Report on the seminar Scenarios, representations and transformations of work in the global world

Scenarios, representations and transformations of work in the global world

23 November 2018
MACBA, Convent dels Angels. Barcelona


by Juliane Debeusscher

The seminar Scenarios, Representations and Transformations of Work in the Global World, organised within the framework of the MoDe(s)2 project, took place on 28 November in Barcelona. It counted with the participation of the collective Working Dead, and several invited speakers. The seminar’s objective was to address the issue of work and post-work in the global world, declined in its multiple angles of incidence.

The seminar was introduced by María Ruido and Antonio Gómez. María Ruido pointed out that changes in world geopolitics cannot be contemplated without taking into account the transformations that have occurred and continue to occur in the work system, as both are part of the same process. He insisted on the importance of generating imaginaries about “post-work” to help us to articulate ourselves politically. Antonio Gómez then briefly presented the research project Working Dead. Composed by himself, María Ruido and Marta Echaves with the support of La Virreina Centre de la Imatge, in Barcelona, Working Dead proposes to discuss the new composition of work with its class categories and to foster debates around its representations and incidence on the constitution of subjectivities.

The morning session moderated by Maria Ruido focused on the idiosyncrasy of the capitalist system and its effects.

The first speaker, Guillermo Fernández, offered an analysis of the modalities of political intervention of the French far right in the popular classes, revealing the strategies adopted by the Front National party throughout its existence. In particular, Guillermo Fernández suggested that the Front National has replaced, or seeks to replace in the political landscape of the French working middle class, the space occupied in precedence by the left; the party would thus seek to adopt the position of an “ancient left”. This strategy, Fernandez said, is based on a series of elements that account for the transformations of the party’s model and discourse, going from a clearly anti-statist party to a party that seeks to represent the state and embody it through the concept of “social identity”, as a typically French element. The aim is to move away from identity discourse to favour economic discourse (thus justifying anti-immigration measures). Another aspect addressed in the intervention was the way in which the FN has been trying to infiltrate the trade union bodies, even those of the left, following the line initially described of replacing the left. The visual production of the party supports this new policy, borrowing without any complex images and figures traditionally associated with the left, such as Jean Jaures or Léon Blum.

Next, Antón Fernández de Rota proposed an archaeology of capitalism, reviewing fundamental moments and episodes of its history with a more particular focus on the role of technologies and biotechnologies. His genealogical study started from the declaration of independence of cyberspace (1996) by John Perry Barlow, an “evangelical gesture” of defiance to the rulers that marked the end of Internet utopianism, while companies were taking possession of the network under the supervision of states, in particular the United States. At a time when the utopia of cyberspace has given way to dystopia, observed Antón Fernández de Rota, the traces left by the body are fragments of information that can be stored and used to direct and extract capital. The duplication of the body, the subject, space and movement in their virtual reconstruction are only part of the current metamorphosis we are experiencing. Along with the processes of technification, the transformations introduced by biotechnology and biosciences contribute to it. 1984 appears as a key date for the advent of this dystopian era in which computers, fibre optics and communication technologies expanded, while that same year saw the death of Michel Foucault, a fundamental reference for reflecting on the impact of these transformations on life and the control of language and the body. In the most strictly economic sphere, Fernández de Rota observed that the economy has a body, whose metamorphoses are as drastic as those of the biological body. The last part of his paper dealt with the case of “sharing economy”, which he identified as a manifestation of cyber utopism in the present, with very antagonistic faces: on the one hand, a possibility of overcoming capitalism, involving something related to the commons and the end of property, of materialism; on the other hand, however, it implies the subsuming of the commons into an extreme version of capitalism, not far away, indeed, from manifestations of social control such as the social credit system, recently conceived by the Chinese government.

In the afternoon, the session moderated by María Ruido focused on the representations of work or post-work, including their repercussions or resonances in the field of visual arts.

In his presentation, Rafael Pinilla addressed the incorporation of economic issues in exhibitions or artistic productions. After a first part in which he evoked the transformations of the economic system in the last decades and the need to formulate critical diagnoses on these changes and their effects on subjectivities, he presented some aspects of the impact of the context previously described on the cultural sphere. His intervention focused particularly on the artistic system, identifying it a very concrete symptomatology within it. Pinilla pointed out that the erosion of the welfare state, the crisis and the importance of financial markets are revealed in exhibitions and biennials that incorporate the economic issue in their agenda. Contemporary art also deepens these dynamics, and even offers alternatives. Pinilla presented a selection of artists and works that currently deal with the question of the economy and its collateral effects, covering topics such as the upheavals produced by work (exhaustion, stress), the figure of the entrepreneur, the interruption of life rhythms by capitalism, the “uberization of work” or the social networks.

María Ruido presented her film Estado de malestar (malestar_exhuberancia_anomalía) (2018). At the origin of this work are her reflections developed on the imaginary of work and the production/reproduction binomial. Considering that work conditions our lives as a backbone that articulates both social and personal life, María Ruido named important references for the film, particularly Mark Fischer and his book Capitalist Realism, Franco Berardi Bifo’s analyses of our time and its illnesses, including depression, and Santiago López Petit’s reflections. Estado de malestar is based on María Ruido’s own autobiography and her experience of the processes of vulnerability and fragilization caused by work, particularly in the field of culture. As a result of this experience, she came into contact with the women of the InsPiradas collective in Madrid, who occupy an important place in the film through interviews and conversations with the author. The collective is behind the initiative of the Día del orgullo loco (the “Crazy Pride Day”), whose first edition took place in May 2018, with the reading of the Manifiesto del Orgullo Loco (Manifesto of Crazy Pride) that exposes important demands of stigmatized and mistreated people due to their relationship with the Spanish mental health system.

The film screening was followed by a brief debate, during which comments and questions arose about antipsychiatry and its origins in Spain, the failure of the psychiatric reform in the State, the processes experienced by the members of InsPiradas, the relationship between work and mental illness, the potential of creation and the responsibility of creators to focus and treat these processes and open spaces for communication with other people and politicization. Discussions were also held on the strategies of mutual aid groups and their proximity to those of feminist cinema with attention to “small discourses” (Trinh T. Minh-ha), the idea of ressentiment and its collectivization as a motor of struggle (Mark Fischer), and the importance of politicizing anger.

In conclusion, this day allowed to consider the question of work and especially post-work from multiple perspectives, both from its close relationship with processes of transformation in the global economy, and in its most biopolitical and intimate aspect, linked to the control of bodies and subjectivities, and their problematic effects. Faced with this dark panorama, art and culture remain possible political tools of questioning, to open spaces for debate and collectivization.

See the seminar programme