Superflex_the working life
SuperflexThe Working Life, capture vidéo, 2013.
Photo : courtesy of the artist

In Search of Unproductive Time

Nathalie Desmet
Nathalie Desmet
In light of the advancements in automation and mechanization at the start of the twentieth century, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that the working day would be reduced to three hours in Western countries by 2030.1 1 - John Maynard Keynes, Essays in Persuasion (La Vergne: Lightning Source Inc., 2009). Indeed, economic growth and higher productivity should have led to a general increase in free time; yet today, some people work more and more, to the detriment of others, who are unemployed. One possible explanation is political. Not working, as in the medieval myth of the land of milk and honey, is considered a threat by authorities and business leaders today: “There is reason to fear… that free time, forced free time, will bring on the restless tick of boredom, idleness, immorality, and increased personal violence.” 2 2 - Sebastian de Grazia, quoted by Rutger Bregman, in Utopia for Realists, trans. Elizabeth Manton (Amsterdam: The Correspondent, 2016), 37.

With the development of new technologies — particularly the smartphone — the working hours of the employed are even encroaching on their leisure time and personal lives, escalating stress and burnout without increasing productivity. Artists, whose activities are perceived, often with envy, as free and little constrained by routine, are also facing these changes. Not only do the demands of being visible in a competitive world require knowing how to manage one’s activities like a business, in terms of organization and communication, but most artists often also face the reality of taking jobs in order to “make ends meet.” In their art practices, some artists are increasingly implicating themselves in the reality of the working world. They sometimes even intervene directly by becoming employers in order to better highlight its aberrations or attempt to generate unproductive time. In this, they are anticipating a world without work, in which freed time would allow for the creation of individual and collective projects, and thus helping to redefine “work” as something no longer determined by the earning of wages.3 3 - This is compatible with accelerationist theories. See Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (Brooklyn: Verso Books, 2016).

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This article also appears in the issue 94 - Labour

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