Diagonale is currently closed while we installing the next exhibition.
From left to right: Julien Prévieux, What Shall We Do Next ? (Sequence #2), 2014. Karine Savard, Afficher le travail (détails), 2021
JULIEN PRÉVIEUX AND KARINE SAVARD
Curators: Chloé Grondeau and Anne-Marie St-Jean Aubre
04.15 - 06.5
The industrial buildings of avenue De Gaspé, which today are home to studios and artist-run centres, were until recently the site of large-scale garment manufacturers. The gentrification of Mile-End has been in progress for many years. Artists, who first arrived in the area about twenty years ago, will soon have to vacate their spaces to make way for start-ups and other creative enterprises. This is also the case just north of the railway tracks, in Mile-Ex, another former industrial area that is now the nucleus for artificial intelligence development in the city. Co-working spaces, which have become more common in Mile-End over the past fifteen years, are telling examples of how the rapid growth of the gig economy has forever changed today’s working conditions. Interestingly, in terms of lifestyle, this workforce shares many of the same characteristics as the artist’s way of life: flexibility, autonomy, creativity, but also precarity, solitude, and a vocational aspect whereby work increasingly encroaches on one’s free time.
Karine Savard, who designs movie posters for a living, has used her personal experience and changes in her neighborhood to analyze the evolution of the labour market. Mile-End, where Diagonale is located, is known for having one of the largest concentrations of cultural workers in Canada, ranking it among the trendiest neighbourhoods in the world. During the first half of the 20th century, however, this multiethnic area was considered one of the poorest in the city, where many new immigrants found work as manual labourers in the garment industry. After researching through Vidéographe’s film collection, Savard has woven together a story that highlights the solidarity between these workers and their efforts to secure better working conditions. From her findings, the following question has emerged: “What if, today, the figure of the exploited worker suddenly resembled the liberated artist?” What if the neighborhood’s history was being repeated? The documentary film De fil en aiguille (1979) gives voice to female factory workers from the Chabanel district, whose buildings, much like the ones on avenue De Gaspé, have over the past year welcomed the same artists who were forced to abandon their Mile End studios due to rent increases.
The fragmentation of work into low-paying, repetitive tasks was the common lot of these textile workers, and their gestures give rhythm to the documentary’s narrative. In What Shall We Do Next? (2006-2011 /2014), Julien Prévieux draws our attention to other kinds of actions. In particular, to the gestures that have been patented by multinational tech companies such as Samsung, Apple, Google, and Sony, essentially giving them property rights over the hand movements used to activate their now ubiquitous applications, or technologies that might be developed in the future. Technologies such as tactile screens, and their associated gestures, have transformed the way we work by facilitating various procedures and making them quicker and easier. These technologies have an impact on productivity, and patents ensure that the potential capitalization of these inventions will benefit their owners. When a company owns the rights to a set of gestures, it transforms these into depersonalized objects. And yet, these gestures can only be effective or productive if they are physically embodied. Just how far can capitalism go in its push to instrumentalize human beings? Prévieux’s work digs deeper into how businesses appropriate our everyday movements. Since digital tools are used in all aspects of our lives, they risk transforming us into a “workforce” without our knowledge. By reclaiming patented gestures and using them as the raw material for his choreography, and thus releasing them from their purely practical function, Prévieux creates a kind of act of resistance.
The notion of “human capital” is both an economic concept and a more intuitive expression, commonly used to create links between an individual, their work, performance, and salary. The expression emerged when employers stopped seeing their employees as interchangeable units, but rather as workers with assets (knowledge, talent, skills) that could help their businesses grow. A person’s human capital is what they have to offer: it is characterized by their level of training and experience, which are proof of their skills, which in turn reflects their productivity, and thus, justifies their salary. For a business, human capital is its workforce understood as an asset. Investing in human capital means finding ways to maximize the potential of employees and individuals in order to increase the company’s returns. Following this logic, workers become exploitable resources rather than individual beings. Perhaps in response to this objectification of service sector employees, young professionals have embraced freelance work, which has continuously grown over the past several years.
Crowdsourcing microtasks through digital platforms such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, where one can buy or sell services, encourages the segmentation of jobs into often poorly paid tasks. According to Policy Horizons Canada, a federal organization that conducts foresight, “Canada is already one of the largest suppliers and demanders of online labour on task platforms.” If technological advances, which claim to increase access to jobs, offer the mirage of progress, the system remains dangerously reminiscent of the kind of poorly-paid piecework the majority of Montreal’s garment manufacturers were built upon. Is platform capitalism revolutionary, or a step backwards? Julien Prévieux and Karine Savard’s research has led to the creation of works that reflect on the present while drawing lessons from the past. They shed light on the flawed logic that artists must work to unravel, and encourage us to imagine a workplace future that is beneficial to all.
This exhibition is presented in collaboration with the Musée d’art de Joliette
Karine Savard would like to thank the Canada Council for the Arts, Vidéographe and Sagamie for their support in the creation of this project, as well as Jean-Philippe Boudreau, Scott Berwick, Karine Boulanger, Audrey Brouxel, Violaine Charest-Sigouin, Hervé Demers, Émili Dufour, Emily Gan, Chloé Grondeau, Maud Jacquin, Robin Simpson, Anne-Marie St-Jean Aubre, Olivia Vidmar, Sami Zenderoudi, Roxanne Arsenault and Manon Tourigny for their support and
contribution at one point or another of the process.