Jesper Alvær: Work, work

Research Fellow at Oslo National Academy of the Arts, Academy of Fine Art

Work, work:
Staging dislocation in artistic and non artistic labour

Some time back, we walked over to check out the new Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo, while it was still under construction. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and my Polish friend overheard a conversation. A man was showing his visiting family the enormous cement foundation of the museum. He proclaimed: “Look, this is my work!”

What do we understand by work? Having a job? Being employed? In what way do we produce identities and meaning through work? Questions posed, not answered. As the title indicates, the staging of dislocation in artistic and non-artistic labour is central to the research. How to make this dislocation visible, internalised and understood? Assessing existing trajectories, Work, work aims to develop strategies to investigate dichotomies such as productive/non-productive, useful/useless, artistic/non-artistic, valuable/not-valuable. Work, work will make use of and navigate across relevant discourses on creativity; emotional, immaterial and cognitive labour; precariousness; indebtedness; care work; and activism, to mention a few of the most relevant fields.

The relationship of non-artistic labour to artistic labour is central to contemporary critical discourses in art and activism. Questions typically address relationships of art to work, conditions of artistic production, or the position of the artist today, when creativity is increasingly commodified and creative labour proclaimed as a viable entrepreneurial model. Work, work assumes that through artistic practice, experiences emerge to distinguish artistic and non-artistic labour, and to transform and transcend oppositions of the one by producing the other – a search for an impossible typology of invested time and labour.

Work, work sets out to articulate a set of proposals for a type of artistic practice in which employment constitutes a significant role. Work, work engages in a series of conversations and employment processes. In a formalised and contracted manner, it operates in situations set up for production. The project explores potential shifts and displacements of typical production and reception around art labour and its locations. The role of employment is approached through looking at premises and mechanisms for engagement, paying special attention to the status of participants of all kinds; monitoring and articulating meaningful experiences; and considering visible and invisible aspects of temporary work. The discussion of a sense of ownership in the afterlife of work on the part of project participants, beyond the formal termination of the employment in question, constitutes a crucial aspect of Work, work.

Work, work is situated in art understood as a social system. It departs from experiences obtained from within what we typically recognise as artistic production: a range of reproductive institutional mechanisms, forms of self-understanding, and roles played out by stakeholders over time. In this sense, Work, work questions in what way artistic production is influenced by the context and forums in which it eventually will be presented and experienced. As enquiry, Work, work is motivated by observations from this field of exhibition and project making in a contemporary art context, but prioritises identifying and testing other channels for its dissemination. It aims to pursue this exploration without compromising artistic competence or the conceptual framework.

Various aesthetic, subversive and critical strategies have already been absorbed into institutions and contemporary art education, to the extent of becoming mainstream. In order to develop other methodologies, Work, work engages in anonymous working groups and unpublished case studies, to help provide concrete feedback on its methods. Central to all aspects of the project are notions of delegation, imagination and care. Delegation of performance; assigning authority and responsibility to another person; developing the capacity to imagine things together, or to take part in forming new ideas or concepts; and exploring different modes of audience engagement, from care as concern to critical interest.