“Our century is called the century of work; actually it is the century of pain, misery and depravity.” (Paul Lafargue: The Right to Laziness, 1883)
This criticism which referred to the 19th century could also be true for essential parts of the 20th century. Whether this will change in the 21st century remains the question. Independent of what we think about this quote, Karl Marx’ son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, should receive the place of honour and take the first place in this real[work] manual. I owe that to him, did I not give his polemic to my mother when I was 17, in order to convince her about the necessity of skipping school. That which, at the age of 17, was a welcome alibi lecture for me to be used to turn away from the unloved obligations of the school time towards the more important tasks of life - going to the cinema, for instance - reads astonishingly prophetic 15 years later. Lafargue, who was never taken seriously by his father-in-law was in some points, however, ahead of him. Did he not anticipate the further mechanisation and the resulting overproduction, and therefore claim to drop the working ethos, to reduce the working time to three hours a day and to dedicate the rest of the time to leisure and laziness: ” … that, taking into consideration modern production means and their unlimited possibilities for reproduction, workers’ exaggerated passion for work must be checkmated and they must be obliged to at least consume the commodities they produce.”
The issue of work was to occupy me for quite some time. I remember a boring night in a big disco in the eighties when Thomas Munz said to me: “Actually it should be the other way round: people should be paid that they do that to themselves and hang around here all night. Then for relaxation they would spend their hard earned money getting hold of a place on the assembly line.” This little Buñuel-like conversion came into my mind again when we started to deal with real[work]. At a time when technology increasingly penetrates all fields of work and supplements manpower where repetitive working processes take place, it becomes necessary to think about the definition of work.
“If the “real work” shall be saved and preserved it is inevitable to understand that work no longer takes place at work. Since work in the sense of “pioiesis”, i. e. “creating” no longer (or very seldom) takes place as paid and socially recognised work. Thus, the necessity of the “work society” can by no means be proved by the indispensability of anthropological work. On the contrary: We have to escape from “work” and the “work society”, in order to rediscover the possibility of “real work” and to regain the joy of it. In a certain way (even if in a different way to me) Rifkin refers to that when he says that the “work”, the end of which is proclaimed by him, should be replaced by activities of a different kind.” (André Gorz: Arbeit zwischen Misere und Utopie, Frankfurt a. M. 2000)
In particular here, in the rural region of a state which was formerly dedicated to heavy industry, the concept of work still seems to be inseparably connected with physical and visible efforts. It might be difficult to explain that a stressful 10 hours working day in front of a PC is hard work, but it is even more difficult or almost impossible to place oneself in front of the TV set stating that this is an important part of your work. It should actually be clear that you cannot seriously watch “Big Brother” to enjoy yourself, shouldn’t it.
The concept of work still seems to be equated with the idea of salaried work, housewives still have to struggle so that their unpaid 16 hours working day is recognised as work. What, however, happens in a society in which 70 % of all existing remunerated work might be cleared up in the future, a society in which only big entrepreneurs, marketing experts, software developers, network administrators and similar knowledge workers can expect a lucrative remuneration. Which kind of work will the remaining 70 % of the population prepared to work be occupied with, and who will pay them for what?
Here a question is raised which most artists have always been confronted with. It is not that they ran out of ideas for work, but who is interested in products which neither render economic market value nor correspond with the aesthetic and consumer habits of the broad masses. Also with respect to artistic production we meet a conversion: Instead of: “I work to earn money”, “I earn money to finance my work”, applies. In the most favourable case, artistic work has the nimbus of being avant-garde, a pioneer of ideas which will perhaps find a societal consensus after 20 years. Rather, they will find a clever marketing expert who copies and reproduces it for his field of business, of course, ripped of its content and without paying for the corresponding copyrights. Who is aware of the fact that MTV busily makes use of the experimental film aesthetics of the sixties and seventies. Who knows that the entire hyped 3D computer sector is based on the research and developments the experimental filmmaker James Whitney made at the end of the fifties?
Exactly this pioneer position of art is under discussion in many aspects. Is it true that entertainment, infotainment and art really have become one single thing? Are dead-end thinking and sensual patterns really still challenged? Does art really still offer new society models and visions? And, if it does, will these ideas not finally be taken in by those who hold the mightier position and dispose of the necessary cash. And, do the artists really want to protest against that, or are they even happy because of the little attention and remuneration which, thus, is conceded to them?
From art to administration: From the very beginning, the Werkleitz Gesellschaft has supported the development of the media infrastructure in Saxony-Anhalt. The Werkleitz Gesellschaft initiated the Media Association, it advises this state in numerous committees and boards, offers advice, technology, workshops and grants to filmmakers and artists and also organises this festival. Over the last years, the regional government has also discovered the relevance of the media. The government expects a potentially expanding sector accompanied by the creation of jobs. That is generally positive, however, we can criticise that the average counts, as well as technological innovations are considered to be the motor of developments rather than creative impulses or high quality requirements. So far neither creative young talents are trained, nor are new models really taken seriously. Nevertheless, it can be welcomed that a development has set in - at least, nobody must be convinced about the relevance of the Internet any more. Thus, the situation is favourable to pause and to express some critical self-reflections at this point:
Wasn’t it us who supported the self-determined, self-exploiting, flexible and not socially secured free-lancer? The willingness to adorn the evening with some additional gratis hours? Were we not among the apologists who preached the efficiency and importance of the new media? The use of the ultimate modern communication means, servers, websites, mailing lists etc.? The change of society through new technologies, the breaking up of the monopolised, one-sided information systems? The artist’s positive impetus who explores the limits of technology? Did we not hover in the hope that the changes in the work and media world, the dwindling of stupefacient factory jobs, the establishment of individual information systems would altogether contribute to a more enlightened society? With these ideas we helped to sanction both the superficiality of the communication era and to erode workers’ rights and securities which had been built-up over decades:
Work for the Werkleitz Gesellschaft! We offer you jobs on an honorary basis, in a young and flexible team, cultural topics, most modern means of communication. Organise your work time in a flexible way, preferably also at the weekends. Personal commitment and competency are an indispensable prerequisite. We offer you a lump sum of a 1000 Deutschmarks. Taxes and social insurance contributions are paid by the receiver of the fee. Do not wonder if finally you obtain an hourly wage of one Mark, but, on the other hand, you get the whole joy and the kick!!! Please send us your CV and include the return postage.
The world of work has radically been changing for some time. This is no, or more correctly, not only a reunification phenomena or the issue of one particular party, but a global problem. Once a burden for this one, then a burden for that one, but always in favour of the rich. Just as the workers in the motor factory in Detroit complain about closures, maybe the factory workers in Mexico are happy about a new cheap job.
The politicians of the individual nations will increasingly have to ask themselves how they can react to the global players, because for them the location is no longer a question of national identity, favoured, on the other hand, by the technological development. Either people from India come to us or we go to India, or even more simple: Everybody stays where he/she is, thanks to the Internet. Just the work migrates through the Net.
The rising unemployment is not only a potential for social dynamite, as it is here in the new states, accompanied by high crime rates and right-wing slogans. It is not only the problem of the people affected, but also of the producers. Where there is no money, there is no buyer. As a consequence, the number of consumers who are heavily fought over anyway, is reduced while productivity at the same time increases. Perhaps, in a far future, the utopia of dividing “remunerated work” into “remuneration” and “work” will inevitably come about, since we do not have to work more to produce ever more, but less. Maybe the future will bring with it a reorientation of living values, because in the end there will be no other solution. If work is no longer linked to mere remuneration and vice versa, this could imply that we have time for social relationships, leisure for contemplation and art, time for self-realisation and creativity, time for social commitment and helping one’s neighbour, time for the hobby craftsman, etc. These are alternatives, the blossoming landscapes which labour theoreticians propose. An existence wage or a basic income should then provide cover which enables everybody (of course, we are only talking about the “First World”!) to continue participating in the consumption society. Probably it requires a civil-war-like situation to impose that idea.
If you ramble through the following pages you will encounter a number of different artistic approaches which, in one way or another and more or less directly, address the issue of work. This includes the reflection on and documentation of these dramatic changes, the contemplation of apparently (plus)valueless or absurd activities and disturbances of work processes or even the search for new fields of activities and production models. You will find queries about the classic work concept and possible extensions, but you will not find solutions concerning unemployment or politically ingenious recipes. On the contrary, the main question is: what is “realwork”? And who defines it? It is true that the projects presented do not offer any general solutions, but at least they have the potential to cause irritation, to check dead-end positions and to attempt a dialogue. A dialogue of diverse scenes and life concepts which, in general, is the basis of the Werkleitz Biennale Project. Even if it might seem to be a little one-sided sometimes, it opens more and more, and altogether sometimes mixes up significate and significant, object and subject, observer and artist.
With the topic of the 4th Werkleitz Biennale the experiment ventures to bring together diverse discourses concerning a general, social problematic. The result will show whether the discussion can be held commonly or whether everybody should then go back to his/her club.
I would like to thank all people involved who made it possible to carry out this experiment - independent of whether they are curators, artists, employees, sponsors or the community. They all proved already in advance that “real work” can take place independently of income.