following text was written by Andrew Kachel and Clara López
Menéndez, curators of A
new job to unwork at,
which is currently in view at PARTICIPANT INC through October 14:
wrote this text as an introduction of sorts to the first iteration of
the project in March 2016 at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions
(LACE). We read it during the opening of the project in a way that
mirrored how it was written: a back and forth between us, trying
to simultaneously address some of the theoretical concepts that
prompted this research and the personal resonances it brought forth.
The text is composed of fragments of emails (an intrinsic part of
contemporary labor routines and especially significant in our
practice since we don’t live in the same city), quotes from
academic articles and books we had been reading on the topic, such as
Problem with Work,
to name a few, as well as autobiographical bits––almost journal
entries––of our personal encounters with the mandates of labor
and work ethics.
The making and purpose of this text sought to reflect aspects of the methodology we have developed throughout this research, aiming to evince the slippery and personal nature of a collaboration that stems from friendship and the firm belief that doing things together makes for better things, even if at times it's more difficult. We also wanted to share the experiential rooting of this inquiry, and its fundamental desire to explore the material, affective, and performative dimensions of work in an expansive way. We were looking at words that spoke directly and indirectly to the effects of this classification of human activity, but often from just outside the more canonical resources of the field. We have been interested in considering work’s potentials as a biopolitical instrument, and that started by testing the theory in our own experiences, trying to remain aware of how it was working in us while working on this.
Andrew Kachel and Clara López Menéndez, curators of A new job to unwork at
I’m here if you want to gchat
were supposed to talk last friday and then... life happened
My dearest babe,
I can't love you more. I hope you know.
I also can't wait to see the projects and adventures this year's brings to us
To have met you is such a gift. Missing you from weird Madrid.
Feliz año Nuevo and huge Besos and hugs
projects that investigate possible emancipatory politics and question
and their dependence upon tradition and state definition
The intersection of moodboard (both "real" and "fake") - notes to self - remuneration transaction (or the material traces and supports thereof) - job for money - "your work"... is a really rich terrain. I love the idea of using backs of checks as notepads. It feels vaguely subversive-- the invalid use of the form, the sheer excess produced by inscribing anything other than your name. Also I love Cookie and Cookie. WHAT would they talk about if they found themselves in such proximity in the flesh??
I totally forgot that I was planning to have breakfast
are interested in thinking about work.
What is work?
How do we do it? What do we include and exclude within its
boundaries? Work can be so many things and so hard to pin down at the
same time. In trying to formulate some answers to these deceptively complicated
questions, we quickly come to face structural issues like the
conditions of artistic production in Los Angeles, the particular
histories of labor in this context, and production of surplus value
for capital owners. Of course, individual experiences with these
issues vary widely, and involve diverse strategies of support,
getting by, getting ahead, working the system, selling out, dropping
out, etc. Then there are the moments when one can't quite be sure of
the line between productive and reproductive labor. And maybe now we
have a job that we know is work in
a strict sense,
but we have a sense that we haven’t worked
our asses off more
than when we were in school. But that doesn’t count as work... or
does it? Work organizes our lives, pays our rent, drives us insane,
and gives us many pleasures. As art workers, sometimes we feel our
work can be so pliable and expansive, and other times it's just
absolutely inaccessible. Who can afford not to work? We don't want to
rashly suggest that WORK = DEATH, but sometimes we wish we could
reject it altogether. Or perhaps that would drive us mad.
I don't know why I didn't read that part of the message.
Just noticed that there may be a typo
i remember the first time someone, actually [NAME] told me while running around, or lying around, or some -ing around in [CITY NAME] that if it were their decision they would abolish work altogether. I remember I was baffled by that statement, slightly embarrassed because they were also struggling with money and supporting themselves (Obviously). Also not doing so bad.
is a social and economic construct that determines the range of our
possibilities, the material reality of our present––time
availability, spatial mobility, range of socialization and material
rituals; from what we eat to how we dispose of our leisure time––as
well as our future survivability chances––retirement, pension or
A new job to unwork at. Photo: Mark Waldhauser. Courtesy PARTICIPANT INC
I'm in [VERY EXPENSIVE CITY] at the moment though I'm renting a wee cabin in [SOME REMOTE PLACE]—you know, just a few miles beyond [LESS REMOTE PLACE]. Trying to figure out when I'm going back because I have the wee domicile until December 1st but I'm in a weird limbo state and don't know what the hell I'm doing. But I'd love to do this project with you.
That’s the good thing about [SAME CITY NAME], we were sort of poor but we could get by. The amount of time we had to exchange for money wasn’t as much as in other places. It was a pretty good ratio in fact. Very different than here (general place).
Now, my life is kind of chaotic at the moment so can I ask you to fire off a brief text to me when you email?[phone number]. I hope this will be temporary—the need to text "read your damn email"—but I have a hideous email/social media phobia wherein I literally won't look at them for 3 months; this has cost me countless problems like publication offers, job offers, missed performances (hitherto unheard of in my entire adult life since I began reading & performing) and missing the death of my best friend's mother. As I say I think this need to text me is gradually coming to an end because I'm actually in THERAPY for the malady which is as bad as some people's fear of flying, don't ask me why.
[NAME] said they didn’t want to work EVER if they could choose to
do so I thought they were
a bit of a dreamer
a bunch of a slacker
just generally irresponsible
All the mechanisms of self-policing at work. I couldn’t conceive a life without WORK.
Anyway, meanwhile, I'm getting caught up on email and will star this and mark it as unread. So creepy to say yes to things (like something I was supposed to do with Bradford this summer) then forget about them entirely. Not like me at all but I was under tremendous stress last year which apparently damaged my brain, such as it is...
It’s not that my friend didn’t do things. Just that the realm of their human activity didn’t lie exactly under the conditions that legitimize those actions and reactions as remunerated labor aka WORK. They were active in spotted queer community we were/are part of. We tended bars at soli parties, taught people how to fix their own bikes and computers, worked in the production of small experimental films, took care of friends that were ill, dog sat. We also spent a lot of time talking and biking and cooking and drinking beer, feeling the energy that fueled our bodies and putting it into motion for whatever cause. Whatever happened. Pogo.
TMI, I know. But anyhoo, I'm thrilled to be asked, would love to do it, and at the moment have no other commitments either real or imaginary. Won't make any, either.
The attentive re-signifying of the energy, time and embodiment already invested in the realization of work, opens up a space of political and economic agency, propelled by the resources provided by art and political action, which allows for a double de-alienation of the labor invested in the undertaking of this remunerated labor.
In the clear, critical light of day, illusory administrators whisper of our need for institutions,
and all institutions are political, and all politics is correctional, so it seems we need
correctional institutions in the common, settling it, correcting us. But we won’t stand
corrected. Moreover, incorrect as we are there’s nothing wrong with us. We don’t want to
be correct and we won’t be corrected. Politics proposes to make us better, but we were
good already in the mutual debt that can never be made good. We owe it to each other to
falsify the institution, to make politics incorrect, to give the lie to our own determination.
We owe each other the indeterminate. We owe each other everything.
An abdication of political responsibility? OK. Whatever. We’re just anti-politically romantic about actually existing social life. We aren’t responsible for politics. We are the general antagonism to politics looming outside every attempt to politicise, every imposition of self- governance, every sovereign decision and its degraded miniature, every emergent state and home sweet home. We are disruption and consent to disruption. We preserve upheaval. Sent to fulfill by abolishing, to renew by unsettling, to open the enclosure whose immeasurable venality is inversely proportionate to its actual area, we got politics surrounded. We cannot represent ourselves. We can’t be represented.
My friend was a writer. Is a writer. And a film editor. They made their bare minimum with that. Bare minimum in [SAME CITY NAME AS BEFORE] then was real bare. Also because there were so many other kind of exchanges that were not abitered by government approved currency, but remained in murky fields of friendship, camaraderie, sluttiness, quid pro quo, and a fat etcetera of barter systems and gifts and presents born from a sense of time vaguely detached from the yoke of money.
My glamorous bi-coastal lifestyle is in its nascent (delusional) stage, much like my ability to cope.
At the time I received that statement from my friend with STUPOR I wasn’t really aware of these things, of the difference in the materiality of time and its direct relationship to capital and the direction and intentionality of our activities, of our actions and emotions.
In my attempt to dig into the unacknowledged realms of political action that lay between the extremes of ideological declamation and everyday experience, I ended up thinking about the economy of ambition that operates in our process of subjectivation as socialized individuals.
One of the conclusions they drew from the failures of the student-worker uprising was that the revolution of the cultural sphere could not wait until after the workers' revolution.
At the time when [SAME NAME] told me that I was looking for a J O B I was working at a gallery that was a perfect metonym of [SAME CITY] mainly because it’s relationship to money was mostly delusional. They had some good intentions but bad manners and they paid me shit but shit was rent [SHELTER] and left me enough [the measure of discontent] to feed myself. Then my hustling skills carried me nicely but tightly to the end of the month. But I was getting tired of that. I wanted more. I wanted a job that would allow me to do more things. What? I wasn’t sure about that.
I started a job at a gallery because I was tired of my precarious underpaid unstructured aimless situation. Also because living in [OTHER CITY] without working all the time can make one feel like a pariah. It wasn’t that I had finally decided to capitulate (or at least that’s the narrative I’m sticking to). I felt a manifold desire for recognition, a point around which to focus my energies, and some regular means to pay my bills. It was also a choice made out of disillusionment: feeling that I was working so hard in a specific environment and not getting anywhere, deciding to say “fuck it” and to work somewhere where I felt valued. I often feel like I’m performing, like I’m playing the deepest game. Is that naive? I still don’t really know what I want.
Ambition is an ambiguous term, a substantive that does not always enjoy a positive interpretation. It is good to be ambitious in the right amount, but an excess of it can potentially become a social problem, prompt to a punitive exclusion of the ambitious subject. At the same time, there are ambitious communities, perhaps not necessarily identified as such (meaning that those communities don’t particularly perceive the term as characteristic of their identity), but where the absence of this emotion/affect is understood as an absolute handicap.
In the arduous terrain of generalization, ambition is usually understood as a dubious characteristic within leftist political groupings, usually connected with greed, the desire for accumulation, and the will to power necessary to achieve it. Therefore, the space in which those desires for power-filled recognition get structured and choreographed tend to be an opaque dimension of the individual’s subjectivity, usually not fully disclosed in the social realm. The “outing” of professional/career/political ambitions is usually balanced with altruistic justifications tied to their ends that signify the transitory means as mere steps towards a larger good for a wider community. However, the power, potential and political weight of these fantasies that strive to become realities, is certainly crucial.
Fred Lonidier, UCLA Bored To Death, 1982/2014. Photo: Mark Waldhauser. Courtesy PARTICIPANT INC
I knew I wanted an IPHONE.
I wanted an iPhone and I didn’t want to have to count cents every time I bought something. I started to be very aware of how my DESIRE was shaped and triggered by the stuff people carried on them, that surrounded them. That became more acute in [ANOTHER CITY NAME IN A RICHER COUNTRY WITH AN INTENSE SENSE OF FASHION]. There the correlation between people’s belongings and their social status and the weight of their presence became clearer. Pardon my naïveté. This was years ago. However that material transformation of the self through the collection of commodities that identify us in particular social contexts hasn’t ceased to amaze me. Also it hasn’t ceased or eased its presence. It’s just different. Different contexts, different “needs”. Who has a Prius?
Hi [Name]! God I sent a 5-million page text to you two weeks ago but now I think maybe I sent it into the ether! Have mightmarish thing going on with [phone company]. YES PLEASE RESEND! Sorry I was out of touch. Too hard to explain, I’m teaching right this second- let me get to motel and get some sleep- im so glad to hear from you!
The political signification of our ambitions opens up the dense political space of nuanced negotiation that occurs when a recognizable ideology has to confront the particularities of contingent existence, where the compromises of political claims take place in response to the incidences of a context. I have no idea where this is leading to, the only thing I know is that I have run out of language to talk about my political feelings, and that my struggle veers towards the compilation of a vocabulary, spoken or performed, that allows me to articulate my desires and experiences.
I come from hard workers. A and B taught me to work hard to be free, to love your job to be happy. The luckiest thing you can achieve is a job you love to do because, my dear, you are going to have to do it all your life for a bunch of years until you retire, if you are lucky (I add). A and B live and work in Europe. Who knows where they will die.
Bending the limits of the labor agreement
In this intention to a more honest approach to the gap between our ideals an our actions comes when we will finally speak honestly about how our desire for work trumps our political commitments––to the most intimate level––regarding the conditions we are willing to perpetuate and the kind of labor relations we would willfully endure.
When I started school as a little willful kid I started a bit earlier because turns out I talked a lot and saw my sister (older) leaving every day and wondered where and war and thought it must be so FUN to go to that place.
S C H O O L
And then she would come back home and sit down with those thick books and write on ruled notebooks with perfectly tempered and symmetric handwriting. All that looked pretty appealing to me. So I asked and begged and declaimed that i wanted to go to school and A was like “well if you so insist I guess you can go you must be ready”.
After 2 weeks going to kindergarten, meeting the other kids and checking it out I went back to A one evening and solemnly proclaimed that that was fine but I already got it. Sure school was alright but I was done with it. I didn't really needed to go the next day. A rose an eyebrow and answered “Babe, you only have begun.”
I wonder if it would be possible to formulate an option that would productively appropriate the capitalist colonization of the individual’ subjectivity and the contemporary anxiety over the impossibility to divide working time from leisure. How could that amalgam be perceptually transformed to work for the ‘precariat’ subject?
haven’t failed a test in my life.
never missed a deadline.
was all my life an A student at the edge of expulsion for bad temper.
I was as a teacher’s pet as it gets I was just good at disguising
it. I also was always on that threshold called SKEPTICAL.
I could take it but barely.
“Performativity describes this turning of power against itself to produce alternative modalities of power, to establish a kind of political contestation that is not a “pure” opposition, a “transcendence” of contemporary relations of power, but a difficult labor of forging a future from resources inevitably impure. Bending the limits of the labor agreement
It’s funny how being in school or in the hierarchical circumstances of work throw us back to that subjectivity of being a teenager. Of forcefully fitting. Of having to bend our desires, our believes and our opinions under the demands of a social structure of retribution and reward that often DOES NOT MAKE ANY FUCKING SENSE.
C: Everyone involved in our projects came out with the feeling of being part of a temporary community. The way in which the form of our projects was permeated by the politics that mobilized them— I see this as a huge achievement. An exercise of coherence not easy to realize at times.
A: I think that political permeation of form conveys affect and attention. I hope our work can accomplish that kind of representation.
The repurposing of labor towards a social and political goal entails the investment of the individual within a system of solidarity that undermines the ideological precepts championed by capitalist hegemony: individualism, personal success, symbolic and economic accumulation, and private sacrifice for the corporate cause.
The program must be open. We have to dig deeply to show how things have been historically contingent, for such and such reason intelligible but not necessary. We must make the intelligible appear against a background of emptiness, and deny its necessity. We must think that what exists is far from filling all possible spaces. To make a truly unavoidable challenge of the question: what can we make work, what new game can we invent?
Because the person in charge is a human being imbued with power you have to abide to. They can be great they can be smart they can be dumb as fuck a fucking doorknob. Some times. Worst case scenarios. We all have our own. They differ in degrees of vexation, difference tends to be qualitative instead of quantitative. Still I feel like most of what I do is looking for work. I apply I ponder I think I write i talk I email I text I deliver I hustle I lift I drag I seduce I read I show I finagle I perform I compromise my desires often but not as often as in other places. And that action of compromising is ripe with a feeling that it’s hard to describe but taste like the death of love or freedom.
A new job to unwork at. Courtesy PARTICIPANT INC. Photo: Mark Waldhauser