For two decades now, a post-Fordist working model has been taking shape in our societies and is becoming, it seems, the rule for a growing number of workers. This model stresses flexibility, creativity, innovation, authenticity, communication skills, and eloquence, and is friendly to the idea of work as a series of ever-new projects, implying temporary contracts (or no contract at all), flexible working hours, and strong physical and mental mobility. This type of work very much weakens the separation between our private and professional lives, the latter no longer bound by clear temporal and spatial limits. This results in a form of self-exploitation that rests on the interiorization of self-fulfillment through work. Workers are no longer judged solely on their know-how but also on their know-how-to-be.
According to the sociologist Pascal Gielen, we see this model for work and the values associated with it being elaborated by modern artists starting in the early years of the 20th century. The art world would thus seem to have served as a laboratory for the neoliberal economy in order to effect the shift from Fordism to post-Fordism in the 1990s. Consequently this model for work, which exists on the margins of the system of production – and therefore constitutes a kind of critique, or at the very least a form of distancing – lies at the center of the new economic regime. One may wonder then whether artists haven’t been overtaken by the dominant ideology and hence what the consequences are for their relationship with autonomy, work, and their artistic output in particular.
The economic relationship between artists and art centers reproduces these different principles. That is, the work contract is often nonexistent and there is no, or little, direct remuneration for the work done by artists, who most often must content themselves with a form of social and symbolic valorization. As for art center employees (curators, technicians, etc.), most of them are poorly paid and accept these conditions through identical justification mechanisms. And yet the art center is an organization comprising several salaried individuals and in this regard it is closer to a post-Fordist company model than the individual situation of an artist is, even if she or he is often viewed as a self-entrepreneur.
The current staff at CAN (which took shape in 2008) has drawn its inspiration from associative values (or beliefs) while being influenced, less consciously no doubt, by the values of post-Fordism. Flexibility and boundless commitment have been defended as a form of resistance to institutionalization, even bureaucratization, which threatens the creativity and autonomy of such a place. We have constantly paid attention to questions of dehierarchization, the interplay of institutions, and means of production. Although CAN is founded on a modest structure by comparison with other Swiss art centers, it has enjoyed in recent years a certain growth in terms of its budget. The staff reacted to this situation by increasing the number of salaried posts rather than the salaries themselves, which remain quite low, and by expanding its activities. Ironically this change would be a dream come to true to any neoliberal business owner (even though an art center does not produce wealth that can be monopolized by eventual shareholders). The growth of the art center has almost automatically spurred an increase in administrative tasks – and correlatively a reduction of the time needed to deepen ideas and creative projects, as well as committed relationships. This movement towards professionalization also implies a wearing down, a phenomenon of attrition, and highlights a certain number of contradictions.
The situation leads us to question once again our working conditions, the quality of that work, and a possible transformation of the structure at CAN. All the same, Bye-bye la compagnie (Bye-Bye All) is concerned less with imposing our thinking as an institution than with opening up the discussion on the working conditions of artists, productivity, the relationship they have with art centers, and more generally the evolution of the working world and its ideology. Being forced to temporarily move our activities to a venue that at first glance is not suitable to hosting large-scale exhibitions seems to us to offer an opportunity to work on these notions with the guest artists. The idea is to emphasize a certain quality of the time dedicated to this project – the time for working, thinking, producing, the time for being lazy, unproductive, idle, in discussion, or silent. In this we are not looking to stress the theoretical aspects of such a question to the detriment of practical, quotidian, and perceptible realities that are connected with that. Bye-bye la compagnie is not, strictly speaking, a group show attempting to bring together artworks on the theme of work. Rather, work is seen as a dynamic relationship and therefore a means for questioning anew the connections between artists and institutions, and reinventing them. The artists are warmly invited to exchange their ways of resisting or appropriating the balance of power and their relationship to independence, and to follow those paths leading to legitimization and visibility that best respect their works. The artists’ contribution can take several forms, from the exhibition to the immaterial intervention. They are free to offer a new piece, go back over an existing one, or even adopt a position that is altogether devoid of any material realization. A show opening or public event will be scheduled every time an artist participation will require it. Thus Bye-bye la compagnie is more a series of individual events than a group show. There will be a publication later whose form will depend on the pieces and exchanges that take place with the artists.
Intense exchanges between guest artists and the CAN team are taking place on a private blog dedicated to Bye-bye la compagnie. The CAN, considering that financial matters are an integral part of the project, has published the provisional budget by offering artists to discuss the distribution of the available amounts for remuneration to artists, production costs, transportation, travel , etc. Following this, one of the artists asked to be appointed Chief Accountant of CAN ... The correspondence about this is displayed in the exhibition and will be updated regularly.