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Living and working in a precarious art world
Author: Kuba Szreder

The book addresses – in 66 accessible entries – the global circulation of contemporary art in the moment of its fundamental crisis. By using the term ‘projectariat’, the book detours the classical Marxist concept to talk about the life and work of artistic freelancers – artists, curators, critics, academics, writers, technicians and assistants – who, in order to survive, have no choice but to make one project after another and many at the same time. The majority of projectarians do not own much beyond their own capacity to circulate. Thus, they are torn between promises of unrestrained mobility and looming poverty, their precarity only amplified by the global crisis caused by COVID-19.

The book is intended as both a critical analysis and a practical handbook that speaks to and about the vast cohort of artistic freelancers worldwide, people who are currently looking for ways of moving beyond the structural conundrum of artistic networks, where everything that is solid melts into flows – and where nothing is certain except one’s own precarity. The book’s narrative is based on a carefully crafted balance between its three constitutive strands: an uncompromising critique of the cruel economy of global networks of contemporary art; an emphatic, non-moralistic understanding of the perils of artistic labour; and systemic advocacy for new modes of collective action aimed at overcoming the structural deficiencies haunting the global circulation of contemporary art.

Kuba Szreder

The projectariat are people who, in order to survive, have no choice but to make and implement projects, as many of them do not own much beyond their own capacity to move in artistic → circulation . In this situation, they are both similar and distinct from proletarians, who have to sell their own labour force in order to survive. Similar to proletarians, projectarians are forced to chase temporary possibilities of employment provided by projects or jobs structured as if they were projects (i.e. temporary and task-oriented assignments). On

in The ABC of the projectariat
in The ABC of the projectariat
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Kuba Szreder

The projectariat bends under the yoke of overlapping deadlines. Literally, a deadline is a line that should not be crossed, a death strip of time. And the deadlines refuse to die. To take a large-scale example, even though the coronavirus pandemic suspended some deadlines, they quickly started to proliferate again. In any case the forced suspension of circulation is definitely not as liberating as, let's say, the general abolishment of deadlines would have been under democratic socialism. Anyway, the everyday life of the projectariat is

in The ABC of the projectariat
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Kuba Szreder

projectariat most of the time runs on fumes, unpaid or underpaid for their art work, crammed into small apartments in zone four of metropolitan centres, flocking to major shows and biennales via budget airlines (when they actually take off, which is far less certain than it used to be before the age of COVID-19). Even if Artyzol is a theoretical hypothesis, the artistic projectariat makes actual sacrifices to pursue their love for art. Artyzol is the opiate of creativity, which emerges in the process of artistic circulation. The affectionate relation to art causes artists

in The ABC of the projectariat
Kuba Szreder

in common are supremely important. Solidarity among the projectariat is the key condition for positive action within artistic circulation, where all that should be solid tends to melt into flows.

in The ABC of the projectariat
Kuba Szreder

complaints, as relative pauperisation is a shared fate of the artistic projectariat in its different guises – independent artists, writers, curators and producers. In his book Why Are Artists Poor? Hans Abbing, an artist and economist from Amsterdam, presents a convincing analysis of artistic poverty (Abbing 2002 ). Based on a number of statistics, mainly from Western European countries, Abbing argues that almost 80 percent of artists earn below average, and more than half earn less than the official poverty level in countries like the Netherlands

in The ABC of the projectariat
Kuba Szreder

circulation never relents, such decisions prove to be as binding as New Year's resolutions. The reasons why applications are so prevalent in contemporary society are the same as the ones justifying the proliferation of bullshit jobs. As analysed by David Graeber, the routines of bureaucratic capitalism simply require an array of silly and unfulfilling jobs that keep people in check whilst adding a veneer of respectability to these otherwise nonsensical roles (Graeber 2018 ). And yet, despite this critical awareness, the projectariat applies, as every

in The ABC of the projectariat
Kuba Szreder

, this very doctrine has been reapplied worldwide to impose what Klein calls ‘coronavirus capitalism’: a toxic combination of austerity imposed on workers, huge bailouts for capitalists and authoritarian decomposition of civil rights (Klein 2020 ). In any case, belt-tightening has a profound effect on the life and work of the artistic projectariat. Under austerity policies, the public budgets of artistic institutions, programmes and projects suffer severe cuts that reduce the number of opportunities and resources available to artists, curators and

in The ABC of the projectariat
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Kuba Szreder

for capture ). Escapologists have to master modes of thriving beyond the radar and are not interested in circulation at all costs. Not for them are fairs or biennales: they avoid the vicious cycle of opportunism. They politicise escapism, just as striking artists radicalise laziness, as a mode of refusal. Thus, exodus remains one of the modes of action fundamental for the → struggles of the projectariat.

in The ABC of the projectariat