State of the Union
⬤ 24 Jun - 28 Aug 2018
Drawing inspiration from two fertile periods of art activism in Australia, one from the 1930s to '50s and another from the late 1970s to '80s, the exhibition State of the Union at the Ian Potter Museum of Art is framed around the relationship between artists, trade unions and the labour movement. In recent years there has been a burgeoning literature on the interrelated issue of artistic labour, as well as a growing number of art collectives contesting issues related to their own labour, and the question of whose labour supports the art world. Prominent examples include the Precarious Workers Brigade, Gulf Labor, Working Artists and the Greater Economy, Occupy Museums, Art Leaks and Occupy Wall Street Arts & Labor. The intensified interest in the relationship between art and labour has no doubt arisen due to the pressure that neoliberalism is applying to the vast majority of people world-wide. The last three decades of deregulation and privatisation have reshaped work for almost everyone in the industrialised world. The percentage of people in contingent employment has risen steadily in industrialised countries (affecting both workers in in low-end service roles and high-wage occupations) and has maintained its stronghold in developing ones. Today's employment conditions, shaped by an explosion of casual, temporary and part-time arrangements in the West, are far removed from those of the Fordist-era in which workers could expect incremental wage hikes and job security in return for increased productivity and industrial stability. In much of the recent theoretical discourse surrounding artistic labour, artists have been interpellated as the paradigmatic worker under these precarious conditions. The curator, Jacqueline Doughty, situates the exhibition State of the Union within these debates by calling for a breakdown of the distinction between artistic labour and other forms of labour, so that artistic labour might be more fully recognised as work.