– Autumn/Winter 2008

Situation Wanted: Something about Labour

Marina Vishmidt

In his 2006 Hermes Lecture, titled 'Depiction, Object, Event' (2006), Jeff Wall proposes the term 'second appearance' to describe the quotation in and transmutation by the art field of social institutions not immanent to it.

If Warhol could imitate a media firm, others coming after him could imitate a museum department, a research institute, an archive, a community-service organisation and so on that is, one could develop a mimesis, still within the institution of art, of any and every one of the potential new domains of creativity suggested by the conceptual reduction, but without thereby having to renounce the making of works and abandon the art world and its patronage.1

Thus, the conceptual reduction is actually an expansion in real terms, an inflation. Under the 'post-medium' or 'expanded field' condition of art, which Wall also relates to Thierry de Duve's category of 'nominalism', such institutions are tautologically designated as art objects by their appearance in the art field - and also grammatically via their relationship to other practices inhabiting this field. 2 The examples Wall mentions, taken from a survey of contemporary biennials, include 'critical urbanism... radical pedagogies... strategies of wellness... hobbies and therapies', all amounting to an 'art of prototypes of situations' in which 'it would not be as if anyone renounced art, but that art itself became diffuse, lost track of its own boundaries and lost interest in them'.3

In an irony that we might deem delicious or unpalatable depending on our taste, the lecture was delivered to a public comprising art professionals and local business entrepreneurs. And as one of Wall's instances of 'an

  1. Jeff Wall, 'Depiction, Object, Event', first Hermes Lecture, delivered at 's Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands on 29 October 2006, available at http://www.hermeslezing.nl/hermeslezing2006_eng.pdf (last accessed on 20 July 2008). Also published in Afterall, Issue 16, Autumn/Winter 2007, pp.5-17.

  2. In Kant After Duchamp (1998), de Duve calls 'nominalism' Marcel Duchamp's practice of identifying art as a result of its being named as such and of its presence in an artistic context. As Wall says, 'the name "art" must be applied to any object that can be legitimately nominated as such by the artist. Or, to be more circumspect, it is the object from which the name art cannot be logically withheld. The readymade therefore proved that an arbitrary object can be designated as art and that there is no argument available to refute that designation.' Ibid., p.7.

  3. 3 Ibid., p.16. Or, as Daniel Buren writes, 'In order, no doubt, to get closer to "reality", the "conceptual" artist becomes gardener, scientist, sociologist, philosopher, storyteller, chemist, sportsman ... the vague concept of the word "concept" itself implies a return to romanticism.' Daniel Buren, 'Beware', Studio International, vol.179, March 1970, p.100. Re-printed in Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson (eds.), Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2000, p.144.

  4. See Nicholas von Hoffman, 'Squeezing the American Dream: Workers Face Diminishing Returns', Truthdig, 9 June 2008. Also available at http://www.alternet.org/story/87405/ (last accessed on 27 June 2008). See also John Barker, 'Structural Greed: the "Credit Crunch"', Variant, Issue 32, Summer 2008, p.15, footnote 7: 'Robert Brenner estimates that for 80 per cent of American workers' real wages have stayed at 1979 levels.' Also available at http://www.variant.randomstate.org/pdfs/issue32/barker32.pdf (last accessed on 20 July 2008).

  5. See, for example, Luc Boltanksi and Eve Chapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism(trans. G. Elliott), London and New York: Verso, 2006, and Sabeth Buchmann, 'Under the Sign of Labor', Art After Conceptual Art (ed. Alexander Alberro and Sabeth Buchmann), Cambridge, London and Vienna: The MIT Press and Generali Foundation, 2006.

  6. See for example Nicolas Bourriaud's Postproduction: Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World (trans. J. Herman), New York and Berlin: Lukas & Sternberg, 2002.

  7. See Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol.1 (trans. B. Fowkes), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976, esp. pp.42, 142, 150 and 308.

  8. See Hilde van Gelder, 'Allan Sekula: Documenta 12 Project (and Beyond),' A Prior, Issue 15, 2007. Also available at http://www.aprior.org/topics/14 (last accessed on 20 July 2008).

  9. Documenta 12 here appears as part of the inflation of art mega-events or 'biennalisation', the statistical and discursive proliferation of sites where contemporary art emerges from, and responds to, the conditions of its spectacularisation. The connection of 'biennalisation' with place competition and culture-led regeneration may also come to the fore in such analyses, as local priorities go into eclipse for the sake of global marketing of the local.

  10. One of the three leitmotifs put forward for documenta 12 was 'Is Modernity Our Antiquity?'.

  11. Allan Sekula, 'Documentary and Corporate Violence', in Dialogue/Discourse?/Research (exh. cat.), Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1979. Reprinted in A. Alberro and B. Stimson (eds.), Conceptual Art, op. cit., p.360.

  12. For an overview on the major strands of Italian Autonomist Marxism, aside from such publications as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire (2000) andMultitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (2004) or Paolo Virno's A Grammar of the Multitude (2001), see the recently reprinted Sylvère Lotringer and Christian Marazzi (eds.), Autonomia: Post-Political Politics, New York and Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007 (originally published in 1980).

  13. Theodor W. Adorno, quoted in Stewart Martin, 'The Absolute Artwork Meets the Absolute Commodity', Radical Philosophy, Issue 146, November-December 2007, p.15.

  14. Raniero Panzieri, 'Surplus Value and Planning: Notes on a Reading of Capital', in Julian Bees (ed.), The Labour Process and Class Strategies, London: Stage 1, 1976, p.9.

  15. Rube Goldberg was the archetypal American magus of the wacky and inventive, a cartoonist who designed many of the fiendishly complex machines (for example, a boot kicks a can, which rolls down a board which triggers a weight, which falls on the mouse, etc.) we are familiar with from Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The UK equivalent would be the 'Heath Robinson contraption', but there are many others, indicating a pan-national twentieth-century scepticism about machine civilisation. For a recent iteration, see Peter Fischli/David Weiss's Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go, 1987), even less result-oriented that Goldberg's machines.

  16. This scenario was often used by, for example, Lucille Ball in the sitcom I Love Lucy.

  17. This has been most substantively developed by Antonio Negri, for example in 'Value and Affect', originally published in Derive Approdi, Issue 12/13, n.d., translated by Arianna Bove for Generation Online, http://www.generation-online.org/t/valueaffect.htm (last accessed on 20 July 2008). The latter point is summed up by Jacques Rancière in 'From the Actuality of Communism to Its Inactuality', an unpublished lecture given at the 'Indeterminate Conference', Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt in 2003: 'Intellectual and artistic property did not vanish for all that. What happened instead is a displacement of the idea of artistic property itself... This means that intelligence as such takes the place of its products. But this means [also] a radicalisation of private property. Instead of dismissing private appropriation, the immateriality of concepts and images turns out to be its best refuge, the place where its reality is akin to its self-legitimisation.'

  18. Mario Tronti, 'Struggle Against Labor', Radical America, vol.3, no.6, 1972, p.22. Tronti was one of the key figures of the Italian Autonomia theory and praxis.

  19. Jean-François Lyotard, Libidinal Economy (trans. I.H. Grant), London and New York: Continuum, 2004, pp.109-110. See also Anthony Iles, 'I Like My Job',Inventory, vol.5, no.1, 2004, also available at http://saladofpearls.blogsome.com/2007/10/01/i-like-my-job/ (last accessed on 20 July 2008).

  20. For one of the many discussions of this, see Anna Curico, 'Along the Color Line: Racialization and Resistance in Cognitive Capitalism', dark matters, February 2008, also available at http://www.darkmatter101.org/site/2008/02/23/along-the-color-line-racialization-and-resistancein-cognitive-capitalism/ (last accessed on 20 July 2008).

  21. Giorgio Agamben, in his essay 'Notes on Gesture', quotes Aristotle in theNicomachean Ethics: 'For production (poiesis) has an end other than itself, but action (praxis) does not: good action is itself an end.' Giorgio Agamben, Means Without End: Notes on Politics (trans. V. Binetti and C. Casarino), Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, p.49. See also Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude (trans. I. Bertoletti, J. Cascaito and A. Casson), New York and Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2004, p.47.

  22. See Catherine Wood, Yvonne Rainer: The Mind is a Muscle, London: Afterall Books, 2007.

  23. Carrie Lambert, 'Moving Still: Mediating Yvonne Rainer's Trio A', October, vol.89, Summer 1999, also available at http://ubu.com/papers/Rainer-Yvonne_Mediating-Yvonne-Rainers.pdf (last accessed on 20 July 2008).

  24. 'Value, therefore, does not have its description branded on its forehead; it rather transforms every product of labour into a social hieroglyphic.' K. Marx,Capital, Volume 1, op. cit., p.167.

  25. C. Wood, Yvonne Rainer: The Mind is a Muscle, op. cit., p.65.

  26. See S. Martin, 'The Absolute Artwork Meets the Absolute Commodity', op. cit.

  27. The idea of the 'incidental person' was central to the programme of the Artist Placement Group (APG), initiated by John Latham and Barbara Steveni in 1966 to field-test the reciprocal impact of artistic subjectivity and organisational structures in business, government and communities. Widely cited as a 'precursor' to the artist-in-residence system, Steveni has always contested this interpretation of APG's aims. See 'Countdown to Zero, Count Up to Now (An Interview with the Artist Placement Group)', Mute, 28 November 2002, also available at http://www.metamute.org/en/Countdown-to-Zero-Count-up-to-Now-An-interview-with-the-Artist-Placement-Group (last accessed on 20 July 2008).

  28. See Rachel Baker, 'Business Plan for Art of Work', in Cornelia Sollfrank (ed.), Next Cyberfeminist International Reader, Hamburg: Old Boys Network, 1999, also available at http://www.obn.org/obn_pro/downloads/reader2.pdf (last accessed on 20 July 2008).