Labour | esse arts + opinions


94 - Automne 2018

How do artists grapple with labour? Are they as alienated from capitalism as other workers are or can they act as models for imagining a life less focused on work? This feature section reflects on the issues of work time and unproductive work, the exceptionalism of art, the mechanisms of bureaucratic power, and the voluntary or self-exploitation of artists by addressing in a sensitive and engaged manner the tensions raised by these challenges, whether in relation to power dynamics, unequal working conditions, or the use of an unpaid workforce. The issue also discusses art practices that shed light on the situation of other workers—their pay conditions, their daily tasks, their physical or mental experience, as well as the materials that accompany their labour.

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Articles à la pièce

Nathalie Desmet
Marc James Léger
Michael DiRisio
Dominique Sirois-Rouleau
Eloïse Guénard
Sarah Amarica


Endless Work
Sylvette Babin


In Search of Improductive Time
Given current changes in the working world, some artists are exploring the idea of a world without work. They sometimes participate by becoming employers themselves in order to reveal the aberrations of a paid activity that is not only not as productive as it should be, but is also likely to confine workers to absurd, meaningless tasks. Given this realization, they seek to reclaim unproductive time, anticipating a world in which freed time would allow for the creation of individual and collective projects that would be more useful to society.
[Translated from the French by Oana Avasilichioaei]
Nathalie Desmet

Neither Artist Nor Worker
In his recent writings, Dave Beech examines the question of art’s exceptionalism with regard to classical, neoclassical, and Marxist economics. Because of its particular mode of production, art is not a typical commodity, and so it is not defined by the labour theory of value and does not conform to the laws of supply and demand. However, in a post-Fordist economy, artists are affected by the same precarious living conditions as are other workers. In this context, contemporary artists and activists address their collective conditions of labour under neoliberal capitalism.
Marc James Léger

Administrative Logics in the Work of Jo-Anne Balcaen and Anne-Marie Proulx
Informed by Clive Robertson’s framing of administrative logics as the “mechanisms of bureaucratic power within alternative and mainstream art and culture organizations,” the author considers recent work by Jo-Anne Balcaen that explores labour and status in the arts, as well as Anne-Marie Proulx’s Resolutions, which focuses on the collective administration of artist-run spaces. Both artists critically reflect on the power dynamics present in arts administration, which follow broader administrative logics that similarly conceal brutal working conditions and profound systemic inequality, maintaining this social stratification through shameless bureaucratic obfuscation.
Michael DiRisio

From Self-Exploitation to Collective Accountability
The statistical profile of practising visual artists reveals and confirms the difficult conditions that they continue to face, despite numerous initiatives, including the Journée sans culture, which have explored and exposed the professional and personal challenges of a career in the arts. In the spirit of these findings, the art of Joshua Schwebel offers a possible solution. Through specific interventions that address precise needs, Schwebel shines a spotlight on inequities in the field, thereby showing the important responsibility that cultural workers share in changing and eliminating these prejudices.
[Translated from the French by Louise Ashcroft]
Dominique Sirois-Rouleau

Speaking the Enemy’s Language (Or Not)
Is art in willing servitude or does it have the capacity to infiltrate a system without losing its own language? How do artists invest the field of labour? Jean-Charles Massera, Liv Schulman, and Romana Schmalisch and Robert Schlicht put forth art that, while flirting with the utilitarianism of neoliberal society, has become an integral part of a role-playing game in which it risks its meaning and function in a schizophrenic world. Ironically, the drive toward efficiency and productivity and the consequent alienation dogging both labour and art end up in paralysis and derealization. Taking this context as material, the artists work the language from within, through the forms that they create at the crossroads of documentary and fiction.
[Translated from the French by Ron Ross]
Eloïse Guénard

Jute, Entangled Labour, and Global Capital
In his ongoing Occupations series (2012–), Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama reconfigures old jute sacks, used to transport cocoa and coal in Ghana, into vast stitched-together coverings or tent-like structures, with which he envelops architectural sites worldwide. This text unpacks Mahama’s installations by focusing on his use of jute fabric and traces the various processes of labour present in the material’s production and circulation and, in turn, the artwork as a whole. This story of jute, which is also one of entangled labour and global capital, proves that Mahama’s artworks are the product of working bodies. It also addresses critical questions related to how global industrialized labour is made invisible under capitalist markets.
Sarah Amarica


Mika Rottenberg
by Violaine Boutet de Monvel

Richard Ibghy & Marilou Lemmens
by Anne Bertrand

Kim Waldron
by Saelan Twerdy

Brendan Fernandes
by Didier Morelli

Les Sabines
by Philippe Dumaine


Je est une autre Room(s) to move : je, tu, elle de Sophie Jodoin
[In French] L’exposition Room(s) to Move : je, tu, elle, présentée par Sophie Jodoin au centre EXPRESSION de Saint-Hyacinthe, au MacLaren Art Centre de Barrie et au Musée d’art contemporain des Laurentides de Saint-Jérôme, dresse le portrait triple d’une femme à travers les régimes intimes, sociaux et médicaux qui tendent à la circonscrire. Projet-bilan marquant la pratique des sept dernières années de l’artiste et réfléchi en collaboration étroite avec la commissaire Anne-Marie St-Jean Aubre, l’exposition marque un tournant important dans la carrière de Jodoin – tournant marqué par la forte présence du langage comme mode opératoire. Le corps, toujours aussi important dans son travail, se fait toutefois plus implicite, télescopé dans la posture même du regardeur, devenu lecteur, et de son rapport à l’espace et à l’architecture.
Anne-Marie Dubois


Anne-Marie Proulx et les confluences du territoire
Mathilde Bois

Éclats de mémoire : regards singuliers sur un patrimoine collectif
Anna Brunette


À ma place
Michel F. Côté


Visual Arts

Ludovic Boney, Action Art Actuel, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu by Nathalie Bachand

Hannah Claus, Montréal, arts interculturels, Montréal by Emily Falvey

Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985, Brooklyn Museum, New York by Didier Morelli

Marie-Michelle Deschamps et Éléonore False, Diagonale, Montréal by Dominique Sirois-Rouleau

Karilee Fuglem, Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain by karen elaine spencer

Emeka Ogboh & Here We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary Art, The Power Plant & Royal Ontario Museum by Felicity Tayler

A Study in Scarlet, Le Plateau-FRAC Île-de-France, Paris by Camille Paulhan

Philip Scheffner, Goethe-Institut, Toronto by Jill Glessing

Danh Vo, Guggenheim Museum, New York by Tak Pham

Celia Perrin Sidarous, Parisian Laundry, Montréal by Anne-Marie St-Jean Aubre

Chris Kline & Yam Lau, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston by Yvonne Lammerich

Kodomo No Kuni, Micro Onde, Vélizy-Villacoublay & La Maréchalerie, Versailles by Vanessa Morisset

Tacita Dean, Royal Academy, London, U.K. by Emily LaBarge

Affinités électives, Galerie Division, Montréal by Isabelle Tondre

From the Archives, Christie Contemporary, Toronto by Alex Bowron

Adrian Piper, Museum of Modern Art, New York by Daniel Fiset

Performing Arts

And So You See... Our Honorable Blue Sky and Ever Enduring Sun... Can Only Be Consumed Slice by Slice..., FTA, Montréal by James Oscar

Strange moods and dissonant feelings, OFFTA, Montréal by Marie-Pier Bocquet

Windigo, FTA, Montréal by Fabien Maltais-Bayda

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