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David Spraggs — The Workers Leaving The Factory Or The Factory Leaving The Workers
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The Workers leaving the factory or the factory leaving the workers?

Introduction via the factory

Capitalism is the Mode of Production par excellence… It incorporates spaces that once seemed unproductive. It invents new sectors not just new techniques or industries but new domains: The Cultural Industries. (Lefebvre, Henri. 1980)

A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of the factory. The space factory is under threat to be relegated as an object of a darker history in the western memory. Society may have beheaded the factory as a site of oppression but the factory is a Hydra, with one head buried deep outside the small space of the ‘Western World’.  What is at stake in this relegation is a potential to understand the space of conflict between the worker and capitalist.

Outsourcing and off-shoring occupy the void left by the process of dismantling manufacturing industries over the past 50 years in the west.  The era (when) the capital went global. The reductive reality of this phenomenon is a disciplining of the ‘productive classes’, atomizing and displacing the ‘productive classes’ globally. This text does not seek to addresses the myriad global politics and injustices of this, but instead seeks to understand our relationship, as producers, to production and the spectre of the factory.

This text aims to investigate this relationship by eliding two (contingent) histories: the history of what is described as post-Fordism, immaterial labour/production and the rise of the service industries; and a history of cultural industries and institutes ‘setting up shop’ literally on shop-floor of empty factories. To surmise, the relationship between art and work.

Some factories

1962     The space located on the fifth floor at 231 East 47th Street, Manhattan, becomes the site of Andy Warhols (Warhol’s) The Factory.
1962     The abandoned Gare d’Orsay is used in the producing (filming) of The Trial by Orsen Welles. (Orson)
1968     Warhol’s The Factory moves to the 6th Floor of the Decker Building, 33 Union Square West, New York.
1975    Battersea Power plant closes, 40 years after it opens.
1977     The french government decide to convert Gare d’Orsay into Musée d’Orsay.
1986    Musée d’Orsay is opened.
1994     Tate Gallery announces that Bankside Power Station will become Tate Modern.
1994     The Baltic Flour Mill beings transformation into the Baltic Centre of Contemporary Arts.
1995     The Lumiére Factory is transformed in to a new museum charting the history of cinema.
1995    Tate Modern starts the remove (removal) of the redundant plant equipment.
2000    Tate Modern is complete.
2000       In a Latvian Glass Factory, built 1911, is housed Sapnu Fabrika, Dream Factory, a site for contemporary social and cultural production.
2002    The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts opens.
2006      The Serpentine Gallery stages an art exhibition in the battersea power station, heralding it’s transformation into an art gallery
2006     The Riga Contemporary art museum is proposed to transform an old power plant into a new museum, at the same site as the Sapnu Fabrika.
2010     Battersea Power Plant is the site of the manifesto launch of the conservative party, led by David Cameron.

Material Labour and otherwise

As labour is dematerialized and the division of labour in industrial production erodes, capital not only occupies the working hours during which products or goods (and its surplus value) are produced; it absorbs all of the worker’s time, as well as his or her existence, thoughts, and creative desires. Products or goods are produced not to be consumed, to be swallowed directly, but as a set of new modes of communication, knowledge, languages. (Chukhrov, Keti. 2010)

These changes in labour had an impact on the individual worker’s relationship to their work. There was an increase of cultural-workers, contractors, part-time workers, home-workers and self-employed workers. The office floor (once factory floor) could now just as easily be the bedroom floor, coffee shop, kitchen, or car, as an open plan or ‘hotdesk’ office. As well as this spatial/temporal displacement there is a decentralisation of production management through a proliferation of sub-contraction and franchise.

For the art-worker these modes of work are central to their labour and Life. Often supported by ad-hoc employment, life and work as inter-mixed to the point that the artist is always at work, whether at the Gallery opening, the bar, school, or with friends. The key to artistic success (as defined by some) is the ability to be economically versatile through creativity, flexibility, durability, and constant networking. This places the artist at the centre of the ‘post-Fordist’ idea of the worker.

Modernity saw a rationalising of time, in which Fordist production used to manage the time of the worker in the factory. Society saw the proliferation of time-measuring devices, most importantly pocket watches, a prosthetic device which allowed to body to measure time. This allowed for a normalising and rationalising of time which allowed the capitalist mode of production to be integrated into life. Now we see Blackburries and iPhones have been circulated amongst the ‘cognitive workforce’ allowing for a normalising of constant connectivity and circulation of information, allowing you to work from any (all) space and at any (all) time.

This connectivity and circulation of information, along with communication and creativity are central to post-Fordist production. Contemporary modes of production have overcome the classical division of mental and physical (immaterial and material) labour. Artists today seem to be grappling with questions of autonomy, authenticity and their relationship to the production of commodities (cultural or otherwise). Artists are having to negotiate the space of the (Art) Market.

At the same time much of the precariousness, irregularity, flexibility and types of free labour that previously characterized artistic practice has been generalized to all working lives; to make a living today means to mould and shape personhood in a perverse play of changing identities. Conversely, artists’ practice has come to involve more and more profane and mundane elements that belong to the business world and have very little to do with art. (Empson, Erik. 2008)

The Production of Art-work, Social relations and Knowledge

Political action does not produce objects. It is an activity that does not result in an autonomous object. What strikes me is that today work, and not just work for a publishing company, for television or for a newspaper, but all present-day work, including the work done in the Volkswagen factory, or at Fiat or Renault, tends to be an activity that does not result in an autonomous ‘work’, in a produced object. (Virno, Paolo. 2010)

As Paolo Virno describes, the ‘Factories’ no longer simply produce ‘autonomous objects’. To take the Volkswagen example, the factory produces cars through the mechanized infrastructure of the production line, which is to say that the machinery produces the autonomous material object; the brand new Phaeton ready to adjust desire and taste around its soft curves and slick dashboard. The workers of the Volkswagen factory create complex communicative networks and social relationships, instead of material objects.

The practice of installation art is perhaps a clear example of the production of networks and social relationships. If you see an installation in a magazine or website etc., or if you try to reduce the objects/components of the installation to individual objects the crux of the work is often lost. Installation art is a spatial experience where the space becomes the ‘art object’. A space for the viewer to make connections between objects and space, architecture and experience or people and networks. Another key player in the cultural industry is the Curator. Boris Groys asserts in his essay Politics of Installation that the curator and the artist roles are conflated.  Post-Duchamp (add comma), the Division of Labour in art making and art displaying have become one and that  ‘[i]n the context of contemporary art, to make art is to show things as art.’ (Groys, B). I would like to point out that he does say that it is still possible to distinguish the to (two) agents (artist and curator) but in terms of the Division of Labour there is a collapse.

The curator administers this exhibition space in the name of the public—as a representative of the public. Accordingly, the curator’s role is to safeguard its public character, while bringing the individual artworks into this public space, making them accessible to the public, publicizing them. (Groys, Boris. 2009)

This is not exclusive to installation art or the curator but a wide-spread mode of production in art, and in the work of the post-Fordist society. This seems to be the place of collision between artistic production and the cultural industry (and all industry for that matter). Groys is talking about the art creating social spheres through the making public of art. Galleries and arts institutions use a plethora of strategies to ‘make art public’, the calendars of gallerists/ curators/ artists are full of discussions, artist talks, networking events and panel discussions. These of course could be the diaries (i-Cal’s synced to e-mail etc) of any person in the post-Fordist society.

The position of the artist and potentials for revolutionary politics?

So the question is how do communicative networks and social relations become transformed into financial gain or systems of capital accumulation? Perhaps another question could be how can artists retain some kind of autonomy (political or otherwise) and resist or develop alternatives to existing structures?

Historically the factory became the site for understanding and organizing resistance to the existing system. Could the gallery or the artworks become a site of understanding and organizing? Again historically the artists and artworks have been powerful tools in the pursuit of new social forms.

The artist, as a societal position, has special autonomy in relation to productive systems of contemporary life. The artist has command over their creative output in a way that perhaps other workers do not have. The post-Fordist strategy means that if workers were to withdraw their labour in the form of Strikes, then workers from a reserve workforce (yearly produced graduates, interns, un-employed etc) will fill the jobs. Can the artist withhold their ‘artistic subjectivity’ in resistance to the normalised  capitalist system which demands that its subjects give their subjectivity to the modes of production.

The goal of the artist should then be to produce radical forms that disrupt the normalisation and ‘realism’ of this system, resisting artistic (and social) ‘success’ as quantified by monetary value systems.

File under — writing

This text was written by David Spraggs to coincide with ‘Pavilion, screening 23/11/11’ and the screening of Harun Farocki’s Arbeiter verlassen di Fabrik (Workers leaving the Factory). ‘Pavilion’ is a research project initiated by Spraggs looking into the relationship between contemporary culture and Capitalism.

This writing was shown at ‘Pavilion Screening 23/11/11’, Grand Union, Birmingham, alongside work by Harun Farocki, Jonas St Michael and Ciarán Ó Dochartaigh, Adrianna Palazzolo and Tom Crawford. This work addresses capitalism, essay, labour, pavilion, publication and social space.