ESR 11 Blog May 2021: Fabiola Fiocco

Re-platforming labour

As I started working on a paper for my first academic conference, where I will present my research with reference to Recleaning of The Rietveld Pavilion (2017) by Alina Lupu, in this blog entry I will reflect on a specific component of this artwork and the parallels between artistic labour and the platform economy. In Recleaning of The Rietveld Pavilion (2017), the artist re-enacts Job Koelewijn’s Cleaning of the Rietveld Pavilion (1992) shifting from the realm of the domestic and the affective to that of the platform economy. On multiple occasions, the artist has delved into the theme of labour, often employing the gig economy as a privileged standpoint from which to introduce and examine problems and contradictions of the current work paradigm.

Focusing on the analysis of labour myself, and specifically of social reproduction labour, a recurring concern in my research is the evolution of work in the neoliberal context and the new forms of control and relations as well as the new subjectivities it has produced. In this framework, I find it particularly significant to observe affinities between apparently opposing sectors to generate a more materially grounded analysis.

The analogy between artistic and gig work is increasingly common,[1] especially due to the characteristics of the latter – namely, free, discontinuous, autonomous work. Again, in this description, it is possible to detect some of the key features of the ‘neoliberal revolution’ as explained by Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello in The New Spirit of Capitalism (1999). It is possible to recognise their enduring role in the construction of a highly deceptive narrative aimed at further fragmenting the productive and social fabric. Yet, unlike post-Fordism, which to some extent succeeded in mystifying the inherent tendency towards alienation and self-exploitation, this new mechanism exacerbates the contradiction between an increasingly inequitable and competitive labour market and the high turnover and overabundance of the workforce. Besides, by means of this type of (non)-contractualisation, capital manages to avoid bearing the costs of work (i.e.: pension or health insurance) and the reproduction of labour power, which are, once again, unloaded onto the community. It is thus obvious that it is no longer enough to focus on the opposition between waged and unwaged work, but that it is necessary to discuss what kind of wage we are dealing with and what it represents.

Also, functioning through an algorithm that categorizes and favours workers on the basis of a system of ratings and reviews, the platform economy could be understood as an exaggerated form of the reputational system for organising and allocating work in the artistic-cognitive sector. Despite being quite evident for all those involved, these dynamics are always quite complicated to explain, make visible and, therefore, questionable. Likewise, algorithmic evaluation parameters are only apparently explicit, being generally founded on an ambiguous concept of merit and thus pushing the worker to always work more, in order to reach the highest ranks and be thus deemed employable. In a dreadful merger between the assembly line and immaterial labour, the gig economy breaks down work into increasingly smaller and specific tasks (or components) that are then assigned to the lowest bidder – often framed as self-employed, by means of an algorithm that independently regulates ratings, classifications, and distribution. As effectively summarised by the lawyer Giulia Druetta, this results in work being framed as the prize for the worthy worker.[2]

Considering the similarities identified so far, I would like to make one last, potentially more optimistic and generative reflection. At the beginning of 2021, Art Workers Italia organized a series of roundtables on artistic labour as part of [HYPERUNIONISATION], a project supported by the European Cultural Foundation and carried out with the patronage of SMART (Société Mutuelle pour Artistes). The first session, titled HOW TO STRIKE, started from a similar assumption – that is, the field of platform economy as a model of resistance and political organization. Overlooked by traditional trade union structures, often bounded to an anachronistic understanding of work, since 2016 gig-workers in Italy (especially in the food delivery sector) have been protesting and unionizing. A push towards self-organisation that is increasingly recognisable also in the art sector, especially in response to the widespread redundancies, occurred as a result of protective measures introduced during the pandemic. By circulating information and designing new informal practices of mutualism, gig workers were able to hijack the algorithm and contrast the individualism and competition it tries to promote. While being still very much unstructured and ephemeral, the struggles of gig workers and their first legal victories underline the power of solidarity and self-organisation against a system in which capital takes on an increasingly abstract character, as well as the value of acts of focused politics and digital transnational networks.

[1] A. Aloisi, V. De Stefano and S. Silberman, ‘A Manifesto to Reform the Gig Economy’, Pagina99, 27 May 2017, (last accessed 22/05/2021)

[2] Giulia Druetta in the online roundtable HOW TO STRIKE, organized by Art Workers Italia [AWI], 28 January 2021, (last accessed 22/05/2021)

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