Precarious Times

Precarious Times, symposium and PhD workshop, as part of the FINALE SYMPOSIUM for the British Art Show 7 Constellation Programme. Speakers include Franco Berardi Bifo, Freee Art Collective, Malcolm Miles, Stevphen Shukaitis,… with live stream.

01 December 2011 → 03 December 2011
Plymouth College of Art, Studio Theatre, and Plymouth University, United Kingdom


In times of financial crisis, austerity measures, and the increased privatisation of digital networks and public services, what are the conditions under which we produce art, ideas and concepts? If working as part of the arts has always been precarious, it now operates in exaggerated ways. The symposium will explore these issues in the context of the British Art Show (currently taking place in Plymouth), asserting that the future is largely conditioned through the reality of the political economy, leaving the art world ever more vulnerable but also at the same time a crucial site of struggle. In these precarious times, what does the art world have to offer?

Thursday 1st December
venue: Room 306, Levinsky building, Plymouth University

Presentations of PhD projects, plus discussions moderated by Anya Lewin.

14.00 - 14.30 Robert Jackson - Reclaiming Configurability: Less Critique, More Things (Independent Researcher)
14.30 - 15.00 Kuba Szreder - Mapping Curatorial Apparatus in Late Capitalism (Loughborough University)
15.00 - 15.30 Magda Tyzlik-Carver - Beyond Participation: Towards Political and Aesthetic Content in Curatorial Practice (Plymouth University)
15.30 - 16.00 break
16.00 - 16.30 Helen Pritchard - The Artist in the Computer Room: An Auto-Ethnographic Account of Precarious Doings (Lancaster University)
16.30 - 17.00 Andrew Prior - Medialities of Noise (Plymouth University)
17.00 - 17.30 Kevin Carter - Towards a Digital Public Art Practice (University of Westminster)
17.30 - 18.00 Vlad Morariu - On the Precarization of Criticism and the Spectacle of Power (Loughborough University)
Discussions continue over dinner.
Link to details of the participants and papers.

Friday 2nd December
Plymouth College of Art, Studio Theatre

10.30 - 11.00 ­Registration
11.00 ­- 11.30 ­Welcome and Introduction (Andrew Brewerton, Principal, Plymouth College of Art; Paula Orrell, Curator, Plymouth Arts Centre; Joasia Krysa, Kurator/Plymouth University)

PART I - PRECARIOUS TIMES (organised by KURATOR/Culture-Theory-Space)

11.30 – 12.00 – Geoff Cox (& Franco Berardi online from MACBA) - Introducing Precarious Times
12.00 – 12.30 – Malcolm Miles – Farewell to Revolution
12.30 – 13.00 – Freee Art Collective (Mel Jordan) - Work is More than Wages
13.00 – 14.00 – LUNCH
14.00 – 14.30 – (Hans Bernard) - Media Hacking vs. Conceptual Art
14.30 – 15.00 – Stevphen Shukaitis - Is It Possible for Me to Create No Value (for Capital) as My Contribution to This Symposium?
15.00 – 15.30 – Panel discussion, moderated by Joasia Krysa
15.30 – 16.00 – COFFEE BREAK
16.00 – 16.45 – Precarious Research - Panel discussion involving participants from PhD workshop: Robert Jackson, Kuba Szreder, Magda Tyzlik-Carver, Helen Pritchard, Vlad Morariu, Andrew Prior, Kevin Carter, moderated by Anya Lewin
16.45 – 18.00 – DRINKS RECEPTION (@ PCA)

18.00 – 19.00 ­– Ian Stewart - Future Earth. Event at Plymouth University.

Saturday 3rd December


10.00 – 10.15 – Welcome by Plymouth Visual Arts Consortium
10.15 – 10.45 – Roger Malbert, Hayward Gallery - The Future of the British Art Show and Large Scale Touring Exhibitions
11.00 – 12.00 – Setting it Up and After, a conversation on South-East Asian movie trailers, escapism and what a soundtrack for an exhibition might be, with artist, Edgar Schmitz; curator, Pieternel Vermoortel (FormContent), and designer, Clayton Welham (whynotassociates)
12pm – 12.45 – LUNCH
12.45 – 13.30 – Tom Trevor and Neil Cummings - Arnolfini in 2061, 100th Anniversary

13.30 – 14.15 – Project Space 11 and British Art Show 7 host city artist run spaces - The Future of Artist-Run Spaces
14.15 – 14.45 – Judith Staines, Turning Point South West - Turning Point Cross Regional Event
14.45 – 15.00 – COFFEE BREAK
15.00 – 15.30 – Panel Discussion, moderated by Andrew Brewerton
15.30 – 15.30 – Walking Tour of British Art Show 7 led by curators, Lisa Le Feuvre and Tom Morton. Starting at Plymouth College of Art and finishing at the Slaughterhouse, Royal William Yard.
Link to details of the overall Finale Symposium.

Admission for the symposium is £20, £15 concession. Advance booking is essential – please email to reserve a place or call 01752 203434

[There are 20 free places for Plymouth University students, 20 free places for Plymouth College of Art students and 5 free places for University College Falmouth students. All free student tickets will be allocated on a first come first served basis.]

Precarious Times is organised jointly by KURATOR and Culture–Theory-Space research groups, Plymouth University, UK, in collaboration with the Digital Aesthetics Research Centre, Aarhus University, Denmark.

Supported by the Centre for Media, Art and Design Research (MADr), Plymouth University, University College Falmouth, Centre for Digital Urban Living, Aarhus University, and Plymouth Visual Arts Consortium (PVAC).


• Geoff Cox (& Franco Berardi online) - Introduction to Precarious Times

In times of financial crisis, austerity measures, and the increased privatisation of digital networks and public services, what are the conditions under which we produce art, ideas and concepts? If working as part of the arts has always been precarious, it now operates in exaggerated ways. The symposium will explore these issues in the context of the British Art Show (currently taking place in Plymouth), asserting that the future is largely conditioned through the reality of the political economy, leaving the art world ever more vulnerable but also at the same time a crucial site of struggle. In these precarious times, what does the art world have to offer?

Geoff Cox is currently a Researcher in Digital Aesthetics at Aarhus University, also Associate Professor/Reader in Art and Technology, Plymouth University, Adjunct faculty Transart Institute, and Associate Curator of Online Projects, Arnolfini. He is an editor for the DATA Browser book series (published by Autonomedia), and most recently co-edited Creating Insecurity (2009). He is working on a new book with the title Speaking Code (2012).

Franco Berardi “Bifo” is a writer, media theorist and media-activist. Founder of the magazine A/traverso (1975-1981), he took part in the staff of Radio Alice, the first free radio station in Italy (1976/1978). He was involved in the political movement of autonomia in Italy during the 1970s. He worked with Felix Guattari, in the field of schizoanalysis. During the 1980s he contributed to the magazine Semiotexte (New York), Chimeres (Paris), Metropoli (Rome) and Musica 80 (Milano). In the 1990s he published Mutazione e ciberpunk, (Genova, 1993), Cibernauti (Roma, 1994), Felix (2001), and he worked in the field of cyberculture and TV broadcasting. He is one of the founders of the network Telestreet, and co-author of the book: Telestreet Macchina immaginativa non omologata. Teaches Social history of the media in the Accademia di Brera, in Milano. Co-founder of the e-zine. He is currently working on a book on Sensibility in the age of connectivity.

• Malcolm Miles – Farewell to Revolution

In a period of neo-liberal triumphalism it is easy to forget that there have been and remain other frameworks in which to see trajectories of social and cultural change. Until 1989 there were two main economic systems, each with a mainstream and a dissident culture. Which was the norm and which the anomaly depends on a future yet unknown. But the way in which political, social, cultural and economic change occurs probably has moved from the dualism of tyranny and revolution to a process now more dispersed and difficult to represent. Art historian T. J. Clark writes in Farewell to an Idea (1999) that socialism and modernism are seen as having ended, and that both were always contingent. Herbert Marcuse sees student radicals as introducing a cultural revolution in 1968, and Andre Gorz writes in Farewell to the Working Class (1980) that the working class is no longer a revolutionary force while work itself should be revised. If there was a link, though, however tenuous, between the projects of international modernism and international socialism, are both now encapsulated in the past? Was H. G. Wells accurate, writing in In the Days of the Comet (1906) that social transformation is produced by sudden, unforeseen agency? Or it it possible that - between the metaphors of the comet and revolution - radical agency remains, lending renewed significance to the modernist idea of autonomy, via which revolution may be, lived prior to the Revolution?

Malcolm Miles is Professor of Cultural Theory in the School of Architecture, University of Plymouth; and author of Urban Avant-Gardes (2004), Cities and Cultures (2007), and Herbert Marcuse: an aesthetics of liberation (2011).

FREEE art collective - Work is more than Wages

This paper attempts to bring economic and social distinctions to the idea of precarity. Precarity is complex. There is more to precarity than a Capitalist preference of work, think romantic avant-garde artist who chooses precarity against a regular job. In this context precarity equals freedom, freedom from wage labour. This isn’t just a special artist thing though the artist’s non-wage-labour is one of many examples of non-wage-labour across class boundaries. Think, for instance, about Gordon Brown’s statements, when he was Chancellor, he said that millions of people in Africa need to be brought into the labour market (rather than what? Labour in village communities for the collective good!) Also, think of the commodification of childcare today compared with the care of children by extended families in the past. Precarity embodies distinctions; being precarious as a working–class wage labourer is rotten; choosing a lifestyle of cultural work that is never secure is a different matter. Differences in kinds of paid and unpaid work must be discussed, not in terms of the work that you are doing, i.e. immaterial creative work versus working in a call centre, remember that this labour is not economically different. A good job, attractive labour, is to do more with your working conditions and union representation than with the type of thing you are doing. Being a doctor, working with ill people is not necessarily a nice job, but the conditions are good so this makes it a desired place to work. This paper is divided into four sections: Precarity and the economics of labour, Attractive labour versus alienated labour, Productive and unproductive labour and Art and the subsumption of labour by capital. We conclude that unpaid labour is a way to undo Capital and is not without agency, freedom and power.

Dave Beech, Andy Hewitt and Mel Jordan work collectively as the Freee art collective. Freee is concerned with the publishing and dissemination of ideas and the formation of opinion, or what Jurgen Habermas describes as the ‘public sphere’. The public sphere is often confused with the terms public realm, public space or even the public sector, but a public sphere can occur in any space whether public or private – it is the space where ideas are discussed and opinions formed. Freee’s recent projects (2008-2011) include: Petition to ban all Advertizing! (No more renting out of the public sphere), for ‘We are Grammar’, Pratt Manhattan Gallery, New York, 2011; Every Shop Window is a Soap Box, for ‘Touched’ Liverpool Biennial 2010; You Can’t Buy a New World for ‘When Guests Become Hosts’, Culturgest, Porto, Portugal, 2010; Fuck Globalization II for ‘Dorm’, The Model, Sligo, Ireland 2010; Fuck Globalization, a residency at Dartington College of Arts, UK, 2010. Revolution Road: Rename the Streets commissioned by Wysing Arts and presented at Zoo Art Fair (2009).

• (Hans Bernard) - Media Hacking vs. Conceptual Art

Featuring UBERMORGEN.COM projects 2000-2011 including ultrasupercontemporary pieces (DEEPHORIZON, DOTOILDOT, Asylum Defence Agency, UGI and CLICKISTAN), blockbusters (Vote-Auction), conceptual pieces (EKMRZ-Trilogy) and basic research projects (Superenhanced, WOPPOW). Pointing out and discussing some markers of the artistic strategy (UM.Manifesto). Let’s talk about Media - Hacking and Conceptual Art and the evolution of digital actionism into technical systems of imagination and research-based art.

UBERMORGEN.COM is an artist duo based in Vienna (AT) and St. Moritz (CH) founded by lizvlx and Hans Bernhard. Behind UBERMORGEN.COM we can find one of the most unmatchable identities – controversial and iconoclastic – of the contemporary European fine-art avant-garde. Their open circuit of conceptual art, software art, pixel painting, large scaled installations, legal art (the judges never get us!), Net.Art and Media Hacking transforms their brand into a hybrid Gesamtkunstwerk. The computer and the network are (ab)used and the permanent amalgamation of fact and fiction points toward an extremely expanded concept of one’s working materials: i.e. international rights, piracy, e-commerce, torture, democracy and global communication. Their work is always inherently materialist, flexible and formal. Their thinking is deeply political, but unlike “political art”, UM.COM seek to capture the present and the future and amplify it, without preconceived opinion or vision. “Ubermorgen” is the German word both for “the day after tomorrow” and “super-tomorrow”. UBERMORGEN.COM is represented by Fabio Paris Brescia, [DAM] Berlin and Carroll / Fletcher London. http://www.UBERMORGEN.COM

• Stevphen Shukaitis - Is It Possible for Me to Create No Value (for Capital) as my Contribution to this Symposium?

In 1970 Keith Arnatt provocatively posed the question of whether he could do nothing as part of his contribution to this exhibition (the exhibition in question being one at the Tate). Much like John Cage (in 4‘33”) Arnatt finds that the ‘doing of nothing’ is much more complicated than it might seem at first, that this doing nothing involves multiple layers of doing. The history of activist art and antagonistic aesthetics poses a similar difficulty. All too often practices that begin antagonistic towards capital accumulation find themselves rendered into new modes of valorization, whether as part of the ‘creative class’ or filling some other function within the circuits of an economy increasingly dependent on forms of affective, aesthetic, and cultural labour. This ambiguity presents possibility as much as difficulty, as the recuperative dynamics that demand constantly renewed streams of free labour are themselves vulnerable precisely because of that dependency. This presentation will explore the question of whether is it possible to not create value for capital, approaching the question through the autonomist framework of class composition, and a reconsideration of the art strike and refusal more generally.

Stevphen Shukaitis is an editor at Autonomedia and lecturer at the University of Essex. He is the author of Imaginal Machines: Autonomy & Self-Organization in the Revolutions of Everyday Life (Autonomedia, 2009) and editor (with Erika Biddle and David Graeber) of Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations // Collective Theorization (AK Press, 2007). His research focuses on the emergence of collective imagination in social movements and the changing compositions of cultural and artistic labor.