Exhibition 15/03/ – 19/12/2020
Public panel discussion with artists, Eva Barto, Maria Eichhorn, Andrea Fraser, Aaron Flint Jamison, Cameron Rowland, Bea Schlingelhoff, and Ramaya Tegegne: TBD
Exhibition opening hours: Wed–Sun 12–6pm
Künstlerhaus educators lead public discussions of the exhibition: Saturdays / Sundays 12–6pm
It is widely known that the field of art has become particularly indicative of the political economy. We recognize the kind of damage that art fully participates in now. Plutocratic governance arrangements and wealth management strategies increasingly define the operational structures of art institutions. Artworld sites of production, distribution, education, reception, and consumption are entirely synonymous with socioeconomic inequality. Artists are a frequently cited example of how laborers are exploited, dispossessed, and deprived when working in a hyper-atomized industry dominated by asymmetrical property laws, freelance contracts, non-disclosure agreements, and verbal offers.
How do we intervene in the consequential legal-economic structures that govern immediate lived relations and working conditions in the field of art? How do we reconcile the unbearable disconnect between the declarative politics that works of art invoke, and the actual political realities that produce and distribute works of art?
Working Group Series
The exhibition, Working Groups, at the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart initiates a two-year long series of closed-door working groups to engage in a substantive reconsideration of the institutional governance arrangements, socioeconomic conditions, and labor relations that produce and distribute art. Comprised of local, regional, and international constituencies, these working groups will conceptualize and implement policies, contracts, and bylaws specific to the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart. In addition to directly addressing the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart as a responsive institutional case study, this working group series offers a model of collaborative governance while supporting experiential research into shared policy.
Founded by artists in 1978, the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart is an institutional context that is structurally equipped for reconsiderations of governance and policy-making from the perspective of art practitioners. It is an art institution constituted by the legal-economic structures of association law in Germany, with bylaws that stipulate association members’ voting rights in governing the institution. In addition to the agency that comes with maintaining voting rights in a typical kunstverein structure, association members of the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart—the large majority of members being artists or practitioners who maintain artistic criteria at the core of their work—also oversee numerous production facilities, workshops, and studios located onsite in the same building that houses exhibition galleries and administrative offices. Consequently, artists occupy a position that closely interrelates institutional governance and the immediate conditions of production at the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart.
By emphasizing artists as primary constituents who conceptualize and implement institutional policy governing conditions in the field of art, this series of closed-door working groups at the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart challenges the settled expectation that artists’ work necessarily amounts to purely content-related outcomes for consumption. Working Groups also then reconsiders to what extent exhibiting art institutions can resist the attention economy and its current demand for consumable content by recognizing and valuing the work artists do that is not intended for consumption. Indeed, how can artists and their institutions fully realize the actual lived conditions that produce and distribute art as being inextricably bound to the symbolic, sensorial, and affective systems of artworks themselves?
The Services Working Group Video Document
The exhibition component of Working Groups at the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart presents the complete archive of videos documenting a historical closed-door working group on labor relations and institutional governance in the art field, which took place on January 22 and 23, 1994 at the Kunstraum of the University of Lüneburg, a non-collecting university art gallery in Lüneburg, Germany (now Kunstraum Leuphana University of Lüneburg). The art historian and curator, Helmut Draxler, and the artist, Andrea Fraser, organized this two-day working group at the invitation of the Kunstraum’s co-directors, Beatrice von Bismarck, Diethelm Stoller, and Ulf Wuggenig. Joining the organizers and co-directors in contributing to the working group discussions were a number of practitioners invited by Draxler and Fraser, including: Judith Barry, Ute Meta Bauer, Jochen Becker, Ulrich Bischoff, Iwona Blazwick, Susan Cahan, Michael Clegg, Stephan Dillemuth, Renée Green, Martin Guttmann, Renate Lorenz, Christian Philipp Müller, Fritz Rahmann, and Fred Wilson. The incredibly candid, and critically reflexive, working group discussions between the organizers, Kunstraum representatives, and the invited practitioners were recorded on videotape, and this compelling video document was then shown as part of the exhibition, Services: The Conditions and Relations of Service Provision in Contemporary Project Oriented Artistic Practice (Kunstraum Lüneburg, January 24 – February 20, 1994). Immediately following its debut at the Kunstraum Lüneburg, the Services exhibition travelled to the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart (1994), the Kunstverein Munich (1994), the Depot in Vienna (1995), Sous-sol, Ecole Supérieure d’Art Visuel in Geneva (1995), and the Provinciaal Museum in Hasselt (1995). The exhibition project was then further realized under the title Parasite at Clocktower, P.S. 1, New York (1997), and as Antagonisms Museum D’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2001). Working groups with different newly invited contributors and representatives of the hosting institution were organized but not recorded on video.
The Services exhibition—and the closed-door working group as a central operative structure by which the exhibition itself was produced—came out of collaborative research that Draxler and Fraser had conducted into the concept of service provision. Their research aimed at identifying in economic terms what they considered a shared condition of art practices which, in the early 1990s, consistently resulted in ephemeral displays and activities that were not transferred into the art market as objects for sale. For instance, Draxler and Fraser considered to what extent economic theories of service provision could further an understanding of how artists exhibiting non-transferrable works ask for fees from exhibiting institutions. Their research into service provision requested a re-evaluation of the socioeconomic conditions and relations under which artistic practices were being carried out. By introducing the term ‘service provision’ to identify certain labor in the art field, they drew from a long history of social, legal, and economic analysis of service work.
One of the key determinants of service work is that it is a form of labor that incorporates both production and consumption, interacting between these two realms at ever-adaptable working time requirements. The temporal flexibility—the adjustable disciplining of time—required to produce in direct and immediate response to the consumer’s demands, places service work under the often precarious legal standards of subcontracted and freelance contracted work. Within service provision, employers and consumers increasingly share employing functions. The producer’s proximity to the inclinations of consumers is significant to considering abuses, and the variable working time condition has created deeply asymmetrical relations between employers and employees. The gendered and racially-specific dimension of service work, and the socially structured identities and bodies of those hired to perform services, is crucial to understanding abuses that continue to be exacted upon service workers. The exploitation, dispossession, and deprivation exacted upon hired service workers must also be considered with relation to the foundational and continuous histories of slavery, peonage, and human-trafficking. As a form of commodified labor that is contracted out entirely on-demand, the provision of work services has transformed businesses and organizations into contracting agencies that shift the costs of providing benefits, legal protections, and tax contributions onto the worker. These legally ratified exemptions for employers have made the hiring of work services increasingly pervasive within the global economy.
Service provision studies identify an extensive labor sector, and a widely reproduced model for how labor is managed, which has yet to be fully integrated into labor law practice, organized labor, and institutional hiring policies. The obstacles to regulating service work are numerous. There are the legislative complexities of applying shared governance arrangements to distinct services that are precured through individual privately-governed contracts—written or verbal agreements that are often merely one-sided offers with no input or negotiation on terms and conditions that benefit the service worker. And, perhaps moreover, there are the ideological impediments to realizing labor standards for service work. The responsiveness between production and consumption, and the variable working time that characterizes service provision, are often held up as ideal conditions, evidence that the service worker has seemingly greater individual autonomy. Service work, and freelance labor broadly, is promoted for its independence, allowing greater control over when, where, and for whom individuals work. But it is well known that the title of “independent curator,” for instance, is a euphemism for an occupation that by repeatedly claiming to be independent disavows the actual dependencies at work. We very rarely learn who is actually being depended on, and by what means they are being depended on, when affirming independence. Laboring relations are concealed in the dominant model of artistic production in part because asserting the artist’s autonomy from governing institutions, supply chains, and production systems too often also repudiates the laboring relations that constitute these sites. Persistent claims of artistic autonomy foreclose a process of collectively organizing the specific conditions by which we work, and together assess the burdens of our laboring subjectivities. Ultimately, by maintaining the declarative politics of creative autonomy, artists, curators, and other cultural producers do not solely compartmentalize, negate, contradict, or omit the material politics of their working conditions, they also usurp shared struggles.
During the Services working group at the Kunstraum Lüneburg in 1994, the contributors openly discussed their past work-related experiences and had direct exchanges about the immediate struggles of their shared working conditions. The video document of the two-day long discussions offers a sustained view of these shared struggles, messy interactions, and complex questions that took place over the course of an introductory session, four thematic sessions titled, Serving Institutions, Serving Audiences, Serving Communities, Serving Art and Artists, a concluding session, as well as a public presentation by the organizers and participants. The exhibition, Working Groups, at the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart emphasizes these working group discussions that took place at the Kunstraum Lüneburg, presenting a history of individual and collective dilemmas facing workers in the field of art. And by underscoring the Services working group structure itself, Working Groups seeks to actualize the exhibition’s history—rushing this past into the present by proposing a model of intervention-meaning and collective organizing that can be applied to the current historical moment of labor relations and governance arrangements within and beyond the field of artistic production.
Released in conjunction with the exhibition, Working Groups, is a newly produced publication, The Services Working Group (1994 – 1995), published by Fillip, Vancouver. This book revisits the history of the Services working group and reconsiders its political imperatives with relation to the current realities of the art field. The book features a newly produced English/German bilingual transcript of the entirety of the original Services working group discussions. The translation of this transcript was done by Fiona Bryson and co-produced by the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart and Kunstraum Leuphana University of Lüneburg. Bryson’s translation also forms the German language subtitles which accompany the Working Groups presentation of the Services working group video document.
This exhibition has been realized with public funding from the city of Stuttgart
Additional funding for this exhibition has been provided by Wüstenrot Stiftung and Kunstraum of the Leuphana University Lueneburg
Photograph by Michael Koch, Courtesy of Kunstraum of the Leuphana University Lueneburg
exhibition photos: Frank Kleinbach
Hannah Becker, Assistant General Management
Regine Pfisterer, Accounting and Membership Services
Romy Range, General Manager
Siggi Kalnbach, Technical Manager
Markus Feifel Pargas
Künstlerhaus Exhibition Educators: