Immaterial Collapse: A Report on the Symposium ‘Untitled (Labour)’

May 12, 2012

by Josefine Wikström

Elmgreen & Dragset, Re-g(u)arding the Guards, 2005, 12 museum guards in an empty gallery, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artists and Galerie Perrotin, Paris

The half-day symposium ‘Untitled (Labour)’, held at Tate Britain, London on 17 March 2012, attempted to question the last few years’ frenzied obsession with the discourse around ‘immaterial labour’. Organised by PhD candidate Lauren Rotenberg and her supervisor TJ Demos, both from the History of Art Department at University College London, in collaboration with Tate’s Nora Razian, the symposium brought together artists and academics ranging from the fields of philosophy to sociology, economy and art history. The event aimed to interrogate the impact of immaterial production on the aesthetic forms of contemporary art, to address how ‘artists both embody and contest the precarious working conditions of immaterial labour’1 and in what way ‘contemporary art might or might not offer a critique of capitalism’, as Rotenberg formulated it in the introduction to the event. However the symposium failed firstly in contributing much new to the theory it claimed to use as a springboard for questions around contemporary art production, and secondly in identifying any political implications of such intersection, especially in relation to the working conditions facing artists and cultural workers today.
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