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Our Work is Never Over The artist is lying down in bed, under a blanket, sometimes with his eyes open, sometimes closed; sometimes he turns his back to the camera. We don’t know if he’s sleeping, dozing or maybe just contemplating. The only thing the work reveals to us is that the artist is in a relaxed, easy position. Yet, the title of the work clearly states Artist at Work. Artist at Work, a series of self-documented black and white photos by Mladen Stilinović, questions the seeming separation between life, art and labor. Stilinović performs a personal everyday practice as a piece of work, a creative process and a work of art in itself, intertwining the boundaries of these three fields. As an action and an anti-action at the same time, the work initially aimed to challenge the symbolic power of labor under the communist regime. However, the advent of the precarious post-Fordist society in the last 20 years with its heavy reliance on flexible, creative and immaterial labor transforms the issues raised by Stilinović into ones that are exceptionally urgent. This urgency is the point of departure for the exhibition Our Work is Never Over, which features works from artists who are constantly exploring where art, labor and everyday existence overlap in contemporary society. This group of artists reflects on the immateriality of the artistic process, the role of labor in designating social life and the complexity of representing invisible work. The current relationship between labor and its representations is a prominent theme in critical thought and artistic practice today. As many thinkers have shown, the invisibility of a work is actually a sophisticated disciplinary power, one that “puts into work the entire life of the workers” and makes the distinction between free time and work time obsolete.1 Late capitalism uses the work’s immateriality as an instrument for capital accumulation, while enslaving life itself, i.e. our thoughts and ideas, in any time and at any place, to the productive process. This process is accelerated by the fragmentation and pulverization of work, which leads to the financial instability and precariousness of life in general. Flexibility, mobility, adaptability and, no less important, creativity, become the desirable attributes of any immaterial worker. In other words, life itself, i.e. our very own bodies and brains, is now subject to the borderless and rampant capitalist regime. This bio-political nature of any immaterial production suggests new and complex modes of representation, where the artistic form of self-documentation plays a vital role. “Art documentation,” writes Boris Groys, “marks the attempt to use artistic media within art spaces to refer to life itself, that is, to a pure activity, to pure practice, to an artistic life, as it were, without presenting it directly.”2 The artists participating in the exhibition choose to reflect on the totality of their bio-political existence from within and through life itself: some documented their everyday life and used the documentation as an artistic work; others framed their artistic acts as identical to any other form of labor; and a few made the gray area between artistic process and immaterial labor part of their own life. As part of PhotoEspana, Our Work is Never Over strives 1 André Gorz, Reclaiming Work: Beyond the Wage-Based society (Cambridge: Polity, 1999), 50. 2 Boris Groys, Art Power (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008), 54. to contextualize self-documentation as an intersection where the worlds of life, art and labor collide and dissolve into one another. Stilinović’s Artist at Work reveals the latent link between a daily routine, such as lying in bed, and the complex social function labor has in today’s society. Through the act of selfdocumentation, he reflects on his position as a subject within a set of social norms, while trying to resist them. Guy Ben-Ner’s work Drop the Monkey follows the same path. Documenting himself as an artist-worker who manipulates his new project’s financial support for his own personal benefits, Ben-Ner acknowledges his obligations as a worker in the field of art, while trying to protect his personal sense of agency. Likewise, artist Ahmet Ögüt depicts his status as an artist by manipulating both the art world and an existing artwork. Send Him Your Money is Ögüt’s own version of Chris Burden’s work Send Me Your Money, where he asks the listeners to send money to him instead of Burden. By re-enacting Burden’s work, Ögüt re-addresses the position of the artist as a precarious worker who has to find creative solutions to make a living. Joana Bastos uses the same playful approach to position herself within the “structural uncertainty”3 that is endemic to the precarious state of things. In Next Money Income? she documents herself as a worker with different previous day jobs, and, accordingly, she creates a sincere statement on the current condition of livelihood and the inability to actually make a living from one’s art. Complementing this work, her performance and catalog intervention, Gray and Shameless, merge her position as an artist participating in the exhibition and earning a fee for it with her position as a precarious worker who illegally trades goods around the exhibition space and then disappears to her other job. Marc Roig Blesa and Rogier Delfos, meanwhile, make a different attempt to reflect on working conditions while examining the possibility of encouraging collective practices of selfrepresentation. In their Werker 4: An Economical Portrait of the Young Artist and Werker 6: Cinema Diary, which was created especially for this exhibition, the two collect and contextualize images taken by artists and cultural practitioners, where they questioned their contingent mode of being. Mounira Al- Solh’s video As if I Don’t Fit There expands the discussion on precariousness in today’s global society by exhibiting documentation of female figures, who are not only former artists, but immigrants as well. These women share with the viewers their decision to quit making art and find ‘real’ jobs, but their solutions to the situation are fictional, as are the women themselves, all of whom are played by the artist. Mapping the field of precarious immaterial labor while providing a physical space for reflection and research, the C.A.S.I.T.A artist collective creates a library comprising a selection of books as well as a set of external references and links. The library is part of the installation The Foundry of the Transparent Entity, which is part of the collective’s ongoing project Earning a Living, where they seek to stimulate an exchange of ideas related to the notions of post-Fordist life and labor. 3 Joost de Bloois, “Making Ends Meet: Precarity, Art and Political Activism,” lecture on the occasion of the exhibition Informality – A new collectivity, 13.8.2011: The attempt to reflect on one’s personal position through the act of self-documentation is closely connected to the questions of what it takes to define immaterial artistic process as such and how we can discern between artistic labor and non-artistic labor. David Levine deals with these questions when he asks professional actors to sign an actor’s union contract that defines their daily job as performance. Consequently, the actors “do” their job and “perform” it at the same time. Pillvi Takala explores this performative aspect of labor and, like Stilinović, the potential for resistance that resides within it, in her installation The Trainee. Takala spent one month working at a consultancy firm where she did practically nothing the whole time. The mutable reactions from her colleagues reveal how immaterial workers have to perform their work in order for it to be considered as “work”, which forces us to re-think what actually counts as work today. The notion of non-performance as an act of non-compliance, which is essential for Takala and Stilinović, also appears in Levi Orta’s Dias Libres. In this piece, the artist performs the passive action of drinking a Cuba Libre cocktail on every day of anti-government demonstrations around the world. Orta implies that under the current social, economic and political structures a nonaction such as drinking a Cuba Libre (with its multiple semantic meanings) can be an act of opposition. Tehching Hsieh adopts a much more industrious approach to the increasing diffusion of life, art and labor. In his canonical work One Year Performance 1980-1981 (Time Clock Piece), he physically embodies the gray area between these fields by punching a time clock, every hour, on the hour, for a year, while documenting himself every time. By doing so, Hsieh transforms the artistic act into both a daily routine and a rigid labor activity, while meshing any immaterial creative process with the Fordist logic of production. As in Stilinović’s Artist at Work, the Time Clock Piece suggests a radical intervention in life itself, and the close documentation of this intervention acts as a means to question the validity of what are considered the disassociated spheres of our existence. Named after a song by the futuristic French electro duo Daft Punk, Our Work is Never Over aspires to unfold the multi-faceted axes of life, labor and art at this specific historical point in time, where the bio-political nature of work, followed by the reorganization of life, pre-empts every aspect of our existence. Self-documentation, as a bio-political artistic form, can reflect, challenge and even subvert the dominant social, political and economic ideology when embodied in artistic practice.