Labour – (Re)Worked

The fourth issue of GSG magazine, titled Labour – (Re)Worked, features contributions from Selma Selman, Katja Praznik, Valeria Graziano, Marina Tkalčić and an interview with Jasna Jasna Žmak.

We started thinking about issue dedicated to labour in the cultural field almost a year after the Bella ciao, song that marked the opening of the European Capital of Cultural (ECoC) in the waters of the Port of Rijeka. ECoC year passed rather insignificantly, and what was left were freshly renovated buildings without resources for living cultural workers and present-day cultural production. The year we started writing was also the second year of the pandemic, which found the cultural sector among the hardest hit. The health-social-economic crisis, along with the betrayed expectations of the ECoC, inevitably paved the way for this magazine issue dealing with the future of our cultural field or the necessary preconditions for its survival. We entered the survival theme through the issue of labour, that is, all those everyday detours and complicities – poor working conditions, insufficient and irregular project funding, hyperproduction of events, bureaucratization, loss of a meaning of the production and its communication with so-called audiences – and the possibilities of overcoming and rejecting them.

Our shared world, both the one bounded by national borders and the big, global one, has meanwhile become an even more insecure and destructive place to live. Does it then make sense in such a context to think and write about work – ours, yours, everyone’s? Does it make any sense to ask about the refusal of work today in this “small” field of ours whose great refusal will not stop the distribution of “more important” commodities and services? Does it make sense to re-open the topic of universal basic income for everyone or to dream of slowing down and building different relationships within our collectives? Given the magazine issue in front of you, our answer is clear: we think it has sense, if for nothing else because we no longer have anything to lose. Constantly new and accelerating disasters have raised the bar higher. It just doesn’t make much sense anymore to do things the way we’re used to, the way that doesn’t suit anyone. The invited authors – artists, theorists, researchers, and curators – joined us in this reflection and pause, each from their specific perspective, traversing different techniques of occupying and refusing work, always thinking about the wider context of social production and the position that different groups occupy in it. No4 issue of GSG magazine coincides with the preoccupations of other actors (festivals, initiatives) in our drained and beloved arts and culture sector. Fair wage and fair pay for everyone (not only us) and refusal of work are the obverse and the reverse of the same problem – our labour and the way we are re-working it, its role in the wider social production and its role in the production of ourselves.

We present two artistic contributions by the artist Selma Selman: the manifesto “We’ve Got the Power,” co-authored with Chonga Peter Lee (Sophia Queer Forum, 2021), and “A Pink Room of Her Own “(Studio Selma Selman, 2020). The manifesto is a call for mutual aid, either face-to-face or using digital tools, “a call to rethink and reframe our possibilities and our collective futures specifically aware of the sensitivities and issues of heavily discriminated populations.” The work  “A Pink Room of Her Own,” whose original “permanent collection” is located in Selma Selman’s family house in Bihać, focuses on the details of possible and actualized dreams of her mother, restoring the rights and personal authority that were taken away from her in her childhood.

In “We Need to Talk about Labour—Countering the Invisibility of Art Workers,” Katja Praznik continues with the topic that she has been systematically addressing for some time already: a fundamental recognition that art work is labour—labour that should be fairly paid or remunerated. In the beginning, Praznik clarifies what she calls “the paradox of art,” at the centre of which is the Western tradition of art that undermines labour in the name of creativity. By drawing a parallel between women’s housework, which, like art work, is unpaid, she also underlines the difference: women are not inscribed into domestic labour in order to distinguish themselves “but rather as an oppressed collective entity that serves humanity. ” Art work, on the other hand is seen as a result of artistic genius and happens “without labour” or the one that flows from the artist and therefore essentialization is positive. This, states Praznik, reinforces the notion that art needs no payment since it is not real labour. Praznik reminds us that the historic separation of artistic labour from money (payment) and work (labour rights) was a class project of bourgeois society through which art work became a “depoliticized category that also neutralized class dimension of art production”. And this is why, according to her, it is important to approach invisible unpaid labour in the arts with the labour-centred discourse and the tools of social dialogue, such are Guideline for artists’ fees, unionizing and collective bargaining.

In “The Right to Be Lazy and to Enjoy It Too—On the Art of Refusing Work and the Labour of Refusing Art,” Valeria Graziano converses with the readers and contemporary artists about refusing work and the struggles of doing so. Graziano explores how the gestures of cessations of artists refusing work can be considered as “techniques” of production in themselves. She questions how they function, which elements of the work regime they are aiming at, how they stop, what they refuse exactly and what they transform in the course of their inoperative operations. She provides potential answers through a historical overview of more significant artistic “actions of refusing work”, dividing them into the set of actions focused on the rejection of institutional governance, its bureaucracies and interlocking systems of valorisation, and into the actions that take as their starting point the refusal of production as a process of subjectivation, rejecting how the role required of art producers moulds them into pliable subjects of prerequisite habits, affects and relations. Some of the examples she refers to include Marcel Duchamp, Art Workers Coalition (AWC), Gustav Metzger, Goran Đorđević, Lee Lozano, Claire Fontaine art collective and the US-based duo Navild Acosta and Fannie Sosa.

In her text, “How to Slow Down: The Ethics of Care as an Indirect Political Agent of Change,” Marina Tkalčić notices how the current pandemic has made us reflect on and warned us about the unsustainability of the existing working conditions and points to the possibility of “rehabilitation” and “healing” through the ethics of care or the ethics of solidarity, through the processes of slowing down (of cultural and artistic production), pausing, and building different social relations. On the example of the residency program implemented within the European project Risk Change at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka, Tkalčić shows how during the first lockdown, the state of emergency “pushed” the Museum towards the paradigmatic act of solidarity and shifted the focus from production to cooperation and self-reflection. By doing so, she poses an inevitable question: is it possible to use such a model of affective work, unburdened by time, without the conditioned necessity of production and uncompromisingly meeting the parameters of European project administration – in non-crisis situations?

Included in this collection is an interview with Jasna Jasna Žmak, the president of The Guild of Scriptwriters and Playwrights (SPID), which has recently published the Guild’s Handbook on Copyright, Fair Pay and Workers’ Rights in the Area of Scriptwriting, Dramaturgy and Playwriting, aka the Handbook. The Handbook, according to Žmak, represents a certain kind of blueprint for SPID’s future activities, but it also lays out directions for the actions of the entire area of performing and audiovisual arts. In the meantime, many associations have supported The Handbook, and some of them, encouraged by this document, even started working on their own handbooks. In addition, SPID has also managed to get a representative in the Audiovisual Committee of the Croatian Audiovisual Centre as well as to get onto the list of the associations that provide tax benefits. It also participated in the meetings at the Ministry of Culture dealing with establishing the criteria for granting support to freelance artists in COVID times. There’s a long road ahead, and many demands, says Žmak, but it seems to us, certainly thanks to SPID as well, that it is now more open and better traveled than before.  

Designers Ana Tomić and Marin Krstačić Furić, translator Zana Šaškin, Croatian language proofreader Iva Borković, and English language proofreader Anna Bowen, have also invested their time and labour into this issue.

You can read GSG No4 in English and Croatian, in print and online.

It was published with the support of the Canadian foundation Musagetes (45.000,00 kn) and the City of Rijeka (5.000,00 kn).


It works best if you read it in a warm, quiet place.