10 October till 13 November 2014
Review by Vincent van Velsen
What happens when you bring together two artists who deal with the interface between art and life? During their residency, Rumiko Hagiware and Mounira al Solh investigated the contemporary meaning of laziness. They studied texts on this subject, searched for ways to be lazy, and spoke with many people about the subject. They filmed the actions and conversations, relevant texts lay on the reading table at SYB, and all of this was presented over some ‘bitterballen’ [Dutch croquette balls] and fries – food doesn’t get more lazy than this – with a succession of filmed documentary material in the background. Unedited, as befits laziness.
The film shows ways in which you can be lazy. Notable is that in one way or another laziness always comes with an action. Pilates, beauty masks, or lying smoking in a playground; it’s always an active form of laziness that is being propagated. An important point of departure for the duo was the text by Mladen Stilinovi? In Praise of Laziness in which he states that art within the Western capitalist democratic society is entirely accepted and assimilated within the dominant economic discourse. Because of this, art is only one of the many possible modes of production in which someone can ‘usefully’ spend their day, and it is no longer labelled as a lazy activity. Sven Lütticken speaks in this sense (Slothism, 2014) about chronopolitics: time as an economic exchange value. In the 24-hour economy, the contribution to economic growth and measurability is the highest goal: work hard, consume hard. Producing during work time and consuming during free time – in as far as a clean separation still exists.
The artists appear to have stumbled on the same interplay. While they’re propagating and investigating laziness, they’re actually hard at work. To work, or not to work seems to mainly be a rhetorical question here. In the 19th century, Marx’s son-in-law Paul Lafargue (The Right to be Lazy, 1880) stated that religion was used to support the economic and the subsequent political domination with the divine demand to work hard in this life in order to be rewarded for it in the afterlife. Now, it’s the neoliberal doctrine that makes us work, with the belief that more is always better: greed is good. The unemployed are layabouts and work makes you better: but is that really the case?
With the Greeks, work was merely reserved for slaves; the citizens – residents of Athens – were concerned with intellectual life and looked down on physical labour. That’s very different now. The intellectual is constantly overshadowed by practical matters, the demand of permanent performance, paid presence and a constant readiness to act. It’s no surprise that people barely sleep more than six hours a day; the long arm of work extends into the bedroom by means of emails and smartphones. Yet, time and time again it’s proven that rest, or laziness if you like, has a positive influence on both mental welfare and the quality of production.
For instance, Bertrand Russell said that qualitative high-minded knowledge doesn’t flow from practical use, but from a contemplative state of mind. The best ideas are visions which mostly come from moments that are labelled ‘meaningless’ and ‘useless’; Peter Higgs (from the famed particle) agrees with this notion and says that he could never work now in the way in which he came to his theory: the time and peace of mind he needed to come to his theory isn’t granted anymore, simply because this is not productive enough. Nowadays, it’s not work time that’s measured, but production. Correspondingly, Lafargue criticised work from a Marxist perspective where it’s a slavery of someone’s time and spirit; under the banner of the ‘right to work’, the working class is intellectually curbed; whereas it’s precisely boredom and laziness which bring forth creativity and with it realises the progress of humanity.
Similarly, Nietzsche stated that citizens are kept at work by the political rulers’ fear of the free utilisation and wishes of the individual. As long as people are forced to be busy, they won’t do crazy things: ‘work is the best police’. It is the best way to keep everyone in line and simultaneously hinder mental development in an efficient manner. In exhausting people’s energy it means they don’t have time for reflection, worrying, dreaming, caring, love and hate. It provides short-term goals – monthly payments, the completion of an action – thus ensuring easy and regular satisfaction.
Interestingly, the word boredom has only been viewed as a ‘problem’ and theoretical concept since the end of the 18th century. It is a by-product of the dull monotonous work carried out in factories and other industrialised branches of production. At the same time, boredom has opened the way to all sorts of entertainment, for whoever is bored, needs to be amused: radio during less challenging work, or in front of the telly on the sofa after a full day of tedious labour. Leisure activities only exist by the grace of work; holidays and breaks, likewise. This use of language signifies that work is seen as a permanent state in which ‘fun actions’ serve as in betweens, as a pleasant change, or a more than welcome distraction from the monotonous and continual contribution to the economy.
The recent emergence of companies such as Uber, Thuisafgehaald and AirBnB only further pave the way for economising free time: cooking, eating, driving, or having a nice house are all subjected to commodification. All kinds of new ‘side jobs’ for adult full-timers are becoming less of an exception under pressure of the much needed extra income to subsidise the small wage an average working citizen generates nowadays.
‘Thinking about doing anything, might easily lead to doing something’ according to Jerry Seinfeld in the same-named sitcom about doing nothing. That is exactly what Hagiware and Al Solh have showed us in their research: laziness leads – paradoxically – to doing other things. Smoking, Pilates, making and applying health masks, or ways of putting others to work in order to compensate personal laziness or amusement. There’s a reason as to why Al Solh said that you can buy laziness and time. The economic imperative of work to survive can only be resisted by isolating yourself and being self-sufficient, to shut yourself off from any form of money-related activity; a residency seemed in that sense to be a preeminently suitable method. Ultimately, a lot was done and there was very little lazing. Perhaps Oblomov, the protagonist as described by Ivan Goncharov in the same-named book, can serve as the last lesson: he lazed throughout his entire unremarkable life until eventually it quietly petered out like a damp squib. It did little good, but he wasn’t a whole lot worse for it either.
translation: Jenny Wilson