Massera_Under the resultats
Jean-Charles MasseraUnder The Résultats, installation view, Biennale d'art contemporain, les Ateliers de Rennes, 2008.
Photo : Hervé Beurel, courtesy of the artist

Speaking the Enemy’s Language (Or Not)

In a short piece written for the journal Fakir, Gérard Mordillat rails against the newspeak that turns “wages” into “costs of labour,” “layoffs” into a “job-saving plan,” and a “strike” into a “deadlock.” Faced with such decoys, the author summons us to “not speak the enemy’s language.”1 1 - Gérard Mordillat, “Blocage : ‘Ne pas parler la langue de l’ennemi,’” Fakir (May 26, 2016), (our translation). This ideological vocabulary has been somewhat inflated, particularly in France, at a time when the labour-law reform, with its slew of deregulations, has resulted in the pragmatic President Emmanuel Macron’s executive orders.2 2 - To forestall eventual opposition — which the so-called Loi El Khomri (the labour law named after the minister who brought it forward — trans.) had sparked a year earlier — the president signed executive orders reforming the Labour Code in record time, and despite union disapproval.

In such times as these, does art accept the injunction to speak the language of labour, useful and efficient, the province of communications and productivity? From willing servitude to an ability to subvert the system, the language of art can instead provoke unexpected reversals. Here I present the works of Jean-Charles Massera, Liv Schulman, Romana Schmalisch, and Robert Schlicht, who use humour to examine art’s ability to inflect the machine and caricature the counterproductive instrumentalization of its vocabulary.

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This article also appears in the issue 94 - Labour

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