Reflecting on LAND LABOUR CAPITAL

Reflecting on LAND│LABOUR│CAPITAL

14 October 2013

Artist Denis Buckley in conversation with Future State's Stephanie Feeney.  Image courtesy of Ruth Annett.
Artist Denis Buckley in conversation with Future State’s Stephanie Feeney. Image courtesy of Ruth Annett.

Spatial politics was on the programme long before a panel of speakers was drawn together under the same title. To not talk about spatial politics would have been to ignore the peripatetic nature of LAND │LABOUR │CAPITAL as it, and its participants, crossed over and back between the host gallery, Limerick City Gallery of Art (LCGA), and two contested spaces: 69 O’Connell Street; Occupy Space. Financial uncertainty means that 69 O’ Connell Street, formerly the Belltable Arts Centre, no longer runs as the city’s multi-functional space for dance, theatre, visual arts and music that it was intended to be, despite the high spec. interior and impressive technical facilities. Occupy Space (no relation to the Occupy movement), an artist run space, had itself existed as an itinerant organisation for a considerable time due to irregular support from funding partners. Indeed LAND │LABOUR │CAPITAL was one of the first events in Occupy Space’s new, permanent, home on Cecil Street. In fact the entire Georgian Quarter of Limerick is contested, punctuated by empty buildings, like the ironically title The Bank public house, and multi-coloured ‘To Let’ signs. It felt appropriate that LAND │LABOUR │CAPITAL was part of the politics too.

Spatial politics and contested spaces exist everywhere, not just in Limerick. Lukáš Matoška, a philosophy student at FFUK Charles University in Prague, reflected on the many appropriations of Hotel Praha in Prague, a monument of the Czechoslovakian era and a state socialist regime. Hotel Praha has had a varied past: used for accommodating state VIPs during the socialist era; privatised and operated as a private hotel after the fall of the Iron Curtain;  more recently, purchased by a private financial group that intends to demolish it and build a private school. Matoška likened the planned demolition to a tool for the ruling classes to erase traces of a former regime, one which it supposes has already been erased from the collective memory. Public protests and demonstrations in Prague show that this is not true. The demolition of Hotel Praha is a violent, neo-liberalist, re-mapping of psychogeographical space.

Dr Angela Dimitrakaki in conversation with Future State's Stephanie Feeney.  Image courtesy of Paul Tarpey.
Dr Angela Dimitrakaki in conversation with Future State’s Stephanie Feeney. Image courtesy of Paul Tarpey.

So when the question of whether the artist is the embodiment of the neoliberal worker was asked by Dr Judith Stewart, herself an artist and Independent Researcher, there was a moment of rupture. Stewart questioned whether socially engaged art, a form of art production that seemed particularly pervasive in Limerick, is an ethical process of art production and the complicity of artists in maintaining a flawed and unfair system. Stewart cited examples of artists engaged to work on social projects who are expected to bring about change within unrealistic time frames and little or no budget. By continuing to accept conditions of low pay, long hours and unrealistic outcomes, precarious working conditions for artists become performative and iterative.

Keynote speaker Dr Angela Dimitrakaki, Curator and Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Art History and Theory at University of Edinburgh, echoed Stewart’s words. In her paper she pointed out the irony and contradictions in being repeatedly told that cultural work is valuable and important yet there is no funding to support it. The cultural worker goes unpaid and works late into the night. This is why, Dimitrakaki argued, that the art work as object or output must be separated from the process of the production of art. It is important to realise, she argued, the more successful the artist, the more access the artist has to autonomy. The successful artist establishes a studio, employs artist assistants to support production of the art, has access to a superior infrastructure and is in a better position to produce better work.

Image courtesy of Paul Tarpey.
Image courtesy of Paul Tarpey.

From artist as labourer to an artist whose research engages closely with themes of labour and land, Dr Deirdre O’Mahony described her art practice as a ‘right to speak’. O’Mahony, who teaches at the Centre for Creative Practice at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, was one of the contributing artists to Labour and Lockout, a group exhibition running at the LCGA simultaneous to the conference. O’Mahony’s installation, titled T.U.R.F. (Transitional Undertandings of Rural Features) featured archival material and art objects that drew attention to the conflict between the social and the natural landscape or, more specifically, the conflict between the use of rural landscape for leisure and livelihood. The ‘right to speak’ that her practice affords her is necessary, O’Mahony states, in the face of DAD (Decide, Announce, Defend) tactics employed by top down power structures against rural communities. She cites examples of the closure of rural post offices without due attention to the social impact on the rural community and unfair, if not illegal, processes for implementing EU Directives against farmers that impact livelihoods and long standing cultural traditions. The appropriation of cultural activities to re-present (alternative) narratives makes a difference, she urged, not least because one European policy maker described it as ‘qualitative research’ and something of which policy makers need much more.

O’Mahony went on to facilitate a T.U. R. F. Mind Meitheal, a part of her practice which creates a cultural space to examine, in this case, the effect of the implementation of the EU Habitats Directive on domestic turf cutters and their families. Mind Meitheal was something that Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff had in mind when he urged us create a ‘commons’. Mirzoeff, Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University Steinhardt and cultural theorist, has been closely involved in the global social movements that have arisen since 2011, in particular what we now know as the Occupy movement associated with the “We are the 99%” slogan, writing a daily observation of the movement’s development in 2012. Resonance, Mirzoeff urged, is the means by which social change spreads and resonance can come about when a commons is created. O’Mahony spoke of the ‘right to speak’, Mirzoeff talked of ‘the right to look’. A commons is created when we look at one another, acknowledge one another, show love. Commons, followed by resonance, comes into being at interstitial points: collaborate; network globally; visualise (he cites Visualizing Palestine as a strong example). Mirzoeff describes himself as a militant researcher, an activist academic, an academic who not only comments on activism but engages in it directly. The research he engages with is not simply about the activist causes, but designed to strengthen the cause further. The recently available Militant Research Handbook that Mirzoeff co-produced is an invitation to its readers to engage in militant research in a way that fits. It urges vision, re-imagining new spaces, changes from the ground up and optimism.

Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff in discussion with Dr Mark Curran  Image courtesy of Ruth Annett.
Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff in discussion with Dr Mark Curran Image courtesy of Ruth Annett.

In recent weeks The Occupy Card was launched by the Occupy Money Cooperative, a banking co-operative that offers ‘low-cost, transparent, high quality financial services to the 99%’ and whose aim is to ‘revolutionize the current financial system by offering alternative products and services based on the principles of democracy, inclusion, and fairness’. But what are we really talking about when we say ‘the current financial system’? Do we really understand how the financial markets (dys)function? These and other questions are at the root of Dr Mark Curran’s current art research project THE MARKET, which, alongside O’Mahony’s work, was installed as part of Labour and Lockout. A quote transcribed from a telephone conversation between Curran and a London based investment bank trader in February 2013, which features in the installation, succinctly captures the point that Curran makes in THE MARKET, that the global financial system is central to our lives yet our understanding of market mechanism is scant or misinformed:
…what people don’t understand… is that what happens in the market is pivotal to their lives… not on the periphery…but slap, bang, in the middle…

Curran claims that the market is constructed and there is widespread complicity in creating and maintaining the construct. He pointed to more than one image of members of the Irish government photographed in global stock exchanges ringing the exchange bell to signify the opening of that day’s trading, even at a time when Ireland was itself out of the market because of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and EU bailout, but still desperate, it seemed, to create the impression of normality. In his research and art objects he makes visible and audible the hidden functionality of the global markets so that it can be observed and explored. One hidden functionality is algorithms, employed in algorithmic/high frequency/black-box trading practices that replace human decision making and risk taking in market trading. The algorithms are capable of experiencing and self-evolving, which, it has already been warned could, over time, give rise to ‘normalisation of deviance’. Curran reported alarming statistics in the growth of algorithmic trading that now account for as much as 80% of market trading in the US. Curran, along with Ken Curran, designed an algorithm to identify how often the Irish Minister of Finance used the words ’market’ or ’markets‘ in public speeches since taking office in March 2011. The algorithm’s output is manipulated into visual and aural forms and makes up part of THE MARKET installation. The extent and depth of Curran’s knowledge was impressive and he confirmed that he continues to work on THE MARKET, buoyed by what he senses is a thirst from the general public to understand more.

There was more, much more than what has been mentioned here. Justice cannot be done to all of the rich discourse that evolved over three days, framed in the issues raised by Allan Sekula and Noel Burch’s The Forgotten Space (2010), which was screened on the opening night: precarious labour, capital and information flows, global resources, global citizenship, exploitation, borders, art and visuality, activism. LAND │LABOUR │CAPITAL was rich, stimulating, invigorating, profoundly affecting, optimistic and collaborative and, without doubt, a formative milestone in Future State’s existence.

Recordings of the event will be added to this website soon.

by Stephanie Feeney

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Land Labour Capital

LandLabour│Capital Conference

Limerick City Gallery of Art

26-28 September 2013

Speakers: Mark Curran, Angela Dimitrakaki, Nicholas Mirzoeff and Deirdre O’Mahony

Admission is free but please reserve your place by emailing helen.carey@limerickcity.ie.  For more details see www.thefuturestate.org.uk.

Normalisation of Deviance

Mark Curran’s Normalisation of Deviance

13.8.2013

Normalisation of Deviance is the title of an visual and aural art installation by artist Mark Curran. Part of the basis for the installation is an algorithm, designed by Ken Curran, to identify how often the Irish Minister of Finance, Michael Noonan, used the words ’market‘ or ’markets‘ in public speeches since taking office in March 2011. The algorithm’s output is manipulated into multiple forms: visual and aural; manifesting as soundscapes accompanying spectrographs. The artist describes the installation as “attempting to represent the defining and ceaseless sound of the global markets through a pivotal conduit of capital, the nation-state“.

 

Installation shot of ‘Normalisation of Deviance’ by Mark Curran.
Image courtesy of Helen Carey.

The first installment of the work is currently on display in Limerick City Gallery of Art as part of the group exhibition Labour and Lockout. As well as photographs, artefacts and transcribed converstions the installation incorporates the Michael Noonan algorithmic soundscape and a 6 feet column of A4 paper representing the data generated from 14,000 positions taken globally on a single financial stock in one nanosecond (measured by  Chicago based researcher in 2011). The text on the paper is a quote transcribed from a telephone conversation between Curran and a London based investment bank trader in February 2013:

…what people don’t understand… is that what happens in the market is pivotal to their lives… not on the periphery…but slap, bang, in the middle…

The trader’s quote tells us that trading of stock market positions is occurring faster than humans can communicate; we think we understand the mechanics of the market but we have no realistic way of knowing.

 

‘The Normalisation of Deviance II’
(Algorithm to identify Michael Noonan’s application of the words, market/markets in public speeches since taking office in March 2011 from THE MARKET, a project by Mark Curran.

The title of the installation, Normalisation of Deviance, and Curran’s use of algorithms draws attention to the increased use of algorithm trading in the global stock markets, also referred to as ‘black box trading‘ or ‘high frequency trading‘[1]. In his research Curran points to a 2012 report by the British Government’s Office for Science, which predicts that algorithmic trading will replace human trading activity in the global stock markets within a decade. Curran observes:

In the same report, the authors state algorithms will eventually be able to self-evolve through their ability to experience i.e. building upon their previous market experiences and therefore requiring no human intervention. However, they also warn, that within such a framework, there exists the potential for what they describe as the Normalisation of Deviance, when ‘unexpected and risky events come to be seen as ever more normal until a disaster occurs‘.

The Normalisation of Deviance installation also raises questions about the normalisation of citizens to economic concepts and market ideologies as a result of  neo-liberalism and globalisation.

 

‘The Normalisation of Deviance I’
(Spectrograph of selection of audio generated by Michael Noonan’s application of the words, market/markets in public speeches since taking office in March 2011) from THE MARKET, a project by Mark Curran.

Normalisation of Deviance will be installed simultaneously in galleries in Dublin and Belfast later in the month, where spectrographs will appear in place of the trader’s quote to reproduce the paper column and therefore revealing the true source of the soundscape which envelopes the entire installation.

The Normalisation of Deviance is part of an ongoing research project titled THE MARKET, undertaken by Mark Curran and curated by Helen Carey, Director of the Limerick City Gallery of Art. Described as a “transnational multi-sited project… [that] focuses on the functioning of the global stock and commodity markets“[2], Curran has sought access, with, to date, varying degrees of success, to the trading floors of the stock markets in Dublin, London, Frankfurt and Addis Ababa, key nodes in the network of stock markets that play out the global financial crisis.

Curran’s point of departure is to propose that the market is a construct, a myth, an ideal that does not resemble reality. The invisible control of the world‘s resources, the complex relations of power, algorithmic trading of stock market positions faster than humans can communicate: we think we understand but we don’t.

 

‘Bethlehem, Trader’
Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX)
September, 2012 Addis Abeba, Ethiopia
from THE MARKET, a project by Mark Curran.

In his book The Right To Look, Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff describes the set of contemporary social conditions in the West as a “military-industrial complex” where “the real goal is maintaining a permanent state of crisis, rather than achieving a phantasmic victory” and “the point is less to win than to keep playing, permanently moving to the next level in the ultimately massively multi-player environment”[3]. Military – industrial complex is separate to capitalism but it is not difficult to imagine the same game being played out in a global financial crisis where the reward for survival is a place in the market and a crisis solution, unless it benefits the market, is ignored.

Curran’s Normalisation of Deviance is on display as part of Labour and Lockout, an exhibition marking the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout: a key moment in Ireland’s industrial history when employers refused to recognize workers in an attempt to break worker solidarity and the trade union movement. Curran has been invited to speak about this work at Land │ Labour │ Capital, a free, public symposium taking place 26-28 September in Limerick City Gallery of Art in collaboration with Future State, and Goldsmiths, University of London.

[1] Curran, M., (2012) ‘About’ in Lockout 2013. A Visual Art Research Project Marking the Forthcoming Centenary of the 1913  Dublin Lockout. Available at: http://lockout2013.wordpress.com/about/ (accessed 31/11/2012)
[2] Curran, M., (2012) ‘Normalisation of Deviance’ in Lockout 2013. A Visual Art Research Project Marking the Forthcoming Centenary of the 1913  Dublin Lockout. Available at: http://lockout2013.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/normalisation-of-deviance/ (accessed 9/8/2013)
[3] Mirzoeff, N., (2011) ’The Right to Look, or, How to Think With and Against Visuality’, The Right to Look, Durham & London. Duke University Press. p. 21.

Labour and Lockout: ‘you take my life when you do take the means whereby I live’

Labour and Lockout: ‘you take my life when you do take the means whereby I live’

2.8.2013

The exhibition Labour and Lockout opens in Limerick City Gallery of Art  on 8 August and runs until 1 October exploring contemporary and historical scenarios where conditions of labour impact on lives lived today. Artists include Deirdre O’Mahony, Anthony Haughey, Deirdre Power, Darek Fortas, Jesse Jones, Sean Lynch, Seamus Farrell, Megs Morley & Tom Flanagan and Mark Curran.

Future State is collaborating with Goldsmiths, University of London and Limerick City Gallery of Art to host Land Labour Capital, a three day event of film screenings, artist talks, seminars and workshops related to the exhibition theme, taking place 26-28 September. Keynote speakers will include:

Mark Curran, educator and artist participating in the exhibition.  He completed a practice-led PhD at the Dublin Institute of Technology (2011), lectures on the BA (Hons) Photography programme, Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire and is Visiting Professor on the MA in Visual and Media Anthropology, Freie Universität Berlin. Incorporating multi-media installation informed by ethnographic understandings, Curran has undertaken a cycle of long-term research projects over the past 15 years, critically addressing the predatory context resulting from the migrations and flows of global capital. Supported by the Arts Council of Ireland and partnered by Gallery of Photography, Belfast Exposed, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, CCA Derry-Londonderry, Limerick City Gallery of Art and curated by Helen Carey, Curran is undertaking a project to be part of the marking of the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout. Continuing the cycle to date, this multi-sited transnational project titles THE MARKET, focuses on the functioning of the global markets. It explores the nexus of the stockmarket, the lives of those working on the trading floors and in the financial sector and the lives of ordinary people not directly related to the sector.  Curran has sought access to the trading floors of stock exchanges in Dublin, Addis Abbaba, Frankfurt, London and has maintained an informative blog to capture his research.  THE MARKET will be presented in Dublin, Belfast and Limerick in August 2013 with publication to follow in 2014

Dr Angela Dimitrakaki, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Art History and Theory at the University of Edinburgh. She has widely published in journals and has contributed numerous chapters to edited collections, including ‘The Spectacle and Its Others: Labour, Conflict and Art in the Age of Global Capital’ in Jonathan Harris, ed, Globalization and Contemporary Art, Wiley-Blackwell 2011 and ‘The Art Biennial as Symptom’ in Pilar Parcericas and Joacquin Barriendos, eds, Global Circuits: The Geography of Art and the New Configurations of Critical Thought, Acca 2011. Her books include Gender, ArtWork and the Global Imperative: A Materialist Feminist Critique (MUP 2013) and, in her native Greek, Art and Globalization: From the Postmodern Sign to the Biopolitical Arena (2013). With Lara Perry she co-edited Politics in a Glass Case:Feminism, Exhibition Cultures and Curatorial Transgressions (LUP 2013). In 2013 she co-curated, with Kirsten Lloyd, ECONOMY. An edited collection titled Economy: Art and the Subject after Postmodernism expanding on the outcomes of the curatorial research is forthcoming from Liverpool University Press in 2014. Angela is Corresponding Editor of HM: Research in Critical Marxist Theory and a Researcher with the Art, Globalization, Interculturality group at the University of Barcelona (http://artglobalizationinterculturality.com).

Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff, Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University. His work is in the field of visual culture, particularly on the genealogy of visuality, a key term in the field. His book The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality was published by Duke University Press (2011). He has produced and edited many texts and projects that support the general development of visual culture as a field of study and a methodology, such as the third Visual Culture Reader, edited by Mirzoeff and published in 2012 by Routledge and the second fully revised edition of An Introduction to Visual Culture, published in 2009 by Routledge. He also works on militant research with the global social movements that have arisen since 2011, particularly the Occupy movement, writing a regular column ‘Intensify’  for Tidal Magazine.

Deirdre O’Mahony is an artist, academic and occasional writer. She received PhD from the University of Brighton titled New Ecologies between Rural Life and Visual Culture in the West of Ireland: History, Context, Position, and Art Practice. Current projects include a collaborative project SPUD, between farmers, artists and art agencies taking place in Ireland, the UK and the USA and this year she has produced a collaborative event, River Culture in County Tipperary in June 2013.  She is curating an installation on rural labour and the regulation of turf cutting as part of the. O’Mahony is a member of the association of Arte Útil practitioners, a project by Tanya Bruguera, and part of the Arte Útil archive. Solo exhibitions include Abandoned Clare 2013, re-presentations, BCA Gallery 2009, Viscqueux Galway Arts Festival, 2006, Wall, Context Gallery Derry and LCGA, 2002 and WRAP; Galway Arts Centre in 2000. Public art projects include T.U.R.F (Transitional Understandings Of Rural Futures), ongoing, Mind Meitheal ongoing, Abridged: 0 – 20 Abandoned Clare, 2011, funded by the Arts Council, X-PO 2007-8 funded by the Arts Council and Cross Land, 2007 commissioned by Clare Co. Council. O’Mahony has received numerous awards, both national and international including a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Fellowship in 1995 and visual arts bursaries from the Arts Council of Ireland/An Chomhairle Ealaíonn, 1997/2001 and 2010.

For more details and updates as they become available check http://www.thefuturestate.org.uk.

The Psychic Turn in Labour (Part II)

The Psychic Turn in Labour (Part II)

26.4.2013

Labour is described, in classical economic terms, as a ‘factor of production’, along with land and capital. The Future State turns its attention to labour in a year when Ireland commemorates the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout and, over the coming weeks, will explore cultural engagement with labour related themes: migration flows, workers’ resistance and violence and contemporary work phenomena such as outsourcing, flexible working, working from home and the mobile office.

 

Image from ‘Working at Deloitte for a Month’ Powerpoint presentation from ‘The Trainee’ by Pilvi Takala

As cognitive capacity replaces physical capacity to become the essential productive labour resource, Franco “Bifo” Berardi foregrounds the psychic turn in the economy. Part I explored Bifo’s Schizo Economy[1] through Mark Curran’s art work The Breathing Factory[2], a multimedia installation that illuminates precisely this shift in labour conditions, revealing the impact of advancing technologies on Hewlett Packard factory workers in the small town of Leixlip in Ireland.  In acknowledging the shift, what do we understand are the implications?

Bifo argues that to fully understand the current condition, particularly the global economic crisis, the “psychic and emotional state of the millions of cognitive workers” must be taken into account and further he proposes that the depression of the psychic worker is the cause of the financial crisis rather than the result.

Contemporary capitalism manifesting as increased competitiveness, complex digital networks and the concept of Business @ The Speed of Thought has, he puts forward, placed the worker under such constant “attentive stress” that it induces “a state of permanent electrocution that flows into a widespread pathology which manifests itself either in the panic syndrome or else in attention disorder”.[3] Technology, or the “mediascape”[4] is in a race to evolve.  Apple, Samsung, Sony and others battle to develop smarter, faster, more innovative and more mobile functionality.  In parallel the “infosphere”[5] is expanding exponentially, new components transmitting more signals day by day: Google, Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging, blogs, YouTube, Vimeo, Pinterest and more. But the third component, the human mind, and in particular its processing power, has largely remained the same, creating a lag between the transmitting technology and signals and the receiving human mind.  This has foregrounded the psychic collapse of the individual.

According to Bifo, this collapse, evidenced by the rise of the psycho-pharmaceutical industry selling millions of packets of drugs such as Prozac and Ritalin, is due to oversaturation in informatic stimuli, which in turn triggered a collapse in the economy and society. Whether or not the wellbeing of the global financial system can be attributed to the psychic health of the globalized, networked brain-worker is arguable but the acceleration of digital stimuli and the resultant increased burden on the worker is irrefutable.

 

Image from ‘ Working at Deloitte for a Month’ Powerpoint presentation from ‘The Trainee’ by Pilvi Takala

Artist Pilvi Takala’s work can be used to think about how modern working practices have evolved to accommodate the acceleration of informatic stimuli. Her project The Trainee exposes workers’ values that are tightly bound to a continuous cycle of receiving, evaluating, processing and communicating information.  Takala does this by passively subverting normative working practices and challenging the dominant narratives that exist around working and efficiency. In The Trainee the artist spends a month in the Marketing Department of Deloitte & Touche, a global tax, accounting and consulting firm, one of the so called ‘Big Four’, as student intern ‘Johanna Takala’. Only a few people within the firm are aware that her presence is part of an artistic project.

February 26, a Day at Tax & Legal  documents Johanna’s day spent in the library of the Tax and Legal department of the firm. She doesn’t consult any books or seek to engage with visitors or staff while she is there.  She sits and looks out the window.  When asked what she is doing, or more truthfully why she is not doing, she explains that she is a trainee from the Marketing Department and is doing brain work and thinking about things. This passive subversive act of ‘non-activity’ generates surprise and concern and an email exchange captured between Deloitte & Touche workers reveal that some people even find it ‘scary’.  In capitalist value systems it becomes unthinkable not to want to desire efficiency, productivity and competitiveness and explicit non-conformance is interpreted as a threat.

In February 25, a Day at Consulting Johanna spends a day in the Consulting Department of Deloitte & Touche. Consulting services offer expert resource to clients on a short term, project basis.  Clients can buy as much or as little cognitive expertise as they wish, when they wish, and consultants typically charge an hourly or daily rate for cognitive capacity. Consultants maintain records of the time spent working for each client and the firm charges the client accordingly. Consulting services exemplify what Bifo describes as the fragmentation and fractionalisation[6] of contemporary labour whereby a worker is no longer perceived as a human but as cells of time that can be bought in accordance with need, without recourse to offering social protection for the worker.  In the film Johanna sits quietly at a desk in the middle of a busy office. One work colleague is taken aback when she notices that Johanna does not have a laptop. Johanna explains that she is thinking / doing brain work.  In a space where time not spent working for clients is categorised as non-chargeable time, Johanna’s non-activity is unexpected and unsettling. She cannot be competitive unless she is connected to the digital network. The absence of a machine and technology is a refusal to contribute economically to the firm.

 

Still from ‘Working for Deloitte for a Month’ Powerpoint presentation from ‘The Trainee’ by Pilvi Takala

What strategies for the future?  Bifo proposes three. Firstly, collective deceleration, a refusal or cancellation of potentialities, but he rightly acknowledges this is almost impossible. Secondly, upgrading to post-human by bio-engineering digital components into human bodies. This would seem a natural direction for the already voracious development in the mediascape.  Finally, a distancing from the vortex, a retreat from capitalism.  A possibility perhaps for a privileged minority. What would you choose?

Written by Stephanie Feeney


[1] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]

[2] Curran, M., (2006) The Breathing Factory, Heidelberg, Edition Braus.

[3] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

The Psychic Turn in Labour (Part I)

The Psychic Turn in Labour (Part I)

14.4.2013

Labour is described, in classical economic terms, as a ‘factor of production’, along with land and capital. The Future State turns its attention to labour in a year when Ireland commemorates the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout and, over the coming weeks, will explore cultural engagement with labour related themes: migration flows, workers’ resistance and violence and contemporary work phenomena such as outsourcing, flexible working, working from home and the mobile office.

“In the semiotic becoming of capitalism, the soul is set to work.”[1]

Rapid and significant shifts in working practices in the last decades of the twentieth century have seen production turn away from physical capacity towards cognitive capacity. To an increasingly greater extent the knowledge economy is replacing manual labour; mind is replacing muscle. Franco “Bifo” Berardi asserts that today “cognitive capacity is becoming the essential productive resource” a a progression from the industrial age where ” the mind was put to work as a repetitive automatism, the physiological support of muscular movement.”[2] Now the mind is being put to work in new ways. Economic production has become cognitive, spurred on by a continuous evolution of technology, media forms and the speed of global information flows. The industrial age has given way to the information age.

 


From the series of work ‘The Breathing Factory’ by Mark Curran

In Ireland the industrial revolution and subsequent industrial age didn’t feature to a significant extent. Ireland’s economy continued to rely on pre-industrial agricultural production for the home and export market. But by the late 1990’s Ireland’s economy had leap-frogged into the post-industrial knowledge economy by nurturing the economic, labour and political conditions that encouraged multinational corporations in high tech industries to establish manufacturing bases there.  Thus contemporary factories, the manufacturing plants of Dell, Hewlett Packard and Intel, were built “in the middle of country fields, on the edge of a historic town, within a short bus ride of a global city… amidst new industrial locations and new communities that sit halfway between the rural and the urban, where people draw on elements of the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’”. [3]

The Breathing Factory by Mark Curran, a photographic documentation of a Hewlett Packard site in Leixlip, County Kildare, Ireland, takes its title from an economic concept developed by Peter Hartz.  Hartz describes the desire to achieve a ‘breathing’ factory, one that opportunistically flexes to the constantly changing demand of the market. Inside the factory, production processes, working conditions and hours expand and contract to the rhythm of the market. Equally, the factory boundaries are porous, drawing external factors such as education, social behaviours and the labour market into its rhythm too.

 


From the series of work ‘The Breathing Factory’ by Mark Curran

The Breathing Factory foregrounds some pertinent and complex issues that arise from contemporary labour conditions including migration flows and multicultural societies, gendered labour, the longevity and sustainability of neoliberal economic policies, the precarity of contemporary working patterns, the hegemony of the market and the continual competition to follow capitalism’s ever mutating vortex.  Curran’s work illuminates the shift in labour-power from manual to cognitive, exactly that to which Berardi refers.[4]

Interviews conducted with the Hewlett Packard factory employees, by the artist, reveal the true implications of technological advance: shifts from labour intensive to machine intensive production, job losses, redundancy and obsolescence, relocation, re-skilling and unemployment. In one interview, Susan, Logisitics Co-ordinator, asserts that the work is getting “easier”. But for whom? Fewer and fewer humans are required to manually control the machines as information technologies evolve at super-human speed.

for production lines out there … they … they seem to always need less and less people to operate them there … every different production line we bring in, it has more capabilities within itself … whereas the first one, we probably needed 12 and now we only need 6 people to run it … so technology is constantly changing … machines and computers are doing more work all of the time … life, work is being made a hell of a lot easier … I think

Susan, Logistics Coordinator, Samuel Beckett Meeting Room, Hewlett Packard Ireland, 23rd October 2003.[5]

 


From the series ‘The Breathing Factory’ by Mark Curran

The shift to the cognitive is, nonetheless, still evident in the context of a factory, a place historically associated with workers and manual labour.  What The Breathing Factory tells us is that the contemporary factory has cognitised too, inhaling technologically advanced machines and exhaling manual labour.  In high tech industry the cognitive capacity grounds itself on the digital technology of the machines. Workers with the cognitive skills to cope best with the increasing volume, speed and complexity of information, those with the mental agility to decipher specialised digital signals and semiotics, can contribute to the corporation’s drive for maximum development, progress and competition.  Cognitive skills become increasingly valuable; the higher up the cognitive chain, the more valuable the labour.

we have 4,200 employees here in Ireland at the moment, 1,800 in the manufacturing side here … and we are growing that investment, we are growing it on the R and D side … up the value chain …

Una, Director, Government and Public Affairs, Canteen, Hewlett-Packard, June 1st, 2004[6]

Berardi calls the new economy that demands more and more cognitive capacity, a schizo-economy.[7] He points to the increasing use of anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac as symptomatic of the economy’s psychic collapse.  Capitalism, he argues, has created the constant drive towards competition, a need to be at the forefront of development and progress that is manifest in, for example, investment focus in research and development (R and D) activities by Hewlett Packard, as evidenced in Mark Curran’s The Breathing Factory.  Capitalism’s schizophrenia is in demanding mental energy, cognitive capacity and brain power, while simultaneously exhausting it by bombarding the mind with informatics stimuli. According to Berardi, society is, as a result in “a state of permanent electrocution”.

Written by Stephanie Feeney.

Next week: expanding Berardi’s schizo economy to unpack the effect of contemporary labour conditions on individuals and groups.

 


[1] Berardi, F., ‘Alterity and Desire’, translated C. Mongini, Deleuze, Guattari and the Production of the New, ed S. O’Sullivan, S. Zepke (London, Continuum, 2008)

[2] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]

[3] O’ Riain, S., (2006) ‘Space to Breath in the High Tech Workplace’ in Curran, M., The Breathing Factory, Heidelberg, Edition Braus.

[4] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]

[5] Curran, M., (2006) The Breathing Factory, Heidelberg, Edition Braus.

[6] Curran, M., (2006) The Breathing Factory, Heidelberg, Edition Braus.

[7] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]