dossier Precarious Days & Nights

Precarious Days: PART 2

Author: Krista Jantowski – 14 December 2020

At the end of 2019, WALTER books, ArtEZ studium generale and Focus Filmtheater Arnhem, organized Precarious Nights, a series of evening film screenings, accompanied by talks, interviews and lectures. It was in no way an exhaustive discussion, but rather a start, an opening, to address the widely experienced insecurities of young art workers in relation to paid work and working conditions. By focusing on the idea of precarity, Precarious Nights tried to articulate how these insecurities are related to economic injustice, social inequality and political or institutional unaccountability.

In hindsight, the extensive scope of Precarious Nights seems somewhat baffling: to address the entangled aspects of numerous injustices (near and far) and the exploitative nature of capitalist systems of thought (never far away). Three months later, COVID19 laid bare all that shit. Needless to say, the pandemic has exacerbated labor conditions and has exposed the already precarious working conditions of many.

Student life in the meantime has relocated to the digital world, and so has mine, and I wish to continue our conversation here, as Precarious Nights turns into Precarious Days. Even though we are not near each other, I am curious to hear your own experiences, thoughts and references and hope that we can approach this as an opportunity to articulate our positions and forge links of solidarity.

In this first online contribution to a growing dossier, I am exploring the terms ‘precarious’ and ‘precarity’, reflecting on how the two interlink and wondering where the differences between them can become productive.

For the upcoming contributions, I continue to think through precarity and precariousness, and invite guests to contribute and to enter into conversation with me. If you want to reach out, please send an email to hopethisfindsyouwell@walterinarnhem.nl.

PART 2

In part two of Precarious Days, we revisit the second edition of Precarious Nights and republish Joram Kraaijeveld’s contribution on solidarity. In his speech, he focused on reinventing the concept of solidarity among cultural workers, which he put into practice during his work as director of Platform BK, an organisation representing artists, designers, curators, critics, and other cultural producers and committed to better art policies such as Fair Pay. As you can imagine, they have a lot of things on their hands at the moment.

In the text below, you will find Joram’s take on the reinvention of solidarity. Right at the end, he insists that solidarity should not be based on “excluding criteria”. In this statement I hear the voices of many feminist scholars, amongst them Sara Ahmed who stated it so beautifully in her book The Cultural Politics of Emotion:

“Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles, or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future. Solidarity involves commitment, and work, as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.”

If there is anything the COVID-19 virus has shown us, is that we live on common ground, our lives are entangled. This acknowledgment should cement a solidarity that is cognizant of the differences in our lives, of how risks are distributed unequally, and that, in the words of Audre Lorde, “revolution is not a one time event”.

De tekst die Joram Kraaijeveld uitsprak is in enigszins aangepast vorm verschenen in het Nederlands op de website van Platform BK.

Nederlandse vertaling

In deel twee van Precarious Days, kijken we terug naar de tweede editie van Precarious Nights en publiceren hier Joram’s toenmalige bijdrage over solidariteit. In zijn speech centreerde hij het opnieuw uitvinden van solidariteit binnen de culturele sector, waar hij zich ook in zijn werkzaamheden destijds als directeur van Platform BK hard voor maakte. Platform BK, een organisatie die kunstenaars, ontwerpers, curatoren, critici en andere cultureel werkers representeert, zet zich onder andere in voor beter kunstbeleid, zoals Fair Pay. Zoals je je kunt voorstellen hebben ze het druk tegenwoordig.

In de tekst hier beneden vind je Joram’s kijk op solidariteit. Bijna aan het eind is te lezen dat solidariteit niet gebaseerd moet worden op mechanismes van exclusie. In deze strekking hoorde ik de stemmen van vele feministische denkers teug, waaronder Sara Ahmed, die het zo mooi wist te omschrijven in haar boek The Cultural Politics of Emotion:

“Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles, or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future. Solidarity involves commitment, and work, as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.”

Als er iets is, wat dit virus duidelijk maakt is dat we deze grond delen, dat onze levens met elkaar verbonden zijn. Deze erkenning zou moeten zorgen voor een solidariteit die bewust is van de verschillen in onze levens, hoe risico’s oneerlijk verdeeld zijn en dat, in de woorden van Audre Lorde, “revolution is not a one time event”.

De tekst die Joram Kraaijeveld uitsprak is in enigszins aangepast vorm verschenen in het Nederlands op de website van Platform BK.

Joram Kraaijeveld: Reinventing Solidarity

Solidarity is a multi-layered, complex concept that is used in various contexts and for various reasons. One can express solidarity with anti Blackface groups, artists in Flanders, schoolteachers, Greta Thunberg, Zapatistas, people of Palestine, and so forth. Unions call upon us for solidarity with workers; political parties used to call for solidarity with the poor and needy; and the Embassy of the North Sea calls upon solidarity with all dead and living matter in the North Sea.

Because this concept of solidarity is used in so many different occasions, it could be perceived as a fuzzy or imprecise concept. You might think it implies a vague sense of belonging, a readiness to help, or the value of social responsibility. Although watered-down through the years, I believe it is important to reinvent the concept of solidarity as a powerful social bond in the twenty-first century. It might be an important concept to offer ways of imagining and building social relations that are strong, but do not rest upon excluding criteria.

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In an attempt to reinvent the concept, it is crucial to understand that solidarity has lost traction because the neoliberal project has weakened the social structures as well as the meaning that gave significance to it. It is easy to argue that the neoliberal project has created a desolidarisation of public health care, pension schemes, social security systems, public education, social housing, public legal assistance and all other social structures that we associate with the modern welfare state.

These social structures formed an institutionalized solidarity and guaranteed social rights in a way that was meant to be inclusive. In principle everyone had the right to these social structures; these rights defended people’s self-esteem while depending on social assistance. In contrast to charity, someone did not receive help at the mercy of others; social assistance was a right to secure one’s dignity.

Many of these social structures have been privatized, dissolved or organized according to market principles since the 1980s. For instance, social security systems are no longer accessible for everyone, as the 1.237.734 freelancers in the Netherlands – including 106.000 in the cultural and creative sector – have to take care of themselves when they become unfit for work or don’t have a pension after retirement. Public education, especially higher education, has become too expensive for the lower classes. Hospitals became businesses that opened shop for clients, and the bad-luck of the chronically ill is no longer divided among all. And those who are in need of assistance are stigmatized as outcasts that come under scrutiny, as pitiful freeloaders, as the helpless falling outside the social order that is controlled by efficiency and “individual responsibility”; a smoke curtain for competition, wealth and power.
When reinventing the concept of solidarity, it is imperative to respond to this situation. The renewed concept should respond to our public institutions that force the dependents to have to provide a quid pro quo when receiving support; having to do compulsory voluntary work in return for assistance.

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So, how to respond?

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To my mind there are two options that strengthen each other: the first is to resist and the second is to fight against the neoliberal project. On the one hand it is important to resist a deepening erosion of the institutional forms of solidarity by defending what's left of these institutional structures. On the other hand it is important to fight against the desolidarisation of our societies by creating new, non-institutional structures of solidarity. Both of these strategies need to work synchronized, otherwise the neoliberal project will play them off against each other. In other words, to reinvent solidarity means that we will find arguments to say that we need public, institutional solidarity as well as civic, self-organized solidarity. We will need social security systems as well as Bread Funds; we will need social housing as well as housing cooperatives; we will need basic income as well as fair pay, and so forth. Both forms of solidarity will transform individual responsibilities into collective agreements.

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Arguing for both forms of solidarity is to reinvent solidarity. Acting out of solidarity implies standing up for each other because one recognises one’s own fate in the fate of others. However, solidarity is not based on kinship, friendship, loyalty or compassion. Solidarity does not involve intimacy, community or charity. Solidarity is not a natural, hierarchical, strategic or unequal relationship. On the opposite, solidarity is a chosen, symmetrical, mutual and reciprocal relationship. Importantly, the reciprocity of solidaristic relations is not meant as a simple exchange relation. You don’t give a little and take a little in solidarity. Solidarity means cooperation with a deeper commitment than is necessary for self-interested needs or goals.

Solidarity involves a choice, a willingness to take responsibility for each other. Although this choice is evident in the case of self-organized forms of solidarity such as the Bread Funds, the choice is rather seen as a privilege (linked to citizenship) in the case of institutional forms of solidarity such as social security. This distinction between choice and privilege is a reason why we need both forms of solidarity. The self-organized forms remind us that we do have a choice, and that the fight for fair wages is worthwhile. The institutional forms remind us that we do have rights, and that the claim for fair wages is legitimate. Thus, if we want solidarity at all, we need solidarity between these two forms of solidarity.

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What does that mean for us, artists, designers, teachers?

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As part of the 106.000 freelancers in the cultural sector, artists and designers are dependent on civic, self-organized forms of solidarity when it comes to social security, fair pay, pension, and possibly on working and living space as well. Artists organize this solidarity in the form of Bread Funds, the guideline for artists’ fees, and cooperative ownership of a living and working space. Artists in the Netherlands depend on a minimal amount of institutional, public solidarity: health care and possibly social housing. It is important to remember this, because it is a very widespread idea that artists are profiteers. This is far from the truth, calling artists profiteers is a neoliberal strategy to create polarization in our societies and desolidarisation of the public role of art.
There is a history of public, institutional solidarity for artists. For a long time - between 1935 and 2011 - a part of the Dutch national budget was reserved as social assistance for artists. But even then, this social assistance was a right to secure one’s dignity. However, no longer do artists depend on institutional solidarity when it comes to their profession. Every grant, commission or sale is a professional transaction between two parties. Artists should resist the frame that they are profiteers and should always fight for fair pay. Fortunately, fair pay is stimulated with the guideline for artists’ fees, a form of civic and self-organized solidarity.

The guideline is a form of solidarity that transformed individual responsibilities into a collective agreement. However, as artists we should not only fight for better fees. I believe we should cooperate with a deeper commitment than is necessary for self-interested needs. As artists we can claim our right to exist as humans. And as humans we can exercise our rights to be artists that can give critique, question reality, and present the voice of others.
In other words, you are never alone in this activity we call art and we will always be dependent on others. It is your choice to stimulate forms of solidarity that create social relations that are strong but do not rest upon excluding criteria. I would say both form of solidarity are needed to strengthen the position of the arts in our societies.