Immaterial Labour - Wokshop: report

Report by Lisa Haskel about the Immaterial Labour workshop.

The workshop picked on the previous night's discussion with a visit to Henk Oosterling and colleagues - Siebe Thissen and Piet Molendijk - at the Erasmus University's Centre for Philosophy and Art.


Situated in a generic academic building, Oosterling's window gives out over a pastoral/industrial scene of sunshine on the Maas river and large slow-moving barges. Sitting on his table was magazine published by an organisation of psychiatric patients. On our arrival, Oosterling showed us an article about Guattari by one of that group's members who had attended a conference held recently by the Centre. He was justifiably proud of this evidence that philosophy can be relevant in some of the most extreme life experiences, and throughout our meeting, Oosterling and his colleagues emphasised that their version of philosophy reaches far beyond the academic discipline.


Oosterling described the objectives of the centre - broadly to close the gaps between philosophy, art and life through engagement with artists and related practice. The centre had began as a response to the expanding, complexifying field of visual culture. An "intermediality" programme was set up to deal with the interdisciplinary nature of multimedia and interactivity in creative practice, to conceptualise these developments within a new sense of interdisciplinarity and flux between media and between academic disciplines. The Centre aims to develop a vocabulary beyond these old categories, and connecting to non-academic cultural organisations such as V2_, and individual artists from all disciplines is key. So far, they have collaborated with a number of dancers and theatre directors, and are also initiating a three year programme on art and public space - art in public space, art of public space, public space as art and art as public space - leading up to a major international symposium in Rotterdam for the City of Culture events in 2001.


Both Oosterling and his colleagues propose the phrase: "form follows fun". Siebe Thissen has been working on a political and cultural analysis of "slackerdom" and both his and Oosterling's current critique of labour draws heavily on the patterns of misuse of worktime and workplace resources. They argue that these are being used by people to produce creative work and to build networks and connections according to their own interests. Work in the traditional, industrial sense is redundant: "most jobs are simulations of jobs", and the attempted re-imposition of the model of industrial labour in society leads in fact to new forms of workplace subversion, cultural production and social agency. They suggest a post-consumer society, in which all consumers become small-scale producers; creating a way of life that is understood well by the "lower" levels of a government and a corporate workforce, but is far from the experience of the bosses. In a similar line of argument they describe the appropriation by cultural and political organisations in the Netherlands of Government - sponsored work opportunities for the long-term unemployed. They contrast this position to that taken by Michael Hardt the night before: Hardt's supposition is labour, whereas they prefer to pre-suppose fun, and to celebrate this kind of mischeviousness as a genuinely rebellious strategy.


In this analysis, economics, politics and art form a boundary-crossing cluster. Perhaps one day art might disappear and become an approach that suffuses all aspects of everyday life. This subversive but non-oppositional state of being might, Oosterling suggests, be described as "hypo-critical" - being part of the same thing which you criticise. If thought of as a political practice, this motivates a performative element and is related to the idea of the group subject. You are always involved.


"A very Dutch position", offer the Knowbotics as one response. What Oosterling and his colleagues describe relies on a cushion of wealth in society and a given trust in the collective. The realities can be very different. Knowbotic Research, in their practice, try to create situations of connection and agency, but have been finding them too self-reflexive. How to open all this to "the outside"? They always find problems in feeding back the result of effects of their work into the city where they have worked. How should they measure the effects of a system in which the goals are not pre-determined? Perhaps building a network and a discourse among only a few people (as in Sao Paulo and Venice) is very political, but perhaps it is also necessary to distinguish between "producing" and "constructing". What is the material of the work? Media is the tool, but the material has as-yet proved unlocateble. They aim to step outside the system of representation and yet they are restricted by softwares, technical standards and network protocols.


Oosterling recommended going "back to the flesh", and Andreas Broeckmann pointed out that the sensitivity to immaterial processes and translocality is a kind of micro-politics, which provokes a thinking through to further and different forms of connection. What might be the next step in turning these sensibilities into possibilities?


Furthermore, what do we do with discrepancies and dislocations? Especially that sense of speed that seems to offer an illusion that we have more autonomy than we really have, and which so often is in contradiction with our material conditions.


Knowbotic Research suggest their work has a role in closing this gap. Oosterling declares that they shouldn't . The sensibility is located in the dislocation, the radical autonomy of speed is an extension of an avant garde notion of autonomy, while the new sensibility we are describing is in the connectivity. Study this, create new mechanisms and then there is indeed the potential for transformation.

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