Female Workers: Between Freedom, Choice and Poverty

Renata Salecl, Marija Mojca Pungerčar, Ksenija Vidmar Horvat
Round Table

In art and culture, there is a vast plurality of employment statuses that has a long tradition and is detectible in public and private institutions, societies and associations, in all of which some people are permanently employed, others part-time, whilst some workers are self-employed. The status of being self-employed in culture used to be called that of being a freelance artist in culture(!). This independence is presumed on the basis that institutional frameworks suffocate creativity by disciplining it. To be oneself, not a possession of anybody, and to have the time and space for the creative process that is not hindered or restrained has a special value in art; thus, self-employment in culture is a status with a tradition. In spite of its independence, said status once included basic social rights that allowed at least partial autonomy from the market and a certain degree of security. The Post-Fordist period generalised the patterns of employment in culture to all areas of work. The free choice of one’s status in today’s global economic and social regime implies the responsibility for that choice and assuming the risk that it might be a wrong choice. Due to the fact that it is made by individuals themselves, the eventual mis-choice becomes their responsibility. Thus art has been placed under the responsibility of the private individual, as if it had nothing to do with being public. In this sense, the work of women artists and cultural workers could be related to the concept of the “non-work” of caregivers, where care is a product of a woman’s nature, just as here, artistic expression, being a matter of pleasure and an inner urge, is also therefore not to be classified as work to be paid for. 

In modern times, the consequences of such an understanding are lethal because the flexibility of the labour market determines a precarious existence, by which Paolo Virno* indicates an existence without predictability or security. This permanent vulnerability occurs in every field of work, including those fields where the state’s redistribution role was once very important. In all these areas, the market economy has been intensively introduced over the last two decades, resulting in particular in the structuralisation of said areas (including art) into market economies in order to thin down the state. The new system promotes the ideas of freedom and creativity because they are supposed to provide personal growth, energy and satisfaction, which results in one’s ultimate self-realisation. If we want to inject them with rationality, by demanding payment and social security, we will lose them forever. Given the belief that, for artists, poverty actually means more creativity, these modern times are reaching back into the dark ages of centuries gone by.

* Interview with Paolo Virno published in the online journal Open 17 under the title “A Precarious Existence: Vulnerability in the Public Domain”. Available at: http://classic.skor.nl/artefact-4172-en.html  (accessed August 19, 2011). 

Renata Salecl, Ksenija Vidmar Horvat and Marija Mojca Pungerčar will discuss freedom, choice, poverty and changes experienced by women workers in everyday life and the precariousness of their existence. The discussion will be moderated by Vesna Leskošek.