Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory present I Can’t Work Like This project

Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory present I Can’t Work Like This a project exhibition on view through 23 June 2012.

The project I Can’t Work Like This at Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory creates a platform for examining our working conditions in the permanent crisis of the neo-liberal economic regime, and for learning how workers from variant sectors can get effectively organised. We propose to do this through a collaborative and transdisciplinary approach involving art, design, action, and theory.

Exhibition view. Middle: Charlotte Posenenske’s Large Revolving Vanel Series E (1967/1968). Left: Carrotworkers’ Collective’s Counter Guide to Free Labour in the Arts (2009). Right: the project version of I Can’t Work Like This by Natascha Sadr Haghighian (2007). Photo: Emilio Moreno.

In recent years, a sector of the federation of trade unions in the Netherlands (FNV Bondgenoten) started reconsidering the limits of its old “service unionism model” and opted to experiment with an “organising model” to build up an organisation from below marked by grass-roots action and a high degree of self-organisation by its members. This was a drastic departure from the unions’ previously top-down structure and their function as quasi-insurance for workers with fixed contracts. However, numerous problems regarding labour organisation today—such as the increase of freelance/flexible contract work or the often invisible and poorly remunerated work of undocumented migrant workers—still tend to be beyond the scope of most unions. Hence, there is more to do.

While labour conditions in general have changed, the sphere of art and culture too has undergone paradigmatic shifts. In what official policy now calls “the creative industries,” a focus on affectivity and creativity goes hand in hand with an effective valorization of the managerial over the artistic. Institutions feed off the commitment of “art workers” who tend to merge their work and life, while maintaining a bureaucratic superstructure that seems to become more dominant in an age of funding cuts and insecurity. This situation suggests the need for re-examination, re-articulation, and new constellations: it is time to voice what kind of “work” it is that “art workers” do, how and for whom do we work. And it is time to suggest new forms of organising and becoming collective subjects.

Taking the forms of an exhibition and public events, the project presents different relations between art- and labour-related struggles, suggested through documentations of actions, contemporary and historical artworks, designs, and other artifacts. The exhibition includes works by artists Charlotte Posenenske and Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Argentinean art collective Tucumán Arde (Archivo Graciela Carnevale), and research by artist and filmmaker Petra Bauer on British film collectives from the 60s and 70s. It also documents a few exemplary cases where the struggle for better working conditions merges with aesthetic practice, such as Carrotworkers’ Collective and Korean union organizer Jinsuk Kim; as well as contemporary organising models used in the campaigns of Justice for Janitors; workers of Silicon Valley, articulated through the lens of Florian Schneider; and the Dutch Cleaners Union. Lastly, artist Natascha Sadr Haghighian contributed to the project by allowing her 2007 work, which gave the project its title, to be constructed over time and by participation.

Where will this artistic research lead? By discussing the relation between art workers and unions, between artistic practice and labour-related struggles, I Can’t Work Like This hopes to stimulate new alliances between aesthetics and politics. In the end, its question is simple: why don’t we find a common ground and get aligned with other workers in taking action for better working conditions?

Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory
Nieuwekade 213-215
3511 RW Utrecht
The Netherlands
T/F +31 (0)30 231 9995