“You are never not supposed to be working, Maja Bekan, wall-text (2013)
“Work”(2011), Marianne Flotron, video still
“Weekend art : hallelujah the hill”, 1996-2000 Aleksandar Battista Ilic (in collaboration with Ivana Keser & Tomislav Gotovac)
A public presentation in two parts of “Bodies at Work”* curated by Angela Serino with works and interventions by Maja Bekan, Harun Farocki, Marianne Flotron, Claudia Pages Rabal and Anna Pahissa (múltiplos)
Between 1989 and 1994 at Uddevalla, a city near Gothenburg in Sweden, the car company Volvo carried out an experiment in two large plants. At its core there was the challenge to organize factory work and labor routines in a totally different manner than the past: the idea was to ‘humanize’ work, “keep work at a human scale and intimacy”. The new management’s style required enhanced participation and involvement of the workers along the whole process and phases of work – from the design of the car to its realization, communication and customer liaison. More involvement and more participation meant that workers would learn, developing in depth know how and expertise, and become more attached to what they did, finding more fulfillment in it. Such a change as well meant the lengthening of the work-day and a thickening and intensifying of the work cycle. As Sarat Maharaj puts it, it was “about prising open a chink for the worker’s mental, intellectual faculties – “ about activating a ‘state of mindfulness’ ”. This new management’s style, indeed, turned the numbly ‘mindlessness’ of the workers of the Ford’s car industry into the opposite: workers who were usually occupied carrying out a simple, repetitive activity where asked a constant ‘presence of mind’ while at their place of work.
It is exactly for this reading that the Uddevalla experiment is used by Maharaj as an example to describe the fraught passage to post-industrial conditions of production and living – the conditions that most of us live, where work asks for all our life, while at the same time providing very often scarce support, or any, to life itself.
Moving from the Volvo car production into the service economy, the cultural industries and the art field where most of us work, we can recognize a similar idea of a work that never leaves us, and that asks for growing attention and awareness.
As a company employee as well as a self-employed cultural worker today we are expected to actively contribute to our field of work, while having at the same time the responsibility (freedom?) to regulate our attention, our goals, improve our skills and manage our time. Even think of our career, “employability”, in terms of a continuous project.
Perhaps this is because, as Sven Lütticken suggests, our work is not measurable (and not paid) according to the time spent at work and the actual work, but the quasi-theatrical self-representation, one’s self-performance. “Our labour is beyond measure: it’s a general performance. It is the qualitative performance of time rather than its quantitative use that determines its value.” (SL)
Perhaps it is because of our communication tools – mobile, tablets, I-pad, laptops (which are both our working tools and ‘distracting machines’) that our private, social and work life overlap and work, play and leisure time get confused. And maybe some of us are already secretly trying to adopt personal strategies and self-imposed rules – from keeping Sundays free from work, to being invisible on Skype, to not receiving work related phone call after 7pm – in the attempt to regain some time focus and energy from work to dedicate to whom/what they care the most.
Recalling Maharaj once again at this point, it is important to remember that the states of mindfulness instigated by the new management at Uddevalla were also ultimately related to the productivity plans and the new economic goals of the Volvo company. It was not an open-ended mindfulness: one with no implicit or explicit pre-given and expected result. The interest in ‘humanizing’ work was not disjointed from a plan of increasing the ‘know-how’. A situation which echoes very much what we live today.
But what happens if a state mindfulness is instead nurtured to multiply the possibilities and the ways of ‘not-knowing’ how and therefore imagining new ‘how’?
Can we find an open-ended mindfulness outside work?
Should we start by distinguishing then between actions that are imposed, voluntary or self-imposed?
With these questions in mind, this new episode of “Bodies at Work” titled “You are never not supposed to be working” presents a series of artworks and interventions where this pressure of mindfulness as described by Maharaj is made visible and is at play in specific situations and at different places of work: from the open space offices of the glass buildings of large corporations, to the new co-working tables used by self-employed cultural workers and even in the domestic spaces of a living room turned into a temporary office.
As we will see the dynamics and the reasons for instigating or implicitly expecting such presence of mind in these spaces of work are various and different. And those differences are very telling. The public presentation will be the occasion to trace and discuss them together.
“You are never not supposed to be working” is a presentation of “Bodies at Work”* curated by Angela Serino.
“You are never not supposed to be working” will feature works and interventions by: Maja Bekan, Harun Farocki, Marianne Flotron, Claudia Pages Rabal and Anna Pahissa (múltiplos). For this occasion, a do-it-yourself reader will be presented with texts by a.o. Hito Steyerl, Sven Lütticken, Kathy Weeks, Marina Vishmidt. The reader is a selection of texts and visual material collected by Maja Bekan and Angela Serino since the beginning of their project in 2013.
(*) “Bodies at Work” is a collaborative research project by Maja Bekan and Angela Serino examining and voicing what kind(s) of “work” it is that art and cultural workers do. What is their relationship to time and space, how and for whom they work, how they balance their private, social and professional life, and what are the advantages and pitfalls of such circumstances. It consists of small-scale performances, film screenings, lectures, conversations and printed materials. The first part of the project took place in Beijing, China in 2013.