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Week 1 Update

I can't believe it's already been a week! One down, five to go.

This week I did a bit of a deeper dive into the research around Immaterial Labour. Right now, it feels like a big tangle, but I'm starting to unravel it. The journal is starting to fill up.

Later this week, I'll be meeting my fellow art school alumnus Naomi to record a more detailed conversation about the topic. This will be an exercise in vulnerability for both of us- in the spirit of "learning publicly" we're trying out a format where I attempt to explain what I've been researching and thinking about, and she'll try and wrap her head around it.

For a start though, I've realised I've been asking the wrong questions. Rather than asking "how can we get society to value this immaterial labour more?", I've realised that in the current post-factory capitalist system, ANYONE who engages in culture, whether you're creating it or consuming it, is creating value for someone that can be, and is currently being, capitalised on and profited from, even if it is in an indirect way (for example, a property developer capitalising on the cultural capital of a suburb). In reality, a situation has been created where we are all, artists or not, simultaneously creating demand for new and innovative ideas and aesthetic combinations, and satisfying that demand. This system is what the term "Immaterial Labour" is describing. I've found parallels in the term "bio-capitalism", which describes how capitalism has managed to commodify almost every aspect of our life, whether we realise we are doing labour for other people or not. One example from Jenny Odell (below) is how social media platforms have managed to commodify our attention by designing the platforms in a way that enhances their addictive qualities. However, as usual in this hamster wheel, the profit is rising to the top and not being shared around the bottom to those who really need it, or are actually doing the bulk of the creative labour! The systems also do not have the wellbeing of everybody as a priority, or the content, just how readily consumable it is.

Therefore, the question is less "how to get society to value this more", but about how we can either resist the hamster wheel, get off it completely, or make it somehow more equitable so that creative labour is not being so taken advantage of, and diverse, critical and quality creative output is more accessible to everyone.

Before I sign off, introducing my cocktail of reading material for this residency. It's a delicious mix!

In order from bottom to top:

  • No Order; Art in a Post-Fordist Society: this one I happened to find at secondhand bookstore Bent Books, and started me off on this whole journey! It's got a seminal text by Maurizio Lazzarato, who coined the term Immaterial Labour, amongst a whole bunch of wonderfully critical texts and artworks by artists and theorists in Europe about making work amongst this cultural labour paradigm.

  • Make Ink; A Forager's Guide to Natural Inkmaking by Jason Logan: this is purely in service of my current calligraphy project which I am working on throughout this residency whilst I compost the big questions. Beautiful images!

  • The Artist's Way; A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron: the seminal text on creativity, where it comes from, what conditions it needs to thrive, and how to harness it in your practice! This one is going to better inform how I manage to interface with the world and take care of myself at the same time.

  • How to be an Anti-Capitalist in the 21st Century by Erik Olin-Wright: I am excited for this one, because it's got strategies! Too often we get stuck in a theoretical rabbit hole and can feel helpless and overwhelmed, and eventually apathetic.

  • Culture as Weapon by Nato Thompson: This is a broad-spectrum overview of how "culture" has been used by different entities to influence mass populations, and how artists have gotten mixed up in it. I was especially taken by this review: "Read it and discover exactly how mistaken is our assumption that human creativity brings us always closer to some earthly utopia."

  • How To Do Nothing; Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell: a beautiful call to reclaim our attention as the building blocks for agency, resisting the capitalist treadmill in favour of deep thought about complex issues, and cultivating interrelationships in context with other people and the natural world.

I'm already finding so many interrelated ideas, while often under different names. I love these moments when the lightbulb comes on in my head and I start to connect the dots.


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