Stevphen Shukaitis on Tue, 26 Jan 2010 16:03:57 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Never Art/work!

Never Art/work!
Stevphen Shukaitis & Erika Biddle
 From issue 7 of the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest:

Everyone is an artist. This would seem a simple enough place to begin;  
with a statement connecting directly to Joseph Beuys, and more  
generally to the historic avant-garde’s aesthetic politics aiming to  
break down barriers between artistic production and everyday life. It  
invokes an artistic politics that runs through Dada to the  
Situationists, and meanders and dérives through various rivulets in  
the history of radical politics and social movement organizing. But  
let’s pause for a second. While seemingly simple, there is much more  
to this one statement than presents itself. It is a statement that  
contains within it two notions of time and the potentials of artistic  
and cultural production, albeit notions that are often conflated,  
mixed, or confused. By teasing out these two notions and creatively  
recombining them, perhaps there might be something to be gained in  
rethinking the antagonistic and movement-building potential of  
cultural production: to reconsider its compositional potential.

The first notion alludes to a kind of potentiality present but  
unrealized through artistic work; the creativity that everyone could  
exercise if they realized and developed potentials that have been held  
back and stunted by capital and unrealistic conceptions of artistic  
production through mystified notions of creative genius. Let’s call  
this the ‘not-yet’ potential of everyone becoming an artist through  
the horizontal sublation of art into daily life. The second  
understanding of the phrase forms around the argument that everyone  
already is an artist and embodies creative action and production  
within their life and being. Duchamp’s notion of the readymade  
gestures towards this as he proclaims art as the recombination of  
previously existing forms. The painter creates by recombining the pre- 
given readymades of paints and canvas; the baker creates by  
recombining the readymade elements of flour, yeast, etc. In other  
words, it is not that everyone will become an artist, but that  
everyone already is immersed in myriad forms of creative production,  
or artistic production, given a more general notion of art.

These two notions, how they collide and overlap, move towards an  
important focal point: if there has been an end of the avant-garde it  
is not its death but rather a monstrous multiplication and expansion  
of artistic production in zombified forms. The avant-garde has not  
died, the creativity contained within the future oriented potential of  
the becoming-artistic has lapsed precisely because it has perversely  
been realized in existing forms of diffuse cultural production.  
“Everyone is an artist” as a utopian possibility is realized just as  
“everyone is a worker.” This condition has reached a new degree of  
concentration and intensity within the basins of cultural production;  
the post-Fordist participation-based economy where the multitudes are  
sent to work in the metropolitan factory, recombining ideas and images  
through social networks and technologically mediated forms of  
communication. We don’t often think of all these activities as either  
work or art. Consequently it becomes difficult to think through the  
politics of labor around them, whether as artistic labor or just labor  

The notion of the Art Strike, its reconsideration and socialization  
within the post-Fordist economy, becomes more interesting and  
productive (or perhaps anti-productive) precisely as labor changes  
articulation in relation to the current composition of artistic and  
cultural work. The Art Strike starts with Gustav Metzger and the Art  
Worker Coalition and their call to withdraw their labor for a minimum  
of three years from 1977–1980. Metzger’s formulation of the Art Strike  
is directed against the problems of the gallery system. Metzger’s  
conception was picked up by Stewart Home and various others within the  
Neoist milieu who called upon artists to cease artistic work entirely  
for the years 1990–1993. In this version, the strike moves beyond a  
focus on the gallery system to a more general consideration of  
artistic production and a questioning of the role of the artist. In  
the most recent and presently emerging iteration, Redas Dirzys and a  
Temporary Art Strike Committee have been calling for an Art Strike  
currently as a response to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, becoming  
a European Capital of Culture for 2009. The designation of a city as a  
capital of culture is part of a process of metropolitan branding and a  
strategy of capitalist valorization through the circulation of  
cultural and artistic heritage. (In Vilnius this has played out  
through figures like Jonas Mekas, George Maciunas, the legacy of  
Fluxus, and the Uzupis arts district.) In Vilnius we see the  
broadening of the Art Strike from a focus on the gallery system to  
artistic production more generally, and finally to the ways in which  
artistic and cultural production are infused throughout daily life and  
embedded within the production of the metropolis.

The Art Strike emerges as a nodal point for finding ways to work  
critically between the two compositional modes contained within the  
statement ‘everyone is an artist.’ An autonomist politics focuses on  
class composition, or the relation between the technical arrangement  
of economic production and the political composition activated by  
forms of social insurgency and resistance. Capital evolves by turning  
emerging political compositions into technical compositions of surplus  
value production. Similarly, the aesthetic politics of the avant-garde  
find the political compositions they animate turned into new forms of  
value production and circulation. The Art Strike becomes a tactic for  
working between the utopian not-yet promise of unleashed creativity  
and the always-already but compromised forms of artistic labor we’re  
enmeshed in. In the space between forms of creative recombination  
currently in motion, and the potential of what could be if they were  
not continually rendered into forms more palatable to capitalist  
production, something new emerges. To re-propose an Art Strike at this  
juncture, when artistic labor is both everywhere and nowhere, is to  
force that issue. It becomes not a concern of solely the one who  
identifies (or is identified) as the artist, but a method to withdraw  
the labor of imagination and recombination involved in what we’re  
already doing to hint towards the potential of what we could be doing.

Bob Black, in his critique of the Art Strike, argues that far from  
going on a strike by withdrawing forms of artistic labor, the Art  
Strike formed as the ultimate realization of art, where even the act  
of not making art becomes part of an artistic process. While Black  
might have meant to point out a hypocrisy or contradiction, if we  
recall the overlapping compositional modes of everyone being an  
artist, this no longer appears as an antinomy but rather a shifting  
back and forth between different compositional modes. While Stewart  
Home has argued repeatedly that the importance of the Art Strike lies  
not in its feasibility but rather in the ability to expand the terrain  
of class struggle, Black objects to this on the grounds that most  
artistic workers operate as independent contractors and therefore  
strikes do not make sense for them. While this is indeed a concern, it  
is also very much the condition encountered by forms of labor in a  
precarious post-Fordist economy. The Art Strike moves from being a  
proposal for social action by artists to a form of social action  
potentially of use to all who find their creativity and imagination  
exploited within existing productive networks.

But ask the skeptics: how we can enact this form of strike? And, as  
comrades and allies inquire, how can this subsumption of creativity  
and imagination and creativity by capital be undone? That is precisely  
the problem, for as artistic and cultural production become more  
ubiquitous and spread throughout the social field, they are rendered  
all the more apparently imperceptible. The avant-garde focus on  
shaping relationality (for instance in Beuys’ notion of social  
sculpture), or in creative recombination and detournément, exists all  
around us flowing through the net economy. Relational aesthetics  
recapitulates avant-garde ideas and practices into a capital-friendly,  
service economy aesthetics. This does not mean that they are useless  
or that they should be discarded. Rather, by teasing out the  
compositional modes contained within them they can be considered and  
reworked. How can we struggle around or organize diffuse forms of  
cultural and artistic labor? This is precisely the kind of question  
explored by groups such as the Carrotworkers’ Collective, a group from  
London who are formulating ways to organize around labor involved in  
unpaid forms of cultural production, such as all the unpaid  
internships sustaining the workings of artistic and cultural  

In 1953, Guy Debord painted on the wall of the Rue de Seine the slogan  
“Ne travaillez jamais,” or “Never Work.” The history of the avant- 
garde is filled with calls to “never artwork,” but the dissolution of  
the artistic object and insurgent energies of labor refusal have  
become rendered into the workings of semiocapitalism and the  
metropolitan factory. To renew and rebuild a politics and form of  
social movement adequate to the current composition does not start  
from romanticizing the potentiality of becoming creative through  
artistic production or working from the creative production that  
already is, but rather by working in the nexus between the two. In  
other words, to start from how the refusal of work is re-infused into  
work, and by understanding that imposition and rendering, and  
struggling within, against and through it.

Art Strike Biennial:
Carrotworkers’ Collective:
Home, Stewart (1991) The Neoist Manifestos/The Art Strike Papers.  
Stirling: AK Press.

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