WORKSHOP FOR THE NEW WORLD

This exhibition explored the present, past and future of work; as a result of a long-term research developed by the curatorial team Monnik, Edwin Gardner and Christiaan Fruneaux, for Bureau Europa. In close collaboration with Monnik I have developed the two main video installations.

 

‘What is Work?’ HD video diptych Denis Guzzo (production and concept development) & Monnik (concept)

WHAT IS WORK?

The Definition of Work
Work is the application of desirable changes in the social and natural environment through human activity.

Work can be both physical and intellectual. We only tend to speak about labour in connection to the economic.

Assumption of Work
By working, we affect our environment. The kind of work we do, determines our social environment and our social status. Why we work, determines how we give meaning to our personal life.

How we work, determines the sustainability and viability of the natural environment. The key to the inclusive and sustainable world lies in the future of work.

The present

Bureau Europa | Maastricht | 2015

”We are searching for an inclusive and sustainable world. A world where social status has shifted from ‘I have’ to ‘I am’. Where exposing material wealth doesn’t imply social status, thus decreasing the need for consumption. A world of self-driving cars as well as hand-knitted sweaters. Where work happens in sterile, robotic factories, and messy, shared attic studios.

A world of high-tech and low-tech, where everyone gets a basic income, and where hand, head, and heart are equally appreciated. A world without the high and low educated, and without a diploma democracy.”

 

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Hand-knitted sweaters and self-driving cars

If we understand growth by observing our ambivalence towards ‘work’, whereby ‘work’ is more efficient, as well as meaningful and fulfilling, we are currently looking at two developments.

In 1965, Gordon Moore, one of the founders of the Intel Corporation, described a phenomenon that became known ‘Moore’s Law’. He claimed that the power of computer processors doubles approximately every two years. This exponential growth forecast is still true. Computers are currently powerful enough to perform self-learning algorithms and the management of advanced robotics. Computers can take on increasingly complex tasks. The self-driving car will be commonplace in about 15 years. Middle-class jobs are rapidly being automated. The gap between rich and poor is growing. Structural technological unemployment is a real scenario. Automating manpower was called the First Machine Age. The automation of thinking power is called the Second Machine Age.

At the same time, global creative class is arising. This class is urban oriented. The dominant ideologies – sustainability, authorship, authenticity, and artistry – translate into work practices that prioritise concepts such as DIY, sustainability, the local, bottom-up, open-source, peer-to-peer and creative commons. Work is important for the relationship one has with oneself and with the social and natural environment. The perceived need for inclusiveness, diversity, and sustainability overlaps with the digital possibilities of the Second Machine Age. We call this new global culture the New Romantic Field. This is a time of self-driving cars and hand-knitted sweaters. It interweaves the ideas of the Enlightenment and Romanticism. ‘I have’ has lost momentum in comparison to ‘I am’, and the questions ‘how we work’ and ‘why we work’ have become important.

The future

Choosing between Abundance and Artificial Scarcity.

 

 

The Heralds

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Installation view. Script by Monnik, production by Denis Guzzo.

We are outgrowing our natural environment and ourselves. The ageing population, the growing gap between high and low education, the growing gap between rich and poor, and growing technological unemployment indicate that the growth paradigm has outgrown the human dimension. The depletion of natural resources, climate change, and vanishing biodiversity indicate that the growth paradigm has also outgrown the planet.

Through work, we affect our environment, determine our social environment and social status, and give meaning to our lives. Our natural environment’s decline is a consequence of the growth paradigm. How and why we work is the growth paradigm. The key to both an inclusive and sustainable world and an exploitative and destructive world is in the future of work. And this is determined by the modern ambivalence toward work concealed in the Second Machine Age and the New Romantic Field.

 

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Installation view. Script by Monnik, production by Denis Guzzo.

When automation becomes so efficient that people are no longer involved in producing, the labour market will no longer be the efficient distribution system for what is produced. If you are unemployed, you buy less or nothing. And if less or nothing is purchased, then producing no longer makes sense in a capitalist system. The Second Machine Age is forcing us to rethink the current production and distribution system. We see two options. Option one: do nothing, believing that ‘if robots and algorithms take over work, most people will simply become very poor.’ This scenario is called Artificial Scarcity. Option two: the technological redistribution of wealth. Here, we believe that ‘if robots and algorithms take over our work, we are exempt from it.’ This scenario is called Abundance.

The growing gap between rich and poor indicates the Artificial Scarcity scenario is unfolding. However, the rise of the New Romantic Field indicates the Abundance scenario is a growing possibility. The shift in defining social status from ‘I have’ to ‘I am’ simply indicates a personal interpretation and direction in a situation of economic security. The shift in social status to ‘I am’ implies an automatic de-consuming because the individual gains no status by displaying material prosperity.

Installation views

Further readings

For further readings regarding their amazing research see also:

Workshop for the New World  @Monnik.org → English version

Van de Homo Economicus naar de Homo Romanticus → Dutch Olny

A special thank to Edwin and Christian Monnik → for their contribution with their research, ideas and  writings in this portfolio and to Bureau Europa for creating space to discuss them.