Work and Days by Maria Ruido

The Iron Age 

“Thereafter, would that I were not among the men of the fifth generation, but either had died before or been born afterwards. For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them. […] Keep watch against this, you princes, and make straight your judgements, you who devour bribesput crooked judgements altogether from your thoughts. He does mischief to himself who does mischief to another, and evil planned harms the plotter most.”

Hesiod, Works and
(Book I)

In his collection of proverbs and fables, the Greek poet Hesiod recounts, in the code of mythology, the twists and turns, labours and future of human existence through what the author describes as “the five ages of man.” Right at the start of the poem, what he calls The Iron Age, when men are plagued by exhausting labours and miserable conditions, feels like a time loop in relation to our own contemporary reality. The poet seems to evoke the strange unease of the latest of the devastating cycles and crises of the capitalist system, affecting the present, like previous eras… and maybe future ones.

 Several months ago, Paula asked me to write a text about working conditions, hyper-flexibility and some of the practices or actions taken which might assess the points of resistance and/or critiques of the present situation in which precarious subjects find themselves. Unavoidably, we spoke about a text I wrote for a book published by Precarias a la Deriva in 2004, “Mamá, quiero ser artista!”,(Mum, I want to be an artist!) which considered the relations between the power of representation, of images, and the fragile working conditions that dominate the creative sector and all those involved in the production of those images. Following our conversation, a battery of film projects and texts conceived and produced either individually or collectively, as well as a good number of films already seen and analyzed began to fill my note book, in chaotic and colourful array (which is habitual in my note books). My jottings cover a wide range of thoughts and ideas arising from all the different talks, writings and quickly convened meetings that we have attended or read in the last year, a year of ‘living dangerously,’ especially when the police are amassing.

“Wow!” I thought to myself… Despite the fact that my reply to Paula was at first reticent, judging from the documents on my PC desktop I have devoted much time to thinking about the world of work and how it is represented, precarity and its discourses, and I had accumulated a copious bibliography. Alongside “Mum, I want to be an artist!” were other essays: “Los cuerpos ensamblados” (Assembled bodies) (2005), “Just do it!” (2006), “In the mood for work” (2007)… curatorial and video projects (some actually brought to a conclusion, others not) including Los trabajos y los días (Works and Days) (2002), Tiempo real (Real Time) (2003), Ficciones anfibias (Amphibian Fictions) (2005) or Zona Franca (Zona Franca –an industrial estate in Barcelona) (2009). I reread them and they were useful for thinking about how and why precarity turned from an adjective into a noun during the nineties, and how this noun now defines not only our working lives but all of life and our relationships. ‘Ikea lives’ they are called jokingly, fragile lives in which decisions are constantly put off. “Life is short, capitalism is long…” I think to myself almost every day.

I reread them, and I saw unsettlingly that the shadows had not only failed to dissolve but had grown longer: classism, sexism, homophobia and ethnocentrism that, as I myself had explained, are the rule of thumb in art institutions and hegemonic culture (and sometimes in the supposed alternatives). Not only had these troubles not been corrected but they had been re-naturalized in the formalism of a new generation who had learnt to make use of a politicized sheep-skin, making work that is ferociously cynical, conservative and mainstream, works in which everything seems to change so that nothing changes (striped cats of many colours). Some months ago (in response to the 15-M’s occupation of streets and squares), El País published an enthusiastic and optimistic article on a number of publishing and art projects which seemed to point to a revitalization of the relations between political context and cultural production.2 My habitual scepticism was reaffirmed when I reread the article and assessed the sad extent to which the films and texts make valid points.

However, there is no doubt that something has changed. In the last few years and especially during the last few months starting with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, we have seen: the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (Platform for people affected by mortgage trouble); the exciting 15-M mobilizations and the Arab spring; a risk premium that has sat down at the family dinner table; conditions of employment (if you still have a job) fading away to a point at which they are unrecognizable; concepts such as ‘financialization,’ ‘economies of scale’ or ‘public-private partnership’ habitually cropping up in conversation, as if we had all done a crash course in political economy. However, we are only minimally prepared to bounce back persuasive arguments against the followers of Milton Friedman and their latest assaults, or against the sectors of the media who set out to naturalize neo-conservative solutions as obvious and rational, although we know they are dealing marked cards…In Corsair Writings (1975), Pier Paolo Pasolini declared that in hegemonic audiovisual production and especially in our mass media, discrepancy only exists as spectacle, as simulacrum, as a bizarre contrived stagecraft. Television provokes a certain linguistic and representational aphasia (and this is increasingly true of terrestrial DTV broadcasting, which manages to be plural and homogenous at the same time) and generates a pretend language which discounts all forms of resistance or antagonism: “ Decades ago violence was explicit, open: colonial conquest, the imposition of might. Today the ways of violence are much softer, adept and complex. The process is more mature and technically profound: television, for example.”4

Yes, it looks as if everything has got worse… But in response to this gloomy outlook, we have reoccupied the streets and squares after a long time during which entertainments, spectacles or those who call themselves ‘pro-lifers’ (as if some of us were against life…) were the only ones to take to the streets. We have reinvented the ossified militant experience of the mystical ’68; we have rebelled firmly and forcefully against control of the world wide web (one of our basic tools for action) and against the privatization of collective thought, questioning media hegemony and placing on the table certain evidence for real democracy. Ours is not (only) a struggle for jobs; ours is a struggle for free access to shared intelligence, welfare and services for all. When I wrote the texts mentioned earlier, I had already caught sight of the fact that the crisis in representative democracy seems to run parallel to the absence of representation or distortion of the new precarious working class, a large slice of the population who, in many cases lack paid work, or are employed in what is known as ‘the informal economy’, in temporary and discontinuous work for lower and lower pay and lacking the right to basic benefits. What can we expect from a colonized language of representation of a system that denies or invisibilizes dispute and discord?  What power of agency do we, those of us who generate and use images, have to produce/distribute/consume alternative imaginaries within the imposed aphasia of which Pasolini spoke?

Although a few TV series and a handful of indy films have risked representing precaritySmoking Room, by J. D. Wallovits and Roger Gual (2002), or Jo Sol’s El taxista ful (The Full Taxi Driver) (2005)– we, the unregulated workforce (ranging from call centre operators to artists, from prostitutes to cleaners), are still waiting for a ‘normalized’ means of representation. However, this is impossible in a phantasmagorical labour regime and in a hegemonic visual economy in which the commercial cinema continues to define labour through traditional portrayals of victimization such as Peter Catteneo’s The Full Monty (1997), or Fernando León de Aranoa’s Los lunes al sol (Mondays in the sun) (2002).

If during the sixties and seventies filmmakers such as Agnès Varda, Chantal Akerman, Bruno Muel or the Dziga Vertov group portrayed the relations between the sexual division of labour and the (patriarchal) social contract, between the scopic economy and the capitalist system, since the eighties a reactionary mirroring of the political context has taken place, a conservative retrocession to stereotypical positions, both in the representation of sexed subjects and the relations between labour and the construction of subjectivity. Films such as Los lunes al sol or The Full Monty interpret, with a sexualized anger, the new global division of work (and more particularly the transformation of primary sectors), unleashing the frustration of the protagonists onto their womenfolk and translating the precariousization of existence into a game of emotional revenge (in both films) and, in the British film, a ridiculous inversion of the visual domain. The case of The Full Monty is especially interesting as in this production there is a more or less obvious nostalgia for a world in which the male provider had his own places and times (the pub, mainly) now subject to the contamination and feminization of homosocial spaces and the culture of power they represent. The traditional order, as Laura Mulvey would say, is artfully and cynically inverted: women become subjects with a voyeuristic gaze directed at male bodies, the men obliged to work as strippers to relieve their situation of unemployment for which women are indirectly blamed. In the same way as Los lunes al sol, instead of a revision of the forms of masculinity and their place in the system of production, the British film insists on a reaffirmation of roles and a soothing justification of them that, mixed with the proper tone of a comedy of manners, draws a panorama that is nothing more than stagnant. However, it is neither the militant experiences of the seventies, nor the ruptures of contemporary independent cinema that have catalyzed the present text. Searching among my video collection…I find Marco Ferreri’s El pisito (1959). No other film among the many I have watched again during these last weeks ha seemed quite so up-to-the-minute as this acidic novel by Rafael Azcona, who later adapted it for cinema. No other characters better reflect our lives at the present time than this eccentric triangle brought together by self-interest made up of PetritaRodolfo and Doña Martina: the anxiety provoked by the passing of time with none of the signs of betterment promised by progress on the horizon; the sadness and insecurity; the putting off of life-changing decisions; the contamination of personal relationships by the precarity of employment; housing problems leading to the impossibility of having personal space. In this film, “bio/necro-political arithmetic,”5 a constant low-to-medium intensity violence provoked by economic cycles and political decision-making which seem to be completely beyond our control, take us back the impoverishment of this dictatorial scenario poised on the threshold of developmentalism.

But as I now recall, it is not exactly like that. If the symptoms are similar, the political horizon is quite different. The new cognitive proletariat, ourselves and others very different from ourselves, does not have an ideology that responds to the criteria of the traditional left and right.  We do not have an alternative, a beyond; we have constructed a different political articulation more based on ‘elective affinities’ than on the unpaid work we carry out, more linked to our different transversal subjectivities than to traditional class-based articulations.6

Without class from the point of view of the traditional left, we are not, however, on the brink of some other ‘class struggle’ or some other ‘social class arrangement.’ “The problem of class composition in cognitive capitalism is that the clarity with which we can identify the centrality of the cognitive precariat impedes resorting to any “geometric” representation around a presumably stable centre of class composition. The certainty with which the cognitive precariat can be identified as the characterizing element of this productive system requires assuming – with just as much certainty – the inevitable fluidity, mobility, continual transformation and intersecting of each social figure. Technical class composition is formed from these extremely mobile, heterogeneous and decentralized characteristics. At the same time, the elements of subjectivity, central to the cognitive labour force, define actual labour in a crucial way, so that no analysis of class composition can disregard the continual intersection of class and gender lines, nor can it disregard the mechanisms of culturalization and racialization. The processes – open, cadenced and driven by the struggles over the last ten years – cognitivization of labour and exploitation, the tendency of life and labour to overlap, the explosion of the factory-form, the network and the metropolis as new spatial temporal coordinates of production, the fully transnational and heterogeneous character of living labour, constitutively precarious and mobile, continually blur technical and political composition, overlapping them and distancing them at the same time. Consequently: the relationship between technical composition and political composition cannot be re-proposed in the same terms as in the 1960s.”7

 No Culture without Social Rights!

 “[…] the major enemy, the strategic adversary is fascism (whereas Anti-Oedipus’ opposition to the others is more of a tactical engagement). And not only historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini, but also the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behaviour, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us” (Michel Foucault: “Introduction to the non-fascist life”, preface to Anti-Oedipus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari).

There is no alternative (or, in abbreviation, TINA): one of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s favourite refrains. There is no alternative to the rule of the market, to the mandates of the School of Chicago, to global capitalism.  This seems to be the tonic that surrounds us, a new liberal fascism that dealt its latest blows in the sphere of state-run culture on 20-24th September with the eviction and demolition of gaztetxe Kukutza (social and cultural association occupying squatted premises) in the Rekalde district of Bilbao and with the cancellation of the non-fiction film festival Punto de Vista in Navarra, both attacks for supposed economic motives and (as we all know) because the local authorities and oligarchies are using the ‘need for adjustment’ ideologically.

The attack on the more daring and issue-raising initiatives by different institutional authorities brings us closer to a scenario whereby the new neoconservative oligarchies appear disposed to asphyxiate public-sector culture or culture as a social right.  Instead they propose to continue to support the idea of culture as a resource, a primordial resource encompassing all merchandise. In this way, they propose to back the commercialisation of culture as intuited by the situationists. Sickened by Richard Florida8 and his predecessors, I see how I myself, and almost all my friends, continue to uphold a contradictory struggle between the necessity to live from our work and the awareness and wish to put a stop to this commodification of our working practices. We maintain a constant debate between our professional labour and our lives, which are gradually being placed at the service of what are called “the new cultural factories.”12 “We work all the time and all over the place: at home, in the office, in the production company or in the agency. What is more, we have learnt to make the most of such experiences, subjecting our needs to the imperatives of a task that promises ‘vocational added value’ (“After all, you’re doing something you love, aren’t you?”) and so requires complete dedication. […] Precarity in its many and diverse forms (flexibility, instability, indeterminate functions, the (self-) exploitation of experiences and emotions, extreme mobility, the lack of a fixed salary…), define almost all the jobs in the field of cultural production and communication (even the most economically advantageous, the best situated in the cultural hierarchy: exhibition curators, museum directors, media stars…). 10

The general comment is: although the economic crisis and unemployment affect us greatly, workers in the cultural sector, just like all other sectors, spend more hours than ever in production (not only of our own work but in networking, establishing contacts…). Our work has suffered a gradual devaluation, which adds an even more worrying perspective to the outlook portrayed in the texts quoted above. Creating images is a political activity, one framed in different ways in the system of production. The production of representation is a labour that produces both economic and symbolic capital gains; these entail well-interiorized frameworks of censorship and self-censorship. Given these premises, I wonder to what point this new conservative offensive will influence future imaginaries. In 1975 Foucault wrote that we end up loving that which dominates and exploits us. If we end up interiorizing and reproducing a merely complicit (re)presentation (whether consciously or unconsciously) of signifiers and signified which seem to offer the possibility of being ‘understood’ and ‘accepted’ by the public, these will become the only ones admitted into the established circuits (by the media, by the art establishment), perhaps the only ones we are capable of imagining. The faces of local corporations wear innocent expressions and place the blame on multinationals and the global crisis, but the elites of this shameless partnership that uses public money to privatise the commons are quite clear about who is worth helping and who not. 

Some years ago, considering the state of affairs as regards the colonisation of work and the precariousness, not of our working conditions, but of our lives in general, I entered into an intense e-mail exchange with some friends of mine: “Dear Marta y Publio, we have had so many conversations about the conditions of production in our work over the last few years and this has occupied (and still does) such an important space in our latest projects, that it is difficult to sum up in few words all we have said. What is certain is that precarity (in work and in our personal lives) has entered the institutional political agenda and is being used thematically by art institutions, but without any real consequences for art practice. That art practice should form a part of the economic dynamics of post Fordist capitalism (with its legacy from capitalism and pre-capitalism) is a fact we cannot ignore without running the risk of falling into a dangerous naivety.”11

This is not just a question of being aware of our position on the edge of the market place, of generating capital gain, but of being aware of the nature of our role in the production of symbolic value and to what extent our projects offer a potential for resistance when faced with phagocytosis or worse –misrepresentation or spurious utilisation. We need to be fully aware of our responsibilities in regard to each and every part of the production-distribution-consumption loop. There is no place outside the system, but there is, I like to think, a certain capacity for resistance, which requires continually moving, changes of strategy, dodging capture, mechanisms of infiltration which seek small scale shifts, the use of open and/or polysemic languages as in poetics and/or irony (providing these do not end up as hollow metaphors or pure cynicism). Another possible response might be, paradoxically, to place oneself in circumstances of ‘invisibility’ or rather, a lack of visibility, accompanied by a displacement of the usual mechanisms of legitimation or of any evidence of these.

In 2007, putting four hands and two heads together to write a text, we wondered about the cultural producers popular mainstream imaginaries and their possible relation to the valorisation of our work.12 The characters in Sex and the City came to mind, or Northern Exposure; today I think we would write about the painfully cynical presentation of advertising executives in Mad Men or a review of the Thatcherite de-pauperisation which sets the scene in The Young Ones. Yes, our lives are beginning to resemble these ironic young declassés, broadcast by the BBC in 1982.  The post-punk no future has turned into the chanting of “They do not represent us”, or “The System is not in crisis –the System IS the crisis and it’s permanent.”

The relations of traditional production are changing, cities and squares have become the sites of a strident productivity, generating knowledge and wisdom in free circulation. All of us have become productive forces without involvement in labour relations. The workers are continuing to be fully productive even when unemployed (but not unoccupied). If in industrial capitalism the main variables were salary and profit, for cognitive capitalism they are yield and income which –given the gradual commercialisation of just about everything– makes capitalism’s parasitic dimension evident. To confront the system’s parasitic aspect, and in the hope that collective work might support a common prosperity, as the Manifesto of the Nomadic Universities explains, “The salary should expand over the totality of time and life to become income, in other words, bio-income that recognises the general productive dimension of the work of ‘pollinating.’”13

In recent years much activity has been devoted to the redefinition of work, and to precariousness in its many forms in the world of cultural production and the art institution. To name but a few more or less adjacent projects: “A Small Post-fordian Drama”, a project initiated by Marion von Osten in 2004; Onda Prekaria, a radio-based project still active in Madrid; Precarias a la Deriva (Precarious women à la dérrive) in Madrid; Carrot Workers and the Precarious Workers Brigade in London.14 Each and every one of these initiatives have made important contributions to the ongoing discussion. All have questioned the established imaginaries of labour and the devaluation of those activities considered ‘non-work’ (as occurring in certain ambits of cultural production, in which ‘realisation’ overlaps ‘vocation’) and have provided material for critical analysis and resistance.  One initiative among these seems to me particularly remarkable and useful: a study of intermittent workers of the spectacle, underway in France since 2003. Not only because it pinpoints the specificities of precarity in a wind range of occupations (artists, musicians, filmmakers…but also circus performers, technicians in the mass media etc.) but also because it also draws attention to hyper-flexibility, intermittence, discontinuity, and the connivance of expertise and concessionary policies in the state unemployment benefit system for cost-cutting purposes, as well as other issues which hinder any possibility that reasonable conditions will ever adapt to the new ‘informal’ forms of know-how. A resounding cry is heard alongside the apt critique by Maurizio Lazzarato of the opposition between political criticism and art criticism as proclaimed by Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello in The New Spirit of Capitalism: Culture is a basic right. No culture without social rights! 

Boltanski and Chiapello’s scorn for art criticism can only be explained when culture is perceived as superfluous, as something produced for a determined elite disinterested in material concerns; a scorn, obviously produced by ignorance of the changes that the cultural sector has suffered (where the cognitariat has gradually been proletariatised) and, just as surely, by an a-critical and unqualified assumption of this sector’s eccentricity or ‘geniality’, which takes us back to a conception of art and cultural activity that is merely institutional, antiquated and perhaps, in the terms put forward by Boltanski and Chiapello, never even existed in the first place.15 If it is true that there is in fact a hegemonic culture still marked by values that might be called bourgeois and western, we cannot ignore the fact that there are other cultures external to ethnocentrism and traditional forms of legitimisation, and that we are all generators of culture (even though this may not be our job). Clearly, there is also the issue of how other forms of legitimation and recognition might be articulated, but this a topic which deserves another essay…16

The casual workforce is at the centre of issues surrounding pay and hyper-flexibility as imposed by cognitive capitalism, so that this generates a complex struggle on different fronts (ranging from direct action and media presence to theoretical thinking) to denounce the multiplicity of economic, migratory, sexual and racial anomalies which have brought us one step further away from the traditional class struggle. These changes affect large parts of the population including students, those researchers whose wares no longer find a buyer in the knowledge marketplace, false or ‘untitled’ artists, immigrants with or without papers, sex workers, misfits, the aged, the sick, the unemployed… “What is an intermittent worker of the spectacle? “Manufacturing the sensory”, an intermittent worker of the spectacle is a wage labourer discontinuously employed by multiple employers at rates that vary according to the projects and the employers. Since the sixties, these wage labourers who are “not like the others” have benefited from an “exceptional” regime of unemployment compensation, in the sense that the relative flexibility of the conditions of access to the right to unemployment compensation allowed a growing number of people to assure themselves of continuous income in a situation of radical discontinuity of employment. […] The challenge to their specific regime of unemployment compensation already loomed as a real threat, but this is only the mark of the reform protocol, out of which a movement of great breadth has arisen. Its strength derives from its duration and from the fact that it has taken the organisational form of coordination, which is quite distinct from that of hierarchical organisational structures. Its strength also derives from the fact that it has taken into account the multiple subjectivities that compose it.”17

 Real Time 

“It was funny, how those blokes were arguing on the telly. […] ‘It’s pure theatre’, repeated another, ‘they don’t work, they just make more work.’ Someone else chipped in that, yes, there was production because what they produced was their own job and he listed various examples of unproductive jobs. But when a union member piped up saying that this was unacceptable, he’d had enough. “Exploitation, dignity…” he began; at this point, the other decided to turn in for the night.” (Isaac Rosa: La mano invisible [The Invisible Hand]. Our translation.

A few years ago, in 2003, I made a film and an archive called Tiempo real (Real Time). This project explored the possibility of making politically active representations of the new forms of non-work, reoccupying representation from the point of view of precarity. At present –this is not by chance– I find myself in the process of elaborating a new project, this time for television (in Bilbao), which asks the same questions as well as attempting to assess what these last decades of cognitive capitalism have meant for all of us and how our lives have changed with the new global division of labour. Its title, making a musical reference to the early days of the transformation –the eighties– is ElectroClass.

In our narrative economy, the work-consumption loop is the mark of visibility, the guarantee of existence for a citizenship that has been sold off by a franchising state.  If until a few decades ago we still thought of the term ‘work’ as production, as opposed to reproduction, something closely linked to paid employment, now we do not only speak of just in time or of “stable exceptionality,” but of how traditional divergences dilute, and the spatial and conceptual oppositions between leisure time/spaces and work are no longer operative. Biowork now defines these relations; precarity erodes and re-articulates our personal decisions, as well as the constitution of subjectivity. Since the seventies, instead of traditional trade unionism and militant demands, as the inhabitants of total work perhaps we should think of something along the lines of bio-unionism, a different relation between production and reproduction that, without forgetting the struggles of earlier times and the critiques produced by feminist and post-colonial praxis, might transform our relations with the present time of consumption-production. As German filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger said, in response to the tribute paid her at the 1983 Festival d’Avignon:  “I consider that traditional dramatic forms will no longer work for new content. I refer to the language of images. The de-codification of this language varies from époque to époque.”

As an integral element of a genealogy of which I consider myself a part and in the awareness of the need to produce new representations for the new sorts of labour that have emerged, Chantal Akerman’s emblematic film, Jeanne Dielman, of 1975 and in its wake two recent films made by women might well offer possible representations of these new forms of bio-unionism, of the embodied struggle that I mentioned earlier: Joanne Richardson and Andrea Carnu’s Precarious Lives (2008) and Uqui Permui’s Doli, doli, doli… coas conserveiras. Rexistro de traballo (2010) (Doli, doli, doli…with the canning factory. Work register). The key question is: Does sex matter to capital? To the new cognitive capitalism? The answer to this might be: Sex becomes capital. Not only because merchandise has been wrapped in the cellophane of sexuality since more than a century ago, but because the sex of the workers, as Silvia Federici explains in a biting criticism of Toni Negri’s neo-operaismo, is of vital importance to the new labour division.18

The strategies employed in these two films are different but both address precarious subjectivities and personal experiences in order to construct a new political imaginary, an other activism:  Precarious Lives, a Rumanian/North American production, recounts the evolutions, mutations and life/work decisions of ten Rumanian women working in the urban service sector, mixing archive footage with life stories. Doli, doli, doli…, a Galician production, reclaims some old amateur footage filmed by women workers at the Odosa canning plant on the island of Arousa to record their hunger strike. The film gives these excitingly militant and critical women a voice as they recount in first person their awakening to political articulation through their personal relationships and through confrontation with the established trade union and its male members who removed themselves from the women’s specific demands. How may we pursue the necessary renewal of filmic language noted by Ottinger and produce new images out of precarity? How to reoccupy the media space contaminated by reactionary commercial interests and react effectively to the stereotypes of victimization alluded to earlier in this essay?

In the eighties, when Ulrike Ottinger articulated these illuminating words and the women workers at the Odisa factory acted in ways that years later make me shed tears of shear pride, I was a teenager hypnotized by the images of a Galicia in full industrial redevelopment, where the Movida (translator’s note: the explosion of creative energy in Spain that followed in the wake of political transition from dictatorship to democracy and the life-style of its protagonists) and post-modernity had just landed. In my opinion, standards in television have deteriorated since then, with a gradual homogenization towards formats dictated by private channels (which arrived in Spain in 1990) and by audience ratings. There was a time (in the seventies, the first decade of video) when artists were fully aware of the relation between video and TV and the potential of the video medium as a political tool, of the importance of not renouncing this medium. It was not long before official Art History, serving the dynamics of the art market, co-opted video as an instrument of artistic expression, emptying it of its communicative capacity while erasing all traces of its ‘original sin,’ its direct relation with television, that populist and vulgar medium that had to be pushed out of the way in order to reconfigure video as a new technology that might be accepted into the cannons of Art History.

Ranging from the well-known “video is not television” put forward by the purists, to the experiences of pirate TV or community TV, the work of artist filmmakers such as Alexander Kluge, Rainer M. Fassbinder, Harum Farocki, Martha Rosler, Peter Watkins… about TV and broadcast on TV, the mass media par excellence formed a part of the then panorama of critiquing conventional representation. It was in the eighties, in the course of neoliberal restructuring and the dismembering of labour relations, when this intense debate began to dilute: artists renounced television, and turned “apocalyptic” as Humberto Eco would say.  The idea of another television disappeared or was reduced to minority experiences or those of resistance, whilst television as a medium of pure entertainment spread, regarded with disdain or suspicion by an increasingly obsolete traditional left wing, and utilized by our rulers as one more institution of imposed consensur (“banalissima televisione”, as our beloved Pasolini would call it). “Where is the future forged by the older generation? Is it the mess we are living in now?” asked Eskorbuto in one of his emblematic songs. In the case of the Basque country and of Bilbao in particular, the dismantling of the old industrial economy has given way to a service economy (prioritised at the request of the European Union), which has materialised in the form of the Guggenheim-Bilbao, although in reality this franchise museum is nothing more than a symptom of the shift from a society of producers to one of consumers.

This change of system is the focus of our research in the ElectroClass project (produced by Consonni in collaboration with Basque TV), in an attempt to rethink, through a reshuffling of Basque television’s own archives, an imaginary of workers in the informational economy to which we belong. AT the intersection between a renewed interest among researchers and artists provoked by digital TV (not for nothing have we witnessed a flood of exhibitions and texts on the relations between art and Television, like, for example ¿Estáis listos para la televisión? [Are you ready for TV?] [2010-2011] at MACBA [Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art]) and the desire to delve into our recent collective memory in order to visualise the construction mechanisms of (self)-representation (and by doing so perhaps help reformulate our politics), this investigation looks at the new electronic working class. And as French philosopher Jacques Rancière says, “Collective understanding of emancipation is not the comprehension of a total process of subjection. It is the collectivisation of capacities invested in scenes of dissensus.

It is the employment of the capacity of anyone whatsoever, of the quality of human beings without qualities.”19 or, in other words, that our critical work applied to media imaginary does not involve confrontation or the naive and sterile evidence of the fetichism that television produces, but rather by generating estrangement, a distancing that makes its constructive framework, or more concretely, its fictional quality evident.

August-September, 2011

P. S. This summer I read a text by Chuck Kleinhans in the e-magazine Jump Cut. In the article, “‘Creative industries’, neoliberal fantasies, and the cold, hard facts of global recession: some basic lessons”,20 the author gives an example of a representation of work in the virtual era –“The Social Network”. Although a fervent user of Facebook, I experienced some discomfort, both because of the film’s lack of quality and the deference paid to the enterprising and rather silly geek who is its main protagonist (not to mention its naturalisation of savage work conditions). However, Kleinhans also addresses Toy Story 3, the latest in the saga, as a metaphor for a possible social revolt. In the film, battered and discarded toys, relegated to early retirement, join forces and rebel in a highly unsettling test of strength for the micro-society of the playroom. It hits a nerve and in a brief but intense return to my adolescence I thought of one of those programmes I saw in the eighties and which remains in my/our mind: ¡Viva el mal, viva el capital! (Long live evil, long live capital!).

Maria Ruido


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Think and Re-think by Mita Vaghela

I wish my work could be more light-hearted, full of humour and enjoyment.  Alas, I think that I will have to leave that to other artists for the moment. I am instinctively drawn to areas, which affect me deeply.  Affect humankind deeply.  I am interested in the way in which we behave and perceive, and am focusing on the role of the female within Indian society. I am British born of Indian origin, and live in the UK with my husband and four daughters.  I am liberal minded, yet conscious of my culture’s expectations at all times.  I don’t have a problem with social constraints as long as it they are fair and useful, as structure is an important part of my daily life. But they quite often are not. India was declared the worst G20 country to live in in 2012, and cases of female infanticide and crimes against women have had a big presence in the media.  However, whilst these stories need to be reported to raise awareness, it does not necessarily act as a deterrent or prompt any thoughts of how change can be brought about. I have been researching how the Indian cultural mind-set has been influenced and, in a country where the culture overlaps with religion, I have been looking back to the Hindu code of conduct written by Manu circa 500BC.  It is easy to construe this law as being anti-women, but I do not believe this to be the case.  It is people who have chosen to perceive that the writings are condemning women. I strive to make work that addresses these issues in a manner that leaves the viewer touched and in a thoughtful state of mind.  I want to persuade each viewer to contemplate their own views, to ask themselves why things happen.  The problems that I highlight traverse all cultures, religion and gender. In Ultra Sound (2012), I made a film in which I narrate a fictitious letter I found in a prominent Indian magazine.  This letter is written by an unborn female foetus to her Mother, persuading her to allow her to be born.  When watching the film, the viewers are asked to hold a small wax sculpture of a foetus in the palm of their hand. I have predominantly used film and sculpture in my work and wish to make more participatory projects in the future.

Mita Vaghela

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Wax sculptures from Ultra Sound (2012)


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Walls by Robert Ridley-Shackleton

I have been making art in the eyes and ears of the public for about seven years. I have always strived to find a definite style that I will hope to hold on to and exercise throughout my life.  However that idea of being an artist who battles with a single concept for all of his professional life seems unreachable. Essentially I make photocopies, zines, paintings, drawings, tapes, cds, poetry and probably more. Although they differ greatly in style from week to week there is a certain language that is present throughout my body of work. I work fast, ideas are raw, sometimes hazy, sometimes direct. But I believe the similarities between piece to piece stem from an obsession with hypnagogic like states that I have encountered in my life. I have always had trouble at night since I was a child with hallucinations of been taken on frightening or sometimes beautiful adventures at night. 

I make a lot of different art and music depending on what I have been interested in of that period.  But Im going to focus in this issue of vibrations of a new love called Harsh Noise Wall. Harsh noise wall or HNW for short is an off shot of noise music. For all those that are unclear with noise. Just like the world of music where artists release albums, singles, perform, go on tour etc noise artists/musicians do the same except their work is abstract. Melodies and traditional structures are scrapped in search of often dissonant, atonal and improvised works. I have been making tapes and cdr-s (writable CD’s) for many years and constantly experimenting with different styles within the realm of noise. But there’s something about HNW that has really gripped my attention. Harsh Noise Wall is basically a wall of mostly unchanging noise, static noise if you will. 99% of HNW tracks are loud, fierce and uncompromising.  But such a minimalist sound can be traced as early as La Monte Young’s studies with Oscillators from possibly the 1960’s. Young would choose a simple waveform at his chosen frequency and keep that tone playing for a mighty long time.  Although similar in compositional style the overall textures of HNW differ greatly. Young’s work was raw waveforms where as HNW uses mostly waveforms and then processes the wave through various effects. So often the set up for a HNW artist is a unit that creates a noise (waveform generator, white noise generator, circuit bent toy etc.) followed by an array of distortion pedals that were intended for use with guitar musicians. Obviously this is an often-followed route of creating the walls of sound, but there are many other ways that artists cleverly create their walls.

But more than often we need things to be reasoned with and a meaning defined. When we don’t like something or we like it but feel unsure why we search for meanings. I believe that in HNW a lot of artists share and conflict with ideals as to what HNW is about.  Vomir aka Romain Perrot is an artist often cited as the king of the genre. His take on HNW is that each wall is a void, an empty vessel; to him HNW is like silence. Often Vomir’s releases are untitled and have very minimalist artwork.

From that extreme we have others who often decorate or use the walls entirely to illustrate subject matter, there is a great deal of HNW that often has titles and artwork dedicated to sexual fetishes and more than often feet fetish. This often is accompanied with titles about ladies and their feet. There are a lot of artists who also use the abrasive and confrontational aspect of the sonic structures to portray violent and/or offensive material.  Often the artwork to a HNW release is designed in the same way as some metal or doom bands.

But in terms of my own style and attitude to this genre. I would say that I tend to steer towards the Vomir type meanings. For me there is nothing violent about the sound of a wall. For me it is peace, zenWhen creating a wall I keep in mind my influences within visual art. I am always heavily inspired by the sculpture of Carl Andre. His single barren units of objects that are found in everyday life are similar to how some people’s instant reaction to listening to a HNW track. More than often people will mistake the sounds as an audio device going wrong or a radio unturned.  Plus the hum of a wall can be paralleled with a lot of everyday sounds we hear. Carl Andre’s single everyday units build up to something of infinite value that can be seen in my HNW, there is often not a clear end to each wall and they appear to only be a snapshot of a bigger picture by the fact that each track ends abruptly.

Another great visual influence on my walls is minimalist abstract painting. For me making a wall isn’t about making a void, it’s about making an insight into a new world where we are only experiencing a snapshot, so alien from ours but with some parallels to everyday life. This concept is one that I often take into consideration when making any art or music.

If you would like to hear my walls feel free to listen or download samples of my work on this website:

However for me creating sounds is always something that eventually ends up being a physical release that someone can take home with them and play on their hi-fi. I believe in making art and sounds that are available to own and to share at a reasonable price. Although I love going to galleries or gigs to hear installations or performances, there is nothing quite as wonderful as having a tape, cd or vinyl of a wonderful world that you can submerse in and then put on the shelf with your collection.

So if you are interested in buying any of my physical products feel free to browse my blog:

And email me to inquire about which copies you wish to have at:

Thank you for reading this. I hope to write more about my interests in a later issue of Vibrations wonderful journal.

Robert Ridley-Schackleton

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Art Frequencies by Roberto Becerra

We want to become aware of our surroundings, to understand what it is that we do and find the piece we are in the picture. We do it through art, sciences, and activities that let us harmonize and blend in with the vibrations of reality.  

Art works, the same as science, crafted by restless beings, try and step further constantly. While one communicates and generates feelings and thoughts, the latter generates thoughts and creates progression in knowledge and technology.  

Art does exactly the same, or can do the exact same thing. To progress thoughts, create and push knowledge and technology; to enlighten in any case.    

The drive of both is the pursuit of and inspiration in nature, which gives us the basic elements to play with and do our crazy inventions.  

Humanity’s nature, it is the pursuit as well, our ideas, humans’ progression, and development of those ideas into a general improvement of living conditions, and the understanding of who, what and how we come to be.  

Like two sides of the same coin, or two poles in a magnet. The two activities are part of the same unit. Non-duality. Electrical charges are of two types, part of the same phenomenon.          

Both art and science have used the things that we acknowledge as tools. Every time, these tools are the expression of advancement of the technology know to men. Knowledge is as well one of these tools, more interesting as we achieve increasing awareness of our environment.            

It is through art that many times the advancements on knowledge, science and technology turn into roads leading to higher purposes, making sense of what to aim for as a species with all that power.    

Technology to produce vibration in matter, can be pushed and driven by the hunger for music, seeking improvement and progression on music making machines, used to craft sounds and exchange feelings, and make people dance.      

To try and create through the new tools and developments on technology is to look for new languages, build new ideas and make new sense of things. It is to take old ever present feelings and give them a different escape valve.      

To seek technology, by means of the motivation given by art is to materialize these feelings and intuitions about the capabilities and directions of our new languages.  

Science and art both seek understanding, to express, create and expand ourselves. This understanding of the nature of things, eventually puts us in a position of hunting freedom. But freedom seems ever more evasive, the more we learn, the more we look like another universal organism, dancing under the same patterns of ants, or galaxies. This puts us in a predictive life pattern.      

So what is there to do? I guess just try and make beautiful things and be an optimum species. Dance in progressive harmony, through creativity, science, leadership, construction, all of which can be named art.

Roberto Becerra

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Apparitions by Said Dokins

               Like ultraviolet rays, memory shows each man a script from the book of life, that invisibly and prophetically glosses the text. Walter Benjamin. One-Way Street[1] 

Apparitions (580 acrylic plaques inscribed with the names of the “disappeared” (victims of clandestine, political abductions) in Mexico, from 1972 to 1998. Based on figures provided by the Eureka Committee (Committee for the Defence of Prisoners and Mexicans politically persecuted, disappeared or exiled) and H.I.J.O.S (which stands for “Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice against Oblivion and Silence).  The inscriptions appear and disappear, depending on the intensity of the ultraviolet rays.)

Apparitions” addresses the notion of visibility and concealment as operations that connect the exercise of remembering.  It seeks to establish a confrontational reflection on the mechanisms of forced disappearance as a form of State terrorism against the memory of social activists who struggled in the middle and end of the last century.  On one hand, the State tries to disappear, both physically and symbolically, any type of action or concept that goes outside of the norms established by the hegemony, through its dissolution.  It may do this by incorporation into the system, or through the creation of a supposed potential enemy that must be destroyed in order to safeguard the social order.  In this sense, each disappearance constitutes the erasing a revolutionary text.  On the other hand, the insurgency pushes for this constant restoration of memory, to maintain the meaning of their movement and to demand justice for all those disappeared and assassinated.  This act of re-inscription can only be done through materializing memory. This is why mothers in the Eureka Committee walk together, with a photo of their disappeared sons or daughters hanging from their neck.  As Walter Benjamin says in his text The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: 

The cult of remembrance of loved ones, absent or dead, offers a last refuge for the cult value of the picture. For the last time the aura emanates from the early photographs in the fleeting expression of a human face. This is what constitutes their melancholy, incomparable beauty”[2]

The presence of the names of the disappeared, as an act of re-inscription from a poetic, spectral representation is the focus of this piece. It stages the tension between inscription and erasure, visibility and concealment: between the transience of remembrance and the perpetuity of memory. The installation consists of 580 strips of translucent plastic, placed to form a circular, spiral shaped, inverted cone. On each strip is written -in calligraphy and with invisible ink – the name of someone disappeared due to their political activity.  In normal light, the strips look transparent; the inscription is activated with black light. 

series of lines appear on the ground, simulating a clock. On the walls, the following (paraphrased) text by Theodor Reik can be read: “The function of memory, is to protect our impressions; reminiscence aims at their dissolution. Memory is essentially conservative; reminiscence, destructive[3] The installation has a black light installed with an automatic dimmer, which slowly turns the light on and off.  This way, the inscriptions of the names of the disappeared become visible each time the black light is intensified, and disappear as the light is dimmed, as the tensions between light and obscurity, justice and impunitymemory and oblivion are shown in different shades.  Simultaneously, the soundtrack plays testimonies of disappeared political activists and their relatives, and funereal sounds. Facing the politics of oblivion and the indifference of reminiscence, this piece constitutes a reinstatement from the darkness, from the other side, always hidden from the media, as a spectre of the tension between the State’s exercise of power and the resistance within class struggles.

Writing sound installation “Apparitions 2012-2013 by Said Dokins
Presented by the ‘Museo Casa de la Memoria Indomita’  and curated by Ignacio Vazquez and Claudia de la Garza. 
Testimony source, Mario Alvaro Cartagena Lopez “Guaymas”** member of the September 23 Communist League and victim of political abduction during the 70’s. 
Music by Meztli Canales viola, Citalli Duran fagot,  Omri Fentanes guitar and electronic sounds, Angel Flores accordion and percussions and Erika Flores transverse flute. Sound recording Beat York Insanidad Mental, Hardest Crew. Mastering audio by Fermin Martinez and Victor Zaragoza.
Photos by Leo Luna

Photos by Leo Luna

Material: security ink,  light controller UVDMX Production: Mark Scubd, Fátima Alvarez, Leo Luna y Jhovani Milián.

Material: security ink,
light controller UVDMX
Production: Mark Scubd, Fátima Alvarez, Leo Luna y Jhovani Milián.

Apariciones-Said Dokins-foto-Leo Luna-4g


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The Self-Self Transaction by Sarah Hughes

January 2014

In 1944 the Bretton Woods Agreement tied the foreign currency exchange rates to the value of gold, and in 1971 the Nixon Shock saw the adoption of a series of economic measures that canceled this direct convertibility, making way for unfixed exchange rates and free floating currencies. This came into full effect in March 1973 when most global financial systems removed their ties to the intrinsic value of a physical quantity through the dissolution of the gold standard.

This dematerialisation of capital led, paradoxically, to a rethinking of materialism, shifting it from production to symbol, and paved the way for our current conceptions of commodity, exchange, and relativism. At the close of 2013, forty years after the Smithsonian Agreement saw the introduction of a floating financial system, one could suggest that the acme of the capitalist economic system is the upsurge of the smartphone.

At the end of 2013 it is estimated that 7 in 10 people in the UK have a smartphone, and those without become an increasingly alienated observer of a new kind individuality and private ownership. The dichotomy of private and social has been combined into one asocial activity – one of taking the private moment into the public arena and performing either as the autonomous user in a crowd or via a social network.

The selfie, synonymous with the smartphone and social networking, was the Oxford Dictionaries “Word of 2013”, with research suggesting its frequency in the English language had increased by 17,000% in the preceding twelve months. Digital polling suggests that 30% of all photos taken by young people are self-portrait photographs, and the headline grabbing moment that Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama took a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial marked a monumental moment, not only in photographic culture, but citizen journalism, content consumption and the insatiable need to document the present.

For all the human faces being shared via smartphones, a vacant, impersonal and faceless parody of the individual is being perpetuated. The grammatically barren and frustratingly short correspondence that stems from social media sites, text messaging services and Twitter is an inherent characteristic of the smartphone and presents a fun-sized version of a human being whose life is mediated through a kind of superficial, hyper version on a self. This hyper-self is a product of capitalism, the person who can ‘be the best they can be’ by offering their lives up as snapshots – as symbolic gestures. What is symbolised is not so much a person, but a set of social values and narcissistic relations, a lifestyle, and lifestyles can be bought. More specifically lifestyles can be designed and branded, and are increasingly mass-produced for the individual. A quasi-bespoke lifestyle can be paradoxically unique and uniform as the ‘i-phone generation’ style themselves though apps and are able to continuously update themselves with the latest brand/symbol equity, the perfect complement to the £.

Through smartphones and social media sites the individual is able to present themselves as an image. Some of this self-image is a consequence of the online interface, but as the consumers increasingly express themselves in abridged sentences and acronyms and the time one spends alone is filled by an increasing virtual world of activity, then the image becomes a virtual-reality, one that is so invasive and ever present so as to confuse the definition of actual reality. This ambiguous notion of reality could find parody in the application software (or app) ‘Little Alchemy’ that enables the mixing of virtual chemical elements to create new virtual chemical elements – neither of which have physical properties, so nothing actually happens. Except the phenomena here is that something does happen, it is happening and virtual reality is no longer a thing of science fiction or futurist fantasy but a reality that plays out in a way that bears little relation to what was originally envisaged in the 1980’s.

The Gesamtkuntwerk, originally adopted by the Art Nouveau movement, retooled by the Bauhaus, then refashioned from commodity to symbol throughout the Twentieth Century, has a complex relationship with contemporary consumerism, but current discussion about the fusion of art and life can take account of unintended consequences and misappropriations, where notions of the individual have been institutionalised, capitalised and commodified. Adolf Loos’ late Nineteenth Century attack on the Gesamtkunstwerk as precluding man “from all future living and striving, developing and desiring” could now be interpreted as the commodity stripping the consume of their alterity. The lifestyle, as a forged sense of self, is being torn between the virtual, symbol, real and material.

The autonomous consumer is predicated on a paradigm that blurs art and everyday life and yet the hyper-self being perpetuated is at odds with the ideals of most exponents of what ‘art and everyday life’ once meant, and could continue to mean. The hyper-self is a fiction, but a fiction that is fully functioning in a capitalist system, and as the commodity is gradually being bypassed, the subject being desired by the consumer is self-equity. In a virtual reality the object is made redundant and the ‘self-commodity-self’ transaction is being replaced by the ‘self-self’.


Loos. A, “The Poor Little Rich Man” in Spoken into the Void: Collected Essays 1897-1900, 1982, trans Jane O. Newman and John H. Smith. Cambridge University Press, US

Simon. J, 2010. Neo-Materialism Part 1: Commodity and Exhibition. E-flux Journal #20

Simon. J, 2011. Neo-Materialism Part 2: The UnreadymadeE-flux Journal #23

Sarah Hughes

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An A to Z of a basic income by Sarah Thorne

All of us work 
But only some of this work is considered employment
Careful, work and employment is not the same thing
Dedicated work is based on people’s assessment of what is needed
Employment is not 
Fact: people do not need incentives to work
Given the means (financial or not) people will be able to respond to
their needs.
Human existence: “the answer to the problem of human existence is
love” (Fromm 1957)
If it is done in the right measure, any kind of work can be rewarding
Job – No matter how much you love an activity, if you do it 8 hours a
day, 7 days a week, you will start to hate it
Kontakt – I need contact with others in order to be happy
Learning & connecting with others is necessary in order to be able to
participate in social/ cultural life
Money is necessary in order to be able to participate in social/ cultural
No. I need money to survive
Often, discipline is not a bad thing
Perhaps the biggest obstacles to love are time and money
QED: Capitalism has given time and money a bad name
Real and viable alternatives to capitalism are possible
So many people are not happy
Things are getting worse
(you) are never too late
Visionaries! We are more ready for change than we think
Without a sense of security in the future, a person’s integrity is broken
it plan: i believe we can shape economics to serve our needs (not the
other way round)
(?) Because, I believe we can organise society in a way that empowers
and enables our social and human needs rather than separating us
from them
Zeitgeist: I believe every human being deserves an unconditional
minimum income, every month, as a life-long guarantee, on the basis of human rights, now!

Oxford, January 2014

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Sarah Thorne

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