DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

Salon des Refusés

As is evident not only from the continuing and increasingly tense discussions of job cuts, executive salaries and the reforms to the social security system known as Hartz IV, our society’s self-definition around paid employment is in deep crisis. This legacy of modernity is proving more and more of a trap, producing individual life crises and collective insecurity alike. The fierce discussions surrounding the future of work, however, generally remain in thrall to the myth of their subject, rarely rising above a fixation on paid employment as the (sole) justification for individual and collective empowerment. Since paid employment – at least in Germany – continues to be the most important point of reference for identity formation, it is increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for many people to develop a positive self-image.

In Kassel and the surrounding region, too, the upheavals and restructuring processes affecting work in western societies since the 1970s have led to heavy job losses: high unemployment figures and the accompanying poverty, which has left its mark on the cityscape, point to a crisis of labour society and make it a constant companion and establisher of (negative) identity for many of the city’s inhabitants.

A documenta 12 advisory board working group will address this pressing topic with an activity of their own: In the spirit of the historic ‘workingmen’s colleges’, they will establish a Salon des Refusés where unemployed and employed people can work together to research and explore the subject of the crisis of a society structured around paid employment. This exploration will not stop at local conditions, but instead will use the international networks of documenta 12 to analyse the local crisis of labour, together with the guests of documenta 12, in the context of global changes in work. When concrete actors compare local examples from different countries, it allows us to experience our situation here as an element of global redistribution processes – thus also affording the individual insights into options for global action.


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