The Materiality of Work. On the Necessity of Boredom in the World of Performance

Rafał Żarski, "Daily Mutation 2", 2018

Every work, even creative, cognitive or affective one, begins in the body, is carried out by it, and leaves a trace in it. From the perspective of the body the only thing, which distinguishes a daily curatorial job performed in a cultural institution from an administrative one is a used software, strain on the spine stays the same.

This fact coincides with the thesis of the materiality of all labour introduced by Artur Szarecki in his book “Somatic Capitalism: Body and Power in the Corporate Culture”, in which he analyses the disciplining nature of capitalism from its early Taylor-Fordist roots, to the contemporary management systems focused on the self-optimizing individuals. Nevertheless, the source of labour and the subject of control is always a working body, even if we reduce it to the fingertips typing on the keyboard.

Capitalism keeps adding new technologies to a set of disciplining measures existing since the end of the 19th century, and, what from the proposed materialistic perspective could be even more important, also knowledge of social sciences, psychology, and culture. 21st century worker is a performer, not separating him- or herself from the product of their work, mastering the art of self-presentation on the real-life and virtual stages, devoting his or her “free time” to filling the popular social media portals with photos taken at events, trips, vernissages and vogue balls. Such a worker is always on stand-by, even at night, never off.

S_he is attached to her_his institution (be it a one-man business or a large company) and her_his project, image-wise as well as emotionally. S_he is always on call, always selfie-ready. Of course this model applies to people from the creative industries rather than those in technical positions or unemployed. Bodies that do the work other than performance and documented presence, such as cleaning the floors or queuing for the benefit, do not fit the pastel aesthetic of Instagram’s passe-partout.

We thus absorb contemporary capitalism in the form of pictures and a clear lack of representation. The compulsion of visibility is reinforced by make-up, coaching, manipulation, social pressure, and – in case of reluctance – therapy. Those methods influence the somatic system directly, ensuring the performer that their work is meaningful and that they are autonomous. Doubts arise when the body starts to stammer on the stage, and the Power Point presentation keeps switching slides. When the neck becomes stiff, words are caught in the throat and the body is getting sick.

At the moment the performer becomes a patient dependent on the health care system support, his_her profile still maintains the myth of independence and success. Decline in activity is evident only because of a decreased reach. In a public hospital, lack of sensitivity to art becomes a nuisance, and everyone is democratically ignored. The surgery is paid for by the insurance, but the rehabilitation is an individual problem of the sick body.

The lights go out on the stage. A notification “out of service” is displayed on the social media webpage. Without an extensive social network, there is no one to seek help from. In a capitalist theatre only abled and sexy bodies matter, not those pursued by doubts, visibly differing from the norm. The systems of visibility do not tolerate sickness, old age and disability.

The RTV Magazine opposes waiting passively and accepting this situation. In the 6th summer edition issue we are concerned with work in its material and virtual dimensions. Work done by bodies – migrating, pedagogical, artistic, precarious, sick, differing bodies. We diagnose a situation that is impossible to bear, but we do not stop at that. We do not tend to wallow in romantic melancholy – we write to dismantle systems designed to serve few, and we assemble them anew from the used parts and waste in order to be used by the Excluded; I also have in mind the non-human others.

In his essay “On working less”, Przemysław Wielgosz suggests reducing working hours to seven hours a day, in order to officially limit the employer’s control over his or her employees, and to make the holders of the capital produced by the working class give back parts of it. He sees free time as having a value in itself and as an indicator of the resistance to the compulsory capitalist productivity.

“Reducing working hours is beneficial in its own right. A time free from the struggle to make a living is a fundamental achievement that should be at the heart of economy and politics.”

In the text “Poor migrants and capitalism”, Katarzyna Czarnota analyses the situation of the Roma people in Poland. She begins with an Italian materialist Silvia Federici’s claim that migration policy in Europe was replaced by a “permeability” of the borders, regulated by the market pragmatics. She comes to the conclusion that the newcomers – due to the systemic exclusion, disciplined by the uncertainty of their status, exposed to social ostracism – are forced to accept low labour and living standards. As a way of dealing with the oppression, she gives the example of the German FAU trade union’s activities, which include publicising and supporting the Roma people’s protests, as in the case of the construction of the infamous shopping mall in Berlin, called Mall of Shame.

Rafał Żarski, "Daily Mutation 4", 2018

The situation of today’s “projectariat” in the world of art is discussed by Rafał Żarski in his text and collages. Similarly to Wielgosz, he sees the good side of idleness that he associates with boredom. For the artists working in the project work systems, deadline is the measure of time. The project worker rhythm, dependent on the dates of application, is devoid of the possibility for relaxation, which causes discouragement, or in the extreme form – depression. This situation is also influenced by the fact that the effort put in the application is not rewarded financially, and the winner takes it all. Competitors disappear in a black matter of art, holding order contracts. The awareness of one’s position has an impact on opposing such situation and has a potential for change.

Readers will find a more affirmative vision of work in a text by Potencja Gallery from Kraków. Karolina Jabłońska, Cyryl Polaczek and Tomek Kręcicki think of running a gallery as a nice alternative to painting, which is their main occupation. The day of vernissage is a special one, celebrated together with the invited artists and the visitors. Apart from being painters and curators, they also edit an independent magazine Łałok.

In the Art Channel we take a look at working at Amazon with juxtaposing two situated perspectives: Tytus Szabelski’s and Hiba Ali’s. They both worked at the company as regular employees, although they did that for different reasons. Experiences reflected in the text, photography, and video tell us about the discipline, exploitation, and high productivity enhanced by race-based exclusion.

In the tab: Interviews, we talk with Katarzyna Kasia about activism at university, and with Joanna Sokołowska about the Earth understood as a household.

We wish you an engaged reading!

PS. Below I include a fragment from the correspondence with Tobiasz Jędrak whose MA diploma obtained at the Intermedia Faculty of the University of Fine Arts in Poznan was concerned with the subject of work and is unfittable to the format of the tabs of the RTV Magazine. 

Hello Zofia,

I can’t send you my diploma only because – which I really like – it is not sendable. It is also not showable and it was like that from the beginning. There was no “proof” of my activity, no image or object, nothing to see. Everything was written on water. During my diploma exam I talked about some of my activities I undertook in the interest of other’s diplomas. All the people in whose diplomas I somehow participated were present and added what they believed was appropriate, they also read out the opinions about my help (I asked them to write those beforehand). The opinions were not and are not to be seen, they were just read out. 

In the January of 2016 I announced to everyone working on their diplomas in intermedia that I could help them with their work and I could do anything I was able to do (except for what I would consider immoral). I also let everyone know clearly that it is my presence in their diplomas that is supposed to be my diploma, that nothing else is going to constitute my diploma. People who signed in (there were 5 of them) suggested what I could do, or we discussed it together. It also happened that I initiated the cooperation. From the activities easy to point out, I think it is worth mentioning I was an operator, sound engineer, an extra, location manager, editing helper, copyreader, editor, material selector. Two diplomas were given titles I proposed and one was largely based on my idea. I took two people on day trips, which was supposed to be a relaxation after hard work (diplomas – Not a word about the diploma, Piechcin, Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, and A pilgrimage to the foot of the mountain, Janikowo, Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship). I simply talked a lot with everyone (and that was the most important part!). You probably won’t be surprised that I can’t enumerate all the activities I’ve been putting into other’s diplomas for a few months. Such a list wouldn’t make much sense anyway. After all, it’s not about the amount/extent of my help (which is hard to separate from hindering/interrupting and which is immeasurable by nature), it’s about the diversity of my help and the fact that I was always fully ready to do what was required, and that I didn’t know what the next day would bring and what skills would be needed. What the diploma exam looked like, you already know. 

If you need anything else related to this subject or anything is unclear, please let me know, I will answer your questions happily. 

Kind regards,


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