[NetBehaviour] Art Stripped Bare by Post-Autonomists, Even.

marc garrett marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Wed Feb 6 15:48:15 CET 2008

Art Stripped Bare by Post-Autonomists, Even.

Article on Mute
ByJohn Cunningham

January's Art and Immaterial Labour conference at the Tate brought 
together some famous names from post-Autonomia to discuss conjunctions 
between the dematerialisation of art and immaterialisation of labour. 
John Cunningham reports

Upon hearing that some of the stars of the post-autonomist scene – 
Maurizzio Lazzarato, Judith Revel, Franco Beradi aka Bifo and Antonio 
Negri – were to give presentations at a conference examining the 
conjunction of ‘immaterial labour' and art, my initial reaction was 
fairly sceptical. The concept of immaterial labour has always showed 
signs of strain at the sheer weight of revolutionary expectation placed 
upon it – a carrier of a subversive charge so immanent to Capital that 
it is almost already here. This conclusion has been subjected to an 
incisive critique by more sober analysts within autonomist Marxism such 
as George Caffentzis, Steve Wright and Sergio Bologna, amongst others. 
Given the pre-eminence of symbolic production inherent to immaterial 
labour, that Lazzarato and Negri, both intimately connected with the 
theorisation of immaterial labour, should now be addressing the role of 
contemporary art did seem oddly appropriate. However, it was also a 
source of potential disquiet. From the mass worker of operaismo 
(workerism) to the socialized worker of Autonomia to cognitive labour – 
would the cycle of struggles end in the self-valorisation of the 
knowledge worker and ultimately the artist? Such a schema is an easy 
caricature of this variegated discourse around the possibilities of 
resistance in postfordism. Indeed, immaterial labour has lent itself to 
an uncritical optimism regarding its potentiality to give rise to the 
subversive subjectivities of the multitude.

After an introduction by Peter Osborne of Radical Philosophy 
(co-organisers of the conference) and Eric Alliez of Multitude, 
Lazzarato presented his paper, ‘Art, Work and Politics in Disciplinary 
Societies and Societies of Security.’ It immediately became apparent 
that one major problem of the conference was to be the difficulties of 
translation. This was unfortunately the case despite the uniformly 
excellent work of the translators, mainly Arianna Bove of Generation 
Online. Whereas Revel and Negri with some hesitancy but good grace read 
their papers in English, Lazzarato relied upon a simultaneous 
translation that caused him to cut sections and occasionally become 
confusing. Bifo seemed more comfortable speaking English and this showed 
in his more charismatic delivery.

The audience was substantially different from a political event, 
philosophers seeming to twitch and mutter in a more muted way. This 
subdued atmosphere may also have been due to the particular 
psychogeographic effects of the Tate Britain lecture hall upon the 
docile subjectivities within it, inducing a soporific daze in even the 
most hardened post-autonomist acolyte.


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