Teacher, midwife, photographer, homemaker, berry picker, former lawyer – now taxi driver, doctor, artist, cement factory worker, game designer, business owner, art consultant, kitchen assistant, hairdresser, receptionist, farmer, electronic musician creating sound loops for TV commercials, janitor, dancer, log driver, writer, exhibition producer, communicator, bus driver, personal assistant, unemployed… Work is a significant matter.
From work, we gain status, a sense of purpose, not to mention it is a way to pay our bills. Work divides our existence and leisure, although for some, “life” and “work” become inseparable, while for many others, unemployment is a catastrophe. Throughout the brief but long history of waged labor, workers have advocated for shorter workweeks, strived for more equitable and just jobs, better wages, more meaningful work, greater control, work for all, and an end to wage slavery.
We have embraced many notions of the value of work. For some people, work is a duty, while for others, it provides a sense of purpose, a calling rooted in their abilities and knowledge, and the changes they wish to bring to the world. At the same time, much work is simply performed because people are paid for it. Yet, the meaning of work is as diverse as all our experiences of it.
In most societies, work creates and reinforces power relations and hierarchies, while care, equality, and solidarity are devalued or set aside. The world and history of work are characterized by unequal and exploitative working conditions, including slavery. It is not surprising that many utopian visions of desired futures envision societies where all forms of heavy, monotonous, or non-meaningful work have been abolished. Or that a critique of the nature of work and ideas about alternative worlds where “good work” flourishes is part of many visions of social change.
What is the meaning of work in a world of accelerating global warming and approaching climate catastrophe? How can we equate work with development and the necessary green transition? What are the factors that make work unfair, unequal, exploitative, or dissatisfying? And if it is unsatisfying, why must we work at all? Machines and digital technologies have taken over much of the heavy manual labor but have also generated new types of work as we assume responsibilities that were previously carried out by others. How do we value these jobs? What about the time we spend traveling to and from work? What is the relationship between work and leisure? Is work compatible with human freedom and rights? And what do efforts and work mean when they are performed for the survival of the collective, not just for the sake and advancement of the individual?
Havremagasinet Länskonsthall Boden begins 2022 with exhibitions, programs, and other events to collectively explore and investigate WORK. What work is and can signify today and tomorrow, for our society and culture, and considering our place in the world, in these times of planetary crises when human-created systems and machinery are collapsing.