ART/WORK: a conversation

Past Project 2019

A conversation about capital, labour, the working practices of artists, and the future of work

The ART/WORK residency at Block 336, supported by the Finnish Institute in London, was a 5-week artist residency and exhibition (8 February to 9 March 2019) for an artist based in Finland that looks at themes of work, labour, and how these are valued and expressed in wider society, timed to coincide with the end of Finland’s Universal Basic Income trial.

This conversation, programmed and chaired by Artquest, considered the themes of the residency, the working practices of artists, and the future of work. Listen again, or hear any of our other nearly 200 interviews, audio guides and other programmes on SoundCloud.

Wednesday 13 February, 6-8pm
Venue: Block 336, London SW9 7AA

Anu Suhonen is a Helsinki-based visual artist who works mainly with video, photography and installations. She is currently artist in residence at Block 336 during the ART/WORK residency. Her project at Block 336, Process Accelerator 2.0, presents a factory that chases maximum productivity, satirically reflecting on late capitalism’s push for constant economic growth. Like a snake eating its own tail at an ever-increasing pace, Process Accelerator 2.0 explores technological advancement, mass-production, and short-lifespan goods, considering the effects this vicious circle has on the environment and its limited resources.

Alice Martin is Head of Work and Pay at the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and leads projects on the future of work and trade unions. Alice is currently working on NEF’s shorter working week campaign, and on collective bargaining/worker power. She is a regular guest on the NEF Weekly Economics Podcast and is writing a book on trade unions in the 21st century for Polity Press.

Russell Martin is director of Artquest, and an artist and writer. Recent projects include The Artists Fund, a prototype trust-based small-scale grants programme selected by artists; Spaced Out, a conference at UAL on the spatial needs and opportunities for artists in London; and Almanack, an annual online journal drawing together the art world with wider social, economic and cultural issues.

More about our 2019 programme

In 2019 Artquest is taking the theme of ‘work’ as the impetus for our research and projects, in particular the motivations and barriers artists face in their working lives and their attitudes to money.

Artists already experience many of the features of work that futurists predict: needing to be highly motivated, low earnings, decentralised workspaces, and highly mobile portfolio careers. They have been working in the ‘gig economy’ since well before the term was coined, and their experiences are now general: we believe that how artists thrive in their difficult work environments now could hold clues for future working practices for all.

From our research and that of partner organisations we know that artists’ attitude to work is atypical. Research suggests they are not motivated by profit, or even particularly by pay, and will subsidise their artistic practice through multiple other jobs, including jobs that have nothing to do with the arts. Few report having a pension, and a majority don’t see themselves retiring like other workers. Despite these negative economic factors, they overwhelmingly report high levels of wellbeing and agency, and think of themselves as serious professionals even when they don’t earn money – only 7% earn more than £20,000 a year, with 36% earning under £1,000 from their practice. Many are from higher socio-economic backgrounds and are much more highly educated than the general population, even though they don’t need qualifications to be an artist.

Our programme of events, talks, debate and articles in 2019, running alongside our regular programme of advice, information, opportunities and residencies, will look at many areas of work as experienced by artists in the context of the rest of society.

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