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Re: <nettime> The Art of Sweatshop
Felix Stalder on Tue, 3 Aug 2004 09:30:55 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> The Art of Sweatshop

Andrew, Rana,

I know nothing about this particular outfit other than its email 
advertisement, so calling it a 'sweatshop' was more an act of parody a la 
'spam kr!it!k' rather one of analysis. The subject line 'business' seemed 
rather bland. Yet, it was also not random, as the message struck me for 
several reasons. 

First, paintings are treated like any other commodity whose costs can be 
lowered by outsourcing production into a low-wage country. So also for art, 
Southern China becomes the 'low cost manufacturing base.' Second, like many 
other low-end businesses, this proposition is spewed about randomly as spam. 
In fact, nettime got it several time (that's why I noticed it). Third, it 
contains some rather untrustworthy claims such as the painting being done by 
'famous artists', though they remain unspecified.

Most importantly, though, it introduces an extreme separation -- extreme in 
the context of Western art, more common in the textile industry -- between 
ordering and producing. While made-to-order art has never entirely gone out 
of fashion with the artist becoming an autonomous subject (so the story line) 
it has been transformed into an intimate process ( as in having your portrait 
painted). As such, it's based on a supposedly deep relationship between the 
person doing the ordering and the one doing the execution. 

Now, this email indicates that two things are happening. The made-to-order 
relationship is reappearing with all the loss of status that entails for the 
artists (a 'famous artist' yet anonymous, like the great medieval 
artists/artisans). Yet, at the same time, this relationship has been broken 
under the cost-imperative. This allows to enjoy the product which, like a 
brand, has a status value much higher than its use value, without any regard 
to the context of its production. While this is not a sufficient cause to 
assume sweatshop production conditions, it's a necessary step to establish 
them for the production of high-value objects.


On Sunday 01 August 2004 18:03, Andrew Ross wrote:

> Re: the subject line. Just a matter of interest, why do you assume this is
> a sweatshop operation? Simply because it is in China?  Or is it impossible
> to imagine the condition of Chinese artisans as comparing favorably with
> their Western counterparts?


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