind of thing, as labor.

The [Commune's] Artist’s Federation had an approach to self-organization that to me looks a bit different to that of labor. They were concerned with the independence of artistic work from both the state and the market, and as concerned for the autonomy of the right to create as for their wages and security. Significantly, they tried to break down the division between fine artists, who could sign their work, and applied artisan-artists, who could not, by recognizing the latter also as artists with authorial capacities.

To me this is an early example of the hacker class grasping its unity as a class, and trying to work out issues of authorship and autonomy outside the constraints of state and market patronage. Ross: “This is particularly important since it shifts value away from any market evaluation, and even from the art object itself, and onto the process of making…” (57-58) Unlike so many bourgeois artists attracted to revolution, the urgent matters were not about a style or an aesthetic, but practical matters of autonomy and organization that are much more profoundly conceptual at the same time. This was an original version of proletkult.

McKenzie Wark on Kristin Ross’s Communal Luxury(e-flux conversations)

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