Monday, February 10, 2014

I AM SPENDING MY CAPITAL, curated by Urška Jurman and Petja Grafenauer, City Gallery Nova Gorica, Nova Gorica, 10. - 31. January 2014

Mehanizem za ustvarjanje napetosti / Friction Machine
Mehanizem: knjigi, miza, pletenica, jeklena konstrukcija, silomer, motor, zategovalni sistem / Mechanism: 2 books, table, wire, steel construction, dynamometer, electromotor, tension system
95 x 62 x 98 cm

Photo: Janez Pelko

Mehanizem za ustvarjanje napetosti, detajl / Friction Machine, detail
Knjigi: Marxov Kapital in Death of the Liberal Class avtorja Chrisa Hedgesa
2 books: Capital by Karl Marx and Chris Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class

Photo: Janez Pelko

Deregulirana vizija / Deregulated Vision
Stara očala, kalejdoskopska leča
Old glasses, kaleidoscopic lens
11 x 4 x 13 cm

Photo: Janez Pelko

Tovarna, 1.del: Ljubezen / The Factory, Act I: Love
Video, 5.26 min

Tovarna, 2.del: Rojstvo / The Factory, Act II: Birth
Video, 3.34 min

Tovarna, 2.del: Rojstvo / The Factory, Act II: Birth
Video, 3.34 min

Kontejner / Container
4,2 x 2,4 x 2,6 m

Photo: Janez Pelko


The Song of Machines in a Manufacturing Plant

Petja Grafenauer

The exhibition that Sanela Jahić, 2010 year's laureate of Pixxelpoint, is currently putting on for the show room of the Municipal Gallery of Nova Gorica slips effortlessly into the very centre of her past work. I dare to say that all the themes and techniques that have and will continue to characterise her work and artistic practice have blended and are being expressed in a single outburst.

With her current exhibition in Nova Gorica, pictures have been (temporarily) removed from her production. There are only brief glimpses through kaleidoscopic glasses recalling fugitive images. The image of a multiplied mass of coins opens up the possibility to enter a mesh of dialogues stretched between the following poles: machine, work, worker, owner and c/Capital.

Sanela Jahić has decided to focus on manufacturing. Part of the research and some of the exhibits for I AM SPENDING MY CAPITAL have been created in the peculiar environment of local manufacturing plants. Thus, the process of artistic creation was entwined with the processes of industrial production. The artist has established an idiosyncratic dialogue between art and manufacturing. She was allowed into the very heart of production plants with the permission of the Owner, who thus let the workers be heard at all.

The research has disclosed man's relation with machines and his submission to the question of power, which is manifested in our civilisation through property. While some people are served by machines, others serve them. The former are convinced that they control machines and that the relation is a safe and even a loving one. Workers, on the other hand, have assimilated the ideology that conceals the real nature of their state and have become what they are required to do. Being weaker than their humming partners, they know that their survival depends on positive energy: “We have been created for eight hours of work per day.”

The machine is the Other in this binary relationship. The machine does not sense the daily eight-hour offering and does not care for effort, feelings or commitment to excellence. Nonetheless, it apportions the hours of its owners' and workers' lives by humming or shrilling in the background of a production room as if constantly calling to work. It evokes feelings of inferiority or superiority, power or subordination, and even finer emotions, such as affection, dependency, love, beauty, dreaming or resignation, deference and sacrifice.

Statistical analysis, political discourse or even concrete action cannot grasp the depths of the relation between man and machine in the production environment. Only Art is able to fathom it. A worker in Sanela's video is struggling to cover up the reality that continues to emerge from her statements, gestures and glances: “At least, we are healthy!” The Owner, on the contrary, loves his machines. The calm on holidays, when machines do not operate, reminds of mother. The machine has very clear view of the world, but it does not recognise its role in it.

A machine is unable to distinguish between Marx's Capital and Chris Hedges's The Death of the Liberal Class, in spite of working with the power of the four men it replaced. “The capitalist fights for his profit, the worker for his health, for a few hours of daily rest, to be able to engage in other human activities as well, besides working, sleeping and eating.”1 wrote Engels in 1868 in one of his reviews of Marx’s Capital. The Workers' and the Owners' goals are incompatible. Death of the Liberal Class talks about the failure to stand up to the corporate state and weather the consequences of a bankrupted liberal system and paints a gloomy picture of our future, if we fail to stir up a revolt of all those, who do not want to yield to subjection.

The power of the machine tightens and eases the tension between books that are so strongly bound together by the simple physical factors of weight and friction that three Workers and one Owner are unable to unbind. The words of two are standing up to the machine that has replaced four. The cold aesthetics of reality, the noise and the power of the machine generate anxiety in the observer. Reality suddenly strikes through a strong and yet extremely clear and precise aesthetic experience. A container home in the gallery constitutes another statement that amplifies the artistic experience of reality revealed by Sanela's exhibition that gives us the opportunity of feeling and reflecting on the true relation between man and machine in the production process. The relation is another reflection of the society we live in, a society woven out of human relations. Will we ever achieve the Owner's genuine love towards the machines and be able to see our future in them? Will we ever be allowed to enjoy the Song of the Machines?

1 Friedrich Engels, “Marx's Capital”, Demokratisches Wochenblatt, No. 13, 28 March 1868. Also available at:


Sanela Jahić
I Am Spending My Capital
Urška Jurman

The relations between machines, humans and their identities are one of the constants in Sanela Jahić’s work. At this exhibition, the artist tackles these relations by examining labour and the nature of the production process in the context of late capitalism. She strings a fragmentary, but consistent interpretation of these relations through four works, which are all self-contained, but at the same time constitute a rounded critique of the capitalist mode of production, in which the artist herself is inscribed – as the title of the exhibition states – with her experience of precarious work, that is, her experience of being self-employed in culture.

Even though we live in the so-called post-industrial society, the artist’s narration does not revolve around the cases of the service cognitive-cultural economy and information technology, for example, but draws the material from the context of the classic, industrial production. On her many visits to various factories and manufacturing facilities, in which she first had to gain the trust of the owners and workers, she interviewed several individuals, but picked two for this exhibition. The ambivalence of an individual’s relation to technology and the way that the latter influences the nature of labour and thus one’s subjectivity could hardly be illustrated better than with statements from a female worker and an owner. In the video work both speak about the positive aspect of the advance of technology, which facilitates (manual) labour and simplifies it – the worker even introduced an analogy with home appliances, and the negative aspect of the relation between humans and machines. They both welcome the simplification of labour brought about by contemporary technology, but, as the owner points out, as the machines become increasingly advanced and self-sufficient, human beings become increasingly less important assistants to machines and not the other way round. Moreover, the automation and robotisation take away jobs since productivity increases with decreasing work force. But despite the similarities in their statements, the experiences of the worker and the owner are radically different. While showing the artist around the factory the owner unimpededly talks about how the cycle of a mass production machine dictates the work pace, while the worker’s entrapment in the production process, during which she can take only a few minutes to talk since the machines keep running, is physical, full of interruptions and unrelaxed. She thus concludes: “I’m not relaxed because I know that in the back there is still ...” and runs off. The difference between the worker and the owner is more than evident also when they talk about their attitude towards work. If the owner talks about the genuineness of his relation to machines, which he describes as his connection to a livelihood, naming this relation love, the worker’s experience testifies to that of estranged labour. If she is lucky, she will reach her retirement age in the factory (according to the old pension legislation, she could have retired already) and then (after the end of estranged labour) devote her attention to the things that actually fulfil her, for she is by her nature, in her own words, a creative person, an artist.

The inequality of their positions is also illustrated by a kinetic object with a video, which introduces the hierarchical order of the capitalist mode of production with the domination of the owner’s gaze from above and the worker’s subordination; the viewers themselves being in a double position of domination (in relation to the worker) and subordination (in relation to the owner). The
Deregulated Vision, the miniature bricolage, which assumes the position of a note in the entire exhibition, perhaps calls our attention to where the concept of surplus value has brought us. When we put on the glasses with altered lenses and look at money, we see the essence of late, financial capitalism – the multiplication of value that has no actual or real basis.

Let us end with the beginning. Arriving at the gallery, the viewer enters a ready-made object, a used container like the ones we see at construction sites. The ambience formed with the help of the container places us at the “scene of the crime” and at the same time determines the interpretational axis of the entire exhibition. In addition to the container, Four Workers and a Couple of Theories includes also a video showing how four workers try to pull apart two books: Marx’s Capital and Chris Hedges’s Death of the Liberal Class. The attempt we follow in the video is also staged by the exhibited mechanism illustrating the force of friction between the two books. Marx’s Capital as the unsurpassed critique of political economy in which Marx discloses the economic laws of capitalist exploitation is literally felted with the critique of the liberal class, which once importantly contributed to the expansion of democratic rights together with the radical social and political movements, but today, due to its cooption with neoliberal ideology, no longer has a relevant place in the reflection on or the struggle for the possible radical social changes.

Sanela Jahić’s exhibition does not talk about possible alternatives, but with artistic tools and language subtly discloses a complex story about the intertwinement of technology, labour, capitalist production relations and subjectivity.

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