Value/Labor/Arts: A Primer

5.4 / Valuing Labor in the Arts

Value/Labor/Arts: A Primer

By Shannon Jackson, Helena Keeffe April 3, 2014

On April 19, 2014, The Arts Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley will stage a day-long Practicum entitled Valuing Labor in the Arts.  The gathering invites registered participants to select from the 8 Artist-led Workshops; each is a small-group practicum devised to spur dialogue, action, and art-making around questions of art, labor, and economics. They will also spend some portion of their day in “The Power of Demands and Transparency,” working to develop a Bay Area cultural survey and to expand their own thinking in relation to the Bay Area’s broader labor history. In the early evening, registered participants will re-convene together en masse at the David Brower Center to debrief, to share insights, and to share a meal.  In addition to the workshop prompts and featured essays in this issue, the following texts serve as a primer to expose readers and participants to some of the central issues animating this gathering as well as to the past and current artistic work of our workshop leaders.

Accompanying this primer is a selection of images from the portfolio 100 Posterworks by Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson Paulsen, courtesy of the artists.
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1. Occupational Realism

Julia Bryan-Wilson


“Performance as occupation” participates in the rising tide of discourse regarding the interconnection of contingent labor, artistic value, and precarity. Precarity is one name given to the effect of neoliberal economic conditions emergent in the wake of global financial upheaval, recession, and the reorganization of employment to accommodate the spread of service, information, and knowledge work. It designates a pervasively unpredictable terrain of employment within these conditions—work that is without health care benefits or other safety nets, underpaid, part-time, unprotected, short-term, unsustainable, risky.

Download a full version of “Occupational Realism” here.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in. Courtesy of the Artists. 

2. Five Things I Learned

Alexis Clements


Re-imagining the world seems like everyone’s favorite marketing slogan and pass-time these days. And starting from scratch is great in some instances. But the reality is that most of the time it’s not only impossible to start from scratch, it’s undesirable, as you can end up walking down well-trod paths. Beyond finding that a lot of writing about arts and labor focused on the visual arts marketplace, I also found that few writers mention the past at all in their writing on the topic, save to throw in mini-lessons or interpretations of historical theories, particularly those of Karl Marx (I often prefer Arendt on labor, if we’re going for historical theory).

Download a full version of “Five Things I Learned” here.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in. Courtesy of the Artists. 

3. The Brooklyn Commune Report (Abridged)

The Brooklyn Commune


The Brooklyn Commune Project is a grassroots initiative organized by Culturebot and the Invisible Dog Art Center to educate, activate and unify performing artists in all disciplines to work together towards a more equitable, just, and sustainable arts ecology in America. Inspired in part by artist and writer Amy Whitaker’s notion of “economics as a collective creative design problem,” and confronting the critical knowledge gaps related to the economics of cultural production in live art, The Brooklyn Commune embarked on a collaborative, iterative, public research & visioning process. A core group of artists and artist/administrators used the same strategies employed in our art-making to design and conduct the project. Over eight months the core team donated approximately 3,165 hours of labor valued at $94,950 with no institutional support or funding whatsoever. The document included here is an abridged twelve-page version of the final forty-six page report “The View From Here,” which is available along with project documentation at Brooklyn Commune. Our work and conversation continues in person, on our blog and in our Facebook group.

Download the abridged version of the “The Brooklyn Commune Report” here.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in. Courtesy of the Artists. 

4. Immaterial Labor

Maurizio Lazzarato


The concept of immaterial labor refers to two different aspects of labor. On the one hand, as regards the “informational content” of the commodity, it refers directly to the changes taking place in workers' labor processes in big companies in the industrial and tertiary sectors, where the skills involved in direct labor are increasingly skills involving cybernetics and computer control (and horizontal and vertical communication). On the other hand, as regards the activity that produces the “cultural content” of the commodity, immaterial labor involves a series of activities that are not normally recognized as “work”—in other words, the kinds of activities involved in defining and fixing cultural and artistic standards, fashions, tastes, consumer norms, and, more strategically, public opinion.

Download a full version of “Immaterial Labor” here.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in. Courtesy of the Artists. 

5. W.A.G.E. Survey

Working Artists and the Greater Economy


Using the 2010 Artist Survey as a starting point, W.A.G.E. is developing an updated survey that will gather data on an ongoing basis. Increased interest in the issue of institutional payment practices suggests that it will have an expanded and diversified reach. In an effort to gather data that reflects the broadest range of economic experiences as accurately as possible, W.A.G.E. will encourage arts organizations to distribute the survey directly to their constituencies - in particular to the cultural producers with whom they work. W.A.G.E. is currently partnering with other national and international organizations, using a similar survey format to gain a broader understanding of the economic landscape for cultural producers.

Download a full version of the W.A.G.E Survey here.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in. Courtesy of the Artists. 

6. 50 Shades of Red: Enterprise Culture and Social Practice Art, a Love Story?

Greg Sholette


Thanks to an ever more accessible technology for manufacturing, documenting, distributing, as well as pilfering, revamping, and fictionalizing information, a previously obscured realm of cultural productivity has begun to brighten, materialize, and sometimes even cohere into thickening networks of exchange that bristle with a desire for independence not only from prevailing market forces, but also from mainstream art institutions. We might describe this shift as the sudden unblocking of what Alexander Kluge and Oskar Negt called a counter public sphere: the defensive production of fantasy generated in response to the alienating conditions of capitalism. Or we could refer to this process as the illumination of a previously shadowed realm of informal, everyday imagination from “below,” a phenomenon I sometimes describe as art’s missing mass or “dark matter.”

Download a full version of “50 Shades of Red” here.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in. Courtesy of the Artists. 

7. Debt Visualization

Cassie Thornton


8. Call for Non-Participation

Lauren van Haaften-Schick


The project, Non-Participation, will be a collection of letters by artists, curators, and other cultural producers, written to decline their participation in events, or with organizations and institutions which they either find suspect or whose actions run counter to their stated missions. These statements are in effect protests against common hypocrisies among cultural organizations and pose a positive alternative to an equally ubiquitous pressure to perform. At the heart of the project is the notion that what we say “no” to is perhaps more important than what we agree to.

Download a full version of the “Call for Non-Participation” here.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in. Courtesy of the Artists. 

Notes

  1. “Occupational Realism” is republished here from The Drama Review (2012) with permission from the author.
  2. Alexis Clements, “Five Things I Learned While Teaching a Class on Arts and Labor,” Hyperallergic (November 4, 2013). http://hyperallergic.com/91236/five-things-i-learned-while-teaching-a-class-on-arts-and-labor/
  3. “The Brooklyn Commune Report” (Abridged) was created by arts professionals who donated their labor, applying the collaborative creative practices inherent in performance-making to this project and is reproduced here with permission from the authors.
  4. “Immaterial Labor” was originally published in Radical Thought in Italy, eds. Paolo Virno & Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 132-146.
  5. W.A.G.E. Survey is reproduced here with permission from the authors.
  6. “50 Shades of Red: Enterprise Culture and Social Practice Art, a Love Story?” is reproduced here with permission from the author.
  7. Debt Visualization is reproduced here with permission from the author.
  8. “Call for Non-Participation” is reproduced here with permission from the author.

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