Are we working too much?
Are We Working Too Much? is a project curated by Gong Jow-jiun and was presented at the Eslite Gallery in Taipei, 2013. It took cues from the alternative economy, looked at artistic production as a form of the production process and not “artworks as products”. Gong describes the project as outside of modernist aesthetics where artistic purity only existed for a brief moment. In the project publication “Strike Work, Living Labour”, Gong looked at the issue of overwork from a political-economic perspective and brought in the idea of “outside” by introducing Francesco Matarrese’s writing, “Greenberg and Tronti: Being Really Outside?” (2012). Matarrese contrasts “Recentness of Sculpture” (1967) by Clement Greenberg with an excerpt from “Struggle against Labor!” (1965) by Mario Tronti. Matarrese highlighted that Greenberg was opposed to the outsider method of proposing an external controlled environment that resisted and distanced itself from the dissociation of perception for abstract art, for he believed it necessary to remain within the autonomy of art in order to ensure the integrity of the works. Matarrese cites Tronti’s discourse on “workerism” in which Tronti believes that non-professional workers in modern Fordist production lines are similar to modest artists in the creative cultural field, who know their work is “dead labour” and are the victims of the capitalist production model. They are fully aware of the fact that the tasks at hand are not pure, so they actively look for points of resistance and attack - a matter of “do” and “not do”. Matarrese sees Greenberg did not understand that there is a close relationship between living labour as anti-traditional creative labour and dead labour. Thus he develops his thoughts on an abstract or non-art that is capable of being radically outside. Matarrese believes that ‘it is only through struggle, even against ourselves, that we are able to separate the boundary between these two kinds of labour.’ Gong responds, 'To gain strength through “non-” and difference, becoming a certain kind of partial absoluteness, which is “non-absolute,” in order to achieve “non-art”.' Thus, “not doing” as partial absoluteness can become “non-art” without being self-contradictory.’
Gong continues, 'In an artistic environment filled with dead labour, in a state of dead labouring where everyone hates his/her own existing work, to rearrange their relationship with art in order to prevent any sort of labour that will fully integrate with capitalism. Because capital is forever constructing fictional integrity, narrowing our mind so that we think this world has no life beyond this.' Therefore, to prevent one from being a part of the composition of capital (as a relationship between dead labour and living labour), one must move towards the outside through “alienated organisation”. To isolate oneself from an excessive state of dead labour to prevent vitality from being drained, one must go outside, yet stay resolutely inside - the “non-pure” environment where one can reassemble the concrete power of living labour. We must intellectualise our activity through our insubordination and resistance to exploitation to reach the labour of new value.
Gong aimed to move the project outside the boundaries of academia and art galleries by implementing four levels of living labour:
When New Institutionalism was merged and practised, the anti-capitalist focus of contemporary art also started to cater to the idea that activism was more important than the art institution, and the strategy of negation, e.g. the idea of leaving the art institution altogether. To advocate change, one has to work outside of the institutions. This reaches the limits of New Institutionalism as it is all about believing in the institution’s ability to change, not about leaving the institution. The “free discussion” left the evidence of the “outside-ness” in the exhibition to prove that the event itself was not a performance but was to demonstrate the internal friendship and the history of the free discussion, to be free outside of the institutional frame and constitutes the curatorial outside of the framework. The artworks are no longer tied to a single locale but possibly displayed somewhere more desirable.
Are We Working Too Much? is a part of Eslite’s Cross-Strait Young Artists Exhibition Programme featuring artists Kao Jun-honn, Chou Yu-cheng, Hsu Che-yu, Ni Xiang and one theatre company, the Riverbed Theatre. The artists each have a distinctive way of showing what is meant by producing through the discussion of the relations between production, historical and environmental from the angle of labour and production models throughout the exhibition.A Man of Showa Era and A Working History Lu Chieh-te, Chou Yu-cheng, 2013
Chou Yu-cheng's "A Man of Showa Era" is an account of the shift and distance between work and retirement. Chou uses interviews to record the life of Wu Chao-nan in regard to work and his attitude toward the things he treasures. Wu was born during the Japanese colonisation period and worked as a compositor in a print shop for 30 years, and witnessed the rise and fall of the printing industry, as well as the effect of changing times on traditional industries. Chou presented an installation made up of several wooden boxes set upon a large tatami platform, each containing memories or objects from Wu’s life.
Behind the tatami installation, is another “working history” project by Chou that consists of a large acrylic painting as well as a book that he produced as part of his "A Working History Lu Chieh-te" project in 2012. Lu is a sixty-year-old temporary worker Chou had found through a newspaper advertisement; a text worker was simultaneously appointed to collaborate with the project. After gradually earning the temporary worker’s trust, the three began their interview work together and compiled his working history into a book, in which Taiwan’s former socio-economic situations and alterations were slowly delineated through the lived experience of Lu. The artist employed Lu with the exhibition budget whereupon he was then convinced to appear at the exhibition site in the identity of a security guard. For Are We Working Too Much? Lu was also temporarily employed to paint the canvas a layer per day and sign-in on the working attendance sheet. Lu’s non-professional identity that usually performed dead labour, was suddenly being transformed into living labour in the process of artistic production. The exhibition took the form of publication and the physical presence of Lu, allowing Chou to continuously produce Lu’s presence of work and working history. Chou was the intermediary and held an economic approach to the project, a realistic plan which reveals hidden economic realities is thus activated. This moves beyond the cooperative relationship at the physical level to understand the insight at the non-physical level by displaying the interdependence between opportunity and work. As Tronti believes that the absence of the unique in the work of these trapped non-professional, unqualified workers is the very reflection of the commodities’ indifference and that these workers themselves are the victims of the capitalist production model. In previous projects by Chou, the artist subjects the origin and distribution of resources to a series of economic discussions as the methodology of his creative pursuits, questioning issues related to institutions/galleries and enterprises.
Are We Working Too Much? is a question, also a starting point. Gong chose not to directly tackle the political economy, labour, value and conditions of production within the exhibition. Instead, he collaborated with artists and formed a working relationship. He engaged writers throughout the process of the project to document each experience, use the notion of “overwork” to open up the paradigm and point to an alternative.
Gong Jow-jiun, ‘Strike Work, Living Labor: A Project Outside of Modernist Aesthetics’, Are We Working Too Much? Workbook I, (Taipei: Eslite Gallery, 2013), p16-7