Work and Art Within and Beyond Crisis. Introduction.

This project is an ongoing labor notebook. Its purpose is to expose the development of labor and labor processes under capitalism.

The project began in March 2020 with an aim to archive and map pressing issues at the intersection of art, labor, and the economy during crisis. The project started in parallel when many cities, including New York City, where I live and work, went into lockdown due to the pandemic. The first parts of the project began to study how capitalism was exacerbating the COVID-19 pandemic and the precarity of the labor force.

After the murder of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020, the country erupted into demands for justice and defunding the police state. The capitalist state continues to fund the police to apply its laws and keep the working-class in its grasp. Yet, front-line workers, such as nurses, social service workers, and bus drivers, who no choice in staying out of work, risk their health in a pandemic for low wages.

This notebook is about the development of labor processes under the capitalist mode of production. This is an ongoing work, and not a comprehensive survey. This has prevented me from covering all that I hope to include on this topic as of now. I have included further links to resources, readings, and artistic projects in the appendix and will continue to add to this list.

While this notebook applies horizontally across occupations, I have created two additional chapters, Art Worlds and Artistic Response, that specifically, look at development of labor processes in the culture sector. As an artist, this is the sector in which I am employed. Given my position as an artist who stands in solidarity with workers in the arts and culture sector, I feel compelled to address the relationship with capitalism and artistic production, as well as how art responds to the crises caused by capitalism.

Given this notebook is shaped by my own views, no matter how objective I can try to stay, I will share more background on myself. I grew up in a working class family. I identify as white male artist. My pronouns are he/him. I acknowledge this notebook is through a U.S.-centric lens and rooted in my own personal experiences. I also acknowledge my identity provides me certain privileges. For example, I am not an essential worker reducing my potential for infection from COVID-19. This privilege was not lost on me as New York City went into pandemic lock down earlier this year, while essential workers, from nurses, social service workers, and others, kept the city running. Also, I have steady access to broadband internet and I am not constrained by the growing digital divide. I don’t have to worry about the police attacking me when I walk down the street and I am at less risk than others of being shot or detained by the police. While I have a disability, it is largely unseen, and it does not impact my ability to secure employment. All of these things provide me certain opportunities that may not be available to others. This fuels my commitment to exposing the challenges faced by workers, across race, gender, and class under the capitalist mode of production

I will use the terms labor and work throughout this work. For simplicity, I am referring to both words as the physical or mental activity towards production of some kind. My study of these words is through a Marxist lens. I owe gratitude to generations of Marxist thinkers, as well as many writers, artists and activists who seek to grasp the inner workings of the capitalist mode of production that encompasses all of modern society.

The purpose of this notebook is to expose the development of labor and labor processes under capitalism. My hope is that this work contributes to demystifying distortions of the reality we work in. This is a critical part of the process of raising class consciousness and building a more just and inclusive world.

The first public presentation of this notebook took place on May 13, 2020 in a conversation hosted by Elizabeth Ferrer at BRIC.

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1. The landscape of labor

2. Art worlds

3. Artistic response