Econ-Aesthetics: A Recent Lecture
por Marina Vishmidt.
Versão inglesa apenas.
I would like to consider first the reconfiguration of labour in the economy from one based around the wage-labour contract to one based on credit and debt, and then see what kind of effect this has on artistic labour, or how we conceive of artistic labour.
This shift can be seen as an aspect of what has been referred to with descriptive terms as various as 'risk society', 'financialization' and even 'cognitive capitalism' , augurs a shift in the prototypical subject of economic rationality – from the cost-benefit analysis of risks and opportunities in her environment performed by the classical subject of classical and neo-classical economics, homo economicus, to a different anthropology, that one of the self-optimizing and self-exploiting subject of 'human capital'. The shift could be described as one in property relations: from the entrepreneur who uses private property rights and the legal stability of the contract to capitalize on her immediate resources, such as knowledge of the market or access to capital, to the manager, who identifies her interests with that of the firm and optimizes resources she does not own or have any claim to – and in the instance of human capital, her rights over herself and her 'skills' are held by various financial and state institutions. So this is the axis that shifts from ownership to management, or from autonomy to heteronomy. In another but related reading.Foucault, in his Birth of Biopolitics lectures, depicts this shift as one at the centre of neoliberal governmentality: from the subject of exchange (the fiction of the contract regulates the unequal capital relation – a day's work for a day's wage – socially agreed measures which are amenable to political intervention because the notion of the exchange presupposes a terrain of equality where antagonists can meet to negotiate their separate but inter-dependent interests) to the subject of competition (there is no longer a relationship of antagonism between capital and labour because there is no longer an exchange – everyone is individualized as an economic agent where appreciation in one's own life prospects is principally indistinguishable from appreciation in capital – or, on a smaller level, the company's – profit prospects). This should be seen very clearly as a structural as much as, or primarily to it being, an ideological shift: the subjectivity or social existence of human capital is simply an alignment, or revision, of the autonomous modern individual closer to the 'automatic', self-expanding, self-valorising subject of capital that inaugurated that modernity, and the distinction between economics and politics adequate to it at that stage and no longer adequate now, either descriptively or prescriptively, that is, politically.
This loss of antagonism marks a drop or cancelling out of political contestation which has often been observed to be the immutability or the there is no alternative dogma of the neoliberal era, where financial contracts are socially dominant and not open to political challenge or social interrogation. On the level of labour, this is materially established by the suppression of wages and the maintenance of living standards through credit instruments and indebtedness, one of these standards being of course eligibility for employment which in the US and UK among many other places, is now supplied through very expensive and personally funded higher education. As Jason Read has recently written, 'Debt is a mutation of homo economicus: it is no longer, as Marx argued, the subject of "freedom, equality, and Bentham," but the subject of obligation, inequality, and Becker.
He goes on to propose, following Maurizio Lazzarato's recent book on debt, that governance through debt, including sovereign debt as we can very much see in the programmes of austerity destroying both the relations of production and social reproduction in many European nation states right now, most horrifyingly in Greece, is governance primarily over life., ie.: ' "it functions equally as an apparatus of production and a way to govern individual and collective subjects.", to cancel ideas of the future in favour of scrambling for survival in the here and now, and the priority of creditors' interests (debt repayments) above all, since they hold all the social power. Debt is a way to moralize, individualize and naturalize inequality as an assumption of personal risk, even when these are obviously so structural that the entire global economy has been partially demolished over the last 4 or 5 years by bad systemic risk – there is still a substantial political wing that claims reforms to this system (which continues to operate and gain huge profits on the basis of increasingly automated risk calculation in the financial markets) will make it impossible for deviant individuals to behave recklessly. The 'moralization' of systemic risk materialized in the power of debt is of course a main feature of the technology of de-politicization that is a mainstay of neoliberal governmentality and production of subjectivity – even as life (social welfare, health, education, professional development, etc.) become sources of profit to be extracted by an increasingly indebted and profoundly deadlocked state/capital apparatus, the creditworthiness of this life guarantees access to its survival. Here I will briefly quote Read again because he sums it up so concisely, and then follow with part of a quote from Marx that he uses:
The subject of debt is isolated, separated from others, who are no longer seen as part of a collective condition. With debt there is only one's responsibility, one's isolation, one's fears up against an economic situation of abstract calculation. It is very difficult to say "we" debtors, in the way one could say "we" citizens or "we" workers. Part of debt passes beneath us, in the calculations, quantifications, and aggregations that make up our digital self, our virtual identity, and is this respect we cannot even say "I." But even that part that individuates us, the part that we carry with us as a burden, does not allow for the creation of a "We." This is because debt is seen less as a collective condition, as part of a new regime of accumulation and a new governmentality, than as an individual fate.
Marx: 'Credit is the economic judgment on the morality of a man. In credit, the man himself, instead of metal or paper, has become the mediator of exchange, not however as a man, but as the mode of existence of capital and interest. The medium of exchange, therefore, has certainly returned out of its material form and been put back in man, but only because the man himself has been put outside himself and has himself assumed a material form. Within the credit relationship, it is not the case that money is transcended in man, but that man himself is turned into money, or money is incorporated in him.'
From here, I would like to move to a quick sketch of my phd research, which I have called 'speculation as a mode of production' in art and capital, within which I consider the consequences of the above-described and related shifts in economic conditions and economic subjectivity for artistic labour as a special case of social labour in capital or as its characteristic form of 'not-labour' which thus magnifies and highlights the latent tendencies and features of how labour in general has been displaced and transformed in the recent decades and the current phase of capital and social decomposition. This also has consequences of course for the critical tradition of Marxist aesthetics, such as Adorno, in which art functioned dialectically as both the de-functionalization of capitalist subjectivities and social relations and the apotheosis of these, as an absolute commodity with no use-value; in other words, the famous dialectic of autonomy and heteronomy that founds the situation of art. Part of this of course is the mobilization of creative and innovative modes of behaviour and thought into the managerial regimes of labour discipline and the template of human capital on the one side, and increasing proximity to economic, or industrial, rationality in the entrepreneurial and organizational economy of arts production, in its most mystified and modulated, and, crucially, socialized forms of course, which is indispensable for understanding the current ideology of crisis beating social entrepreneurship, with its ties to subcultures of authenticity, eccentricity and individualized crisis management.
Why 'speculation as a mode of production'? The advantage of this formulation is that it conjoins the two senses of speculation pertinent to this inquiry – the speculative praxis of art, and financial speculation. It also attempts to give a specific critical valence to the formation of the 'creative industries' which was based on the ideological elision of these two registers of the speculative in its goal of harmonising them and founding a new regime of accumulation on this synthesis. While speculative thought refers mainly to art and aesthetics, particularly in their connection to re-imagining social relations, 'financial speculation' can be more broadly defined as the self-expanding, or self-valorising, dynamic of capital as such highlighted in value-form analysis – speculation as social form - rather than a subset of it which can be named as 'the financial industry' although this more specific focus is not excluded.
Given the fading prominence of the 'creative industries' discourse in UK economic policy and more broadly, it is still worth asking in what sense current formulations such as 'Big Society' continue to refer to the affect and subjectivity of a perhaps more socially inflected notion of 'creativity', that of co-operation and self-organisation, in order to solicit the kind of legitimacy for accomplishing deeply regressive agendas that in earlier periods would have been sought by addressing the creative individual.
Hence, 'speculation as a mode of production' refers to both the open-ended processes of art and politics, as well as the overdetermined processes of the increase of sums of value in capitalism. In this way, it seeks to encompass both a subjective and an objective mode for the social expression of capital in the present and the recent past, the period of neoliberalism. This period has witnessed the subjective qualities of creativity, flexibility and innovation become the objective factors of workplace productivity, while objective productivity itself shifts to the indeterminacy and risk associated with 'creative financial instruments' as the dominant mode of capital accumulation. Financialization augurs a new normalization of speculative processes as the core logic of capital accumulation, which is reflected in the social field via the institutionalisation of speculative processes (such as 'risk') in governance, work and welfare. The concern here is to draw a parallel between contemporary capital and contemporary art as they come to constitute the poles of a society structured around speculation, reflected in social practices as diverse as systems of welfare provision to the constitution of self and the image of work. The subjective experience of speculation becomes economically codified as 'creativity' in the neoliberal labour market. As a consequence, creativity becomes, paradoxically, a characteristic of abstract labour – the generic category for the social institution of wage-labour in a capitalist society, indifferent as to content (Marx 1976; Postone, 1993). This shift, I will argue, heralds the conversion of the hypostatized creativity which is art into a pre-eminent instance of speculation as a mode of production, since art becomes no longer just a commodity in the market or a gratuitous activity but a tool of socialization and re-valorisation of land, populations and nation-brands, taking on a new instrumentality in the dialectical transit between autonomy and heteronomy assigned to art by Marxist critics such as Theodor W. Adorno (Adorno 1970, 1990).
The focus of my research is the elision between art and labour from the standpoint of the value-form. What I am trying to do is draw a link between the expansion of the category of art and the expansion of the value-form in the dynamics of social production and reproduction in recent times. Such an expansion, I will argue, is an index of the crisis in the relations of production that have kept art and labour separate, a separation that can no longer hold once that crisis is considered not just a general malfunctioning of a secular logic of valorisation called 'finance' but a crisis in the capital-labour relation more generally, a crisis that derives from the terminal logic (for capital) of finance as abstraction. In an unprecedented way, art not only reflects but revises the productive forces, shading into forces of extraction, enclosure and de-valorisation in the era of debt-financed austerity that we're seeing now.
To bring the discussion briefly up to date and into recent and current practice, a little precis of recent art which positions itself in the allegorical mode with relation to finance. There's Maria Eichhorn's well-known Aktiengesellschaft (2002), for one, which freezes capital. Or Zachary Formwalt, for example, who works on the relation between circulation and visibility of capital: images of crisis in the media show us capital at a standstill, whereas its movements are normally invisible and intangible (and bound to be even more so with the nanosecond-speed forms of electronic trading which recently found mention with the discovery in particle physics of new forms of temporality not covered by the law of relativity). Here the publicization of crisis exacerbates the crisis. Crisis makes circulation visible; when circulation freezes, it becomes visible, like Benjamin's 'dialectics at a standstill' in the dialectical image. With his project on the 1847 Henry Fox Talbot photo of the Royal Exchange in London – the almost-site of the current Occupy London Stock Exchange assembly at St Paul's - wherein the long exposures necessary for the state of photographic technology at the time meant that no people were visible in the streets around the building. It is as these missing multitudes were represented through the monumentality of the financial edifice, in absentia (compare to Ranciere's idea of photographs of serially stacked shipping containers showing the missing workers or as allegories for the absence of workers). This links also to how finance embodies a crisis of representation, even as representation augurs a crisis in finance. Credit instruments, financial innovation – how to represent relations with no correlate in the object world. 'Financial innovation is basically the production of new saleable objects without ever entering into an external sphere of production.' They cannot be represented because they are themselves terms of representation.
Jan Peter Hammer's recent project That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen. This is a performance in which a hired security guard sits in the gallery during the gallery's opening hours for the whole length of the show, keeping an eye on a stack of cash. The guard's task is to survey the money, yet the sum he is guarding is his own wage, which he will collect at the end of the assignment. That is, whilst the guard's function is to watch over the money, the money's function is to pay the guard for watching it. In this mutual implication and negation of labour and capital, we see the dialectic of debt as the wage play out, and how art showcases this, itself a form of credibility, that like finance is backed by criteria of value immanent to itself. How does it play out? The guard watches money accumulate he is not entitled to until he has finished the job; meanwhile someone else's credit – the artist's – is growing, is improving, as the guard works in the expectation of possessing the money in the future, probably as he or she herself has to draw on reserves other than those yielded through her wage-labour to reproduce herself, something she has in common with the majority of the world's proletariat. Art is here then an unreliable, and not strictly scaleable, while still being a very illustrative, scale-model of the working conditions of the debtor: no longer the propertyless proletarian with nothing to sell but her own labour in order to ensure her survival, the debtor has the use of property which is not hers to sell, but owned by the owners of her means of reproduction, that is, her credit, and which may always be withdrawn; the property she has the use of is what she must rent out to pay them back: this property includes herself, i.e. her human capital. This result is unavoidable in a financialised economy, and much less so in a financialized crash and the contraction of public resources that the restoration of the profit rate dictates. Jan Peter Hammer's formal demonstration here, by demonstration I mean something like the quasi-scientific and quasi-theatrical nature of public scientific experiments in the 18th century, is a demonstration of the principle which registers in Hans van Houwelingen's work as well, namely anamorphosis: money and labour occupy the same physical space while never stabilizing into one or the other; moreover, money and labour come into this relation at the imprimatur of art, which is a translation into a form of abstraction which radically simplifies their contingencies and clarifies their relation.
Pilvi Takala's 2008 video The Trainee depicts the Finnish artist embarking upon a placement as a trainee with a marketing company. Initially undertaking the standard array of tasks allotted her in this role, her behaviour starts to subtly shift over time, to the perplexity of her colleagues. After several months, she no longer undertakes any tasks. But instead of enacting a Bartleby-like stance of existential refusal in the workplace, Takala is actually attempting to live up to the tenets of unfettered creativity featured in the rhetoric accompanying her professional development, the tenets of spontaneous and ungovernable value creation that each company must learn how to foster in its employees if it wants to stay ahead of the game. She spends her days sitting at her desk staring into space. Inquiries meet with the singular response, 'I am thinking.'
Here it could be ventured that the artist is dramatizing or parodying the capitalization of attention as labour which has been written about extensively in theories of post-Fordism, along with the 'virtuosity' explored by Virno, all of which bring art as the suspension of labour and labour as the suspension of creativity, closer together to the point of indistinction, flowing into a common mode of 'process over product'. In The Trainee, art acts as a magnifying lens for the suspension of labour as integral to the actuality of contemporary work: the disposition, the readiness to work, is already the chief affective and subjective requirement of today's abstract labour. Thinking might already be labour, might already be attention subsumed to the regime of valorisation, but it might also be just thinking, or nothing – clearly Takala's on-the-job performance did not serve to advance her marketing career (this might have also pertained to her lowly status as trainee – perhaps had she attained to an executive post, her claim to be 'thinking' as work might have been given more credence). While it is not uncommon for motifs appropriated from or emulating the world of labour to infiltrate art over the past several decades, if not earlier, with the Productivists and Constructivists, Takala's piece is perhaps one of a small number which tries to represent the changes to the experience and expectations of work in recent times – which can be summed up as its unrepresentability, its loss of definition. Of course, there are other ways for art to register these changes which are not representational but also, or instead, structural – these are the more 'invisible', relational or performative practices I have discussed elsewhere.
But it does remain to be elaborated, if this is the case, why art and labour are still two different domains. If art is an allegory for the counterproductive which has gained independence from the valorisation process and become its 'own' thing – the antithesis to that which is the case – this runs a risk of turning art into a merely privative category, 'if it is not anything else, let's call it art.' This formality and ambiguity doubtlessly is what lends art, as a social role and a set of practices, it allure for the proponents of a labour transformed in its working conditions and self-concept into an analogue for infinitely mutable and self-expanding – or deferred – value.
-artists are structurally and subjectively reproduced as speculators in the market since their work is not remunerated with a wage – this gives them a direct interest in the fortunes of capital which wage workers don't have, but which accords with the role of financialization in tying people's reproduction to the market- at the same time artists are not considered workers by capital, since artistic labour is not paid with a wage – this violates the 'law of value', especially for artists who do not produce work for the market.
I'll briefly mention also W.A.G.E., a group I referred to in the introduction, who campaign for the financial compensation (in institutional budgets, mainly) for artistic practices which don't produce results that are easy to reify institutionally or economically: they want 'capitalist value' in return for the 'critical value' they provide, thus hoping to break the magic link between artists and speculators subjectively and structurally. The reply to this could of course be the same as the point being made throughout this paper, that is how to demand improved conditions of reproduction under conditions which themselves need to be eradicated. As Paolo Virno says with reference to the above, 'Nowadays artistic labour is turning into wage labour while the problem is, of course, how to liberate human activity in general from the form of wage labour.' Thus it is worth, as I attempt to do in my more art-oriented research, to separate these levels out a bit and try to claim not the similarity of art to life as radical, but the mimetic relation – with 'mimetic' referring to a notion of mimesis that can be derived, in different ways, from the work of Adorno, Benjamin, and Roger Callois - between them which implies a break from the terms of the fusion as much as with the terms of their separation. Further, I would say that it doesn't make a lot of sense to look at the relation between art and politics without first seeing how art and labour diverge and converge in capital.
Mierle Laderman Ukeles dramatised the nominalist protocols of Conceptual Art when she performed domestic labour as an artwork, what she called 'Maintenance Art'. Ukeles would bustle around exhibits with a duster and glass cleaning fluid, wash the steps of the museum, and hound the administrative staff out of their offices on her cleaning rounds. Maintenance labour, she said, made all other kinds of work possible. In proposing a world in which such activities were just as legitimately a part of the art as the objects or even the more ephemeral propositions or documentations that announced conceptual art, she was suspending the division of symbolic and physical labour that ensured work and art remained matter and anti-matter, autonomy without a taint of heteronomy. If the daily uncompensated labour performed by mainly women in the household could migrate to the museum and seek legitimacy as art, then it was no longer self-evident that this labour was any less 'creative' than the kind of activity otherwise enshrined as art, and no less public than socially necessary wage-labour. It could even be said that her work synthesized the political stakes of identifying with 'work' at that time for art and for domestic labour, since identifying with work was a way of reaching for some sort of political collective agency (and, inversely, the political stakes of upgrading housework to artwork). The debates around art's relationship to work sounded very similar to the domestic labour debates; both were seen as somehow taking place outside the social contract of waged labour. In the words of Kathi Weeks, "Was the domestic realm part of a capitalist system or a separate mode of production? Was domestic labor an instance of 'unproductive' labor which, since it does not create surplus value, is not central or fundamental to capital? Or was it a form of 'productive' labor that produces surplus value either indirectly or directly and hence must be conceived as an integral element of capitalist production? Was it subject to or exempt from the law of value and thus marginal or integral to the process of valorization? In short, was domestic labor properly inside or outside capitalist production?"
Este texto é uma transcrição de uma palestra dada por ocasião da exposição Homo Economicus, MD72, Berlin. Publicado com a permissão de Marina Vishmidt.