“Under the Sign of Labor” by Sabeth Buchmann

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.”(1) Without wishing to enter into any detailed critique of the concept of dematerialization, for this has already been sufficiently undertaken and documented,(2) 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.(3) 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 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.”(4) 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,”(5) 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.(6) 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.”(7) 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.”(8) Negri and Hardt thus broaden prevailing concepts of value to such an extent that “immaterial” or self-utilizing forms of labor can be included.(9)

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).(10) Backed up by discourses on the “immaterial” (Lyotard),(11) postmodern media theory was increasingly to take on the role of a social theory(12) 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,”(13) 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”(14) 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”(15) 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,”(16) 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)(17) 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.(18) 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.(19) 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.(20) 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.”(21) 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.”(22)

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.”(23) 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.(24) 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.”(25)

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.”(26) 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.”(27)

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”(28)-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.”(29) Nils Norman’s proposal of an alternative foundation that issued from the interest he noted in “alternative economic forms”(30) 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.(31)

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 …”(32) 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 catalog:

[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.(33)

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.”(34) 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,”(35) 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.(36) 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.”(37) 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.”(38) 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.”(39) 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.(40)

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.(41) 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.”(42) 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.”(43) 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.”(44)

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 and 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.”(45) 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.,”(46) 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.”(47) When Leung then explains that it is decisive “what kind of photographic object you think it is,”(48) we can assume that he is driving at the de-differentiation immanent in performative and conceptual art of subject/object, reality/representation, image/copy, production/reproduction.

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.”(49) 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”(50) 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.(51) 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.(52) 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.”(53) 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.”(54) 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.”(55) 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.”(5)6

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,(57) 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”(58); 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.”(59) 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”).

1 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).

2 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.

3 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.

4 Jacques Rancière, “On Art and Work,” in The Politics of Aesthetics (New York/London: Continuum), 42-43.

5 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), 39-52.

6 Michael Willenbücher, Migration-Illegalisierung-Ausnahmezustände: Der Illegalisierte als Homo Sacer des Postfordismus, unpublished Magister thesis (Heidelberg: Ruprecht-Karls-Universität, 2005).

7 Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, The Labor of Dionysus: A Critique of the State Form (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), 9-10.

8 Ibid., 10.

9 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.

10 Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death (London: Sage Pablications, 1993).

11 Consider in this context the 1985 exhibition Les Immatériaux at Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

12 Katja Diefenbach, Theorien der neuen Technologien: Zur Bedeutung der Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologien im Spätkapitalismus, unpublished Magister thesis (München: Ludwig-Maximillian-Universität, 1992).

13 See Stefan Römer, Künstlerische Strategien des Fake: Kritik und Original und Fälschung (Köln: DuMont, 2002).

14 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.

15 See Willenbücher, “Migration-Illegalisierung-Ausnahmezustande”.

16 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.

17 “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 http.//

18 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.

19 See the debate on Andrea Fraser’s Project in two phases (1994-95).

20 See Helmut Draxler’s contribution in this volume.

21 “Blanks and side effects: Sabeth Buchmann in conversation with Mathias Poledna,” in Poledna, The Making Of, 223-24.

22 Ibid., 220.

23 Ibid., 225.

24 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).

25 Christian Höller, “The making of … political contexts? Preliminary work on a symbolic political context understanding,” in Poledna, The Making Of, 173.

26 Buchmann/Poledna, “Blanks and side effects”, 225.

27 Ibid.

28 See “Exhibition design”, in Poledna, The Making Of, 85.

29 Norman, “Proposal 10,” 128.

30 Ibid.

31 See Tobier/Norman, “Substituting one fungus for another,” 208.

32 See “Definitions of a building site: Sabeth Buchman in conversation with Dorit Margreiter,” in Poledna, The Making Of, 204.

33 See Dorit Margreiter, “Into Art,” in Poledna, The Making Of, 109.

34 Ibid., 114.

35 “Exhibition design”, in Poledna, The Making Of, 85.

36 See on this Rancière’s argument in favor of fiction, in “On Art and Work”.

37 Buchmann/Margreiter, “Definitions of a building site,” 196.

38 “Exhibition design”, in Poledna, The Making Of, 85.

39 Buchmann/Poledna, “Blanks and side effects,” 225.

40 See Marion von Osten and Peter Spillman, eds., Be Creative-Der kreative Imperativ (Zürich: Museum für Gestaltung, 2003).

41 See Buchmann/Margreiter, “Definitions of a building site,” 197.

42 Ibid.

43 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.

44 Ibid., 87.

45 Hardt and Negri, Labor of Dionysus, 8.

46 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.

47 “Or Is This Nothing: Nicholas Tobier in Conversation with Simon Leung,” in Poldedna, The Making of, 179.

48 Ibid.

49 Buchmann/Poledna, “Blanks and side effects,” 227.

50 Ibid., 228.

51 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).

52 See Mathias Poledna with Matthias Dusini, “Fondazione,” in Poldena, The Making of, 145-163, here 152.

53 Ibid, 156.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid., 155.

56 Ibid.

57 See Henner Hess, “Feltrinelli und die Gruppi di Azione Partigiana (GAP),” in Poledna, The Making Of, 161-62.

58 Buchmann/Poledna, „Blanks and side effects,” 230.

59 “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.

Dr. Sabeth Buchmann
akademie der bildenden künste wien
Institut für Kunst- und Kulturwissenschaften | Institutsvorständin
Kunstgeschichte der Moderne und Nachmoderne
Schillerplatz 3 | A-1010 Wien

Nov 28, 14:28
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