Tag Archives: precarity

Open Letter to Calvert 22 from Precarious Workers Brigade

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Open Letter to Calvert 22 from Precarious Workers Brigade

Dear Calvert 22,

We notice that you have recently advertised an unpaid gallery volunteer placement for your forthcoming exhibition “…how is it towards the east?”

Whilst we acknowledge that you are aiming to take the time and effort to train young people who want to work in the arts, we are concerned that the tasks described in your volunteer placement sound very much like work that should be paid: ‘invigilating the exhibition’, ‘assisting with Front of House duties’ and ‘working in the Calvert Café’, as well as ‘the option to help out with our diverse talks and events programme’. We are curious as to why this work is not paid? We know that it is possible for arts organisations to avoid legal problems with volunteer positions through using the exemption to the National Minimum Wage legislation designed for charities. We would hope however, that such weak legal frameworks for our sector do not act as our only ethical guide on such matters.

We are concerned that by not paying people to carry out these jobs, only those who can afford to work for free will be able to benefit from your placement scheme: such placements contribute to producing a cultural sector in London that is increasingly reserved for the privileged. Surely such exclusionary employment practices are in direct contradiction of your constitution as a charity, and to the Foundation’s stated mission of connecting the gallery to histories of political radicalism and activism in the local area of East End? We also note that the exhibition ‘examines modes of self-organisation’ focusing on the histories of those on the left who have struggled for worker’s rights, specifically on the 1st May 1886, when they called for 8-hour working day – a date which coincides with the opening of the exhibition. We find that the use of unpaid labour in this context to be particularly paradoxical.

Furthermore, we note from your website, Calvert 22’s partnership with VTB Capital. Whilst we find there to be an incredible contradiction between your partnership with the investment banking sector, and the stated aims of artistic programmes such as “…how is it towards the east?” we would at least hope that these kinds of partnerships would ensure that everyone who works on the programme is paid at least a Minimum Wage.

We raise these issues with you, not to single out Calvert 22 for such practices, but as our friends at Artleaks have succinctly expressed, to draw attention to concrete situations that:

“[…] underscore the precarious condition of cultural workers, and the necessity for sustained protest against the appropriation of politically engaged art, culture and theory by institutions embedded in a tight mesh of capital and power.”

Like Artleaks, we are concerned that:

“By co-opting cultural activity, these sponsors obtain social credibility, which they then proceed to misuse: by refusing decent conditions for cultural workers through oppressive measures – the same workers whose labor makes their subsistence possible.” 

The normalisation of practices of free labour through volunteer positions such as this, contributes to a situation where it is acceptable to abstractly question the role of sponsorship and free labour on panel discussions, but unacceptable to concretely act against them. Volunteers, speakers and artists are often subtly frozen out of the sector if they challenge this non-payment or under-payment, and thus feel coerced to prop up the system further.

We have been organising around issues of free labour and precarity in the arts and culture for several years, analysing corporate cynicism and the increasingly intense contradictions in our sector. In this climate of enforced austerity, brought about by investment banks, we encounter over and over again a culture of resignation and silence in art schools and art institutions. Do programmes such as “…how is it towards the east?” simply perpetuate the damaging paradox of providing a subject of discussion that is clearly not to be acted upon? Do they not in effect, simply add to this silencing? We wonder what Calvert 22 want to achieve in this exhibition and programme, what the motivations of the foundation are? We wonder what position the foundation wants to take in relation to its own workers, its own work culture and the community in which it is situated?

There are many guidelines available today that might help you develop a new and more equitable approach to work. Please see the links below:

Art Council England’s guidelines “Internships in the Arts”: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/publication_archive/internships-arts

Counter Guide to Free Labour in the Arts: http://carrotworkers.wordpress.com/counter-internship-guide/

Intern Aware: http://www.internaware.org/about/why-unpaid-internships-are-wrong/

Artquest’s Intern Culture report: http://www.artquest.org.uk/articles/view/intern_culture

Interns: Volunteer or Employee? volunteernow.co.uk/news/item/61

We would like to ask the foundation to consider the ethics of offering unpaid volunteer placements in your organisation, and to hear your response to this open letter.

With best regards,
Precarious Workers Brigade

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Precarious Life (Moscow)

Organized by: Maria Chekhonadskikh

September 24—October 22, 2011
Daily, 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Arthouse Residential Complex, Moscow

Participating Artists: Nikolay Oleinikov (Russia), Learning Film Group (Russia), KPd (Kleines Postfordistisches Drama) (Germany), Molleindustria (Italy), R.E.P. (Ukraine), Babi Badalov (France)

Curator: Maria Chehonadskih

Anxiety, uncertainty in the coming day, and the instability of social and economic situations have become the existential foundations of contemporary society. Before our very eyes, the institutions of permanent housing, pensions and social security are being destroyed, and in their place, we find a world of rented apartments with permanently increasing prices, fixed-term contracts, atypical employment, and a 14-hour workday that stretches across weekends. Today, the lives of millions of people depend on the fluctuations of stock exchanges and the decisions of international summits. This “precarious life” has no future and no elderly; it’s racing to fully consume the present, day after day. And in this sense, post-Soviet society is at the forefront of this trend, of its production.

But how we explain this social vulnerability? Under what conditions does our life become “precarious”? In the contemporary world the idea of “vitalism” is usually advanced in justification of the endless series of catastrophes and social upheavals. The human body and its survival can be reduced to simple biology: only the strongest survive. Instability, vulnerability and inequality are ingrained in the essence of nature itself. And thus, the state of emergency becomes the legitimate and “natural” norm. As such, the human body is cast out into a situation of extremity and nakedness – “bare life”; the person is then left alone with nature, his objective only to survive.

However, ever since the age of Aristotle, there has been a tradition of understanding human life politically. As social subjects, we are always dependent on our outside environment, but the outside environment is not some chaos of nature; it is an entire complex of institutions, civil laws, ecology and the physical surroundings. Vulnerability arises from the social life of our constituted bodies; it depends on the political structures that make us either confident or exposed (Judith Butler). Not every body has a significance, and not every body will be protected. And as such, these bodies are prone to disease, hunger, poverty and outside threats. What bodies does nowadays society protect? For whose bodies does it now build fences around houses, elite hospitals, restaurants, and highways? Which bodies remain unprotected and bare? “Traditionally,” it was the bodies of the excluded in many ways — women, migrant workers, students, intellectuals and artists.

The critical anthropology of instability has always been connected to the constitution of an alternative form of life; above all, exodus, resistance or rejection of social discipline characterize the lives of migrants, bohemians, and the inner city. Today we live in a society where one out of every three people – from pensioners to factory workers – have been forced into a “bohemia.” Neoliberalism puts society into this kind of precarious state, and in recent years, these processes are only growing stronger; even now, their formulation becomes increasingly relevant the Russian situation.

The exhibition “Precarious Life” demonstrates ways and forms of working with the problem of precarity, which comprises an entire range of aesthetic, activist and discursive methods of work. Each piece in the exhibition draws from the experience of self-organization and collective work, social and political movements, intellectual debates that have continued to this day. This exhibition endeavors to show the social face of “Precarious Life.” And as its curator and the artists who have agreed to participate in it all understand life politically, then it means that we refuse to see our existence as, once and for all, predetermined by nature or fate. We feel at home everywhere, while we are actually everywhere homeless; our place in the world has been questioned, and now we need to reestablish it, only in the type of world where we would want to live.

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May Day Congress-Commune of Creative Workers (Moscow)

First Open 48-Hour May Day Congress-Commune of Creative Workers. Moscow, April 29–30, 2010

Over the course of the two days, artists, researchers, translators, teachers, curators, union activists, journalists, writers and musicians from all over Russia will take part in round-table discussions, talk-marathons, poetry readings, and concerts. In recent years, the participants have been involved in many artistic and research initiatives that address the social and economic situation of creative workers in contemporary Russian society.

As neoliberalism continues to establish its hold, its ugly manifestations have become a daily reality for all of us. Not only have exploitation and lack of freedom taken on increasingly elaborate forms, but the very resourcefulness and creative potential of artists and researchers are also appropriated and capitalized by employers. It is against this backdrop that the issues raised by the phenomenon of precarious labor have become ever more pressing. It is our conviction that a reassessment of the precarious worker’s position in today’s economic structure calls for joint action in search of a new cultural space and an alternative educational platform outside of and beyond the fraudulent logic of the neoliberal market economy. Alongside the struggle against injustice at the workplace, collective defense of rights within militant trade unions, and street politics, we are now making another crucial step towards a re-examination of our position and, therefore, towards change.

he May Congress builds on and develops the experience of such earlier projects as Drift. Narvskaya Zastava (St. Petersburg—Moscow, 2004–2005), Self-Education(s) (exhibition, Moscow, 2006), 68.08. Street Politics (exhibition, Moscow, 2008), and Leftist Art. Leftist History. Leftist Philosophy. Leftist Poetry (seminar, Nizhny Novgorod, 2009).

The Congress will be organized around two main thematic clusters: LABOR and SELF-ORGANIZATION. The third, practice-oriented section of the congress will take place on the morning of May 1, International Workers’ Day, which celebrates unity and solidarity. Congress participants will take to the streets of Moscow to form their own joyful and creative column.

The Congress will provide modest dorm-like accommodations for its participants on the premises of Proekt-Fabrika (Moscow, Perevedenovsky pereulok, 18).

Scheduled participants/projects: Vpered Socialist Movement; Chto Delat; Translit Almanac; Seminar Group; Street University; From Community to Union; Educational Film Group; Megazine.Biz; Kinote.Info; Keti Chukhrov/Mobile Theater of the Communist; Free Marxist Press; Liberated Marxist Food; Here and Everywhere Studio; Everything That’s Filmed; Institute for Collective Action; Verkhotura and Friends.

You can read texts that have inspired congress participants here (in Russian and English).

If you wish to make a donation to the congress, you may do so in the following ways:

US Dollars: Alfa-Bank Account No. 40817840704190003607
Euros: Alfa-Bank Account No. 40817978104980006548
Rubles:
Yandex Money Account No. 41001516866888

For more information, write to: may-congress@yandex.ru

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Filed under activism, alternative education, contemporary art, critical thought, open letters, manifestos, appeals, Russian society