11th of October 2018, 10 - 18h
Gerrit Rietveld Academie (Gym)
A people's tribunal in four acts on precarious work and life
discussing wage, love, freedom & risk
As artists, designers, authors and other cultural workers we have to deal with a lot of flexibility in our everyday life. The work we do is based on our capacity as individuals and on an independent status, making professional relations often tied to an emotional context where the boundaries between life and profession are blurred. Work in the creative field requires to invest yourself personally - to love what you do, to seduce, to adapt, and to rely on yourself.
This Is Not A Love Song is a People's Tribunal addressing those issues, taking place on October 11th in Amsterdam. It addresses precarious work and life conditions within the arts and beyond in light of current neoliberal tendencies that inform today's highly flexible, insecure and meritocratic employment model, the logic of which is particularly present in the Netherlands.
Precarious labor is the predominant working condition in the creative industries, often translating into unpaid work, short-term contracts or no-contract work or internships, insecure and unstable work and life conditions, individual competition, deprivation of rights and status, reinforced inequalities (class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality) - while promoting an insecure or flexible way of life as the privilege and freedom of making your own choices.
This day aims to collectively diagnose how those working conditions promote the merits of individualistic behavior and competition over those of collectivity and solidarity - a model that is formulated as the blueprint for the future worker based on the artist’s capacity to rely on him or herself. 'The artist is easily understood as a paradigm for the ideal worker: passionate about what they do and willing to forgo material wealth for the love of it'.1 In this respect while precarious conditions are particularly poignant in the creative field the discussion will tie into a more general debate on the changing conditions of work and life in an increasingly flexible, deregulated and privatized landscape that forces many more professional occupations into the liberal perspective of a more open relationship that confuses wage and love, freedom and risk.
This Is Not A Love Song is not a love song. It will play out as a People’s Tribunal where the issue will be discussed drawing on courtroom protocols such as shared testimonials, expert witnesses, a collective deliberation and the formulation of a verdict. (...)
We will put specific focus on neoliberal thinking and how its core values affect this issue: Whereas liberalizing the economy allowed for more open terms and free-market policies in the course globalizing trade, today its ‘laissez-faire’2 philosophy characterizes many other types of relationships beyond that of economic ones; between governments, enterprises, institutions and individuals, all of which are under pressure to be more flexible and independent as well. In doing so neoliberal thinking normalizes attitudes towards work and the self, discourages collectivism in favor of individual freedom, and fundamentally challenges “what a relationship is”; by promoting the concept of individual autonomy over that of mutual responsibility. According to a recent article in The Guardian it should become clear how the neoliberal perspective 'has been applied to all of society, until it has invaded the grit of our personal lives, and how the attitude of the salesman has become enmeshed in all modes of self-expression. 'In short,' The Guardian continues, ' “neoliberalism” is not simply a name for pro-market policies, or for the compromises with finance capitalism made by failing social democratic parties. It is a name for a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practice and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organizing principle for human activity'.3
The debate will set out to examine this relational shift with regards to precarity as an institutionalized and systematically applied employment model that normalizes insecurity and instability and extorts unpaid labor and other exploitative forms of work that characterize its open, flexible and independent ways.
This Is Not A Love Song aims to discuss precarity first in order to share immediate working conditions that creative practitioners face on a day-to-day basis concretely and practically. Secondly its role within larger socio-political developments will be deliberated in order shed light on its ideological underpinnings and its current application via institutional frames (cultural institutions, schools, legal frameworks, …) and open the door to how we could be part of a change.
1 The Precarious Workers Brigade, Training for Exploitation? Politicizing Employability and Reclaiming Educaction (London, Leipzig, Los Angeles: Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press, 2017), 17
2 Sidney Fine. Laissez Faire and the General-Welfare State. (United States: The University of Michigan Press, 1964)
3 Stephen Metcalf, 'Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world' (The Guardian, Aug 2017
A People's Tribunal
What is it?
A people’s tribunal is not a trial but a court of the people. It draws on courtroom protocols (giving/listening to testimony, calling expert witnesses, formulating a ruling) to publicly and collectively address injustices, and to take collective action. People’s tribunals have been used in circumstances where legal norms do exist, but their breach is not being prosecuted by the courts, for example, if the identified injustices are not illegal per se, but could and should be outlawed or if injustices cannot be grasped by the law because the existing law is unable to identify structural causes that lead to an unjust situation. Our understanding is that precarity is not a perpetrator, person, nor a crime. It is a condition brought on by a set of interrelations that connect the deeply personal and the systemic, the political and the economic.
From ‘Tools for Collective Action - Precarity: The People’s Tribunal’ By the PWB, published in DIS Magazine, 2011.
Act 1 - Seduction
Act 2 - Crisis
Court Recess, Lunch
Act 3 - Engagement
Act 4 - Taking Care
A verdict takes place
Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Gym
Fred. Roeskestraat 98, Amsterdam
In the first act we will focus on the seductive aspects involved in our professions. The model for success starts with the quest and competition of going to the best schools, where the example is set, followed by being in a continuous competition through awards, grants and invitations - a string of professional flirtation seeking opportunities for which we are flattered to be chosen and ‘lucky to be invited’. Much of this is based on appearances, availability and seduction, the logics of which form the basis for the cult of the individual. During Act 1 we will discuss those principles of competition, individualization and meritocratic values instrumental to self-entrepreneurship as a model for autonomy.
With the promise of recognition, we've accepted a conflictual situation. Freelancing and working in open relationships with our different partners/employers without lasting commitment, unpaid - which seems to guarantee a freedom of action and personal, artistic, and professional independence. Paradoxically, it is on those same ideals that precariousness and neoliberal labour conditions are built up. The difficulties arise then from the gap between our ideals and the economic realities we have to face.
How does autonomy become the principle of self-exploitation?
All cultural and creative industries share this paradox. In it, precarious work and insecure life are met with symbolic compensations through social valuation. The ‘exception’ even more so is central to contemporary capitalist politics.
In order to claim a piece of the cake we have to rethink different ways to be engaged. If the confines of monogamous employment do not correspond to our ideals, does it necessarily imply an insecure way of life? We must be able to rethink the models for support in other ways. In this section we will discuss the possibilities of combining sustainability and autonomy.
We will discuss how to assert oneself as a worker and to rethink our rights as equal to other professions, the existence of contracts, systematic payment and the possibility of having a status and to be respected.
Focusing excessively on individual independence makes us forget about common values - that is; if autonomy is thought of as building oneself against or outside of a system. In this section we will discuss the notion of ‘care’ as a form of organization based on inclusivity; which means including the systems that we are questioning in the solution as well.
Can alternatives be addressed not against but with the institutions that train, represent and employ us? How can we rethink autonomy collectively, and from within?
Guests & Collaborators
We will welcome guest speakers or 'expert witnesses' to take the stand: Joanna Figiel, with experience in The Precarious Workers Brigade and ArtLeaks, and Tiphanie Blanc from Wages For Wages Against, Switzerland, to share their knowledge on the issue, their experience in calling out in solidarity, in addressing institutions and peers and their tools for doing so. We will also hear from Lara Garcia Diaz, an artist, activist and PhD researcher questioning conditions of sustainable creative labour. Also joining is artist and activist John Jordan and Isabelle Frémeaux from The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination who’s work merges the imagination of art and the radical engagement of activism.
In addition each of the four acts will include testimonials from different cultural workers, artists, institutions, and audience members. We urge you to contribute as well, in whatever form you find best to express your point of view or your experiences. You can read more about how to contribute your testimonial here.
We're also excited to partner up with PUB Radio & Journal, and we'll set up a temporary bookshop with San Serriffe during the event offering great material on what is work and what is love to continue this debate with after the tribunal.
In the meantime, you can have a look at a list that we've compiled of groups, books, publications and other platforms that deal with this issue here.
Tiphanie Blanc, Wages For Wages Against
Initiated in March 2017 by Ramaya Tegegne, Wages For Wages Against (WFWA) is a campaign that aims for the general payment of artist fees by non-profit art institutions within Switzerland. Inspired by the Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.) initiative in the USA, the WFWA aims to raise awareness of precarious and exploitative working conditions we are faced with in our daily life as artists, curators, designers, students, authors, et al. through public and collective debates and question the ideological underpinnings of the current situation. Their campaign took place in a number of Swiss and international institutions, including the Kunsthalle Zurich; Forde Geneva; HEAD, Geneva ; Centre Culturel Suisse, Paris ; Tunnel Tunnel, Lausanne.
Tiphanie Blanc is an independent curator based in Brussel and founder member of ORAIBI + BECKBOOKS. She teaches Art Theory at the Geneva’s School for Art and Design since 2012 and organizes seminars for the Master's degree students in Visual Arts since October 2017. As a curator, she works actively in the field of publishing in different forms: exhibitions catalogs (Hotel Abisso, Panegyric, Tooled Sundays, Ultramodern), Criticism (Frog, Criticism, FluckIPaulus), artists' editions and self publications. She was in charge of the program at Forde contemporary art space in Geneva between 2010 and 2012. She organized several exhibitions including "Hotel Abisso" (CAC, Geneva, 2013), "Limits of an Object" (Forde, Geneva , 2011), "Fun Palace" (Center Pompidou, Paris, 2010), "IAO: exploration of psychedelia in France" (CAPC, Bordeaux, 2008).
Joanna Figiel is currently completing her PhD at the Department of Sociology, City University of London. Her research focuses on unpaid work, internships, precarity and policy in the creative and cultural field. She has collaborated with the Free/Slow University of Warsaw, the Citizens' Forum for Contemporary Arts, Precarious Workers Brigade; Minor Compositions; ArtLeaks; Fundacja Bec Zmiana, and ephemera.
ARTLEAKS is a collective platform initiated by an international group of artists, curators, art historians and intellectuals in response to the abuse of their professional integrity and the open infraction of their labor rights. In the art world, such abuses usually disappear, but some events bring them into sharp focus and therefore deserve public scrutiny. Only by drawing attention to concrete abuses can we underscore the precarious condition of cultural workers and the necessity for sustained protest against the appropriation of politically engaged art, culture and theory by institutions embedded in a tight mesh of capital and power.
The Precarious Workers Brigade is a UK-based group of precarious workers in culture and education. “We call out in solidarity with all those struggling to make a living in this climate of instability and enforced austerity. The PWB’s praxis springs from a shared commitment to developing research and actions that are practical, relevant and easily shared and applied. If putting an end to precarity is the social justice we seek, our political project involves developing tactics, strategies, formats, practices, dispositions, knowledges and tools for making this happen.”
Lara Garcia Diaz
Lara Garcia Diaz is an artist, activist and Phd researcher at the Antwerp Research Institute for the Arts (ARIA) and member of the Culture Commons Quest Office (CCQO). Her research examines the Commoning responses that have emerged due to current precarious living conditions and explores which mechanisms are used in such practices in order to transform the organization of social reproduction. She has published in journals such as Frame: Journal of Literary Studies(2017) or Art and Identity Politics (2018). Lara has also contributed in books such as What’s the Use (Valiz, 2016), It is the microorganisms that will have the last word (La Capella, 2018) or Exploring Commonism (Valiz, 2018).
John Jordan and Isabelle Frémeaux, The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination
The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination : “Infamous for fermenting mass disobedience on bicycles during the Copenhagen climate Summit, touring the UK recruiting a rebel clown army, running courses in postcapitalist culture and falling in love with utopias, The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination (Lab of ii) exists somewhere between art and activism, poetry and politics. We are not an institution or a group, not a network nor an NGO, but an affinity of friends who recognise the beauty of collective creative disobedience. We treat insurrection as an art and art as a means of preparing for the coming insurrection.”
John Jordan’s work merges the imagination of art and the radical engagement of activism. He worked as Co-director of social art group Platform (1987-1995) then went on to immerse himself in the direct-action collective “Reclaim the Streets” (1995-2000). In 2003 he co-edited the book "We Are Everywhere: the irresistible rise of global anti-capitalism" (Verso). Senior lecturer in fine art at Sheffield Hallam University (1994 – 2003), he abandoned academia to work on the film "The Take" with Naomi Klein. He has shown work and spoken in numerous contexts, from the Tate modern to Kampnagel, Hamburg, Arts Admin to Taipei Bienniale, the Sorbonne to the Beursschouwburg Brussels, The Royal Society of Arts to inner city squats. In 2004 he formed the C.I.R.C.A. He is now AWOL and works in the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination infamous for fermenting mass disobedience on bicycles during the Copenhagen climate Summit, throwing snowballs at bankers, launching a rebel raft regatta to shut down a power station and initiating the illegal covering of the Tate gallery in molasses. He has been labelled as a "Domestic Extremist" by the metropolitan police, but feels his lack of ironing skills make him unsuitable for the title. Following the publication of the film-book- “Les sentiers de L’utopie” (Editions Zones 2011) he is setting up a commune, farm and school of artivism in rural Brittany.
Isabelle Frémeaux was a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Birkbeck University, London, after which she deserted academia to focus on her real passion: popular education and creative activist trainings, specialising in group dynamics and facilitation for horizontal movements. She has worked as an organizer and media strategist in the UK climate camp and is the co-founder (with John Jordan) of art activist collective The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination (www.labofii.net). Co-author of the book/film Les Sentiers de l’Utopie (Paths Through Utopias), she is now setting up a commune and school of creative resistance in rural France, where the artistic spirit of the Bauhaus hopes to merge with the resistant courage of Highlander Folk School.
PUB Radio & Journal
PUB is an interdisciplinary initiative by students from different departments of the Sandberg Instituut. It aims to structure, develop and establish a publishing culture within the school. While investigating the possibilities in the context of an artistic masters program, PUB is a hub to identify interdisciplinary connections and accelerate collaborations amongst students and third parties.
San Serriffe Amsterdam
San Serriffe is an art, theory and design bookshop in center of Amsterdam, run by Pieter Verbeke and Elisabeth Klement.
Sandberg Instituut Amsterdam
As the postgraduate programme of the Gerrit Rietveld AScademie Amsterdam, the Sandberg Insituut offers Master Programmes in Fine Arts, Interior Architecture, Applied Arts and Design. The five Main Departments aim to deepen practices of artists, designers and critics. In addition, the Temjporary Programmes reflect on specific urgencies in society and the arts, and the Hosted Programmes focus on collaborations with other institutions.
We are looking for your testimonials to be part of the tribunal proceedings - it is time for all of us to be heard, each with a different role in this issue.
We'd love for you to send us your love songs. A testimonial can take any shape; it can be a performance, the recount of an experience, a video or audio work, a proposal, an opinion, a question, an anonymous poem, a copy of a contract, a video chat, etc. - shared in whatever way you find best to express your experiences or your point or view relating to the four acts. What are your views on work, labour, love, independence, insecurity, recognition, authorship, competition, priviledge, survival?
Send us your love songs before September 30th to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can make it part of the schedule. If you have any out of format idea's in mind; don't hesitate to propose any type of action and we'll discuss the possibilities.
Paying Artists, UK
BBK Berlin,“Ausstellungshonorar”, Germany
Wages For Wages Against, Switserland
KRO/KIF, “The MU Agreement”, Sweden
Économie solidaire de l’art, France
Things To Read (ongoing list)
‘Ons Creatieve Vermogen’ een gezamenlijke publicatie van de Ministeries van Economische Zaken en Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap, 2005.
Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim, Individualization, Institutionalized Individualism and its Social and Political Consequences (London: Sage Publications, 2002)
Harrell Fletcher, AKADEMIE X: Lessons in Art + Life (Phaidon, 2015)
Céline Condorelli, Too Close To See: Notes on Friendship, A conversation with Johan Frederik Hartle, in Self-Organised by Stine Hebert and Anne Szefer Karlsenn (London: Open Editions, 2015), p 62-73
To RSVP go here. We've composed a brief questionnaire with some questions about work.
To attend the tribunal we'd like you to fill it out. This process is anonymous and all information will be treated with care; we will use it to share a view of where we stand - and what needs to change. Thank you
If this got you thinking and eager to act, you can also contribute to the tribunal proceedings with your testimonial, more about this up here. Send it to email@example.com
This event is public. Bring your friends and your colleagues.
This Is Not A love Song is an initiative of Elise van Mourik, Rosa te Velde and Tiphanie Blanc. Graphic design by Miquel Hervás Gómez
Supported by Het Sandberg Instituut