I Can’t Work Like This

1 May–23 June 2012 / Casco HQ

“What do you mean, you can’t work like this?”

The project I Can’t Work Like This creates a platform for examining our working conditions in the permanent crisis of the neo-liberal economic regime, and for learning how workers from variant sectors can get effectively organized. We propose to do this through a collaborative and transdisciplinary approach involving art, design, action and theory. 

In recent years, a sector of the federation of trade unions in the Netherlands (FNV Bondgenoten) started reconsidering the limits of its old “service unionism model” and opted to experiment with an “organizing model” to build up an organization from below marked by grass-roots action and a high degree of self-organization by its members. This was a drastic departure from the unions’ previously top-down structure and their function as quasi-insurance for workers with fixed contracts. However, numerous problems regarding labour organization today – such as the increase of freelance/flexible contract work or the often invisible and poorly remunerated work of undocumented migrant workers – still tend to be beyond the scope of most unions. Hence, there is more to do. 

While labor conditions in general have changed, the sphere of art and culture too has undergone paradigmatic shifts. In what official policy now calls “the creative industries,” a focus on the affectivity and creativity goes hand in hand with an effective valorization of the managerial over the artistic. Institutions feed off the commitment of “art workers” who tend to merge their work and life, while maintaining a bureaucratic superstructure that seems to become more dominant in an age of funding cuts and insecurity. This situation suggests the need for re-examination, re-articulation and new constellations: It is time to voice what kind of “work” it is that “art workers” do, how and for whom do we work. And it is time to suggest new forms of organizing and becoming collective subjects. 

Taking the forms of an exhibition and public events, the project will present different relations between art and labor-related struggles, suggested through documentations of actions, contemporary and historical artworks, designs and other artifacts. The exhibition includes works by artist Charlotte Posenenske, Argentinian art collective Tucumán Arde (Archivo Graciela Carnevale) and British film collectives from the 60s and 70s. It also documents a few exemplary cases where the struggle for better working conditions merge with aesthetic practices, such as in the work of the Carrotworkers’ Collective, Jinsuk Kim & Hope Bus movement, as well as contemporary organizing models used in campaigns by Justice for Janitors, workers of Silicon Valley and the Dutch Cleaners Union. 

Where will this artistic research lead? By discussing the relation between art workers and unions, between artistic practice and labor-related struggles, I Can’t Work Like This hopes to stimulate new alliances between aesthetics and politics. In the end, its question is simple: Why don’t we find a common ground and get aligned with other workers in taking action for better working conditions? 



With contributions by Tucumán Arde (Archivo Graciela Carnevale), Carrotworkers’ Collective, Dutch Cleaners Union (Nina Mathijsen & Marnix de Klerk), Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Jinsuk Kim & Plog TV, Florian Schneider, Charlotte Posenenske, Henk Tukker, Mierle Laderman Ukeles 

Phase 1: 1–17 May 2012 (open daily from 12:00 to 18:00, except holidays) 
Opening: 1 May, 14.00–17:00 (doors open 13:30), with assembly and installation of I Can’t Work Like This by Natascha Sadr Haghighian 

During Phase 1, the exhibition is built around I Can’t Work Like This, the work by artist Natascha Sadr Haghighan after which the project is named. The kick-off is during the assembly on May Day, which also serves as the opening, when all “workers” are invited to construct the work together. The work consists of hundreds of unworkable nails forming the outline of the phrase “I Can’t Work Like This.” 

Take your hammer with you! 

Phase 2: 18–23 June 2012 (open daily from 12:00 to 18:00, except holidays) 
Opening: 18 May, 18:00–21:00 with screening of film by artist Petra Bauer 

On the occasion of the opening of Phase 2, there’s the screening of Petra Bauer’s film Conversations: Stina Lundberg Dabrowski meets Petra Bauer (2010, 30 min), made as part of her research into several British film collectives in the 70s that posed different relations with (and aesthetic strategies for) labor. 

ASSEMBLY – for Debate and “Co-Production” 

1 May 2012, 14:00–17:00 

The exhibition is inaugurated with an assembly on the 1st of May, which functions as the opening of Phase 1 of the project. May Day in the Netherlands is not a public holiday, nor is it much celebrated compared to the neighboring countries. At Casco, we loudly celebrate Dutch May Day with what will no doubt be a passionate conversation between Valery Alzaga (union organizer) and Merijn Oudenampsen (sociologist and political scientist). 

The discussion revolves around the economic crisis and its consequences on the welfare state and labor in Europe and in the Netherlands, including the breakdown of the Dutch polder model in labor, the rise of organizing comprehensive campaigning and “striking” as contemporary strategies for labor in the Netherlands, a possible effective alliance between service sector struggles and artists in struggle, and more. 

Throughout the assembly, all participants are invited to start (re)producing the piece I Can’t Work Like This by Natascha Sadr Haghighian. Also, Binna Choi and Matthijs de Bruijne will guide us through what’s to come in the exhibition, opening it up to critical feedback. 

WORKSHOP – Organizing as an Open Source 

5 June 2012, 12:00–18:00 

Last year a lot of important work and energy dissipated when the protest against the cultural funding cuts were over. Experienced campaigner Valery Alzaga and artist Matthijs de Bruijne will hold a day-long workshop on “effective campaigning” for art and cultural workers interested in organising and building stronger long lasting alliances. The goal of the workshop will be to share organizing tools so individual energy and efforts will never be lost again. 

Free registration (e-mail Suzanne Tiemersma with statement of motivation by 30 May). 

TALK – ‘Designers’ Inquiry’ by Construction Site for Non-Affirmative Practice 

5 June 2012, 19:00–21:00 

On the evening of the workshop, we invite you to attend a presentation by Construction Site for Non-Affirmative Practice and contribute to their research on the designers’ working condition! 

“We are a group of young Italian designers who met in autumn 2011 in Milan, during a collectivized artist residency at Careof, a non-profit space for contemporary art inside the Fabbrica del Vapore. Since, we’ve been working to pose questions, study and experiment with support structures for critically engaged design practices. 

As designers, we feel deeply involved not only in the making of objects, but also in the creation of relations, processes, languages and collective imaginaries. As a consequence, we believe that our research should raise questions about what kind of society we want to contribute to with our work and to question the role we play in the economic system we are living in.” 

EVENT – Screening, Book Launch and Manifestation 

23 June 2012, 17:00–19:00 

A new union organization tentatively called De Nieuwe Vakbeweging (The New Union Movement, DNV) will be launched by FNV on 23 June. Its concept is yet to be known. At Casco, Domestic Workers Netherlands and artist Matthijs de Bruijne will premiere their second “shadow play” film. Artist Petra Bauer will join us as a first respondent to the film as well as present her book in progress (co-edited with Dan Kidner) on the research mentioned above. The day will continue to unfold with the following question: Where will our research lead? How can this contribute to a broader social movement? Who is this for? Let’s figure it out together! 

THE PROGRAMME IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE! Please check our website for the latest update as well as further information on the programme. 


I Can’t Work Like This is initiated by Casco director Binna Choi and artist Matthijs de Bruijne, developed together with union organizer and member of SEIU Valery Alzaga, art historian Beatrix Birken, philosopher and assistant professor at UvA Johan Hartle, and with the assistance of Casco project coordinator Suzanne Tiemersma and Casco intern Loes Degener.

The project is an offshoot from Casco’s long-term “living research” project The Grand Domestic Revolution – User’s Manual and made possible with the financial support of Mondriaan Fonds, Gemeente Utrecht, and the European Union Cultural Programme in the framework of COHAB, a new collaborative structure between Casco, The Showroom (London) and Tensta Konsthall (Stockholm).

Thanks to Ask! Actie schone kunsten, Sven Lütticken, Katayoun Arian, Marijke de Wal, Marleen de Kok, Justin Flood, Maiko Tanaka, NFP-Photography, Utrecht.

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