Funny Business_ solo exhibition by Luiza Margan, 14. – 29. 11. 2014
Mali salon_MMSU Rijeka by Ksenija Orelj
Many of the Rijeka citizens may have remembered Luiza Margan by her artistic intervention from the 2014 Copula, titled Eye to Eye with Freedom, where she explored the role of monuments in public space, focusing on people’s relationship to cultural heritage from the socialist period. The intervention allowed for the citizens of Rijeka to be lifted 20 meters above ground, exactly to the eye level of the central figure of the partisan in Vinko Matković’s monument at Rijeka’s Delta park.
Funny Business deals with the overstretchedness of today’s production system and with obsession with work; or, in the language of creative industries: work as a never-ending performance. In this exhibition, Luiza Margan presents three works: Utterly Useless Personal Pleasure (Tribune), Group (Busting Zombies of Immaterial Labor) and No-Collar Work. These titles certainly hint at some of the author’s main concerns: resistance to the contemporary working conditions, the position of leisure and free time, and the autonomy of artistic work in the circumstances of the thorough branding of culture. This particularly refers to domination of the neoliberal matrix, which has spread its tentacles onto the social spheres that had not previously been affected by the pursuit of capital.
Funny Business focuses on altered perceptions of labour and the position of an artist as a worker in the so-called post-industrial period, which is characterized by a shift to the service sector that had taken place back in the 1970ies. While the main characteristics of the former system, Fordism, were seriality, physical exertion and monotony, post-Fordism is generally denoted by a flexibilization of labour, an overuse of mental and creative capacities and an increased self-discipline. In the period heavily affected by preference of immaterial labour, the image of an ideal worker largely corresponds to the image of an artist. Artists are innovative, movable, and flexible, always prepared to embark on risky ventures, without making clear distinctions between free and working hours. In order to be visible in the hyperproductive cultural domain, they need to be networked and have entrepreneurial qualities. This makes them much like real entrepreneurs, whose figure, together with the establishment of analogies between art and business, have come from the West, but often with unclear labels and loose seams. However, by pointing to limitations of working conditions, artists are the ones who oppose the mythologization of labour. They harbour suspicions as to the new ideology of creativity, the ideology that often ends up serving market commodification. Perhaps the current model of labour can be viewed through the prism of its bizarreness and flaws, from a humorous aspect?
The first part of the exhibition space is occupied by construction scaffolding. The scaffolding, which is typically associated with exteriors, constructions sites and labor, is used here as a place for having a break, for finding an utterly useless personal pleasure, as the title of the work suggests. The scaffolding is facing the gallery's large window, overlooking the hectic parade of everyday life that takes places on the Rijeka's main promenade. The entire space, from the inside and outside point of view, acts as object of observation. Viewed through the relationship of the double coding, the boundaries between useful and useless work, between production and consumption, seem porous. Further on, this passive scaffolding is also interesting as a possible reference to the Rijeka-specific situation and the city’s attempts to transform its former industrial facilities into spaces of creative industries, such as the Rikard Benčić project that has been facing difficulties in its realization for years.
In relation to the prevailing trend of turning industry into a creative business, which seems to be constantly slipping and stumbling on local terrain – we may even say that, in an awkward way, it resists the neoliberal model of deindustrialization – the author has made a film that takes place in the former factory complex. The film is based on fictitious scenarios created through an appropriation of photographic material documenting different activities of artists and non-artists. These activities are joined in an effort to elude the standard forms of public protest and resist the dominant model of work. The Group (Busting Zombies of Immaterial Labour), which is title of this film, may be described as a carnivalesque group of characters coming from different historical periods. For example, there is George Grosz as Dada Death from 1919, and the Metropolitan Indians from the 1970ies.
This unusual combining of forces takes place in the contemporary world, when the excessively increased working dynamics may be said to turn into zombism. The Group fights back, by employing measures that are also extraordinary, but in a different way: their measures include leisure, meaningless work and silly attempts of improving psychophysical stamina. For example, a female character does abs, while Dada Death plays the role of her fitness instructor. We may say that the gathered characters, together with death, practice survival, preoccupied with possible ways of counter-attack against the unstoppable labourworks.
Under the mask of parody, the Group evokes numerous diabolic parables, inspired by Marx’s description of a vampire-like machine sucking life from workers, turning them into mere fuel for an automatized rotation, confirming the modern theory of alienation. The film’s slapstick includes different elements of humour and absurd, as well as luddistic use of errors. This may suggest a departure from urgent and pragmatic applications of creativity and autonomy, and a quest for free and enjoyable creative practice that examines the possibilities of resistance to the exploiting working conditions hidden under the late capitalism mask of progress.
The third work, collars, titled No-Collar Work form a separate installation in this exhibition. The collars raise questions about today’s possibilities of art democratization and the intertwining of art with everyday life. The background connotations include the avant-garde inventions such as the clothing garment TuTa, the predecessor of today’s coveralls, designed by futuristic artist Ernesto Michahelles. Michahelles wanted to democratize fashion and introduce new conditions of everyday life by allowing the body to move freely. Considering the close relationship of art and high fashion in today’s world, such revolutionary designs are brought into question, since they are primarily subjugated to the laws of profitability that quickly transform them into fashionable items.
The over-sized collars of different colors play with the ever-present logic of branding and marking art with the language of entrepreneurship. The collars look like they have swallowed their wearers, the bodies. This may imply that the classical image of worker, such as the blue collars, is eliminated from the current perception of labour. It also connotes a blurred position of the increasing workforce, of creative workers or the so-called no-collar workers, whose capacities have become a very important fuel of neoliberalism.
Another interesting element are photomontages that are inserted into the collars. These photomontages consist of covers of fancy art magazines, such as the Monopol, redesigned using the techniques of image and text shuffling, while the lead contents are replaced with images resembling children drawings. All this highlights the bizarreness and excessiveness of the rhetoric of creative business. The vigorous empire seems a bit askew. A counter-scenario may begin with seemingly casual whistling at the new language and its flashy visual background.
© Luiza Margan 2021