situation 19

argument (Anthony McCall & Andrew Tyndall)

Yes, I’ve got a job. I’m really quite well paid. It’s a part-time management position, but I attach no value whatsoever to it. It’s absolutely secondary to my real concern, that is my artwork. Nothing about this job is important or relevant to my real work, except of course for the money it brings in. Without that I wouldn’t be able to continue doing what I really want to do. So I dress up in my three-piece suit and tie, take up my umbrella and go to work. It’s not really so bad. The president of the company is quite friendly. He says he is interested in art. He prides himself on being a man with good taste. Last week he told me that he owned a couple of minimalist paintings. After work he’ll sometimes invite me out for drinks or take me to dinner with his family. He is quite pleased by my quiet efficiency and organizational abilities. He even heeded to give me final responsibility on certain projects. And at the same time I think he is intrigued by the fact that I have another life. But when we actually start talking about art, I find I have to be rather vague about my specific position. It is politically radical, and I am afraid that it would put my job in jeopardy. Sometimes it makes me quite paranoid and when he asks me about my art, I feel as so I have to cover up. So I am caught up in an irony. I spend all of my energies at work trying to make things run efficiently, so that I can make enough money to disrupt things efficiently in my art.

A few months ago I got a friend of mine a job in the production department. At lunchtime we often have long discussions about political art. He accuses me of hypocrisy. He asked me the other day, why do I divide my life between my art on the one had, which is concerned with conflict between radical codes and the codes of the dominant class, and on the other hand my job, which is concerned with efficiency, the smoothing over of conflict and making profits for the dominant class. “Look,” he said to me, “here I am, working at 3.50 an hour. I am part of an enormous pool of temporary and unemployed labor which is hired or fired at a moment’s notice. Business in the city thrives at the expense of people like me, and you are one of those managers who keeps this system functioning smoothly.” It’s all very well for him to complain, but he is typical of so many artists I know. Think about the energy they put into their artwork. When will be the day when they spend a fraction of that energy in confronting the issues of production and paid employment? He goes home each night and works on his art projects. They are politically radical too, really quite effective. He says he has got a much better situation than I have in which to do his work. He just punches his timecard and goes home. He doesn’t have to take any job responsibilities home with him. “I am not like you,” he said to me. “When it comes around the five o’clock and can forget everything.” And what’s more, he doesn’t have to worry about the boss. They don’t give a shit about what their workers thing or what they do after work, as long as they aren’t management. In other words, as long as they are paid nothing, on the very lowest rung of the organization, and don’t do anything disruptive. “In fact,” he said to me, “You are too worried about your job security. You know that you are only certain of hanging on to your job as long as you can demonstrate a direct connection between your work and the profits of the company. If you can’t do that you are expendable just like me. And that’s why you have to enforce the management line.” I told him, “you are right of course. I am a hypocrite, but what can I do. It’s hard enough just to divide my responsibilities between my work and my job. You know how apathetic people are. Just look at you. You complain enough, but you have never spent the time and energy trying to organize yourself and the other workers here. We’re each of us more interested in our artwork. You know as well as I do that there isn’t enough money for us to work full time as artists. We both have to have outside jobs to live. To take on any struggle here would be a full time activity and I feel this is not the side of my engagement. I make contact with the issues of production in my artwork, in a struggle for a radical aesthetic practice, also economically, so that artist’s have enough money to live and work, without having to indulge in the cost cutting conventions of the avant-garde and moonlight on jobs like these.” And of course my friend agrees with me. He doesn’t want to spend all of his time organizing with his fellow workers either. He just want to have a temporary work until something good comes along in the art world. He still hopes for that big art break, but with that social stuff he is doing at the moment, I am just telling that he is being completely naïve. For the last three years, all of his work has been done in collaboration with others. The work is really good, but he should know perfectly well that the successful artist becomes known because of his individual work. I tell him he’ll only make a breakthrough by working on his own and coming up with some unconventional, original, innovative and provocative ideas, that no-one else has ever come up with before. In this way, he will be able to establish an identity for himself, which will allow his work to become an effective and influential interventionist argument.

Anthony McCall & Andrew Tyndall – Argument (Film, 1978)