The strategy of withdrawing productivity has historical roots in labor politics, anti-colonial activism, and feminist practices, characterizing official as well as wildcat workers’ strikes, public protests, and more subtle acts of refusal in private and domestic spaces. But what does it mean to “strike” when work itself is increasingly fragmentary and immaterial, disconnected from sites of production, while also permeating every facet of life? These texts explore individual and collective refusals of labor, abstract strikes, and strike work within and beyond the economies and ecologies of contemporary art. Suggesting the critical potential of unproductivity, immobilization, and refusal, they also highlight the activity of those on strike to create conditions under which progressive alternatives can flourish. 

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Compiled by Gabrielle Moser and Helena Reckitt
6 Essays
Rather than signaling the end of the labor regime that has marked the past decades, the current crisis is the becoming-explicit of its internal contradictions. As the Constructivist critic Nikolai Tarabukin put it: the future art under communism would be work transformed. 1 From the 1970s on, this goal has increasingly been realized in unexpected ways, as new forms of labor have emerged that redefine work in performative terms. In recasting performance as action, the current activism not…

Imagine experts in the world of art admitting that the entire project of artistic salvation to which they pledged allegiance is insane and that it could not have existed without exercising various forms of violence, attributing spectacular prices to pieces that should not have been acquired in the first place. Imagine that all those experts recognize that the knowledge and skills to create objects the museum violently rendered rare and valuable are not extinct. For these objects to preserve their market value, those people who inherited the knowledge and skills to continue to create them had to be denied the time and conditions to engage in building their world. Imagine museum directors and chief curators taken by a belated awakening—similar to the one that is sometimes experienced by soldiers—on the meaning of the violence they exercise under the guise of the benign and admitting the extent to which their profession is constitutive of differential violence.

A Personal Prologue I grew up in a place where civil war was part of daily life, where safety in public space was divided into day and night, into wide roads and back streets, mountains with cages or fields with burned trees. It was normal to have military tanks patrolling in the heart of town with heavily armed Special Forces. Working as a journalist in a newspaper was dangerous enough to have one assassinated in the middle of the street during daytime. Listening to music in your…

Agents of artistic circulation mistake the decision to withdraw one’s labor or participation for idle disengagement. The illusion of political agency granted by global artistic circulation underpins this ideology. In contrast to these false accusations, striking art workers engage in artistic self-organization, the highest form of social creativity, which produces new social assemblages that sustain artistic creativity beyond its ossified forms. Only when reinvigorated by strikes, boycotts, and occupations do institutions of the commons emerge and provide ground for art as a practice of freedom. Far from destroying circulation, the refusal of art workers in moments of productive withdrawal allows for its resumption at some point in the future and under better terms. Without moments of collective refusal, there would be nothing to circulate under the name of art but luxurious objects, emptied of sense and value.

A standard way of relating politics to art assumes that art represents political issues in one way or another. But there is a much more interesting perspective: the politics of the field of art as a place of work. 1 Simply look at what it does—not what it shows. Amongst all other forms of art, fine art has been most closely linked to post-Fordist speculation, with bling, boom, and bust. Contemporary art is no unworldly discipline nestled away in some remote ivory tower. On the…
In the most recent sermons on the inescapable power of capital, we hear increasing praise for the dominance of the algorithm. But what is this algorithm? It is nothing but another machine, born of the cooperation of workers, and one that the boss then places on a level above this same cooperation. The algorithm is, as Marx used to say, a machine that runs where there has been a strike, where there has been resistance or a rupture in the valorization process: a machine produced by the same…

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