I’m a Post-Ford, a Post-Ford, a Post-Ford.
Thesis by Rosa Sijben
Gerrit Rietveld Academie
Amsterdam, 2011 – 2012
The ford song
I’m a little hunk of tin,
nobody knows what I have bin.
Got four wheel and a running board.
I’m a Ford, a Ford, a Ford.
Hunk hunk rattle rattle rattle crash beep beep,
hunk hunk rattle rattle raatle crash beep beep,
hunk hunk rattle rattle raatle crash beep beep,
hunk hunk rattle rattle raatle crash beep beep.
- Art and Post-Fordism
- Post-Fordism and my work
When I was first introduced to Post-Fordism through Pascal Gielen’s article ‘The Art Scene. A Clever Working Model for Economic Exploitation?’1, I immediately had the feeling it had to do a lot with, not only the way that I work, but also to the work that I make itself. But because I could not point out why exactly, this thesis will investigate how the two are connected. I do this by asking myself the questions ‘What is Post-Fordism?’ (first chapter), ‘How are Post-Fordism and art in general related?’ (second chapter) and ‘How is specifically my work related to Post-Fordism?’ (last chapter).
For the first and second chapter Pascal Gielen’s articles, books and lecture were very helpful. He is an art- sociologist leading a research group and book series at the Fontys School of Fine and Performing Arts and he is director of the research center ‘Arts in Society’ at the University of Groningen. 2 As the title of the article ‘The Art Scene. A Clever Working Model for Economic Exploitation?’ already suggests, Pascal Gielen rather strongly emphasizes the negative effects of Post-Fordism for workers. He has a point in seeing it as a model for economic exploitation; however, looking at it like that is not the most interesting way for me. I try to look at the phenomenon as it is and leave judging it in the middle as much as possible.
Another important source for this thesis was a conversation I had with Chiara Tinonin during an Erasmus Intensive Program (IP) in Bologna March 2012. She gave me insight to Fordism and Post-Fordism from an economist’s perspective. Tinonin graduated in Economics of Art and Management of Cultural Institutions and specialized in entrepreneurial culture in Italy. She now works as a free-lance art-economics journalist and researcher and as a project manager in the cultural sector.3 She also told me about liberalism, the welfare state model, neoliberalism and globalism, and explained me some interconnections between art and these concepts.
I research how my work is related to Post-Fordism, but it does not mean that this thesis explains the content of my work or what my work is ‘about’. In other words: this thesis is about Post-Fordism because I consider it interesting and relevant to my artistic practice, but not in order to explain it. This is also the reason I do not draw from my own work in the examples that I give. Doing so would reduce the work to the aspect of it that is in line with Post-Fordism and would potentially eliminate other aspects and interpretations of it that I also find important. I suppose looking at my work next to or after reading this thesis will make the connections clear and I consider that much more interesting than spelling it out for you. It is for the same reason that I don’t add pictures within the text but present them next to it.
On a final note, I prefer this thesis to be read online, or, even better, to be listened to as an audio file, which can be done anywhere and anytime. This is for the reason that in relation to the content, which focuses strongly on immateriality and mobility, this seems to me the most suitable way.
To answer the question what Post-Fordism is, we will first have to know something about Fordism, with which it is contrasted. The name Fordism derives from Henry Ford, ‘founder of the Ford Motor Company and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production’.4 Fordism is an economic and social system based on such industrial mass production, and an economy of material products.5 Fordism and Post-Fordism were first of all two methods of production. Later they became used in sociology as well.6 In Fordism so called ‘use value’ is important: the material product has to be functional. A sweater should keep you warm, a chair is made to sit on, a car should bring you from A to B.
Fordism belongs to liberalistic times. Liberalism is the founding philosophy of capitalism and an economic theory that has its roots in the United Kingdom in the late eighteenth century. It is based on the idea that if you set the market free and let companies do as they please without any public policies or other constraints, they will reach a point of balance between supply and demand. The market will reach a point of perfect competition. The focus was on how to produce efficiently and effectively. They were able to produce in large quantities, for the mass market. The work was divided in specialized phases which resulted in highly alienating jobs of one action repeated over and over again.7
The typical way of working which belongs to this product economy is material labour. Material labour is based on immobility: not only working every day at the same location, but also working from nine to five or in shifts and working in the same company your whole life. Formality is important at the shop floor. Informality and talking is more something you do in your spare time. Another important aspect of material labour, is that it is about doing things. Gielen: ‘Even if it is a very small and specific action that is repeated over and over again, it is doing.’8
The economic and social system Post-Fordism evolved in the seventies in the context of the consumer society. By then we started to produce ideas and services, immaterial products rather than material products. And even if we do produce material products, it is often more the immaterial aspects of them that we seem to care about. Immaterial products and products which have a kind of symbolic function become important. Not only use value but alsosign value (or symbolic value) becomes important. ‘We not only buy a new mobile phone because the old one is not functional anymore, but also because its design is not fashionable anymore’.9 Gielen states: ‘Design, aesthetics… outer signs or symbols are now a major motor of the economy because they help to keep up the thirst for consumption.’10
Post-Fordism takes place in neoliberalistic times. Liberalism is the founding philosophy of capitalism, neoliberalism is its evolution.11 It originated in response to the welfare state model: a concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of all citizens12. Neoliberalism supports theprivatization ofnationalized industries,deregulation, and enhancing the role of the private sector in modernsociety. It advocateseconomicliberalization,free trade andopenmarkets worldwide.13 Pascal Gielen pleads against the presentation of neoliberalism as the only possible natural state of affairs. Gielen: ‘This neoliberalism (…) purports to be the only realistic option.’ He emphasizes that neoliberalism is an ideology, a cultural product, like every ideology is.14 Neoliberalism is marching in step with globalization: the increasingly global relationships of culture, people, and economic activity.15 There have been several waves of globalization, but in this thesis, globalization should be taken to refer to the latest wave of globalization that has been taking place since the fall of the Berlin Wall, characterized by a global hypermobility of people, money, goods and information.16
What happens on the immaterial shop floor in this economy of immaterial products, this economy of ideas? Chiara Tinonin: ‘Machines substituted man’s work. People not only wanted products, they now also wanted meanings. Culture moved in a way to the beginning of the production process. Companies started to hire more and more people who had an immaterial job. You could call them idea-makers.’17 The idea became the main product. Here, in Western-Europe, we mainly became immaterial workers. Not that material labour has disappeared entirely, but that kind of work has been shifted to low-income countries. Immaterial workers work mainly with their head because thinking became the main way of producing. Since nobody can literally look into another person’s head, communication becomes enormously important. Talking is no longer something you only do in you spare time.
Chiara states that, from an economical perspective, the paradigm we are living in right now is no longer called Post-Fordism, it is the Knowledge Economy. ‘It means that the value in each market depends more and more on the quantity and quality of the knowledge shared. The knowledge economy model can be seen as an evolution of Post-Fordism as it brings the immaterial side of production to the top.’18 Pascal Gielen talks about Post-Fordism as if it is something that’s going on right now. Maybe this has to do with the fact that he looks at it from a sociological perspective. In order not to complicate things, the rest of this thesis will use the term Post-Fordism as meaning both Post-Fordism and its evolution(s).
Your head is always with you, which makes that the possibility of production is now continuously present. Gielen: ‘Working does not stop, then, when the worker leaves the office. Immaterial workers can easily take their work home, to bed and even (…) on holiday with them. They are accessible via mobile phones or the Internet, and can plug in to the shop floor at any moment.’19 You can work anywhere and at any time. This is what we call mental mobility. Mental mobility made working hours not just flexible but fluid, which ‘hybridizes’ the spheres of private and working life. The workers of today are also physically mobile: we no longer live next to the factory or office where we work all our lives, but have to move to a number of different work places, or even have to move house regularly owing to promotions, company reorganizations or project-based working.20
The tremendous increase of physical and mental mobility and, resulting from that, the fact that the responsibility for setting boundaries between private and working life is now almost entirely on the shoulders of the employee causes a lot of stress, depressions and an enormous accumulation of burn-outs. ‘One of the causes of depression is in fact the immaterial worker’s awareness of the permanent possibility of a surplus of thoughts and ideas (…) At any point, there may always be another creative idea hidden in the brain. (…) Burnout results less from feeling that one has run out of ideas than from frustration that there is always an unexploited, passive zone in the grey matter that could be activated.’21 ‘This is what is now the syndrome, especially in creative and cultural industries.’22
At the same time this mobility and carrying this responsibility means also a big liberation: you can be in charge of your own working hours and locations. Since the production takes place in your head nobody can check what you are doing, you can even be lazy. A brilliant idea can be formed in seconds, but it can just as well take months. You can play with this. No one can control when, where and what you produce, or check if you actually share the ideas you had today with the ones who are paying you for today’s production time.23 ‘The employer of an immaterial worker invests not so much in effective labour as in potential: in creative powers and promise. The immaterial worker continuously carries around an as yet unrealized and hoped-for capacity.’24 For this reason employers get more interested in informality. A drink after work might for example give them an insight in your personal well-being which has an impact on your potential as a producer at the shop floor. This brings the private and working life even more close together in a different way.
In on old edition of the Dutch pseudo-scientific Psychologie Magazine an article describes how living in today’s society requires thinking ahead all the time.25 As opposed to how our ancestors as hunters and gatherers directly ate the things they would find and catch and would just migrate when nothing more was to be found; we now buy food in a store, which arrived there through wholesale, with money that was earned at another moment doing completely different work. The article quotes a psychologist that states that people function best when they often and frequently get the feedback that they are approaching their goal. Seeing the result of your actions only in such an indirect way results in restlessness. We are so busy planning and thinking ahead that we overlook the present.
We used to get feedback on our work directly, in the article this is called ‘immediate return’.26 Today, the lines have become very long, which means that we get feedback on our actions with a big delay, with ‘delayed returns’.27 Most of the examples of activities listed in the article as activities with direct result, like cleaning, hunting, gardening and making food, could also be categorized as material labour. They are actions with an end result that is not only directly visible but also of a material nature. The same goes for the examples given of activities that bring about a delayed return. Preparing a lecture, studying, having a job that only shows results after some time while you get paid only at the end of the month and doing grocery shopping for a whole week in advance seems to suit the term immaterial labour.
Translated like this, the article seems to state, just like Pascal Gielen does, that immaterial labour could cause stress. However, both blame this on different causes. Where Gielen says that the fading boundaries between private and working life are the problem, the article in Psychologie Magazine seems to say that the lack of seeing direct results or getting direct feedback is what causes this stress. Apart from suggesting ways to get more frequent feedback on your immaterial work, the article even pleads for doing more material labour, jobs with ‘immediate return’, ones in a while for the reason of ‘bringing you back in the now’28. Gielen does not mention material labour in relation to stress, but he also does not mention it as a solution for the stress caused by immaterial labour. I also don’t think he would, since doing material labour does not necessarily help you to separate work from your private life. I assume Chiara would not suggest this either since from an economic perspective material production is associated with the work being divided in specialized phases during Fordist times, resulting in what she called ‘alienating’29 jobs of one action repeated over and over again.
So how do Post-Fordism and art relate to each other? I will first describe how Pascal Gielen sees this link. He makes two connections. First, he argues that you could see the artist as a prototypical post-Fordist worker: ‘he works always with flowing work hours, the romantic artist works at night and can work everywhere. He is also always asked for his potency. People are asked for their (future) ideas not for their products. For example when a gallery owner gets involved in your work, he probably hopes that you will continue to make good works afterwards. What is in fact contracted is the potential, the hope that you will continue making good works. So potential is very important in the Post-Fordist context but also in the art world.’30
The second connection he makes is the hypothesis that the early modern art world is in fact the laboratory for the whole Post-Fordist economy. Already in the end of the nineteenth century the idea, the social function and the talking around the object, gets very important in art. The object itself becomes subordinate to this. Gielen: ‘An object history was replaced by a conceptual approach. Or, with the preceding in mind, the emphasis on displaying material works shifted toward immaterial labour. As in other work environments, this does not mean that the material – in this case the work of art – simply vanished, but it became staged within a performance of ideas.’31
Marcel Duchamp’s work ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even’ often known as ‘Large Glass’ is an exemplary work for this shift from a purely visual conception (or the emphasis on displaying material works) of art, to a conception of art as a ‘sign’, as a ‘machine for producing meanings’. Duchamp himself was quite explicit about this. It was not his intention, he said, to make ‘a painting for the eyes.’ He wanted to put painting once again at he service of the mind. If his work was dubbed ‘literary’ and ‘intellectual’ that wouldn’t bother him, he said. The term ‘literature’ has a very vague meaning. ‘And in fact until the last hundred years all painting had been literary or religious: It had all been at the service of the mind.’ This quality was only lost during the nineteenth century – culminating in Impressionism and Cubism.32 With his step of not even making an object anymore but just selecting one and presenting it in an art context, calling it readymades, he seemed to emphasize even more that for him it’s not about the material thing but about the thinking or talking around it.
I think the hypothesis Pascal Gielen makes is at least partly right. It seems like the moving away from the importance of the physical art object towards the material object only being subservient to the ideas, has the same tendency as the importance of use-value turning into the importance of sign-value. In both cases the immaterial aspects or the ideas around the object become more important. I’m not sure if only this similarity is enough to conclude that the early modern art world is in fact the laboratory for the whole Post-Fordist economy, but this comparison at least appears makes sense.
The Post-Fordist worker can work anywhere and at any time. This ‘hybridizes’ the spheres of private life and working life. Can art just as well ‘work’ or be exhibited anywhere? Or can art only exist in the context of art? And are real life and art just as indistinguishable as the private and working life of a Post-Fordist worker?
Art is often shown outside the museum in public space. But I have the idea that only a bit more recently museums have started to research the tension between the public display of art and a private setting. I say tension because of course an exhibition in a private space can only be open for a limited amount of visitors simply for practical reasons, so the public display is maybe not a hundred percent public. And how private is a space that is open to the public? These two seem conflicting but some shows seem to have found a way in between. In 1986, Jan Hoet – then director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent, now called S.M.A.K. – situated an exhibition called ‘Chambres d’Amis’ in homes throughout Ghent. 51 International artists created a work integrated in the everyday living space of citizens who were willing to open their doors first to an artist and then to the public.33 It took art out of the white cube, into real life and out of the public sphere into the domestic private sphere.
It almost seems the reverse of what happened before. If we believe Pascal Gielen, the early modern art world inspired the social economic system with the act of bringing real life into an art context (think of the readymades of Duchamp). Now the art world seems to adopt some of the characteristics of the Post-Fordist way of working by bringing the art context into real life. It shows the same mobility that Post-Fordist workers have: art can ‘work’ or be exhibited everywhere.
For an artist, art equals work. So fading borders between art and life for an artist means the same as fading borders between working and private life. But could we say art in general is fading in to life? Or does it at least become equally difficult to distinguish from life?
I can think of many examples of artists challenging this divide. In October 2010, I saw an exhibition in gallery W139 in Amsterdam.34 The artist, Lot Meijers, had decided for the space to be totally white and very brightly lit. Except for some empty pedestals that people would start sitting on, and some text on framed A4 paper hanging on the wall, there seemed to be not much see. Until I had a closer look at the text. It turned out to be a very detailed script that determined how the performers had to be dressed, where to move, who to talk to and what to drink. Nothing extraordinary, nothing that would catch your eye when not reading the script, but simply very precisely described. After some concentrated looking it was possible to recognize the performers within the public. Just a second ago they had seemed no different from anybody else. And in a way they were still the same. They were behaving just like anybody else in the room, chatting, drinking, laughing. But the script, the fact that their actions and looks had been made up and thought through by someone beforehand, by someone who is aware of you as a viewer, turned them from ordinary visitors into performers, and maybe even took all the rest of the people in the room, including myself, into the performance as well. We became a part of it. I decided to challenge the situation a bit and offer them a drink. Beer to a girl that was supposed to drink apple juice according to the script. For a moment she hesitated, asked her friend and fellow performer if this was allowed and then accepted the drink. I’m fascinated by these moments in which art and life momentarily become almost indistinguishable.
So what made the difference between everybody in the room just being an ordinary audience and everyone being part of an art performance? Of course the fact that this was announced as a performance helped, but since I did not recognize any art when I first came in, this apparently was not enough yet. Is it the fact that someone thought of this situation as art beforehand? But when I did not know about this yet, the change was not made yet. Apparently one extra step is needed: not only the fact that someone thought of the situation as art beforehand is important; making the viewer aware of this fact is also needed. I think this is what you could call the act of exhibition. The act of exhibition seems to equal making a separation between art and life.
But aren’t we exhibiting objects around ourselves all the time? This example took part in a gallery. But since I just said art can be everywhere, I should perhaps also think of this example in a different context, maybe even in a domestic context. Perhaps even something that has a very practical function in life. With hanging a piece of wood in a gallery I am suggesting this is art, not just a piece of wood I could use to fix my roof. If I fix my roof with a piece of wood, thinking about the wood as being art, I also don’t think this makes it art yet. But what if I organize an exhibition (so that I deliberately say ‘I am going to show you art now’) and then bring you up my roof to show you the piece of wood that I fixed my roof with? I think it could be art then. Whether it is good or interesting art is of course a different question. But I think it is art. Neither the fact that it is not shown in a gallery or another public space, nor the fact that it is practically functional makes it impossible for this to be art.
Even if my rooftop exhibition would have only one visitor it can still be enough to make the wood become art. My friend David Bernstein opened a gallery called ‘SuperSecretGalleryGallery’. Super Secret because apart from the gallery having no permanent location, it is showing work to a very small public. ‘SuperSecretGalleryGallery is not exactly a gallery, it’s more like a gallery gallery. With no permanent location, we exist through the personal. We are known through word of mouth and can sometimes be found on accident. We are mobile, dancing around the world, slipping art through the cracks, and sharing work postfordist style. Shhhâ¦it’s a secret.’35 Does the fact that he shows the work only to a few people make it less art? Or does the exclusiveness that is created maybe make it even more art?
So if art can be exhibited anywhere and anything can become art by someone thinking of it as art and making you aware of this by exhibiting it to you, even if you are only one person, does this mean that art can exist outside the context of art? I think the answer to this question is no. I think the moment you organize an exhibition, or in any other way say ‘I am going to show you art now’ is not only the moment that what you are showing turns into art but also the moment you turn the context into an art context. So art can only exist in the context of art, but the context of art can exist anywhere.
Now after having thought of how the early modern art world has inspired Post-Fordism, let’s look at what is the role of art now within this era of Post-Fordism? Pascal Gielen declares, echoing the writer Hans Enzensberger: ‘Art has been diluted in society like a soluble tablet in a glass of water.’36 Is the border between art and Post-Fordism, after the border between working life and private life as well as art and life, now the third border that is fading?
Chiara Tinonin, the art economist I spoke with said the following about how she sees the role of an artist within a Post-Fordist society: ‘Now that there are companies without any material workers, company’s just with intellectuals, I believe that the role of the artist inside this kind of society is being a resource for thoughts. Of course art itself changed from producing objects to producing idea’s, you could say to supply society with ideas. And not with just ideas but also with cognitive processes, how you elaborate ideas.’37
It is probably no coincidence that the first Master’s Program in Artistic Research in the Netherlands exists only since 2009. Artistic research, also seen as ‘practice-based research’, can take form when creative works are considered both the research and the object of research itself. It is the debatable body of thought which offers an alternative to purely scientific methods in research in its search for knowledge and truth.38 The predominant though seems that both disciplines can benefit from each other. In his essay ‘What Is Artistic Research?’ Julian Klein states that art without research lacks an essential foundation, as this is the case for science.39
Vlad Ionescu in his review of Gielen’s book The Murmuring of the Artistic Multitude, resumes Pascal Gielen’s hypothesis as the following: ‘Distinguished from the materialism and the clear locus of Fordism (the factory), Post-Fordism follows the logic of distributing information, constantly changing the worker’s place and creating immaterial entities (‘concepts’). The artist and the curator share these attributes and so the border between art and Post-Fordism slowly blurs.’40
If I conclude paragraph 2.2 as art equals life and life equals work and add to that the obvious observation that work in a Post-Fordist era is a Post-Fordist way of working, than I could agree with the statement that the borders between art and the Post-Fordist way of working are fading. But since I understand the term Post-Fordism as an economic and social system, so more than just the Post-Fordist way of working, saying that the border between art and Post-Fordism blurs is in my opinion one step to far.
Of course my work, meaning the art that I make and my way of working, is connected to Post-Fordism as described in the second chapter. The art that I make is related to Post-Fordism like all art is related to it and I suppose I can be considered a Post-Fordistic worker (it is 4am when I write this in a hotel room in Bologna…). But in this chapter I will try to describe what other connections I see between Post-Fordism and specifically the work that I make.
It hasn’t always been like this and will probably also not stay like this forever, but in many of my recent works I seem to investigate a certain kind of objects and their context. Sometimes I make the object, sometimes I collect them, sometimes I relocate them, appropriate them or just point them out. It might seem a strange connection but I think that in my work I often look at objects as if they were Post-Fordist workers.
As described earlier, the Post-Fordist worker, and so the artist as an prototypical Post-Fordist worker, is always asked for his potential. It’s not about what you have done, or what you do, but about what you are capable of and most probably will do. I say what you most probably will do, since nobody knows if you will actually realize your potential. What you did (for example presented in the form of a portfolio) might be important, but perhaps mostly for the purpose of convincing others of your potential, to make them have trust in your future production. So then it is in fact again about potential.
I seem to ask objects for their potential just as Post-Fordist workers are asked for that. Nostalgic feelings attached to objects do not interest me at all. How it was made, what it is meant for or how it is being used at the moment are already more interesting to me, but only for the reason of giving you a hint of what could be possible with it. What really interests me in objects has more to do with what is possible with the object, the actions that seem implied in it, its potential. So just as it is with the post-fordist worker, in the way I perceive objects it is about the future not so much about the past.
The objects I talk about in my work stay in this state of undefined possibilities. When I say potential I do not mean an object’s usefulness or function in the way that it solves a certain problem. They are useful in a way (Thought carrier? Stimulation or inspiration for the senses and mind? A function in my investigation?) but this is a different usefulness than a practical one. It’s not the fixed practical function that I am interested in. I see an object that has a fixed function as a closed non-inviting one. In fact I think an object’s practical fixed usefulness distracts me from what more could be in there. The uselessness (in practical sense) can stimulate a spontaneity that is lost when an object gets useful.
To take the comparison between objects and workers even further: if objects that are useless in a practical sense could be compared to Post-Fordist workers, than could practically functional objects be a metaphor for Fordist workers? Where potential and inventiveness are important qualities of employees within Post-Fordism, efficiency, effectiveness and doing are important characteristics in a Fordist production process. This seems quite comparable to objects with an open function, that seem to have this potential in them and by being so open become in a way inventive, on the one hand and practically functional ones on the other hand, that seem to aim for a specific goal, solving a factual problem and succeeding in that.
It might seem as if the objects I use and their unspecified usefulness come close to the immaterial products of post-fordism and their sign-value. But these are two different things. Although they both more or less oppose the value deriving from use for its primary purpose (practical usefulness, use-value), sign-value is the value accorded to an object because of how it impacts the social status of the possessor or a symbolic value.41 The potentiality of objects that I find interesting does not have anything to do with symbolism or that social status. For that reason I specifically talk about Fordist and Post-Fordist workers here and not Fordist and Post-Fordist products.
A different connection I see between Post-Fordism and my work, in addition to the potential of objects, has to do with ownership. Since we nowadays have such an overload of objects around us, this potential of objects can also be overwhelming to me. You can never use all objects you own to their full potential, just as Post-Fordist workers can never use their full potential for producing ideas or other immaterial things. As the immaterial worker’s awareness ‘that there is always an unexploited, passive zone in the grey matter that could be activated’42 can cause stress and burn-outs, maybe owning to many objects, which I see as the same kind of abundance of potential, can bring the same sort of stress. Another important element in my work is categorizing and transformations between categories. I think this is intricately connected to the object-related stress I just described and, caused by this stress, the need for selection, limitations, including and excluding in categories in order to get a grip.
I would like to return to the article from Psychologie Magazine for a moment. It describes the nomadic society where human beings were hunters and gatherers who directly ate the things they would find and catch and would just migrate when nothing more was to be found. What they had was either immediately consumed or shared with others. This also meant that they did not store anything.43 In fact they did not build up any material ownership. This concept of living without any material ownership interests me. Now that we produce mainly immaterial products, could we be moving in this direction again? Is the next step after shifting from use-value to sign-value to more and more let go of the material aspects of our ownership? That all our paperwork slowly gets replaced by digital files might already be a first step? Eating outdoors gets more and more popular, not only dinner but also lunch and breakfast.44 Imagine we start building houses without a kitchen for that reason. Or maybe we forget about houses anyways and just start sleeping in hotels or other temporary living spaces.
Since November 2011 Car2Go, a new system of car sharing, started in Amsterdam. Car2Go allows you to directly pick up an electrically driven smart car after reserving it on the Internet and to drop it off again at any free parking spot you can find within the borders of the city. You pay only for the minutes you drive. In an article of Volkskrant Magazine from last month a journalist describes his first three weeks of experience with this new system and says that the more he uses the Smarts, the more he starts to realize how senseless it is to have your own car.45
He describes how he feels freed from the financial millstone around his neck that his BMW was and how he feels so ‘deliciously status-free’ in the Car2Go smarts. It appears as if sign-value is losing its importance because the journalist looses his feeling of owning, and ownership is needed for sign-value to exist. But is he really loosing his ownership? Spotify is a program that, in exchange for a monthly payment, allows you to listen to millions of music tracks whenever and wherever you want. Spotify advertises with the feeling of owning (‘Think of Spotify as your new music collection. Your library. (…) Then search and play, millions of songs are now yours’46) in combination with and at the same time stimulates sharing (‘you can also share music with a flick of the wrist. Send it straight to your friends, or post tracks on social networks. It’s how music should be.’47). This is a way of advertising that is totally based on the use of sign-value.
Are we still owning? Or is it just something companies like Spotify want you to believe to be able to still make use of sign-value for commercial purposes? The Volkskrant journalist also refers to Jeremy Rifkin, an American economist, writer, public speaker, political advisor and activist.48 According to the Volkskrant article, the ‘forward thinker’ Rifkin predicted already one and a half decade ago that Internet would make the need for ownership disappear. It is about access now, no longer about owning.49 When starting to write this paragraph, I was not so sure if ownership had anything to do with Post-Fordism. But now it appears to have become clear to me: access can be seen as the immaterial way to own. Maybe material owning is replaced by having access, which in a way is owning, but immaterial owning. Since Post-Fordism derived from a shift from material to immaterial production, I think it is legitimate to call immaterial owning the Post-Fordist way to own. So having access is the Post-Fordist way to own.
But than do we own anything we have access to? The IKEA store is not my property even though I have access to it. So apparently using the word access as in ‘the right or opportunity to use or benefit from something’, not access as ‘a means of approaching or entering a place’50 or any other meaning that this word can have. And I think adding not exclusively but privately to this meaning is also necessary. The right or opportunity to use or benefit from something (for example a train), together with many other people at the same time is much less owning than the right or opportunity to use or benefit from something (for example a car), not exclusively but privately, is. The fact that many movie clips and pictures show up when typing ‘living in IKEA‘, showing people pretending to live there, shows that I’m not the only one who ever thought about mixing up all this.
In this thesis, I have investigated Post-Fordism and looked for similarities in art in general and in my work specifically.
In Post-Fordism, boundaries between private and working life are fading. This means a big liberation, but at the same time it causes a lot of stress. You could call an artist a prototypical Post-Fordist worker. The early modern art world was the laboratory for the Post-Fordist economy in the sense that in both of them, the immaterial aspects and the ideas around the object became most important. Art can only exist in the context of art, but the context of art can exist anywhere. Art blurs into life and life blurs into work, combined with the fact that work in a Post-Fordist era is of course a Post-Fordist way of working, makes that the borders between art and the Post-Fordist way of working are fading.
In my work I seem to ask objects for their potential just as Post-Fordist workers are asked for that. The objects I talk about in my work are useful in a way but this is a different usefulness than a practical one. As the immaterial worker’s awareness of the permanent possibility of production can cause stress and burn-outs, maybe owning to many objects, which I see as the same kind of abundance of potential, can bring the same sort of stress. Jeremy Rifkin says Internet makes the need for ownership disappear. It’s about access now, no longer about owning. Maybe a material way of owning is replaced by having access, but access is owning: an immaterial way of owning. Having access (in the sense of the right or opportunity to use or benefit from something, not exclusively but privately) is the Post-Fordist way to own.
Having Considered these two comparisons and having summed up all these similarities and connections, I conclude that art in general has a very strong relation tot Post-Fordism. This relation mainly lies in similarities in the ways of working and the conceptual and physical context of the object. My work, on top of these similarities, also links to Post-Fordism in some of the things I seem to investigate and question by making art: ownership and the potential of objects. So apart from how all art is connected to Post-Fordism, which is more on the level of form, my work is also connected to Post-Fordism on the level of content. Writing about Post-Fordism allowed me to write about most subjects I personally considder interesting for making art.
This thesis would not have been possible without the help of Ingrid Commandeur, Cas Haayman, Arjen Haayman, Chiara Tinonin, Krit Zeegers, David Bernstein and Jan Sijben. I would like to thank all of them for their time and energy.
1 Gielen, Pascal, March 2009, The Artscene: A Clever Working Model for Economic Exploitation?, http://classic.skor.nl/article-4176-en.html, (visited 2 December, 2011).
2 Fontys University of Applied Sciences, http://www.fontys.edu/artsinsociety/members.325197.htm, (visited on 28 April 2012).
3 UNIDEE university of ideas, http://unidee2010.wordpress.com/3-residents/, (visited on 28 April 2012) and the conversation I had with Chiara Tinonin in Bologna on 28 March 2012.
4 Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Ford, (visited 11 January 2012).
5 Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fordism, (visited 11 January 2012).
8 Parsons The New School for Design New York, Transdisciplinary Lecture by Pascal Gielen and Michael Hardt on 26 October 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbnlG5QkkEg, (visited on 13 December 2011).
9 Parsons The New School for Design New York, Transdisciplinary Lecture by Pascal Gielen and Michael Hardt on 26 October 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbnlG5QkkEg, (visited on 13 December 2011).
12 Britannica Encyclopedia, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/639266/welfare-state, (visited on 4 April 2012).
13 Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-liberal, (visited on 4 April 2012).
15 Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globalization, (visited on 6 April 2012).
20 Parsons The New School for Design New York, Transdisciplinary Lecture by Pascal Gielen and Michael Hardt on 26 October 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbnlG5QkkEg, (visited on 13 December 2011).
22 Parsons The New School for Design New York, Transdisciplinary Lecture by Pascal Gielen and Michael Hardt on 26 October 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbnlG5QkkEg, (visited on 13 December 2011).
23 Parsons The New School for Design New York, Transdisciplinary Lecture by Pascal Gielen and Michael Hardt on 26 October 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbnlG5QkkEg, (visited on 13 December 2011).
30 Parsons The New School for Design New York, Transdisciplinary Lecture by Pascal Gielen and Michael Hardt on 26 October 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbnlG5QkkEg, (visited on 13 December 2011).
31 Gielen, Pascal, March 2009, The Biennale: A Post-Institution for Immaterial Labour, http://classic.skor.nl/article-4113-en.html?lang=en, (visited 8 April, 2012).
http://www.smak.be/tentoonstelling.php?la=en&id=533%5C%5C%5C, (visited on 7 April 2012).
34 W139, A short play for my friends (The Opening), 14 October 2010, http://w139.nl/en/article/18971/lot-meijers/, (visited on April 24 2012).
35 Bernstein, David, SuperSecretGalleryGallery’s e-mail Invitation for the exhibition ‘OBJECT’ by Rosa Sijben, 28 November – 22 January 2012, located in Amsterdam, New York, Cincinnati and San Antonio.
38 Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research, (Visited on 23 April 2012).
39 Klein, Julian, 2010, What is Artistic Research?, http://www.julianklein.de/texte/2010-artistic_research-JKlein.pdf, (Visited on 23 April 2012).
40 Ionescu, Vlad, 2010, Review of Pascal Gielen, The Murmuring of the Artistic Multitude. Global Art, Memory and Post-Fordism (2009), http://www.valiz.nl/pdf-page/Review_TijdschriftvoorFilosofie72_2010_TheMurmuring.pdf, (Visited on 24 April 2012).
41 Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sign_value, (visited on 22 April 2012).
44 Culinair.net, Buitenshuis eten steeds populairder, 7 September 2002, http://www.culinair.net/index.php?action=item&m=y&table=news&form_name=titel&id=1708, (visited on 22 April 2012).
46 Spotify, http://www.spotify.com/uk/about/what/, (visited 24 April 2012).
47 Spotify, http://www.spotify.com/uk/about/what/, (visited 24 April 2012).
48 Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_Rifkin, (visited 24 April 2012).