Bojana Kunst’s ‘Artist At Work: Proximity of Art and Capitalism’

By Jonas Rutgeerts

bojana-kunst-artist-at-workBook presentation of Bojana Kunst’s ‘Artist At Work: Proximity of Art and Capitalism’. 1/10 in De Vooruit, Gent.

When Belgian philosopher Dieter Lesage was invited to write an introductory text for the catalogue of German artist Ina Wudtke Lesage slightly changed the proposal. Rather than describing Wudtke’s artistic “products”, his “Portrait of the Artist as a Worker” describes what the artist does when she works:

“You are an artist and that means: you don’t do it for the money. That is what some people think. It is a great excuse not to pay you for all the things you do. So what happens is that you, as an artist, put money into projects that others will show in their museum, in their Kunsthalle, in their exhibition space, in their gallery. So you are an investor. You give loans nobody will repay you. You take financial risks. You speculate on yourself as an artistic asset. You are a trader. You cannot put all your money into one kind of artistic stock. So you diversify your activities. You manage the risks you take. You would say it differently. I know. You say you suffer from a gentle schizophrenia. You have multiple personalities. You are a photographer, but also a DJ. You have a magazine, you are a publisher, but you also organize parties. You take photos of party people. You throw a party when you present a magazine, you make magazines with photographs of party people, you throw a party and you are the DJ. You do interviews with people you meet, you do interviews with people you would like to meet, you tell the people you meet about your magazine. You buy records on flea markets, you distribute flyers announcing parties in the bar where you have a coffee after visiting the flea market, you make videos recording how you destroy the records you bought on the flea market, you liberate your country from its bad music, you show the video in a gallery and you are a DJ at the vernissage.”

In her new book Artist at work art historian and Bojana Kunst takes up exactly this question of “how do artists work?”. What should we consider as artistic work? Is everything the artist does part of the artistic ‘practice’? Where is the work? Is it in the gallery? In the theatre? In the rehearsal space?…

In her thought-provoking book Kunst addresses all these questions through a more extensive analysis of contemporary “postfordist” or “immaterial” labour. Mapping the evolution in the organisation of labour, Kunst shows how the modernist claim that ‘the work of art and the work of life should be inseparable’ has established itself in the very hearth of capitalist society. However, rather than becoming cynical or pessimistic Kunst searches for way to reclaim ‘work’ and to emancipate artistic work from its neoliberal counterpart.

In this time where every ‘creative worker’ is juggling several projects and manages several “projective temporalities”, Kunst analysis of the way artist works provides an insightful analyses on how artist work and looks for pathways to “rebel against the project and demand the temporality of work as duration”.