[iDC] under the sign of labor

Buchmann Sabeth s.buchmann at akbild.ac.at
Tue Nov 24 18:07:57 UTC 2009

Sabeth Buchmann
Under the Sign of Labor

I.              From the Dematerialized Object to Immaterial Labor

Anglo-American Conceptual art, which emerged in the mid to late 1960s,
displayed a new interest in linguistics and information theory that clearly
distinguished it from the industrially coded production aesthetics of Pop
art and Minimalism. The thesis that went along with this was that replacing
author-centered object production with linguistic or information-based
propositions represented a challenge not only to any traditional
“material-object paradigm” (Art & Language) but also to those aspects of
craftsmanship within “production values” that are crucial to any claims to
authorship and the “work,” and this perhaps helps to explain how and why the
history of Conceptual art has mistakenly been written as a history of
“dematerialization of the object.”[i] <#_edn1> Without wishing to enter into
any detailed critique of the concept of dematerialization, for this has
already been sufficiently undertaken and documented,[ii] <#_edn2> I would
still like to take this as a starting point, though not in order to discuss
the status of the object in the context of postconceptual practice or to
relativize the problems inherent to the discourse of dematerialization.
Instead, I am interested in the inherent revaluation of “work” that the
concept involves. Lucy Lippard was not alone in seeing one of Conceptual
art’s main goals in replacing the traditional object with
distribution-oriented sign systems in order to overcome the market logic of
art production and anchor these distribution-oriented sign systems within
noninstitutional, noncommercial public space.[iii] <#_edn3>  Although this
goal was not achieved, Conceptual art was still successful in establishing
the idea that art’s symbolic value did not necessarily have to be judged on
the basis of its material production, but could just as well be gauged in
registers of social productivity. This means that whereas art was
traditionally seen in terms of categories of objects (works of art), now
there was a renewed call for art committed to the avant-garde and a form of
communication capable of generating public space. As the work of the early
Conceptual artists shows, this amounted to a new notion of public space that
was that was projected onto such various interrelated spheres as urban
space, social movements, the mass media, new technologies, libraries, etc.

We can assume, along with the philosopher Jacques Rancière, that at the
basis of such a discourse of public space lies not only the avant-garde
notion of transferring art to life, but also simple, classical images of the
“emulating artist,” who in contrast to the “standard” worker, who is
excluded “from participation in what is common to the community,” “provides
a public stage for the ‘private’ principle of work.”[iv] <#_edn4> But as
standard categories of material production become obsolete with the
relativization of forms and notions of the work that are focused around the
notion of the author, then the question arises as to the status of the
artistic work that is to be exhibited in the public realm. If Maurizio
Lazzarto’s idea of “immaterial labor,”[v] <#_edn5> which refers to service
activities in the realm of education, research, information, communication,
and management, is taken as a starting point, then a possible answer to this
question might lie in linking Chandler and Lippard’s discourse of
dematerialization with the modes of representing labor in the neo-Conceptual
movements of the 1980s and 1990s.

II.             From “The faking of” …

If the dematerialization discourse is interpreted in the sense of
superimposing “material” with “symbolic” production, it can be seen as
corresponding to a social process: “the reconfiguration of labor relations
in the major industrial nations” that began in the early 1970s.[vi] <#_edn6>
In their book The Labor of Dionysus, Toni Negri and Michael Hardt write:
“The most important general phenomenon of the transformation of labor that
we have witnessed in recent years is the passage toward what we call the
factory society… . All of society is now permeated through and through with
the regime of the factory, that is, with the rules of specifically
capitalist relations of production.”[vii] <#_edn7>  The two authors conclude
that “the traditional conceptual distinction between productive and
unproductive labor and between production and reproduction … should today be
considered completely defunct.”[viii] <#_edn8> Negri and Hardt thus broaden
prevailing concepts of value to such an extent that “immaterial” or
self-utilizing forms of labor can be included.[ix] <#_edn9>

Although these discourses were not yet public in the 1980s—at least not in
the art context—comparable revisions of the traditional concept of labor and
production can be detected, albeit in an entirely different theoretical
realm. These included above all Jean Baudrillard’s proposition—put forward
as early as the 1970s—that “production” (which went along with the
industrial age) had been replaced by “simulation” (in the age of
information).[x] <#_edn10>  Backed up by discourses on the “immaterial”
(Lyotard),[xi] <#_edn11> postmodern media theory was increasingly to take on
the role of a social theory[xii] <#_edn12> and as such be able to find its
way into those (neo-)Conceptual forms of thought and praxis that overlapped
with the approaches of poststructuralism, deconstruction, and cultural
studies that were emerging at the time. In contrast to the focus on
linguistics that still determined the discourse on the dematerialization of
the object, here semiotics enhanced by cultural criticism came onto the
scene, no longer measuring the “real” as a fact of material production, but
rather as an effect of a process of “de-realization” driven forward by media
technology. Concepts often used at the time, such as “simulacrum,”
“surrogate,” and “fake,”[xiii] <#_edn13> as well as the founding of
fictional “corporate identities,” provide a sense of how references to ideas
like “labor” and “production” have undergone a form of virtualization, and,
even if only “simulated,” a form of corporate privatization.

The fact that the playful analogy of artistic self-organization and
fictional “corporate identities” was to turn into economic reality in the
1990s could be one of the reasons why postmodernist media theory slowly went
out of fashion. So-called reality had returned to the art world, and not as
a result of the crisis in the art market that took place in the interim.
Political and economic discourses around post-Fordism, service culture, and
neoliberalism, including the concepts they used for capital, labor, and
production such as “flexibilization,” “deregulation,” and “mobilization,”
became key terms within those post-Conceptual developments that took
recourse to approaches from the 1970s (such as site-specificity, identity,
and institutional critique) and thereby positioned themselves against the
ongoing demand of the art market for “good craftsmanship” and quantifiable
“production values.” Parallel to this, the economic situation of those
institutions and artists dependent on public funding became more drastic, as
the cultural sphere was increasingly hit by cuts, meaning that budgets for
production formats not adequate to the art market became more scarce and new
forms of “aggressive sponsoring”[xiv] <#_edn14> found their way into museums
and art associations. Thus, any talk of “fictional corporate identities”
became hopelessly obsolete when, due to a mix of voluntary and forced
self-determination, artists saw themselves confronted with the necessity of
organizing their own financial means for production, work spaces, exhibition
sites, contacts, possibilities of distribution, and publics. Hence, the
discourse on the “mobilized relation between capital and labor”[xv]
<#_edn15> became increasingly obsolete with the increasing entanglement of
self-organized, institutional, corporate, and state economies. This was a
process that became a major issue and also a subject in their work for
artists who sought to integrate into their works the changing conditions of
labor and production and the discourse on the public and the private that
these conditions engendered.

III.            The making of

In the following I will explore the 1998 exhibition The making of, organized
by the artist Matthias Poledna at the Generali Foundation in Vienna, in
which the artist himself, together with Simon Leung, Dorit Margreiter, and
Nils Norman participated. This exhibition both explicitly and implicitly
addressed the problems sketched above. For example, it was concerned with
the transformed modes of presenting and publishing artistic work within the
tradition of Conceptualism, as related to “low-capital, labor intensive
industries,”[xvi] <#_edn16> as a characteristic of the economics of
post-Fordism marked by mass unemployment. In The making of, this included
critical revisions of techniques of site specificity, identity critique,
institutional critique, postproduction, and cultural research, and hence
revisions of conceptual notions of the work that intended to historically
illuminate the blind spots of modernist art discourse—its overlapping with
phenomena of everyday life, commodity and media culture, architecture, and
design. The making of was framed by an exhibition design that contained
references to Michael Asher’s 1977 solo show in Eindhoven’s Stedelijk Van
Abbemuseum, Daniel Buren’s exhibition Frost and Defrost (1979, Otis Art
Institute, Los Angeles)[xvii] <#_edn17> and information on the corporate
design of the Generali Foundation itself. Asher’s concept had been to
dismantle fifteen glass ceiling panels from one of the exhibition spaces of
the Van Abbemusuem, and to then determine the duration of the exhibition as
the time required for the installation team—working to a fixed schedule—to
reinstall the glass panels.[xviii] <#_edn18> Poledna then cited this idea by
also taking down the ceiling panels and having them placed in the entryway
of the Generali Foundation’s exhibition space. Instead of reinstalling them,
as Asher did, Poledna gave them a new function as bearers of information
with passages from a handbook of the Generali Foundation on questions of
design and quotations from the building design of the architects Jabornegg &
Palffy. In this way, the works presented became legible in the context of a
highly charged contemporary debate on the autonomy of commissioned art.[xix]
<#_edn19> It was, of course, inevitable that this debate would also affect
the Generali Foundation itself, as it is publicly seen to be a private art
institution funded by an insurance company, and also especially since the
Generali Foundation was especially interested in the tradition of Conceptual
art and its associated forms of institutional critique. This show made
reference to a paradigmatic work of institutional critique and to Poledna’s
own involvement as a graphic artist in the corporate design of the Generali
Foundation, references which mutually influenced each other, and the
selected form of exhibition design clearly showed that the relationship
between the two can hardly be limited to a polarized view of critique, on
the one hand, and affirmation on the other.[xx] <#_edn20>  For it was
precisely from his position of involvement that Poledna formulated a
position of critical distance that is seldom encountered in what are
otherwise generalizing attacks on art as service. As Poledna explained in
the interview for the exhibition catalog: “Interestingly, the Generali
Foundation—as far as I know—voluntarily subscribed to the corporative
aesthetics of the Generali, in that the logo, typefaces, colors, etc.,
correspond to a great extent to the logic of representation of the Generali
Insurance Company. At the same time, the terms that appear in this
text—position, identity, form, content, style, format—are constantly applied
in art contexts. This reciprocal saturation of different rhetorics becomes
particularly virulent when the language appears to indicate that the artists
of the exhibition are speaking for themselves.”[xxi] <#_edn21> Thus, in his
eyes, the differences between “‘free’ and contractual artistic work are
generally less than assumed. Precisely because artistic projects are
considered non-determined, one is confronted more with implicit expectations
and general assumptions, that—consciously or not—inscribe themselves into
the respective approaches.”[xxii] <#_edn22>

In light of the reference to Asher, Poledna’s statement can help to explain
further aspects of the exhibition design that affect the relationship
between public and private work discussed above. For what category does
corporate identity belong to, and can its thematization, like Asher’s
intervention, allow the distinctions between “visible” and “invisible,”
“standardized” and “flexible,” “physical” and “intellectual” labor and their
proper evaluation to become evident? By using the ceiling panels as an
exhibition display and as a bearer of information with the aim of making
architecture the object of the exhibition (allowing it to block the lines of
vision in the exhibition space), Polenda modified Asher’s reflection of the
shifting relationship between artistic and institutional labor economy in
the sense of an overview of “architecture, corporate design, and
institutional self-portrayal.”[xxiii] <#_edn23> Using Asher’s design as a
point of departure, the distinction between private labor, which is private
because it is usually invisible, and public, or usually visible labor, was
expanded by an implicit reference to the equivalence of symbolic and
corporate capital.[xxiv] <#_edn24> In this way, the exhibition also
addressed the various institutional, social, and art critical evaluations of
the role of the artist and the role of the service provider.

The combination of historical and site-specific, topical reference to
labor’s (self-)representation staged in The making of carried yet another
discourse with it—the discourse rooted in the avant-garde tradition that
claims that making production visible amounts to turning art into social
productivity. According to the standard view, this takes place only when the
limits of the institution of art are transgressed and other social fields
are entered. As the art and culture critic Christian Höller writes in his
catalog contribution: “In symbolic-political production, therefore, working
with overlapping and permeating contexts is inherent. Contexts understood as
‘institutional’ require, though, a more complex positioning than the
following alternatives suggest for the moment; direct linkage (for instance
onto the exhibiting institution) or unbound ‘outer’ orientation.”[xxv]

In the light of the polarization of institutional and social fields, as
problematized by Poledna and Höller, the exhibition design for The making of
offered a starting point at the end of the 1990s for reworking apparently
stagnating institution-critical practices—including criticism of these
practices themselves—by virtue of a broadly framed discourse on the
reciprocal relationship between processes of corporatization and shifting
modes of labor and production. As far as the visibility of nonartistic, that
is, industrial and standard “labor” in the context of the Generali
Foundation is concerned, here, too, a link can be made to what Poledna
envisioned as the “interrelations between architecture, corporate design,
and institutional self-portrayal.”[xxvi] <#_edn26> In the interview quoted
above, the artist noted that the ceiling “actually displays an outside of
this relatively hermetic space” of the Generali Foundation: “After the
dismantling of the ceiling panels the room evokes the image of an industrial
shed, or backyard industry. On the lot where the foundation is now situated,
there was originally a shed in which hats were produced. My concern was to
advance other images against the original appearance of an architecture
which oscillates between a supposedly pragmatic understanding of classical
modernity and a certain late eighties look.”[xxvii] <#_edn27>

That means that just a few years after the reconstruction of the building,
the basic design principle—the avoidance of “irregular contours” to create a
“clear image”[xxviii] <#_edn28> —surfaces in The making of as a historically
determined motif. The proposition implicit in this intervention, that this
image could already soon prove to be something worthy of revision, also
resonates in Nils Norman’s contribution Proposal 10. Corresponding to the
symbolic reconstruction of a history of industrial production eradicated by
the architecture of the Generali Foundation, the contribution foresaw “the
radical redevelopment of the Generali Foundation, Vienna. Consisting of
various architectural, bureaucratic, environmental, and psychological
interventions.”[xxix] <#_edn29> Nils Norman’s proposal of an alternative
foundation that issued from the interest he noted in “alternative economic
forms”[xxx] <#_edn30> as a consequence of the closure of industrial
companies and the resultant mass unemployment thematized at the same time
the possibility that the Generali Group might someday turn to marketing
concepts that are socially more productive and invest its money in ecology
and related socio-technological projects—things that themselves have in the
meantime become a feature of a deregulated variant of “do-it-yourself”
culture.[xxxi] <#_edn31>

The idea that a new understanding of work and production could have an
influence on the respective relations of visibility of “standard” private
labor and “artistic” public labor is one of the subtexts of Dorit
Margreiter’s spatial and video installation Into Art. Analogous to the
exhibition design, here, too, cultural and corporate forms of capital are
related to the material and symbolic value of those fields of labor and
activity in which institutional and social contexts as well as “autonomous”
and service-oriented forms of labor overlap in terms of their compatibility
with media-effective image functions. In an interview that I held with
Margreiter for the catalog to The making of, she explains, that “the
art-place itself already presents a medial construction … a site of
production and reproduction of the symbolic ...”[xxxii] <#_edn32> Here, we
again see a typical argument of media theory approaches in the 1980s, which
considers the notion of production as an effect of technologically supported
processes of “de-realization.” On the other hand, the notion of the “social
factory” is also apparent here, coined to refer to the de-differentiation
and immaterialization of realms of production and reproduction.

Appropriating the genre of a trailer for a TV soap, Into Art simulates the
self-representation of a private art institution according to the standards
of the “creative industry.” Following the sketch printed in the exhibition

[Zitat] The series begins with a director being appointed to the institution
which at the time had been in existence for three years. At this time there
was a restructuring not only of staff but also of programmatic orientation.
The newly constructed museum building is supposed to reinforce the role of
art as an image bearer for the corporation, at the same time the new
institution is supposed to develop its own profile within the context of
international art discourse.[xxxiii] <#_edn33>

The accompanying storyboards, which were installed in the exhibition as
user-friendly text panels on the rear of the wall construction, included
fragmentary information on the life and work of the actors. These were
characterizations of functions within the institution and also of
“freelance” jobs as well as information on individual preferences in terms
of fashion and leisure activities, cultural habits, social activities, and
sexual and family relations. In line with the principles of the “social
factory,” professional and personal worlds as depicted here oscillate, as in
the case of “Peter,” who defines himself as “someone who works in
‘art-related’ contexts. Growing up in a working class family he gained early
experience in political work at the grass roots level. At the institution he
works to make a living in the development team. Here he is not recognized as
an artist. In a different scene, however, he is a well-known, important
figure. At the beginning of the series, he organizes an exhibition and a
panel on ‘minority politics.’ He has tried repeatedly to change the
institutional exhibition program from ‘below,’ but has had only limited
success.” The “possible topics” attributed to him are “‘class,’ political
activism, institutional recognition, alternative spaces, economic situation,
etc.”[xxxiv] <#_edn34> As can be deduced not only from the figure of Peter,
but also from the other roles sketched, they not only illustrate structural
characteristics, but also individual and psychological aspects. This not
only distinguishes Margreiter’s work from classical forms of institutional
critique, but could also indicate that the category of the institution is
here seen as a category of the “social factory.” Seen in this way, the
exhibition title—The making of—proves to be a “making of the self,” where
the issue is a post-Fordist intersection of institutional, cultural, and
private spheres of life and work.

Even if limited to a few brief selections, the locations and staging of
roles presented suffice to make comparisons to the Generali Foundation, the
location being visited while viewing The making of. The reflection of and on
the corporate design of the Generali Foundation that the exhibition design
engenders is varied in Into Art by representing realms of labor and
production such as project development, communication, design, the making of
exhibition displays, exhibition assembly, and control. As such they affect
management, image design, “internal and external means of
communication,”[xxxv] <#_edn35> and therefore those activities where
Maurizio Lazzarato’s definition of “immaterial labor” could be applied. In
Into Art, we become aware of this by way of fragmentary scenes from daily
activity, intercut with staged snapshots and documentary material from the
archive of the Generali Foundation. The intersplicing of “real” and
“fictional” material—found footage, artistic documentation, and fictional
elements of plot—serves on the one hand to counter the fiction that
institutional structures can simply be made legible by way of critical
reflection; at the same time, an implicit de-differentiation of real and
fictional characters is enacted here, with a view to making intelligible the
transformed relations of the visibility and representation of private and
public labor.[xxxvi] <#_edn36> Employees play themselves, in both public and
private moments. Institutional stagings of roles, including an actress
miming the role of the artist—which could also be her own role—take on the
character of a soap opera, which in turn allows the de-differentiation of
public, private, and media spheres of (re)production and labor to become
“reality.” In this way, what Margreiter intends with her definition of the
art institution as a “media construction” and “production and reproduction
of the symbolic” becomes visible: that is, (re)gauging the relationship
between “autonomous art” and “service-oriented art” in the context of an
institutional logic that seeks to integrate artistic labor’s media-effective
publicity potential in the sense of “corporate identity.” In her function as
a graphic designer, she is, as she explained to me in the above quoted
interview, “involved with the make up of the institution ... with the image
it imparts and wants to impart.”[xxxvii] <#_edn37> That means that Into Art
not only sharpens this image by way of thematizing the production and design
of catalogs, posters, and invitations—but also sets this against the value
system that still sees art as the opposite of “function.”

But in the context of the exhibition design for The making of, Into Art
reverses the opinion of critics at the time, according to which “paid
institutional critique” forced the artists into the role of affirmative
service providers. In contrast, by way of restaging corporate identity, it
became clear that it was the key intention to allow the institution to come
to the foreground as a site of artistic production. The institution cannot
do without the autonomy of the producer if it wants to “bring sense into
these [its] rules, to make them alive.”[xxxviii] <#_edn38> These rules are
fictionalized in Into Art in the form of ready-made plot lines that, by way
of a casual camera technique and sometimes blurry visual aesthetic, evoke a
pseudo-unprofessional image that could let Into Art pass as an artistically
well-versed form of corporate self-representation. But it is precisely this
that lends the video trailer the appearance of a “real” production, as is
typical of media formats that suggest authenticity. All the same, Into Art’s
editing, which combines various levels and forms of representation, makes it
possible to experience the “real” as the result of visual-technological
“de-realization.” For instance, Margreiter’s staging of a “real” institution
presents a link between site-specificity with media-supported techniques of
postproduction, allowing for reflection on the fictionalized representation
of labor and production as corporate image. While this might sound like the
practical application of the theory of the spectacle, it is given a
particular twist in Into Art to the extent that it measures the image
function of artistic labor as public labor within the economic morality that
demands the production of social values under the conditions of publicity.
If the actors who appear are characterized by various social origins,
cultural and institutional positions, forms of private and professional
life, and emotional and psychological positions, they also allow the art
institution presented to appear as a representative social structure, while
making it clear that it consists of subjects and subjectivities that cannot
be depicted in a merely structural conception of the institution. Instead,
the people involved are service providers on a freelance basis and salaried
employees whose activities in the meantime hardly differ from artistic
labor, a state of affairs that Poledna describes as the “hipness-phantasma
of deregulated labor.”[xxxix] <#_edn39> This idea can serve to name an
essential aspect of Margreiter’s staging of roles, to the extent that the
presented mix of work and labor effuses the impression of a creative, vivid
dynamism. This impression is amplified by the sound samples from television
series such as Dallas, Melrose Place, Tatort, etc., which short-circuit the
figures represented with the consumption and temporal structure of media
formats. The layers of image, text, and sound are sampled and disassociated
from one another in an avant-garde manner, thus counteracting the
construction of simplifying, totalized images; this is then complemented by
the suggestion of flexibilized attitudes of reception, amplified by the
inserted zapping noises of a remote control. The open beats and bass mixed
into the soundtrack suggest the question as to “our” relationship to
corporate patterns of identification: do we see ourselves in a relationship
based on free choice (corresponding to spaces for free expression as they
are projected onto artistic autonomy), or in a relationship of enforced
choice (corresponding to the “self-determined” acceptance of economically
determined circumstances)? That we become “fictional authors” of fictional
series can be interpreted as a reflection of the increasing influence of
participating consumers and fans in the product design of the culture
industry—a phenomenon that shows the totalizing function of the cultural
imperative to be creative.[xl] <#_edn40>

In that Into Art allows this distinction to appear questionable by means of
the chosen methodological-thematic and technological-formal structure, it
marks a further characteristic of the “social factory,” as according to
Negri and Hardt, to the extent that freedom of choice presents itself here
as a version of the dominant credo of production. From the corporate
executive to the freelance graphic designer who is “really” an artist, all
of us are subjected to this credo, even the beholder participating by way of
an imaginary zap function.

Thus Into Art can be seen to imply both a distance to the idealistic
equation of art and autonomy and the cultural-pessimist equation of art and
entertainment or service industry—whereby the pessimist view is often used a
way of legitimizing the idealist. This distance is apparent because the
conflictual interest in art’s (critical) potential for publicity here does
not take place along clearly defined front lines, but rather in the midst of
a general reconfiguration of social labor relations, of which it is a
constitutive element. This position was ultimately presented by Into Art’s
spatial installation itself, to the extent that it placed the represented
fictional location and the real space that was used by the visitors, and
also the museum wardens and cashier staff, in a relationship with the
usually invisible administration. The notion of surveillance that resonates
here can be seen as the extension of the decision to let the employees play
their own roles, as “real” as if the camera were always there. The
control-society implications of video technologies find their correspondence
in the double-wall construction that Margreiter had placed in the exhibition
space, as a reference to Poledna’s intervention in the sense of a reflection
on the determination of artistic freedom by way of architectural conditions.
The height of the two walls was conceived so that they could not fit into
the exhibition space without dismantling the ceiling.[xli] <#_edn41> As the
artist explained to me in our interview: “The ways and means in which both
walls stand with relation to one another, lets them appear cast aside and
also suggests the possibility that they could, potentially, stand in a
different way to each other or could be duplicated.”[xlii] <#_edn42> The
decision to insert the walls as simultaneously site-specific, flexible, and
performative spatial elements—as wall, presentation surface, and backdrop at
the same time—placed them in a structural and metaphorical relationship to
the technical apparatus installed in the space between the two walls, which
could only be seen from one side. The stills showing technical equipment,
such as a camera lens, electric cables, volume and remote controls that were
included in the video trailer suggest that the selected form of
visualization was based on principles from avant-garde or apparatus theory.
But perhaps it is not merely what has become a standard unveiling of the
process of production (if you can afford transparency, you must be doing
honest and good work) that lies at the heart of this observation of the
intersection of display and technology in the installation, but the inherent
relationship between autonomous and corporate production, and thus the
relationship between public and private labor. Here, techniques of
visualization cannot automatically be short-circuited with a reflexive
critique of the fetish, but contain for their part mechanisms of corporate
image formation. Seen in this way, Into Art’s operative dramaturgy thus
works with both public and institutional as well as private and individual
modes of production and reception. “Corporate identity” thus appears as an
externalized as well as internalized relationship, into which the “average”
media consumer is structurally and mentally integrated.

Margreiter’s fictional (self-)representation of a private art institution
takes the goal of experimental film and alternative video—to reach an
extra-institutional audience—and transforms it into the “thesis” of the
reciprocal penetration of avant-garde (public), ordinary (private), and
corporate (private-public) forms of labor and production. In contrast to
Asher’s intervention—which places generally invisible physical labor on the
stage of artistic work, thereby thematizing the hierarchical relationship of
difference between the positions of the commissioning institution, the
“delegating” artist, and the worker charged with carrying out the task—Into
Art deals with the erosion and partial reversal in the evaluation of
visible, public, and invisible, private labor.

Thus, in Margreiter’s sketch of a Generali-like institution, corporate image
intermingles with social modes of experience; such a transparent view of the
realm in which one’s staff operates is normally only entrusted to a target
group considered trustworthy. And the capacity to represent oneself as a
“whole person” is part of the repertoire of “immaterial labor.” As shown for
instance in Harun Farocki’s film Die Schulung (1987), training for managers
not only focuses on “rhetoric” and “dialectic,” but also, in the form of
Brechtian role playing, it attempts to teach the participants the ability to
assess themselves, for a good atmosphere can only be disseminated by those
who have both themselves and their private lives well under control. If “I”
feel well in my role, there is a good chance that the person opposite me
will do the same: and precisely this can be decisive for a sales talk or
successful service.

Seen in this light, Into Art can be considered a topical reenactment of
those versions of historical institutional critique that have integrated
labor both in a material as well as a performative sense into artistic work,
that is, not just by “representing.” In the context of the Generali
Foundation’s collecting strategy, which takes an expanded view of sculpture
and above all focuses on work formats that include media such as
photography, television, video, and digital technologies, Silvia Eiblmayr
describes the “peformative” as the “pivotal point in the dialectic of the
link between the artistic conception of the artwork and the way it is
perceived. … Here the ‘theatrical’ aspect typical of all of these expanded
forms in the visual arts merges with linguistic dimension.”[xliii] <#_edn43>
But this also means that the “space or the location where the artwork takes
place, is exhibited, or performed is integrated into its own conception in a
reflexive manner.”[xliv] <#_edn44>

I certainly do not intend to reproduce here the misleading equation of
theatrical performance and linguistic performativity, but nonetheless
Margreiter’s installation seems to me to be mobilizing both of these
categories. This occurs on the one hand in reference to the way in which
labor is represented both as real and symbolic production, and, on the
other, the way in which the visitors are addressed as both clientele and
participating actors.  Performance und performativity are not limited to
their “social significance,” which is attributed primarily to “signifying or
discursive forms of practice.” Instead, “we use labor to focus on
value-creating practices.”[xlv] <#_edn45> To this extent, Into Art counters
those dominant economic trends according to which the semiotic
representation of work is equated with the fact of production. But the
latter includes in the sense of the “factory society” not just material
“hardware,” but also nonmaterial “software.”

This means that the ability of contemporary capitalism to “give subjectivity
itself a value in its various forms as communication, engagement, desires,
etc.,”[xlvi] <#_edn46> compels us to redraw the traditional boundaries
between private and public categories and spheres of labor and production.
This necessity also surfaces in Simon Leung’s contribution for The making
of. In Squatting Project Wien he literally squatted in front of buildings
that belong to Generali and had himself photographed. As he explained in an
interview conversation with Nicholas Tobier, published in the exhibition
catalog, “the body works structurally in several ways: through repetition,
through the semiotics of squatting, but also pictorially—it’s figure and
ground.”[xlvii] <#_edn47> When Leung then explains that it is decisive “what
kind of photographic object you think it is,”[xlviii] <#_edn48>  we can
assume that he is driving at the de-differentiation immanent in performative
and conceptual art of subject/object, reality/representation, image/copy,

Reproduced using the code of architectural photography, the body here takes
on a productive semiotic function within an indexical system that can be
interpreted according to linguistically and visually formalized rules. In
Squatting Project Wien this system can be read as positing an equation
between nonproductive real estate ownership and self-utilizing performative
work, which makes the characteristics of contemporary capitalism presented
by Paolo Virno legible on and through the body of the artist. According to
Leung’s interpretation, the artist’s (invisible) capital—communication,
commitment, desire—proves to be a literally “incorporated” mechanism in the
logic of corporate value creation. But ironically, the analogy suggested by
the title of the work and the photographed pose between squatting as a
bodily gesture and squatting as taking possession of property raises the
question of whether the photographs are a quasi-private act of the
reproduction of corporate self-representation or a public staging of the
“unemployed” (private) body, whose incompatibility with a corporate logic of
valuation surfaces precisely in the claim to semiotic equivalence.

That artistic involvement in an institutional and corporate structure as a
“site of symbolic and material production and reproduction” stands in a
relationship of both compatibility and incompatibility with the dominant
economy of the sign can also be seen as the subtext of Mathias Poledna’s
exhibition contribution at that time, Fondazione. This was a
semi-documentary video on the archive of the history of the labor movement
and socialism founded by the radical left-wing publisher, millionaire, and
Generali stockholder Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. That Poledna playfully
employed the genre of the documentary film to portray an institution far
from the art world that can be vaguely linked to the Generali Foundation
might be explained in terms of the documentary film’s synthesizing function.
The “connection between architecture, corporate design, and institutional
self-representation” made in the exhibition design of The making of becomes
legible by virtue the kind of film montage selected as a syntax of
heterogeneous elements, where it is not a specific institution or a specific
genre, but the aesthetic and scientific method of the production of signs
that comes to the fore within a concrete thematic context. This way of
proceeding can also be verified by way of the bench designed as a “bulletin
board” that was placed before the film screen, since its double function as
a piece of furniture and a bearer of information clearly relates, in a
manner that is charged with information aesthetics, to the historical
discourse on the “dematerialized object.” With this reference to kinds of
works that focus on presentation, reception, and distribution—and with the
addition of techniques of postproduction, the combination of symbolically
interrupted documentation and furniture thus presented a site-specific
relationship to media information landscapes. On an abstract level, this can
be seen as a recourse to both linguistic-semiological and also identity and
institutional critique traditions in Conceptualism, which “can be drawn from
design, architecture, media all the way to political resistance.”[xlix]
<#_edn49> Before this backdrop, the decision to integrate a film narrative
on an archive of the history of the labor movement and socialism into the
context of an exhibition whose subtext was the (reciprocal) relationship of
autonomous art and service-oriented, corporate and commissioned work,
represents—on the level of content—the historicization of the methods and
procedures used. The selected genres that were combined with one
another—documentary, narration, and fiction—were well-suited to deconstruct
the monolithic topos of artistic production, and the sound design composed
of well-known film music by Luciano Berio, Giorgio Gaslini, and Nino Rota
made it legible as (medial and) cultural knowledge, albeit knowledge
excluded by art history. As a reflexive structural element, the soundtrack
was associated with images of high voltage wires; the function of these
wires as recurring “title-design”[l] <#_edn50> was both that of a narrative
abstraction and a point of intersection between the assembled forms of
representation. By including reports from the media on Feltrinelli’s
eventful life, the motif of the high voltage wires is given a historic
charge, in that the spectators learn that the millionaire lost his life in
1972 attempting to explode a power pole near Milan.

In the figure of Feltrinelli as a vibrant and emblematic figure of the New
Left, various narrative lines meet that condense to form a fragmentary and
associative and also anecdotal reflection on the construction of (political)
history. In this way, the abstract narrative logic of Fondanzione avoided a
coherent, significant recourse to the Generali Foundation as a concrete
institution. Instead, this was an attempt at an artistic epistemology that
declared the archive a “workplace,” and therefore a location where the
avant-garde claims that still reside in the self-image of institutional
critique underwent a historical revision. On the one hand, the archive
founded in 1961 by Feltrinelli can illuminate methods of the historical and
academic study of industrial labor and its forms of organization that can be
implicitly or explicitly linked to both the historical and the postwar
avant-gardes. This means that they can be related to the history of
collective interest groups such as the trades unions, works councils,
political parties, organized and spontaneous or “wild” strikes, etc. On a
second level that is mediated here, Poledna’s contribution can also
highlight the significance of publications by authors from the circle of the
Italian Autonomia Operaia labor group in the German art context in the
1990s, including Negri and Hardt’s The Labor of Dionysus, or Lazzarato’s
treatment of “immmaterial labor,” which appeared in 1998 in Negri und
Virno’s volume Umherschweifende Produzenten: Immaterielle Arbeit und
Subversion in the same year as The making of. In this way an analogy is
drawn between the topos of media technology that resonates here and the
historicization of proletarian or Fordist labor, whose transformation to a
“social factory” as claimed by the above-named authors has since become an
frequently cited subject within cultural and art discourse engaged in a
critique of capitalism.[li] <#_edn51> This means that here reflections on
the historicization—according to Jacques Rancière’s definition—of private
forms of labor were presented on the stage of an institution whose interest
is to integrate the public character of artistic labor into its own
corporate identity. But in Poledna’s design, the question of whether and to
what extent such a discourse of labor justifies comparing the two
institutions recedes behind the more fundamental question of the methods
with which “history” or cultural significance is produced. This question is
tellingly posed in Fondazione by an art critic, “played” by Matthias Dusini,
who in the role of a television reporter does an interview with the library
director David Bidussa. His task is to produce an image of the
self-understanding of the Fondanzione Feltrinelli. The camera shows him
talking about the library’s function and its collection, as well as
transformed methods of bibliography. In this context, he points to the
original 1835 manuscript of Charles Fourier’s La fausse industrie; the fact
that the library owns it is due to the “accumulation of sources,” as
embodied in the initial “work ethic” of the library.[lii] <#_edn52> Or we
are informed about files on the “the structure of the CUB—Communitati
Unitari di Base—forms of representation of factory workers who belonged to
the extreme left.”[liii] <#_edn53>  Answering the reporter’s question about
how one gets hold of such material, Bidussa explains that, in “Italy the
courts throw away files after twenty five years if they are no longer
necessary for cases. In this way the authorities who are responsible for
public security have become information agencies for political
extremism.”[liv] <#_edn54>  By this point at the latest, we get the distinct
impression that Bidussa maintains a distanced relation to the history
represented by this archive. This impression is underscored when he
contradicts the supposition that the Fondazione Feltrinelli “belongs to the
left, if not the far left.”[lv] <#_edn55> He then points to seminars that
have taken place there where “assistants and researchers” have participated
“whose political spectrum extends from the left to the extreme
right,—including a position which one could call post-fascist.”[lvi]

The fact that Feltrinelli, expecting a state coup on the part of the fascist
Right, propagated the militant struggle of the Left and was ultimately
forced to go underground where he sought to continue to organize his
social-revolutionary struggle,[lvii] <#_edn57> can give a sense of the
Fondazione’s changed self-understanding. Bidussa’s indifference as to the
political interests of the users of the archive is shown again when he
claims that an analysis of treatments of worker organization and
representation in a sewing machine factory is formally no different than the
analysis of the catechism for first communicants.

As in Poledna’s study Scan (1996), a two-part video on questionable methods
of the historicization of pop culture and punk design, using the Jamie Reid
Collection at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum as an example, the issue
is methodological and ideological processes of revaluing historical
material. Similarly, Fondanzione focuses on the question of the forms of
categorization and the constitution of the storage media in the way they
influence the status of the archived material. In Scan, Poledna argues by
way of the example of the God Save the Queen album cover that what was
“originally conceived of as mass-cultural and serially produced, suddenly
emerges as dadaist collage—an extremely bibliophile artefact”[lviii]
<#_edn58> ; equally, Fondazione can demonstrate how methods of archiving
ultimately distort and destroy what they claim to preserve and historicize.
This is also true, on a structural level, of the research medium chosen by
Poledna. For example, Franco Berardi, a political fellow traveler of Toni
Negri, explains in an interview with the newspaper Jungle World that the
late 1970s, when the “classical factory conflict” approached its end, was
also the beginning of an era when “the costs of communication technologies
dramatically sank: video tape, radios, offset printers, photocopiers, later
desktop publishing, all of that eased the access to the production of signs
to an extent never before known.”[lix] <#_edn59> In other words, the
dissociation from the material fact of production that resonates in the
topos of the dematerialized object surfaces as a phenomenon of a
techno-linguistic turn that corresponds with the increasing importance of
information and knowledge production that Lazzarto describes with the
concept of “immaterial labor”—ultimately a form of labor that, as has been
shown, can be applied to The making of.

Since, according to Bidussa, the documents collected by the Fondazione
Feltrinelli are merely holdings of information with a purely academic value,
they become emblematic of a politically no longer accessible history of the
labor movement and socialism—a history that has been recoded through methods
of archiving. But taking into account the debates of the late 1990s on the
dominance of immaterial labor in the context of the service industry and
corporate culture, in which there was often a clear sense that an attempt
was being made to set aside post-Conceptualism and institutional critique as
a failure, then The making of, working eight years later from a perspective
that could almost be called historical, provides arguments why
methodological and political reflection on the history of modern art and
cultural institutions as a form of work based on the (material) conditions
of public labor and the (immaterial) signs produced in its name should not
be abandoned (including “the faking of”).

[i] <#_ednref1>  Lucy R. Lippard and John Chandler, “The Dematerialization
of Art,” in Art International, Vol. 12, no. 2 (1968): 31–36. See also Lucy
Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to
1972 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1973).

[ii] <#_ednref2>  See for example Charles Harrison, “Einleitung,” in Art &
Language: Terry Bainbridge, Michael Baldwin, Harold Hurrell, Joseph Kosuth,
ed. Paul Maenz and Gerd de Vries (Köln: DuMont, 1972), 11–17; and Pamela M.
Lee, “Das konzeptuelle Objekt der Kunstgeschichte,” in Texte zur Kunst, Vol.
6., no. 21 (March 1996): 120–129.

[iii] <#_ednref3>  Lippard, “Escape Attempts,” in Reconsidering the Object
of Art, eds. Ann Goldstein and Anne Rorimer, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: Museum
of Contemporary Art, 1995), 16–39.

[iv] <#_ednref4>  Jacques Rancière, “On Art and Work,” in The Politics of
Aesthetics (New York/London: Continuum), 42–43.

[v] <#_ednref5>  See Maurizio Lazzarato, “Immaterielle Arbeit:
Gesellschaftliche Tätigkeit unter den Bedingungen des Postfordismus,” in
Toni Negri, Maurizio Lazzarato, and Paolo Virno, Umherschweifende
Produzenten: Immaterielle Arbeit und Subversion (Berlin: ID Verlag, 1998),

[vi] <#_ednref6>  Michael Willenbücher,
Migration-Illegalisierung-Ausnahmezustände: Der Illegalisierte als Homo
Sacer des Postfordismus, unpublished Magister thesis (Heidelberg:
Ruprecht-Karls-Universität, 2005).

[vii] <#_ednref7>  Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, The Labor of Dionysus: A
Critique of the State Form (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press),

[viii] <#_ednref8>  Ibid., 10.

[ix] <#_ednref9>  Negri und Hardt, for instance, take recourse to the
Marxist concept of “general intellect,” according to which knowledge and
intellectual capacities are accumulated and mobilized in the sense of
labor’s self-amortization. But in the way that the authors take account of
social and symbolic forms of value production, they differ from the Marxist
theory of value. They affirm the networks of producers that, according to
their depiction, refuse control by capital and thus have greater connection
to value creation and production. All the same, this could be criticized as
an idealistic option, since companies also absorb such projects to promote
the abolition of all wage guarantees. It has for example been pointed out a
number of times that this process, which Negri and Hardt consider a positive
development, leads to a more extensive exploitation, to new forms of control
in the lowest-wage service economy, and finally contributes to corporations
penetrating more and more into the social realm.

[x] <#_ednref10>  Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death (London:
Sage Pablications, 1993).

[xi] <#_ednref11> Consider in this context the 1985 exhibition Les
Immatériaux at Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

[xii] <#_ednref12>  Katja Diefenbach, Theorien der neuen Technologien: Zur
Bedeutung der Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologien im
Spätkapitalismus, unpublished Magister thesis (München:
Ludwig-Maximillian-Universität, 1992).

[xiii] <#_ednref13>  See Stefan Römer, Künstlerische Strategien des Fake:
Kritik und Original und Fälschung (Köln: DuMont, 2002).

[xiv] <#_ednref14>  See Walter Grasskamp, Kunst und Geld: Szenen einer
Mischehe (München: Beck, 1998); Hans Haacke, “Der Kampf ums Geld: Sponsoren,
Kunst, moderne Zeiten,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (11 October, 1995);
Dierk Schmidt, “Sponsorenstress: Ein Beitrag zur politischen Kampagne,”
A.N.Y.P. 9 (1999): 32–33; Hubertus Butin, “When Attitudes Become Form Philip
Morris Becomes Sponsor,” in The Academy and the Corporate Public , ed.
Stephan Dillemuth (Bergen: Kunsthøgskolen, Köln: Permanent Press Verlag:
2002), 40; Alice Creischer and Andreas Siekmann, “Sponsoring and Neoliberal
Culture,” in ibid., 58.

[xv] <#_ednref15>  See Willenbücher,

[xvi] <#_ednref16>  See “Substituting one fungus for another: Nicolas Tobier
in conversation with Nils Norman,” in The Making Of, ed. Mathias Poledna
(Wien: Generali Foundation, Köln: Buchhandlung Walther König, 1998), 207.

[xvii] <#_ednref17>  “In this site-specific work the ceiling panels in both
gallery rooms were removed and covered with striped paper. The panels were
reinstalled by units of seven per day per room to their original place in
the ceiling. At the same time objects left in room B used for installation
were put back a piece at a time in the storage room. The evolution of the
work was documented in the catalog.” See Daniel Buren, Frost and Defrost,
exh. cat. (Los Angeles: Otis Art Institute, 1979). Quoted from

[xviii] <#_ednref18>  See Michael Asher’s description of his exhibition
concept: “I propose that before the exhibition opens on August 3, all the
glass ceiling panels in rooms 1, 2, 3, and 4, plus all the glass panels in
one half of the museum shall be removed, which would leave rooms 10, 9, 8,
7, and part of rooms 5 and 6 open for exhibition. Starting August 3 and
working 4 hours every morning during each day of the work week, an
exhibition crew will replace the ceiling panels.” Quoted in Michael Asher,
“August 3–August 29, 1977 Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven, Netherlands,”
in Writings 1977–1983 On Works 1969–1979, ed. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh
(Halifax: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1983), 174–83,
here: 178.

[xix] <#_ednref19>  See the debate on Andrea Fraser’s Project in two phases

[xx] <#_ednref20>  See Helmut Draxler’s contribution in this volume.

[xxi] <#_ednref21>  “Blanks and side effects: Sabeth Buchmann in
conversation with Mathias Poledna,” in Poledna, The Making Of, 223–24.

[xxii] <#_ednref22>  Ibid., 220.

[xxiii] <#_ednref23>  Ibid., 225.

[xxiv] <#_ednref24>  Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the
Judgement of Taste (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).

[xxv] <#_ednref25>  Christian Höller, “The making of … political contexts?
Preliminary work on a symbolic political context understanding,” in Poledna,
The Making Of, 173.

[xxvi] <#_ednref26>  Buchmann/Poledna, “Blanks and side effects”, 225.

[xxvii] <#_ednref27>  Ibid.

[xxviii] <#_ednref28>  See “Exhibition design”, in Poledna, The Making Of,

[xxix] <#_ednref29>  Norman, “Proposal 10,” 128.

[xxx] <#_ednref30>  Ibid.

[xxxi] <#_ednref31>  See Tobier/Norman, “Substituting one fungus for
another,” 208.

[xxxii] <#_ednref32>  See “Definitions of a building site: Sabeth Buchman in
conversation with Dorit Margreiter,” in Poledna, The Making Of, 204.

[xxxiii] <#_ednref33>  See Dorit Margreiter, “Into Art,” in Poledna, The
Making Of, 109.

[xxxiv] <#_ednref34>  Ibid., 114.

[xxxv] <#_ednref35>  “Exhibition design”, in Poledna, The Making Of, 85.

[xxxvi] <#_ednref36>  See on this Rancière’s argument in favor of fiction,
in “On Art and Work,

[xxxvii] <#_ednref37>  Buchmann/Margreiter, “Definitions of a building
site,” 196.

[xxxviii] <#_ednref38>  “Exhibition design”, in Poledna, The Making Of, 85.

[xxxix] <#_ednref39>  Buchmann/Poledna, “Blanks and side effects,” 225.

[xl] <#_ednref40>  See Marion von Osten and Peter Spillman, eds., Be
Creative—Der kreative Imperativ (Zürich: Museum für Gestaltung, 2003).

[xli] <#_ednref41>  See Buchmann/Margreiter, “Definitions of a building
site,” 197.

[xlii] <#_ednref42> Ibid.

[xliii] <#_ednref43> Silvia Eibelmayr, “Schauplatz Skuptur: Zum Wandel des
Skulpturbegriffs unter dem Aspekt des Performativen” in White Cube/Black
Box, ed. Sabine Breitwieser (Vienna: Generali Foundation, 1996), 89.

[xliv] <#_ednref44>  Ibid., 87.

[xlv] <#_ednref45>  Hardt and Negri, Labor of Dionysus, 8.

[xlvi] <#_ednref46>  See Willenbücher,
Migration-Illegalisierung-Ausnahmezustände on Paolo Virno’s A grammar of the
multitude (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2004) and Sandro Mezzadra’s “Taking
Care: Migration and the Political Economy of Affective Labor,” working paper
for Center for the Study of Invention and Social Process (CSISP),
Goldsmith’s College, University of London, March 2005.

[xlvii] <#_ednref47>  “Or Is This Nothing: Nicholas Tobier in Conversation
with Simon Leung,” in Poldedna, The Making of, 179.

[xlviii] <#_ednref48>  Ibid.

[xlix] <#_ednref49>  Buchmann/Poledna, “Blanks and side effects,” 227.

[l] <#_ednref50>  Ibid., 228.

[li] <#_ednref51>  See Stephan Geene, money aided ich-design: techno/logie.
subjektivitaet. geld (Berlin: b_books, 1999); Marion von Osten, ed., Norm
der Abweichung (Zürich: Edition Voldemeer, 2003); Arbeit*, ed. Silvia
Eiblmayr, exh. cat. (Innsbruck: Galerie im Taxispalais, 2005); Beatrice von
Bismarck and Alexander Koch, ed., Beyond Education: Kunst, Ausbildung,
Arbeit und Ökonomie (Frankfurt a. M.: Revolver, 2005).

[lii] <#_ednref52>  See Mathias Poledna with Matthias Dusini, “Fondazione,”
in Poldena, The Making of, 145–163, here 152.

[liii] <#_ednref53> Ibid, 156.

[liv] <#_ednref54> Ibid.

[lv] <#_ednref55>  Ibid., 155.

[lvi] <#_ednref56>  Ibid.

[lvii] <#_ednref57>  See Henner Hess, “Feltrinelli und die Gruppi di Azione
Partigiana (GAP),” in Poledna, The Making Of, 161–62.

[lviii] <#_ednref58>  Buchmann/Poledna, „Blanks and side effects,” 230.

[lix] <#_ednref59>  “Vom Subjekt zum Superorganismus: Ein Gespräch von
Stephan Gregory mit Franco Berardi über seinen Weg von Operaisten zum
Cybernauten, die mentale Arbeit und die virtuelle Macht,” Jungle World 24, 7
June, 2000.

]a[ akademie der bildenden künste wien

Univ.Prof.in Dr.in Sabeth Buchmann

Institut für Kunst- und Kulturwissenschaften | Institutsvorständin

Kunstgeschichte der Moderne und Nachmoderne

Schillerplatz 3 | A-1010 Wien

T +43 1 588 16-8100 | F +43 1 588 16-183

s.buchmann at akbild.ac.at


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