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An Introduction to Labour

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2023 began with a heightened sense of optimism; as ‘survivors’ of the pandemic (whilst it very much remains a vigilant disruptor), our industry appeared to be ‘making up for lost time’ increasing its output, reprogramming cancelled works and fulfilling the idea that business has returned to ‘usual’.

The current government in power has once again re-romanticised the idea of valuing the arts with a 5-year plan to revive the sector from one of the most damaging periods in generations. As workers within this precarious industry, discussion on work, labour and production has captured the zeitgeist and is being mirrored back in both policy and practice. The rights and regulations for our labour is now measurable, accountable and being fought for.

However, art exists in a social and economic field which is governed by people, their relationships between each other and the wider society. These relationships are not always tangible or measurable, especially in the case of commodities and the social structure of capitalism, and as art is traditionally an ‘object’ its interplay with these structures is not always visible. Now posited in the political realm, these working conditions are examined through the lens of art-related activism that seeks to respond by building structures of mutual support, self-organisation, denouncing inequality and injustice whilst instigating change.

Focusing on the economy and labour of art this issue interrogates the working practices which structure our lives and the extent to which production conditions determine the way we live. Our contributors intentionally address a range of topical issues:  How is labour changing? When is it a privilege, and when is it a burden? Is our knowledge-based society and service economy the future of our working life? How can global forms of labour be discussed in an era in which work is becoming increasingly invisible? How is the role of the artist presented and what kind of ‘worker’ is the artist?

As a predominantly freelance arts worker the concept of ‘production’ is frequently debated and romanticised in relation to modern types of labour. However, the exhaustion that follows it—the periods of fatigue, procrastination, or anxiety—is often disregarded. While silence, seclusion, and slowness are not celebrated by society, success and extrovertism, are. The epicentre of it all, for me, is ‘home’; a dense location of production, reproduction, management and mismanagement. However, despite the fact that homes are typically associated with comfort and leisure, they are also places where people agonise in their work. It both irritates and comforts us. My labour is hastily measured for one role and utterly abused in my other two; and all of it is interconnected with my artistic practice.

But it is in this ‘work’ that I know that I am here. A place that self-values and regulates, where capital accumulates from other working bodies. Being able to participate in work creates necessary pathways to others, then moving beyond to newer bodies of work. It is a form of kinship and interconnectedness, a way to anchor oneself within a community, resisting displacement and becoming a space itself.

Issue 31: LABOUR welcomes contributions from Kay Abude (Vic), Fable Arts (Vic), Marisa Georgiou (Qld), Anna O’Loughlin (SA) and Sophie Penkethman-Young (NSW) with more voices joining the conversation.

— Rayleen Forester for fine print