On April 29th, Philippine Hoegen, Julia Reist and Miriam Hempel will present the initial outcomes of the ongoing research What is Work? With the help of Paloma Bouhana, Sid Dankers, Amel Omar and other guests and collaborators, we will evaluate and reflect on the research residency that took place between February and May of 2021 at Kunshal Gent, and involve the audience in a discussion on, and activation of, new questions that have come up as a result.
During our research residency, we applied performative and conversational strategies to include a multitude of guests and to activate their voices on the question of what work is in our lives, what our needs and desires are in, and for, work and how our lived experiences measure up to that. Among the guests were people from a wide variety of professions, people with self-invented jobs, with different administrative statuses and varied abilities. We conducted 35 interviews which were transcribed, edited and processed. We made a ﬁlm, held an 8 hour long performative working session that was live-streamed and we organised a participatory event mapping people’s positions on what they value within work. We shared our work process during 3 public events: Episode 1: What is your Work?, Episode 2: Work Performance and Performing Work and Episode 3: What is the Value of Work?
From the many exchanges we had, it emerged that definitions of work are often contradictory. Work is an activity, something that occupies you, and which usually contains repetition and regularity. Work is something that has a return, you get something for it, but not always: sometimes work is done for nothing, at least not something that is immediately demonstrable. Work has to be done, it’s not always or not necessarily pleasurable, although we do strive for it to be so. Work gives you a place in society, a sense of belonging, of being part of something, or even 'being something': it has a name and therefore provides an identity. But we are not our work, ‘I’m still me’ even when I can’t do my job anymore. Work can be difficult, it costs energy, requires skills or effort, but in the best cases it also gives energy. And work is performative: it is a kind of doing and acting that conforms to certain rules of what work/that work looks like, and so it is also a role that you enter into, there are expectations that come with fulfilling that role, which we tend to conform to even when we’re working alone or at home.
From the spider chart that was created in Episode 3 we were also able to get some insight into what it is we value in work, and what gives our work value. Scoring high are the possibility of self expression at work, having a sense of agency or autonomy, gaining skills and knowledge, being appreciated, having a social impact, and working in a caring environment. Interestingly, power, social status and money got the lowest scores.
These findings are consistent with recent publications on work. On the one hand, Barry Schwartz enthuses in Why We Work that ‘we've long been taught that the reason we work is primarily for a paycheck, and we've shaped much of the infrastructure of our society based on that belief,’ but this is a completely false assumption. Indeed, speaking about what they value in work, people talk about being part of, and contributing to something, about having a certain amount of autonomy and being appreciated. In fact, it seems we will go to great lengths for those values, making ourselves easy to exploit. Sara Jaffe problemetises this post industrial, new work ethic, what she calls the ‘labour of love ethic’. In this paradigm we’re expected to enjoy work for its own sake, security has made way for fulfillment, and work now claims not only our brains, bodies and time but also our love.
Linking this to our conversations on assymetries in acces and ability to work, and the politics around work, we find resonance with Kathis Weeks’ publication: The Problem With Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries. Weeks calls out the fact that we’ve come to see work as a natural order instead of what it actually is, namely a social convention. Like Jaffe, she addresses the danger of having our dreams of individual accomplishment and desires to contribute to the common good attached to waged work, because this formats those dreams and ambitions and work becomes the condition for them. In a global society where many are displaced and uprooted and many bodies are subject to excluditory identity politics, earning a living, and therefore also being happy and fulfilled, are out of reach for vast amounts of people. But it also means that for those who do have the privilege to work, the pressure is relentless, as to be happy is to work and to work is to be happy, so work we must, without measure and even often without security or compensation.
On Friday April 29th we will share the insights we gained, and address, together with the audience, new questions that have come up as a result of the project, such as the politics of work and none-work, the invisible performativity in work and invisible labour in art and performance. We will introduce the notion of ‘the spectator as a worker’, or: the labour of attentiveness. And we'll happily exchange on what working conditions these workers need.
Philippine Hoegen (1970) is a visual artist living in Brussels. In her multi-stranded, predominantly performative practice, she explores the ways in which we continuously create versions of ourselves, the apparatuses and processes we use for this and what that means for our understanding of 'self'. In the past 2 years this has led her to focus specifically on how this functions in working situations. Hoegen explicitly approaches and activates performance as a research strategy: a way of thinking in which the physical is involved.
Currently she is embarking on a research project Performing Working, i.c.w. the HKU Professorship Performative Creative Processes, CARADT/Avans University, UMCU, Marres in Maastricht, Veerle Spronck a.o.
Recent activities include a performative research project, residency and series of presentations at Kunsthal Gent titled What is Work? (03-05/2021); a series of podcasts for/i.c.w. Club Solo Breda About The Future and the Artists’ Initiatives, Part 1, 2 and 3 (11-12/2020); a series of seven broadcasts titled Scores for Isolation on Onomatopeenet / Instagram Live (04-05/2020); the presentation of her new book ANOTHER VERSION: Thinking Through Performing, during the Bâtard festival at the Beursschouwburg in Brussels (01/2020); the solo performance Ventriloquists III followed by a discussion on her research The Self as a Relational Infrastructure in Process (CARADT), at the conference DIS_SEMINAR by Art ≈ Research, Amsterdam (2019).
Hoegen is an active member of State of the Arts, and co-initiator of SOS-Relief.
Julia Reist holds a master in Artistic Research and is currently conducting her second master in Art and Design in Social-Political Context. Since 2011, she has been working as a freelance researcher, dramaturg and art producer on a range of (inter)national projects. In close dialogue with others, Julia is interested in looking at and working through collaborative practices as a way to unlearn and rethink current value-systems and non-inclusive structures. In 2018 she started, in collaboration with Katrien Reist, the research and production platform arp.works. Through arp.works they are looking at other forms and methods of working with and through artistic practices to contribute to a more sustainable, inclusive and aware artistic field. Julia has worked as a collaborator of artists such as Athi-Patra Ruga (SA), Rossella Biscotti (NL/IT), Luanda Casella (BE/BR), David Weber Krebs (DE/BE), Nastio Mosquito (BE/ AO), Philippine Hoegen (NL/BE), Sophia Rodriguez (VZ/BE), Benjamin Kahn (FR/BE), Effi&Amir (IL/BE) amongst others. She has co-produced projects and collaborated in different public institutions such as Boulevard Festival, Den Bosch, Vooruit, Ghent, Beursschouwburg, Brussels, Wiels, Brussels Kunstmuseen Krefeld (Haus Esters), The Darling Foundry, Montreal, NYFA, New York, CPR, New York, FRAC-PACA, Marseille, Museum Dhondt Dhaenens, Deurle, La Bellone, Brussels, Contour Biennale, Mechelen, Enough Room for Space, amongst others.
Miriam Hempel (1979), is a design practitioner engaging within the realms of the socio-political and the cultural field. Miriam sees design as an exploratory, collective, and collaborative process, and works in close co-conceptualisation with her clients, stimulating and facilitating the development of bespoke visual communication strategies. Recent collaborations include: What is Work: Episode 1-3, Kunsthal Gent (2021) with P. Hoegen and J.Reist; Maastricht Tracks (2021) a self-performative publication with D. Helbich as well as diverse printed publications and the website of the artistic research platform a.pass.
Paloma Bouhana is a designer based in Eindhoven (NL). After obtaining a Master in Economics and Political sciences at the University of "Paris 8 in 2016 she decided to start her studies in an apparently symmetrically opposed institution, the Design Academy of Eindhoven in 2018. Shifting her approach permitted her to orient her research towards blind spots in mainstream economics like the care industry and unremunerated work. Adopting a research-based working approach in most of her projects she uses methodologies she acquired during her academic studies as a critical part of her artistic practice. This combination of educational contexts is helping her to transition to a craft where a designed artefact can be relied on to communicate the meaning of its existence. Previously she developed different installative projects and videos related to radical equality and feminist ethics of care or the social relationship of value-labor. She has been working as an assistant for Laure Prouvost, Bela Silva, Kiki and Joost and Philippine Hoegen."
Amel Omar (1995, NL) is an artist working across video, performativity and sculpturality. She lives and works in Brussels. Her work mainly consists of combining material from different contexts into a new similar one and investigating how to situate a performative interaction with herself, objects and architectural environments.
Sid Dankers(1998, BE) lives and works in Brussels. His practice deals with the prominent role of video within various collaborative projects that lead to cinematic or performative works. Theatrical elements are often the motive to compose a form of filmmaking that seeks to be both staged and improvisational. Recent activities include a sequence of performative livestreams in different institutional contexts, The Grey Space in the Middle (The Hague), This Art Fair (Amsterdam) and Het HEM (Zaandam); group shows in 8-Track (Brussels), Gallery SKC, (Rijeka) and Stedelijk Museum (Breda) and the co-founding of ‘De Tapijttegels’ — a dusty, yet electrifying orchestral duo ensemble — together with sound artist Nadia van Essen. They perform audible interventions, distribute tapes and contribute to radio shows.