Fictions critiques

Marina Vishmidt


Marina Vishmidt plays many roles in the art world. An instructor at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, she contributes to English and Russian journals, exhibitions, and artistic publications. She is equally involved in editorial projects and in the organization of workshops and roundtables. Her interests focus on the political implication of affectivity and subjectivity in the conceptual practice of feminist artists such as Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Mary Kelly, and Valie Export. Currently she is writing a dissertation on the question of speculation in art at the Queen Mary
University in London.

Marina Vishmidt, born in 1976 in Ukraine. Works between London and Amsterdam.

Scattering as Behaviour Toward Risk

The exhibition I would like to propose would be based (mainly) on the FRAC Lorraine collections and it would underscore two of their distinctive features: the high proportion of women artists represented in the collections, and the ‘protocol,’ or the contract or script specifying the manner in which a work is to be exhibited. Such document constitutes at times the only physical presence of the work within the collection.

The conjunction of these two aspects summons, in the first place, a curatorial examination of the challenge announced by feminist art practice, at a time this practice was closely intertwined with the historical women’s movement; a challenge to the ontology of art as a separate world, to the ontology of the artist as special (male) individual and to an art system dependent on the valorisation of that individual’s sovereign subjectivity in the form of art commodities. The singularity of the position adopted by feminist politics and feminist theory with respect to the social and aesthetic hegemony of both mainstream culture and “high” art from the 1960s through the 1990s, and the necessity of articulating the psychic with the structural, expressed in the phrase “the personal is political,” is today largely disavowed unless it is recuperated in academic or spectacular ways. In the present, such a normalisation can be queried by exhibition practices which rewrite dominant art-historical narratives. Women’s works figure as a strategic riposte to the anodyne market-friendly effort to present feminist art as just another “movement” among a vast range of expressions of marketable identities and nostalgias. As Griselda Pollock noted in 1988: “All these moves radically challenged what art was thought to be, breaking the modernist myth that art was a separate realm, apart from society and immune to politics and power…I think we owe it to the women of the 1970s and early 1980s to come to appreciate and understand what they have done to the very possibilities of art as part of women’s political struggle.” Eight years earlier, Lucy Lippard had written that feminist art was “a value system, a revolutionary strategy, a way of life.”
The proposed exhibition would therefore consist of works created solely by women, and it would evoke (on a small scale) such exhibitions as “Inside the Visible” (1996), or the on-going “elles@pompidou.” These exhibitions are based on the premise that women’s artistic production, whether it is identified as “feminist” or not, is capable of supplying us with a counter-history and a counter-imaginary of art, design, architecture, and activism at the turn of the 21st century. The primary feminist challenge to art is not one of taxonomy, but of topology and ontology. The question thus becomes at once political and art-historical: neither the “post-medium,” “social,” “relational,” nor “queer” turns in contemporary art would have been thinkable if they hadn’t been preceded by feminist art practices. Similarly, the on-going dissolution of boundaries between art and other spheres of social life would be impossible without the conceptual and poetic interventions of feminist art——even if presently this dissolution takes place under the sign of expanding commodity relations. Any account of the “avant-garde” or of the “neo-avant-garde” which would posit language as the “de-materializing” driver force of this tendency remains incomplete without the prior evaluation of the role played by social movements in breaking with the prevailing conceptions of art; and of the women’s movement’s impact on subsequent art practices, theories, and infrastructures.

If the first consideration was a methodological reflection (albeit a method emerging in the process of interchange between specific practices and departing from core political assumptions), the second takes on the form of an argument: how do certain women’s art practices enact a disjunctive dialectic of “performance” as an artistic strategy and “performance” as a key term in modern workplace, as well as other areas of social life that have imbibed market logics? Here, the “protocol” comes to the fore, and the social relations implicit in the legal definition of a work’s ownership and circulation become the work itself: “the subject becomes the protocol.” The inclusion of performances and ephemeral works in the acquisition policy of an art organisation intriguingly resonates with the provision of labour which relies on contingent and inventive performances of the “self” in relation to customer “others.” These “performances” are in turn subject to assessment by performance indicators and functions within a finance-driven economy “performing” in stock markets and for shareholders. The phenomenon of the “experience economy” (Pine and Gilmore, 1999), and the corresponding reproductive labour of “consumer choice” and “self-development’ can thus be linked to Marxist, feminist and art-critical ideas about (surplus) value production in economies oriented to ‘performance’, the structural and symbolic role occupied by women in these economies, and strategies from the past several decades of women’s art production that dramatise these tendencies from the perspective of the affinity between ’women’s work’ and ‘art work’ as realms which are constituted by mutual exclusion but which come into proximity when re-imagined under the common term of ‘services’ (which is indeed how culture is described by government policy reports on the ‘creative industries’).

The proximity between these forms of labour and the relational, communicative and low-status labour traditionally, and consistently, performed by women in private or public contexts can be thematised both in the shape of art practices and in critical approaches to the institutions which mediate those practices. Labour is the founding exclusion of art, but it keeps coming back. Andrea Fraser is one artist and writer who has pursued this ‘service-oriented’ form of enquiry most visibly in the past two decades, while the art theorist Sabeth Buchmann has investigated the resonances between the “de-materialisation” of art (the displacement of the production of objects by language, communication and appropriation) and the “de-materialisation” of capitalism (the displacement of industrial production from the West in favour of trade in financial instruments and informational commodities).

How do “protocols” refract these conditions, and how can they be integrated into a broader array of performative strategies adequate to the ubiquity of the “performative” in contemporary life and labour? The “immaterial” aspect of the FRAC collection seems to mirror the information commodity’s centrality to production today. The question of ownership with respect to non-physical or procedural objects and to the execution of programmes or rules/roles, is closely tied to the debates concerning the production of subjectivity. Although “subjectivity” is considered integral to the latter-day forms of capitalism, characterized by “creative,” “affective,” or knowledge labour, it can be contended that the production of subjectivity has always been crucial to the mutual reproduction of labour and capital, and to the resulting material class relations. If anything, this production of subjectivity may have only become more intensely alienated and commodified, and adaptability and compliance with these raw deals more in demand.

The protocol further evokes the contract implicitly fulfilled by the visitor, or the “public,” in the space where art is displayed and mediated. The public may be said to perform a designated role, not just in the institutional context of an art exhibition, but also in the context of policies of capital accumulation and urban development . This is probably most clearly illustrated, certainly in the UK, by the discourse of “participation” in cultural management and consensus-building. “Participation” refers here to the modernist and post-modernist trope of the viewer ‘completing’ the artwork, and also to the class-based socialisation which produces subjects who can participate appropriately. Visitors, but also administrators, curators, managers, technicians, guards, dealers, publicists, educators and bureaucrats can be seen as reproductive workers in this complex, with the artist as the nodal point, a point of abstention in the whole machine. But along with the suggestive threads which connect the changing nature of capitalist work in general with its iterations in art practice, this narrative has to take account of financialisation, its repercussions in the cultural field, the loss of the relative autonomy (Althusser) of that field, and the resulting irrelevance of the differences between the ‘cultural capital’ that arises there (Bourdieu) and capital as such. With the loss of this autonomy, the zone of indistinction between artist as sovereign subject and artist as ideal (flexible, creative) service worker comes into focus, most precisely through performative practices. At the same time, these practices rehearse the capitalist division of labour which produced art as a separate domain from the early 19th century onwards; the increasing obsolescence of this division in the current phase of capital; and the “circulation of women as signs” (Tickner) across these shifts.

The female artist as a peculiar type of service worker complicates the picture, keeping in mind the contradictions between the feminist challenge to the sovereign artist subject, with its demand to socialise and politicise the artist’s role; the persistence of a semiotic and commercial system in contemporary art which reinforces that role, as well as the relatively strong presence of women at all levels of the art system. These contradictions may find a material expression in the proposed exhibition through the use of an argument similar to the one enunciated by Kathi Weeks in her essay “Life Within and Against Work: Affective Labor, Feminist Critique, and Post-Fordist Politics” (2007): “As long as labor is signified and divided by gender, the critique of work as a mode of subjectification must be a feminist project… Confronting the ongoing gendering of work and its subjects would thus be more a matter of expressing feminist political desire than repeating gender identities… not in a claim about who we are but rather in a vision of who we might want to become; not in an essence but in a logic of political desire immanent to existence.” The title of the exhibition would then evoke the ‘risk’ of such a political desire that frames issues between art and labour in feminist terms. At the same time, the exhibition would be an attempt to do away with gender-based identification and with the modes of control implicit in such identification: not so much a “strategic essentialism” of difference (Spivak) but the open-ended subjectivation attendant on a political sequence of struggle which affirms a status quo only in order to dissolve it, like Alain Badiou’s schema of the void of a situation generative of political ‘truths’ or events, Marx’s proletariat as the class which eliminates itself, or Monique Wittig’s discussion of ‘woman’ as a class relation which must be named as such in order to be suspended. ‘Risk’, however, would also signify the variable sphere of the unknown addressed by ‘risk management’ in corporations, and how ‘risk’ acquires this connotation of an unspecified threat which must be foreclosed at all levels of society by ‘technologies of control’ (Deleuze) where any change is conflated with violence, and any risk to corporate profits is a risk to humanity.‘Scattering’ as a mode of becoming-anonymous and becoming-other when faced with the myriad blackmails of identity and the work of maintaining it, performing it, and, in reverse, the scattered and relational experience of social being which always fails to be performed as identity – a mode of speculation.

- Chantal Akerman, Saute Ma Ville and Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles
- Helke Sander, _Aus Berichten der Wach- und Patrouillendienste – NR. 1
- Natalia LL, Consumer Art
- Kay Hunt, Homeworkers: Women’s Work
The first space, located on the top floor and currently occupied by La Bruja I, would be divided into dark and lit halves. Two shorts and a feature film would be intermittently screened in the dark space. Chantal Akerman’s first film, the short Saute Ma Ville (1968), should be projected onto the wall left to the entrance, fairly low to the ground, not far from the junction with the fall facing the entrance. Right to the entrance, similar in size and height, would be projected Helke Sander’s Aus Berichten der Wach- und Patrouillendienste – NR. 1 [From the Reports of the Patrol, No. 1] (1984). Both films are projected on a small scale, in a corner of the room, at the eye level of an average (female) viewer seated in one of the chairs positioned back to back along the diagonal joining the two corners. At designated times, the two screenings stop and Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (1975) is screened (comfortable seating in the center of the space should be available for this, a cushioned bench or a settee). As the credits finish rolling for Jeanne Dielman, the two smaller projections on the left and right-hand walls start up again so there is a slight overlap (but no overlap between the end of the shorter films and the beginning of Jeanne Dielman). The combination of these films in this space represents the emergence of a rebellious feminine subject in a city. Akerman’s film corresponds to the era of revolt; in Sander’s, the protagonist rebels, but remains locked in the extreme, life-threatening isolation of defeat. Jeanne Dielman, on the other hand, conjures what the two women in the films projected small are trying to escape. Over an agonizing 200 minutes, the film meticulously registers the torpor of a housewife’s daily routine, showing how banal the transition from housework to sex work can be for the domesticated lady with few other options. Yet it is also an act of defiance, forcing the viewer to share Jeanne’s entrapment in time. The production of the three films is also o a gesture of defiance within ‘the city’ of a patriarchal mainstream, and underground, cinema establishment. Although all three films are feminist benchmarks in New European Cinema, the two short films are rarely screened: the small scale projection highlights their marginal status.

The adjacent space, lit by natural light, houses Natalia LL’s Consumer Art (1972) and Kay Hunt’s photographic installation Homeworkers: Women’s Work (1978), each mounted on a wall. The juxtaposition of these two pieces aims at soliciting reflection on the interrelations between the cartoonish provocation of Consumer Art and the downtrodden domestic pieceworkers of Hunt’s photographs (which were part of a unionising campaign in Britain at the time, as Hunt’s art practice mainly took happened at sites of political mobilisation) might be. The objectification of women in the media and their relegation to low-wage and low-skill jobs were of course equally seen as targets of the feminist movement. Yet, as artistic strategies working with the medium of photography, they each engage with the ‘mass’ nature of the medium and turn it to specific ends. LL blends the advertising campaign with the model photo shoot or even the amateur photo booth shoot and stages a sex-kitten performance that compares photographic technology with commercial imagery as both means of multiplying identity in a deliberate confusion of self and sign. As Achille Bonito Oliva states:‘Rather than plotting psychology these sequences exhibit the surface and the threshold which transmute the body into a sign.’ In Hunt’s images, however, it is not the mutability of identity that is the scandal of the photograph, but its capacity to visualize what is meant to stay invisible, like the activities of the ‘homeworkers’. This is the capacity which renders photography of interest to political campaigns, but which also renders it equivocal in an art milieu, where documentary facticity and emancipatory consequences have long since been picked apart. But aside from discourse on representation, the two pieces stage a dialogue which examines art production as a contested field of different feminist strategies. One strategy could be the disclosure, and erosion, of distinctions between the artist and the housewife, both working out of love.

- Judith Barry, Voice off
- Dora Garcia, Proxy/Coma
- Lili Dujourie, Passion de l’été pour l’hiver and Sonnet
- Eileen Cowin, Sans Titre
- Tania Mouraud, Can I Be Anything Which I Say I Possess?
- documentation: Lygia Clark, Mierle Laderman Ukeles
The second gallery space (lower level) would be busier. Judith Barry’s Voice off (1998-99) would be occupying the floor space, with its two projection screens. However, when not in use for the purposes of the installation, the screens would display selections from the videotapes of Dora Garcia’s Proxy/Coma (2001), and Lili Dujourie’s Passion de l’été pour l’hiver (1981) and Sonnet (1974). They would follow one another in a somewhat aleatory fashion, since not all the works are the same length. The shared screens would respond to the impulse given by the oneiric folding of space in Barry’s work, further multiplying worlds and creating partitions. This sharing of space, echoing the projection of three films in a single space in the first exhibition hall, is an allusion to the sharing of resources in feminist art and in film collectives of the 1970s and 1980s; the sharing of experiences in “consciousness-raising” groups, and the sharing of space for diverse functions – living, working, child-raising, meeting, etc. – that was and is common in sites of self-organised creative production and/or political activity. Besides evoking collectivity, the sharing of projection surfaces can also imply a shared, or haunted, psychic space: the nesting of imaginary and actual spaces, the experience of being always elsewhere that comes from existing in a time with a past, present and future. This remoteness becomes a condition of existing in the present, though always at risk of being disoriented, like the main female protagonist in Voice off, or constrained to stay in one space, like the performer in Proxy/Coma, or being the witness of the pure and empty form of time, a living landscape photograph, like the Lili Dujourie videos. In diagnostic terms, the three fictions mimic schizophrenia, paranoia and catatonia.

Eileen Cowin’s Sans Titre (1983), which pictures a woman seated with a TV set and a telephone, should be placed near Judith Barry’s installation and mounted at the junction of two walls at a similar angle as the position of the woman in the photograph. There is a correlation between the aesthetics of the two pieces, as well as the claustrophobia of atomised metropolitan apartment life. Cowin’s photograph could almost be a still from one of Barry’s videos from the early 1980s. The odd placement of the piece, leaning at the junction of two walls rather than mounted on the wall, not only carries out a mimetic translation of the scene within the photograph but it creates another dimension of displacement that adds to the ones in Voice off, while also resonating with the telematic anxiety of the situation in Proxy/Coma. The multiplication of personae through different occasions of recording in Garcia’s piece evokes both the embodiment of disparate voices in a phantasmatic space in the Barry video, and the layers of gazes in the Dujourie.

On the wall opposite the two screens is Tania Mouraud’s Can I Be Anything Which I Say I Possess? (1971). The other two walls show two series of photographic documents. The first series comprises works by Lygia Clark, currently on display at FRAC: images from Canibalismo and Baba Antropofágica (1973); the second, Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s Maintenance Art actions from the 1970s. Between the two series, at the corner, there should be a round waist-high pedestal-like table which would support a stack of laminated protocols of works present in the FRAC collections. These would only be protocols for ‘immaterial’ work which is made anew for every exhibition by executing a script, like those for Vera Molnar’s Promenade (presque) aléatoire (1998-1999) or Ceal Floyer’s Title Variable (2000). In response to Mouraud’s question, the practices of Clark, Ukeles and the stack of protocols testify to the shifting and relational nature of property, be it identity or the construction of an ‘art’ situation which only comes into being through the participation of a public and the imprimatur of art in a social space. The imbrication of being and having in Mouraud’s work points directly to a central dilemma of capitalist subjectivity, where ‘being’ carries the meaning of individual agency, and ‘having’ can be one of this individual’s activities, grounded in a transparent relation between desire, rationality and acquisition. Such a schema, however, obscures the degree to which the individual agent remains a function of the commodity relations which he or she is supposed to participate in freely, and the extent to which identity is constituted through pre-given social and commercial images.The myth of the individual as an ideal consumer has always been critiqued in feminist theory and politics. Mouraud’s piece, however, seems to signal that radical identities, including feminism, are also subject to consumption: feminism which would confine itself to fostering “equal opportunities” within existing power structures remains a prisoner of the being/having schema. Consumption in another key is also at the center of the two group performances initiated by Lygia Clark. Ukeles wonders if the art system may be persuaded to consume the work she does at home as art if it is done in a museum.

- Anna Maria Maiolino, Y
Along the staircase there should be a small projection directly onto the wall (about the same size as the Akerman and Sander projections in the first space) of Anna Maria Maiolino’s Y (1974). This work would anticipate the glossy aesthetics of Female Sensibility in the next space by means of inversion, with its grainy black and white super-8, the epitome of another kind of rough glamour. Both moving-image works also focus on the activity of mouths.

- Lynda Benglis, Female Sensibility and How’s Tricks
- Alison Smithson, A Portrait of the Female Mind as a Young Girl
- Vera Molnar, Promenade (presque) aléatoire
- Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community
The next space (the one in which Anna Maria Maiolino’s film is now being shown) will house another video and furniture installation. This space, together with the ground-floor gallery, would most closely resemble rooms in a domestic setting. Here there would be a cabinet with two drawers or compartments which could open vertically or horizontally, depending on the technical requirements. The cabinet may have more than two drawers or compartments, but in two of these two videos by Lynda Benglis would be playing, Female Sensibility (1974) and How’s Tricks (1976). Only the monitor screen should be visible when the drawer or the compartment is open. The films, which are part of a series of three videotapes the artist produced in mid-1970s, grew out of her involvement in the feminist movement and were influenced by feminist film theory on the “male gaze.” Benglis takes on here the then-reigning ideologies of the artistic subject adopted by artists of both genders, and of the video as a truthful, activist medium, in order to construct extremely stylised, sensual, and sarcastic mises-en-scène of the im/possibility of female representation in the image. If there could be such a thing as a specifically “female” sensibility, as some feminists claimed, could it ever be expressed or represented without slipping into conservative tenets of the subject or of the medium?

If the piece of furniture used is a desk, the desktop should contain, mounted under glass and resting on a panel (the size and shape of an old-fashioned desk pad), several pages photocopied from Alison Smithson’s novel A Portrait of the Female Mind as a Young Girl (1966). If Lydia Benglis videos are being shown on horizontal screens placed inside the desk drawers, the drawers could be lined with further pages of the novel. If the videos are being played on vertical screens, the additional photocopies are not be needed: the lining should be placed only around the screens, not in empty drawers.

The room needs to be partially dark in order to facilitate the viewing of the videos, but there should be enough light to see Vera Molnar’s Promenade (presque) aléatoire (1998-1999) imprinted along the walls and in the corridor. Another small round pedestal-like table set in the corner could have a stack of Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James’s The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community (1972) pamphlets on it, as well as a reading lamp affixed to the edge. The combination of pieces and interventions in this third space suggests a complex of activist and representational strategies that tangle with the aporia of women as nature/woman as culture in a man’s world, either through glamour and irony, abstraction, unreliable memoir or direct action such as the ‘Wages for Housework’ movement which drew a lot of its arguments from the Dalla Costa and Selma James publication, while they were in turn among its main ideologists and organisers. All these present complex and idiosyncratic responses to feminist problematics in the public sphere, with Vera Molnar’s work as perhaps one pole of detachment and the publication as the other pole of engagement. Yet Molnar’s work can also be seen as very materialist in its concern with formal experimentation, which counters the desire for political experimentation expressed by radical feminism. The politics of formalism were nevertheless a crucial element of the Marxist argument for the autonomy of art, as in Adorno, complicating the formalist/materialist divide (much as structural films did).

- Dora Garcia, forever
- VALIE EXPORT, Syntagma
- Alison Smithson, A Portrait of the Female Mind as a Young Girl
- Lili Dujourie, Hommage à … I, II, III, IV, and V
The main ground floor space would house three works. The space would be subdivided, and a part of it turned into a dark screening room. In it, a live feed from Dora Garcia’s forever (2004) would be projected over the doorway, so that the visitors would have to turn around to see it as they enter. The entrance to the screening room should be visible to the forever camera. This exhibition space would also contain another desk: this time definitely one with drawers, rather than a cabinet. A drawer would open to reveal a screen showing VALIE EXPORT’s Syntagma (1983). The drawer would be lined with pages photocopied from Alison Smithson’s novel A Portrait of the Female Mind as a Young Girl (1966). The juxtaposition of these two works——_forever_ and _Syntagma_——would underscore their focus on surveillance and on internalised surveillance, which becomes the core of the perceiving and acting female subject in a hostile public space. The performance of identity is always for an invisible public, which engenders insecurity and constant self-scrutiny. Further, the two works share the idea of woman as sign of conflicting social meanings (public/private, independence/dependence, interior/exterior, authentic/fake). Outside the screening room, to the left, Lili Dujourie’s Hommage à … I, II, III, IV, and V, are being projected on the wall in a continuous loop. These five works by Dujourie construct a single scenario of narcissism and banality: the video camera’s de-coding of the body is an analogous process to the de-coding of the female nude in art history by feminist criticism. There is a recalcitrance of the body to exposure as it becomes simply matter or motion. The naked body as material substitutes for the blank screen of structuralist film to become the ground zero of representation. The nude as degree zero, the material minimum of representation/motion/affect is what we see in these videos, a semiotic economy of desire or classicism rendered inoperative, workless, by the prosaic and endless quality of video time. The body has been drained of its sedimented meanings through the sheer persistence of the recording device, and it has ceased to be a body productive of meanings or connotations beyond its materiality and motion. Dujourie hits on the self-reflexive trick of becoming her own artist’s model to initiate this process of draining; representation, however, is not her main concern. The “workless” (Nancy) body is used to oppose time. “My video works deal with the time element,” the artist explains, “time that cannot be captured. They deal with boredom, the impossibility of doing something.” This impossibility is also present in the indeterminate potential of artistic subjectivity when it is put to work as well as when it revels in worklessness. It is the indeterminacy and potentiality of the “creative” faculties that makes them so limitlessly productive of an undefined value. Thus, Dujourie’s video is also an enactment of the homogeneity of capitalist time: the capture of the mundane by the symbolic economy of art mirrors the contemporary capitalist project of putting “all of life to work”. This translation of life into exchange value may occur anywhere, but it has become most salient in art. Dujourie’s naked, restless body is the lens that makes this clear. Unproductive in one way, very productive in another: from a feminist viewpoint, Hommage à very neatly dismantles both art-historical fictions and fictions of interiority.

- Driessens & Verstappen, The factory
- Mary Kelly, Kay Hunt and Margaret Harrison, Women and Work: a Document on the Division of Labour in Industry, 1973-75 (1975)
- Yvonne Rainer, Lives of Performers
- Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Apres la Reprise, la Prise I
The last space would contain four works. Driessens & Verstappen’s The Factory (1995-2007) would be placed in the centre, or against the wall——whichever location would be more approachable and afford the best view of the production process going on inside the piece. Some elements from Mary Kelly, Kay Hunt and Margaret Harrison’s collective project Women and Work: a Document on the Division of Labour in Industry, 1973-75 (1975) would also be displayed on the walls. A small curtained space would host alternating screenings of Yvonne Rainer’s Lives of Performers (1972) and Wendelien van Oldenborgh’s Apres la Reprise, la Prise I (2009). Here, the synthesis of production and performance is at its sharpest. Driessens & Verstappen’s piece is a working model of a factory constructed inside the scale model of a former gallery in Amsterdam (the Iago Gallery). The factory robotically produces small pieces of autonomous art out of wax. Telescoping mass production into the art space as a site for production of rare cultic objects, The factory conducts an operation on on the alleged asymmetry of the economies of art and labour, and brings them into a precarious alignment by a production of objects that can neither be used, exchanged, nor collected. What kind of production site can the gallery housing such gallery-factory be? This operation is also taking place in Women and Work, which was originally an exhibition at the South London Gallery. The exhibition was made up of a study done by the artist activists of the working and after-work hours of the men and women assembly workers at a local box factory. Bringing this research, which, like Homeworkers, was also part of unionisation campaign, into the gallery meant exhibiting not only the “dry” ephemera of processes conducted elsewhere that was already made canonical by Conceptual Art, but exhibiting the structural and symbolic invisibility of industrial labour in the cultural sphere, an invisibility that was fundamental whether the art that was displayed there was ‘reactionary’ or ‘critical’. As such, the exhibition was subject to its own critique. This dialectical collision of worlds is repeated in van Oldenborgh’s slide-show, which documents the former workers of a closed Levi’s factory in Belgium, mostly women, as they visit a vocational school in Belgium and describe their post-Levi’s careers as actors in a theatre play about their factory work and their unsuccessful struggle to keep the factory open. In the play, they became factory workers again in order to transform into actresses, a sort of Brechtian movement. While the factory workers-turned-actors recapitulate the role of ‘culture’ in ‘regenerating’ de-industrialised areas in Europe, they also highlight how identity tied to a role at the workplace resolves into a series of performances, especially when the disciplinary idiom of “performance” becomes as familiar in the factory as in the theatre. The performance of lives in Yvonne Rainer’s film in a sense sets up the programmatic line for the rest of the works in the exhibition. her incorporation of the work-like ‘task’ and ‘daily’ movement into choreography is here turned around as daily life (rehearsals, social interactions) become badly dramatised, with thespian tactics and literary quotation inserted into the most intimate scenarios, which are then recounted, in another level of artifice, from the material traces such as photos and index cards that are supposed to confirm the recollections but can only disperse them more. The film concludes in a Brechtian tableau vivant which acts as an almost burlesque coda to the preceding 80 minutes of de-constructed narrative. With its oscillation between genres (melodrama, structural film, dance documentary) and tension between being and performing (captured in the polysemy of the word “act”), adopted as a subjective and a formal technique, The Lives of Performers marks the inauguration of the “New Talkie”, a term coined in the 1970s to describe feature-length films that were influenced by critical theory, social movements and politicised film practice, such as Godard or Straub & Huillet, setting them at variance with the dominance of structuralism in the cinematic avant-garde of the time.

I would also propose a series of screenings or other events, but the proposal has already far exceeded any tolerable length. This has been my women and work path through the collection of the FRAC Lorraine.