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Discourse

John Roberts

Art and the Problem of Immaterial Labour: Reflections on its Recent History

6 June 2013

John Roberts presented “Art and the Problem of Immaterial Labour: Reflections on its Recent History”

The debate on immaterial labour and art has garnered an enormous amount of attention recently, yet curiously there has been little substantive discussion about its history and assumptions. Indeed, its terms are taken to be de facto self-evident, in a way very similar to the rapid acceptance of the notion of the ‘dematerialization of art’ in the 1960s neo-avant-garde art world. Consequently, we need to be clear about what is being claimed in its name, particularly when Maurizio Lazzarato himself soon disowned the concept after having revalorized it as a category of political economy in the 1990s. “No sooner had we borrowed the concept than we were faced with ambiguities. People interpreted material and immaterial as opposites.” “Shortly after writing those articles I decided to abandon the idea and haven’t used it since.” So, far from immaterial labour being eminently legible as a concept it needs to be reconstituted as the site of a problem. I want to analysis the concept therefore, via two questions: Is it coherent as a concept? And if so: what is its status in relation to the production and reception of contemporary art?

 

Professor John Roberts has taught and lectured throughout the UK and overseas since the 1970s. In the 1980s he wrote extensively for art publications nationally and internationally, and published his first book in 1990, Postmodernism, Politics and Art, a critique of postmodernism. Over the last 15 years Roberts has published books that re-examine the key practices and concepts in contemporary art. His recent essays on art, politics and aesthetics have been published in the Oxford Art Journal, Third Text, Radical Philosophy, Historical Materialism, Philosophy of Photography and Manifesta. Roberts has also completed major curatorial projects in London, Venice, Hamburg, and Liverpool.

Part of Curatorial Interventions, a series of talks that explored different formats, histories and interpretations of the curatorial. Programmed by Daniel Pryde-Jarman.

Recording of John Roberts' "Art and the Problem of Immaterial Labour: Reflections on its Recent History"

Recording of John Roberts' "Art and the Problem of Immaterial Labour: Reflections on its Recent History"