It was in the early 1970s that – for the first time ever, to my knowledge – executives (in the advertising industry, of course) hired artists for the specific task of interfering with business as usual. In the 1970s, Henning Brandis, a young man with a background in the Fluxus network, was hired at the advertising firm GGK Düsseldorf, where his job was to think up little assaults on the safety and continuity of everyday company operations. One morning, for instance, three creative directors found their desks nailed, legs up, to the ceiling. Everything that had been on the desks had been glued to them and covered, Daniel Spoerri–style, with a layer of white paint. Or there would be surprising noises, abused furniture, adolescent pranks, pointless assignments, and other critiques of conformist work, ranging in intellectual quality from class clown to Joseph Beuys. Around the same time, the owner of März publishers, Jörg Schröder, had founded the advertising agency Bismarc Media, whose employees were told to produce nothing, and, when they couldn’t bear producing nothing, observe each other laboring under the pointless compulsion to be productive. A general manager was appointed whose task was to undermine any possible output.

[T]he phenomenon we are interested in here is this: a society in which intention and focus are on top and intensity and wastefulness are at the bottom – also existing, perhaps, on the romantic margins of leisure, of bohemianism and puberty – is being reshuffled into a society where all these relations are reversed. And if we accept that this is a social fact, we can describe this development in terms of a larger diagnosis of the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism, from a society of discipline to one of control, as the victory of artistic critique as described by Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello, or in terms of the much-touted ideas of the artist as entrepreneur and of the creative cities in which the creative class allegedly leads a life that is as creatively intense as it is economically productive and successful.

If we hold on to this distribution of pairs of opposites, however, something else emerges: on the one side, we find the description of work, at least in the conventional sense; on the other, that of leisure. Intensity and wastefulness, at least at first glance, obey extra-economic, if not counter-economic, principles. Someone who is wasteful neither saves nor invests; he or she does not speculate, does not even submit to the ritual calculation of the potlatch and its indirect benefits. Wastefulness is the opposite of husbandry. Intensity enjoys potential and irresponsibility: whatever happens, we do not put it in the biographical piggybank of subjectivity, heaping up experiences; nor does it even need to happen at all – it may well remain a dream. 

Within this model, the subjectivation of the self seizes, time and again, precisely on those vestiges of the structure that shaped them as objective social relations just before they were fed into the illusion of omnipotence harbored by the outsourced subject of the post-Fordist economy. But this model also reveals a subject within the subject, a highly self-possessed and possessing subject that can triumph in the victories of the person who has to survive all of this in addition to his or her defeats. This subject is strong, harboring no illusions, and is a master that constantly dissociates from its own loserish qualities, either kicking them when they’re down or flirting with them, tender and bored. The sentences that start with “I’m the kind of person who…” allow for both.

Diedrich Diederichsen / 

Images : Hobby Pop Museum 

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  Au MAMCO de Genève est installé (et parfois montré) ce qui se caractérise comme un stockage : celui de l’agence Les readymades appartiennent à tout le monde©, ouverte à New York en 1987 et fermée en 1993 . « Je suis parti d’une fiction pour produire quelque chose qui s’inscrit véritablement dans la réalité », dit l’agence. Créée par Philippe Thomas, elle propose à des « personnages », terme volontairement ambigu, d’entrer dans l’histoire de l’art, via sa bibliothèque — ses catalogues, ses listes, ses registres. Bref, de proposer l’archivage de l’œuvre avant son existence, comme le réel enjeu de la transaction. Les « clients » de l’agence, alors, payent leur signature et avec elle, leur droit d’entrée, dans un petit théâtre où figurent collectionneurs, commissaires, critiques, historiens d’art ou journalistes. Ce petit théâtre n’apparaît pas comme tel, mais à l’image bureaucratique de l’entreprise gestionnaire et de ses images dont Philippe Thomas a imaginé toutes les retombées fictionnelles. 

        Cette entreprise ne s’est pas cependant limitée à produire des œuvres dont la particularité tient au fait que leur première cession s’accompagne de l’attribution de leur signature à l’acquéreur — une procédure s’inspirant de celle, très usitée dans la fiction littéraire et qui consiste, pour le romancier, à prêter des propos, des pensées ou même des œuvres entières à ses personnages. Inéluctable développement de la logique interne du travail de l’agence, elle passe, en 1991, de l’attribution d’une œuvre singulière à celle de toute une exposition. Citant un titre de Nabokov, Feux pâles au CAPC de Bordeaux, permet de ré-envisager l’intégralité de l’histoire du musée occidental, allant jusqu’à lui associer diverses œuvres d’artistes inconnus – clients de l’agence – accrochées, avec la bénédiction de l’institution signataire. Comme le signale Patricia Falguières, il s’agit non d’un retrait physique mais d’un véritable ré-investissement de l’exposition. Une exposition où ne s’opposerait plus le verbal et le visuel, le livre et le lieu. C’est ainsi, finalement, que le stock, le stockage, l’archivage, les « planning boards » les cartes postales deviennent le Cabinet d’Amateur de l’esthétique de la production. 

Elisabeth Lebovici + Caroline Bourgeois / L'argent au plateau /

Images: Philippe Thomas, Les ready-made appartiennent à tout le monde® ; Autoportrait de Groupe / copyright succession Philippe Thomas / MAMCO Genève.