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Title: The man without labour : on the phantasm of artistic labour
Author: Rodda, Matt
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: Glasgow School of Art
Date of Award: 2011
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The aim of this thesis is to reconsider the concept of labour in contemporary art. It advances a newly developed theory of the phantasm, where a double force of negation and affirmation mediates production, as an appropriate model for analysis of art in the age of immaterial labour. Specifically this thesis investigates the relationship between artists and their labour, and how artistic labour is phantasmal in that it allows artists to operate in, and make visible, a space between (or in the shadow of) the aspects ofbeingat work and being available-for work. What the phantasm defines is the crucial movement that mediates artistic labour in sense, linking the artist's interior sense or imaginary to its external production in aesthetics. Chapter 1 situates this inquiry in the current era of immaterial labour characterised by an influential body of theory that has arisen around artistic practices since the 1970s (specifically Jacques Ranciere and Giorgio Agamben), which focuses on a shift in production from material goods to human relations and social life. The increasing slippage between the material product of art and the artist's imaginary is then investigated in chapter 2 beginning with Marx's proposition that what makes labour exclusively human is that before it produces anything in reality it is first raised in the imagination. Building on Agamben's reflections on art and work (The Man Without Content) and the phantasm (Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture), this thesis then identifies the phantasm as the dominant movement in relating the imaginary of artistic labour to its event of production. Rather than offer a new elaboration on the trajectory and history of art practices following the shift from the factory production line to the network (which emphasises communication, interaction, and creativity), the theory of the phantasm contributes an understanding of how art 'thinks' labour and how artists mediate themselves in labour. Contextualised with reference to performance art, conceptual and post-conceptual art practices, and particularly the artists Tehching Hsieh, Santiago Sierra and Bruce Nauman, chapters 3 and 4 then show how artistic practices operate to open up a space of critique of labour that combines and distributes different senses or suggest another sensory reality of labour. Chapter 3 develops this argument through Ranciere's theory of the distribution of sense in aesthetic practices (Politics of Aesthetics, Dissensus and The Aesthetic Unconscious), and situates artistic labour as a conflict between sensible presentations and our making sense of them. Chapter 4 concludes by bringing the movement of labour in the imaginary (Agamben) together with its distribution in aesthetic practices (Ranciere) to formulate a single model of artistic (phantasmatic) production. In order to face the central position of labour in art practices, what this model contributes is a way to understand and visualise artistic practices not by the products of art, but through the artist's labour as a phantasmatic moment of production, free from the obligation of producing or signifying anything other than itself.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available