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Variant, issue 41, Spring 2011

Complete issue: text    pdf

Front Cover : pdf

Letters : text    pdf

issue 39/40 cover

Investing, Advocating, Promoting... strategically

Daniel Jewesbury interviews Andrew Dixon, Chief Executive of Creative Scotland, 2nd March 2011

A revealing exchange outlining proposals in Creative Scotland's Corporate Plan:
"We are getting rid of all the art form silos… There will be no art form budgets…we will have generic budgets that are more strategic, much more planned and on a larger scale".

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Would you like to respond to the issues raised by Andrew Dixon? - email Variant here.

Marching for Whose Alternative?

"We are not storming heaven, but being marched precariously close to the precipice. The Trade Union Congress is not our tool for emancipation – and neither can it be. Why are we being so skilfully pacified by ‘our’ institutions?" Escalate is a collective of writers and activists from around the University of London, brought together through protest…

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...The Hindrance of Assembly
Notes for a Tralfamadorian ‘book'

Robert (Bobby) Doohihan

"Ian Brotherhood is a cantankerous middle-aged unemployed father of two with no respect for pedants, sophists, and language-mangling panhandlers. Bobby (Robert) Doohihan is/was, a fairer, saner, more humane and optimistic incarnation of the same man. So Ian asked Bobby to write this, and supervised him throughout…"

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Glasgow Life or Death
Rebecca Gordon Nesbitt

"In summer 2008, Variant published an analysis of Culture and Sport Glasgow (CSG), based on an examination of its key personnel and the consequences for the city’s culture their ethos implies. This research pointed to the subordination of Glasgow’s culture and leisure services to business interests, particularly tourism and regeneration, which was perceived to have a detrimental impact on those working in the arts and on the long-term welfare of the city’s culture and leisure facilities. It built on concerns, already expressed in Variant, that having a private company running the city’s culture and leisure services may prove disastrous as democratic accountability was lost and speculative funding sources failed to materialise. Against a backdrop of public sector cuts and deep-seated discontent among CSG’s workforce, it seems appropriate to assess whether this has proven to be the case...."

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Scottish Information Commissioner
Decision 192/2011 Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt and Culture and Sport Glasgow (Trading) CIC (trading as Glasgow Life)
Correspondence and minutes of meetings between Glasgow Life and various Trade Unions
Reference No: 201002017
Decision Date: 21 September 2011

Academic Capture
Kasim Agpak

Affirming that the continuing attack on academic freedom in the UK, at several levels, has not yet brought about an adequate defense of the public interest in the autonomy of university research, Kasim Agpak elucidates Desmond Fernandes' study which brings together numerous accounts of the unfolding battles which are taking place, providing a powerful account of the way the commercialisation, militarisation and securitisation of the UK academy has developed into a state discourse, not only in the UK but also internationally.

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Comic & Zine reviews
Mark Pawson

This Comix Reader goes from Signs of Change to self-censorship having always been an issue in autobiographical comics, to The Summer of Boundless Optimism and Car Boot Sale that May Fade in Direct Sunlight... but It All Makes Sense.

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In, against and beyond labour
Gordon Asher, Leigh French, Neil Gray in exchange with John Holloway

"This exchange with John Holloway follows on from our engagement with his most recent work, Crack Capitalism (2010). Holloway’s work has become well known in and beyond activist circles since Change the World Without Taking Power (2002) was published and widely read. This intentional popularisation has, arguably, tended to obscure Holloway’s previous work while drawing strength from it. … While Holloway’s recent work draws strongly on his interests in the Zapitistas and other movements and struggles in the Global South, where he is presently based, it should also be noted that he was, for some time, based in Edinburgh and wrote regularly for Common Sense: Journal of the Edinburgh Conference of Socialist Economists... The ideas presented in Common Sense deserve a wide readership, particularly at a time when left liberalism in the UK, as Holloway challenges below, seems determined to 'lock us firmly into capital and close down all alternatives' through regressive campaigns such as ‘Right to Work’ or the recent ‘March for the Alternative’."

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Re-Thinking Creative Economy
as Radical Social Enterprise

Angela McRobbie

"We will soon begin to see the ‘creative industry’ phenomenon as something specifically linked with the Blair and post-Blair years, starting 1997 and in effect lasting for just more than a decade. Such a positioning allows us both to focus on its character and function and to acknowledge that the politics of arts and culture for the present government will be something very different. … It is also likely that a new discussion will arise about how to theorise the position of the universities struggling to survive by themselves entrepreneurialising. … Neither defeatism nor old fashioned militancy will suffice in circumstances such as these. I would like to propose a renewal of radical social enterprise and co-operatives."

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‘A very complicated version of freedom’
Conditions and experiences of creative labour in three cultural industries

David Hesmondhalgh, Sarah Baker

"This article investigates the experiences and emotional responses of interviewees to their working conditions in three cultural industries (the television industry, the recording industry and the magazine industry). Via semi-structured interviews with a range of workers, it explores working conditions and experiences in the following areas: pay, working hours and unions; insecurity and uncertainty; socialising, networking and isolation. Our research suggests that experiences are at best highly ambivalent, across all three of the industries we studied. We found evidence of feelings of victimisation and anxiety. Building on previous research, especially that carried out on IT workers, we also discerned complicated responses on the part of workers to the freedom and autonomy characteristic of much cultural work. Pleasure and obligation become blurred in a challenging way. Expectations of sociability and networking in these industries were also the object of some ambivalence, and some workers reported feelings of isolation. These findings suggest that creative industries policy has paid insufficient attention to the experiences of creative workers."

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The presence of precarity
Self-employment as contemporary form

Gesa Helms

Aligning artistic and academic labour in their shared belief in creative and autonomous practices and work identity formation - the valorisation of one’s self in such relational labour practices - this study, drawing on Maurizio Lazaratto and Sergio Bologna, takes us some way towards unravelling some of the myths around creativity and autonomy in immaterial labour (be it as artists or academics). In doing so it calls into question assumed understandings of class divisions between a culture of (UK) middle classes and working classes:
"These, unfortunately, too often remain anything but new in the studies of working class lives and firmly rely on the examination of cultural preference if not socio-economic class indices. Instead, going back to a Marxist understanding of class in relation to the means of production and ownership of these allows us to consider that drinking latte, flat whites, or similar, may not determine one’s class belonging. Consequently, a dismissal of self-employment, or rather freelancing, as the territories of the middle-classes (i.e. not working classes) does not take us very far if we fail to consider how such ‘autonomy’ of self-employment is indeed firmly woven into a process of subsumed labour."

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The Intangibilities of Form
John Roberts

"In The Intangibilities of Form. Skill and Deskilling in Art After the Readymade, John Roberts proposes a challenging model for everyone dealing with contemporary art, both theoreticians and artists. In his rereading of twentieth century art and avant-garde art more in particular, he takes an overtly left-wing, not to say Marxist stand, contributing in a spectacular way to what, he says, is needed in scholarship today: a labour theory of culture.
As the title of the book suggests, Roberts finds this model in Marcel Duchamp’s readymade, not so much in its form – which has become commonplace in the art world from the early '70s on, as in its function as a site of reflection and conflict. Hence the first part of The Intangibilities of Form [the Preface and Introduction is reproduced here] is devoted to the readymade and provides the reader an insight into the key principles of the book."

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'Through A Glass Darkly'
Performative Practice... Without Border, Without Name

Katarzyna Kosmala

A reflection on Central and Eastern European, diaspora-infused art practice, one which coalesces around a feminist critique of dominant neo-liberal globalisation; a politically charged network-based movement raising social justice issues; a “feminism without borders”. Revealing a cultural tactics that points to alternative modes of instituting and relating to society, individuals and institutions: "These practices appear to afford illusionary hopes to those areas that are disempowered locally by the inertia effects of global capitalism, and yet also allow for distance to be maintained from such ‘utopian’ pursuits. Accordingly, the questions emerge as to whether feminist-infused critiques can become part of broader histories and social and political struggles, and whether feminist histories transgress the market game concerns and celebrity art-lite of international biennials?"

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Make Whichever You Find Work
Antony Iles & Marina Vishmidt

"The recent uptake of the post-autonomist immaterial labour thesis draws cultural practitioners closer to the critical self-recognition of their own labour (waged and otherwise) as alienated, as well its formal commonality with other kinds of affective labour at large. Art finds itself in a new relation with abstract value, whether it’s the typical forms of contemporary work or financial mechanisms. This applies both to the structural re-composition of work by ‘creative’ and self-propelled forms of exploitation as well as the inscription of art in social policy agendas tending to enhance market values. In an unprecedented way, art not only reflects but revises the productive forces, shading into forces of ‘non-production’ and devalorisation in an era of debt-financed austerity. However, as art expands to include more and more fields of social action within its imaginative and institutional remit (political activity, work, education), the paradox remains that the social effectiveness of art is guaranteed by its separation from capitalist work. Thus, art’s estrangement from labour continues apace, but, at this historical juncture, coincides with labour’s estrangement from labour: labouring subjects who do not identify with themselves as labour. …"

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The State of Poetic License
Owen Logan

"What is striking about the books [The Social Impact of the Arts, An Intellectual History, by Eleonora Belfiore and Oliver Bennett; No Room to Move, Radical Art and the Regenerate City, by Josephine Berry Slater and Anthony Iles; Global Culture Industry: The Mediation of Things, by Scott Lash and Celia Lury] is how class has been abstracted by critical discussions of arts and culture, in much the same way Detroit’s car industry jobs are outsourced. A largely unexamined antagonism, class, now seems to exist as an old fashioned, and sometimes sentimental refrain in cultural theory. This attitude might change as ‘economics’ and academia meet on increasingly unfriendly terms. Nevertheless, the difference in attitude between books written in the past twenty-five years, compared to the outlook of writers before the era of ‘globalisation’ will be obvious in this article. What this difference means is less obvious, and is the subject of what follows."

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