The Stage of Complaints
Complaining is an informal critique, a release and offer, a naming of truths, an exercise in resilience and a key element of initiating change.
“One time a curator said ‘good girl’ to me for figuring out how to turn on the TV”. Small exchanges, injustices, freelance work, part-time gigs can individually make us feel defenseless and vulnerable. There will always been safety in numbers. AWC presented, “The Stage of Complaints” at the Art Fair Popposistions in Brussels this last April. By the end of the weekend, a once grey wall was carpeted in neon stickies yet we have not formed a union capable of providing job security and benefits to hundreds of precarious art workers. One worker compared the project to “yelling into the void”. If the void is governments who claim Art an essential then fail to produce funding for it, or Art institutions and markets where a select few gamely profits; then Art workers would do well to follow the script of workers in any other industry.
“Artist Contract Job: If you announce 8 hr/ day, don’t make your makers work 14 hr/ day without paying extra. Dinner and Beer are not salary,” yells a bright pink post-it on the otherwise dispassionate cement wall. What we can do is to continue to complain. Continue to speak about unfair compensation. Continue to insist that our work should enrich our lives rather than leave us too exhausted to live them. We will work from the ground up. We will pay our interns. Stay tuned for the continued “Stage of Complaints” as Arts of the Working Class will always host space for strengthening class solidarity amongst art workers. - Hallie Frost
“The Stage of Complaints” at Poppositions Art Fair offered a stage for workers to complain about the conditions of the art industry in this 21st century. A proverbial water cooler in a weekend of Art Fairs in Belgium’s capital, prompted by this stage, here follows the workers’ complaints:
“Even most of artistic world thinks economically”
“Arschlocher in Pole positions”
“Artist Contract Job: If you announce 8 hr/ day, don’t make your makers work 14 hr/ day without paying extra. Dinner and Beer are not salary”
“Quella Testa di Cazzo Che Non Responde Alle Mail!!”
“Ignorance (especially Swissish)”
“Pas anez de vegans sûr teue”
“Cowboy boots are not made for Paris”
“J’en ai marre de travailler debout toute la journée et de puer des pieds le soir”
“More people telling what’s going well in their lives in less of complaining to
relax the burden on someone else’s shoulder”
“People don’t buy enough Newspapers”
“I’m angry that artists receive next to nothing out of public funds allocated for arts”
“I hate my Managers! (But my boss is great)”
“One time a curator said ‘good girl’ to me for figuring out how to turn on the TV”
“I am cashless in this country”
“What I hate about my job is Bureaucracy and Pressure (Worker at Ministry of Culture)”
“Am I compensated fairly? I am an Intern! (No)”
“I hate my working hours”
“J’en ai marre d'être mon réveil”
“ I don’t know where to start, I think I’m most fed-up being undervalued.”
“Institutions, especially in Switzerland; as if nothing can get done during “Easter Holiday”
“In my country, nobody knows how to make bread. Not only that but people buy bread at the Petrol Station!”
“Il n’y a pas de couchsurfer ici à Bruxelles?!”
“More Art, Less Streets!”
“Why can’t I pet the dog?”
“This event is not Deaf Friendly”
“There should not be a discussion about the necessity of subsidies for Art”
“Sick of not getting paid in the art field. Art is a dirty job but somebody has to do it”
“J’ai mal au ventre, je suis fatigué. ET LES VERRES SONT PAYANTS”
“When I do what I do, I don’t feel like myself”
“Mes lacets se déforme tout seul”
“How is it possible to participate in the most urgent socio-political demands with critical thinking that promotes long-term transformative actions without being fetishized (or reified) by the art market/art system (especially when we are artists coming from the so-called Global South)?”
“Tons of waste of time, paper and self control.”
“I spent almost 7 hours of my 8 hour day of labour (still not finishing!!!!) bagging invitations for the opening of gallery weekend in Berlin. The opening will be tomorrow, it's impossible they will arrive in time. This because the boss wants to keep an old fashion status of elegance in the system of art, meanwhile proposing an artistic program that very badly covers his only and holy purpose: selling everything LIKE-NO-TOMORROW.
During the wrapping process at least I was listening to podcasts and to my inner voice about radicalness of working choices. What I am doing in this gallery is merely the 12% of what my mental abilities could be helpful for. But they pay me what I need for a room for very basic survival in Berlin. Something institutions don't provide. Further, I have been accepted to a very interesting and expensive research program, that I can't afford. I am trying to tell myself that sooner or later I will find the courage to change this secure but stuck job. How can I pay me happy?
I swear I will start to sell dirty panties to unknown human. At least I can use that money for a DIY molotov or for paying my course.”
“I'd like to complain about everyone complaining about the art market.
It the end we applauded and praised Damien Hirst as he was performing his unforgettable auction at Sotheby's in 2008. We included this act in the books of art history, fair so, but at the same time we accepted the marriage of primary and secondary art market. Kind of a harakiri to ourselves. We accepted the fact that money and power will lead our artistic souls, that the biennale pavilions will be paid by the galleries accepting fundings by the rich ones who will get the works from the "most independent" art events, the museums paid by patrons, exhibitions selected by patrons, fitting in with their art collections and so on. It's useless to complain about the salary or its absence. Our intelligence is underpaid or not paid at all. Sure thing, why should they pay us if we hate the hands that pay us but sit at the same dinner tables and dream of being included at their annual gallery/auction/whatever dinner ? We are not hiding at the island of Burano while the crowd is spoiling Venetians at the beginning of May. We are not wandering by watching artist strolling, Art Fairs and flying jets of praised collectors.
Maybe we should stop complaining, fighting and accept the fact, that we are part of the system, and even by criticising the system - we keep staying inside and use the same rules of it and conditions. Stepping out of a museum means accepting the power of a museum. Relational aesthetics and non-material arts enter museums, fairs and private collections by the end of the day (hi Tino and Rikrit!). It's the same problem the Russian avant-garde faced a hundred years ago - neglecting the past and the art history they accepted its importance and remaining within it. We are in or out and there is no middle way. Amen.”
Does your job make you sad? When?
“Yes, sometimes. It’s hard to always have to get going, even when there are shows planned, or great opportunities for me, work, lectures, workshops etc I still find it hard to always be the motor of everything.
In every process of making art, there are many projects that do not work, it’s not good, not good enough, or doubting, insecure times, disappointments and stress to deal with, fear, all of that- can make one sad, yes.
But in the end, it’s the only thing I want to do. That freedom is the most beautiful thing as well the hardest ever, no boundaries at all, and if the work one does, does not have boundaries and one’s self, as well, is quite borderless then it’s gets simply sad- by not knowing.”