Art Practice and Other Activities

Photography from the Art Practice and Other Activities series, 2017, Lambda print, 120x90, view from the exhibition Happy End, organized by Lítost Gallery, Svit Galley, 2018, photo: Lítost Gallery

Hard drives

I hold a plastic object in my hands every day. It is a small prism, more flat than high. It is around 13 centimeters long, 9 cm wide and 2 cm high. I carry it from home to work and back regularly. I connect it to and disconnect it from different computers all the time, and therefore I touch it constantly. I have a very specific and physical relation to it.

It is an external memory drive. In my artistic practice I have already focused on this technology once, in the video installation entitled The Involuntary Archivist. It was created seven years ago in collaboration with Zbyněk Baladrán and the hard disk theme plays a central role in it. Since then, I have always wanted to return to this theme to answer the following questions:Can we unfetter hard disks from their function to store and archive data for us? Can they be more than just working tools? Can hard disks mirror our concepts of work, its division into salaried and unsalaried activity, our need for free time and recreation and the need for sleep and idleness?

Free Time (115 Gb and 11058 items), 2017, Lambda print, 60x40 cm

Hard drives and archiving of work activities

I do not only have one hard disk, I actually own three of them though I use only one, the other two serve as backup. I keep the first one at home and the second I keep at work. All this for two reasons: in case someone breaks into my apartment or workplace and steals it or in case of hard disk failure, be it because of accidental damage or just deterioration.

Still, I have lost a relatively large amount of data over the past 20 years.  Some was work I then had to redo, some was data of sentimental value such as family photos. It has happened with CDs, with their re-writable versions, with DVDs, but also with hard drives. That is why I keep several hard disks in a number of places.

Perhaps all computer users have at some point lost some of their data. For this reason, there exists the possibility to store digital data on remote servers owned by different multinational corporations. I use several cloud services like Google Documents, Google Photos, Flickr, or Vimeo myself, but only to a limited extent. I do not have everything stored there. Which means I do not have to pay for it. I have never exceeded the free data storage limit and don’t think I ever will. I prefer the way I store data myself. In twenty years of using computers and external drives, I have come up with my own way of archiving. Therefore, it is very difficult for me to accept the predefined interface of these cloud services and to put my information there.

I started working on my archiving system 12 years ago and my interest  during the first 10 years was focused solely on work. Maybe that is why I chose the most primitive solution. First of all, I sorted the data by years. I created a folder with an assigned year. Second, I started putting all the work done for the relevant time period in the corresponding folder. Third, I marked the particular archived items in a color to differentiate the work being done. Red was for art, orange for graphic works, purple marked the activities associated with Etc gallery and so on.

After a few years, I believed I had perfected a method of data storing and archiving.

Idleness (0 kb and 0 items), 2017, Lambda print, 60x40 cm

Hard drives and the archiving of human activities

But this stable working relationship began to change. Especially in 2012, when a number of artists and art critics, Jirka Ptáček, Pavel Sterec and Tereza Stejskalová, launched the campaign Zero Wage.

Zero Wage focused on a specific problem: many artists in state or non-profit institutions do not get paid for their artwork, so they have had to subsidize most of their artistic activities from other sources.

This campaign for introducing an artist’s fee was supported by a relatively large number of active artists, especially from the younger generation. But an even larger part of the artistic community ignored this initiative or positioned themselves against it.

This attempt to change the system in which Czech artists realize their activities has changed many people's view of artistic work. And this, in turn, has become the subject of my work over the past few years.

Organised Education (29 Gb and 6417 items), 2017, Lambda print, 60x40 cm

The fundamental problem when discussing artistic work is the excessive subjectivity of feelings. On the one hand, it is based on the long-term frustration over the functioning of the Czech art scene and, on the other hand, on the somewhat stereotypical idea of artistic creation as an autonomous act outside what is usually referred to as work.

Above all, this subjectivity has always made me quite angry. That's why I decided to find a way to relate this discussion to a physical reality, to try to limit the influence of dominant social ideologies on our thinking about art practice and its financial evaluation.

To solve this personal challenge, I turned to my external drives. The data stored on them is just as relevant a source of artistic work as the “hard” production of any artist. That's why I can use them for my internal research. You just need to divide the "artwork" folder into salaried and unsalaried work, then quantify and analyze everything. In this way, I will be able to tell everyone how much time I devoted to my art practice and how much time I spend on other, non-renumerated activities such as those that support the emergence of new art projects.

I started to browse most of the data on my external drives, and gradually I came to the conclusion that the information contained in the artwork folder is inadequate and that I will have to reclassify a lot of things. Most of my artistic activities exist on the very fluid boundaries between unsalaried work, private life and leisure-time activities. This has proven to be a big problem because all the data concerning my personal relationships and interests are arranged very randomly, everything stored in a number of folders with the original names of photos, pdfs, movies, and music.

Procrastination (242 Mb and 102 items), 2017, Lambda print, 60x40 cm

The moment I realized this fact, it occurred to me that my external drive and my computer were not just the means of production. They are above all devices in which silicon wires contain the records of my private life, they are pretty much stuffed with them.

If I want to analyze salaried and unsalaried work in the fine arts, I will have to rearrange all of my data.

So, I bought a Western Digital storage disk with 1 TB of data, formatted it and moved all the data there and started organizing. I deleted some folders and divided others. Numerous touches of the keyboard and the mouse began to create a new type of archive.

Its basic structure consists of eight folders that appear on the computer screen when an external drive is attached: Salaried Work, Idleness, Unsalaried Work, Organized Education, Procrastination, Recreation, Sleep, and Free Time. Two of the eight folders are empty. I have them on the hard disk to remind me of human activities that have not been fully affected by the cyber revolution and that make us fully fledged human beings, namely Idleness and Sleep. The remaining six are full of data and information. All together, they refer to the most important human activities. Part of these work in pairs, such as salaried and unsalaried work, free time and recreation, idleness and procrastination. Others work independently, such as organized education and sleep. These do not require a partner, a social counterpart.

Recreation (167,1 Gb and 4364 items), 2017, Lambda print, 60x40 cm

The division of the folders and their naming are based on economics, political philosophy and the sociology of space and time. In the case of salaried and unsalaried work, I was inspired by Guy Standing, a British economist dealing with the terms of work and labor. He carefully analyzes and outlines them in his books. Labor – that is, salaried work—is not only connected to receiving a wage but is above all a social and economic concept that dominated the global political space during the 19th century. While work—that is, unsalaried work – is, according to Standing, a human activity carried out without the claim for wages, in a domestic, community or public sphere. In his argumentation he refers to Hannah Arendt's book The Human Condition and compares unsalaried work to the Ancient Greek schole, a term translatable as self-education.

Although I appreciate the arguments of Standing and Arendt, I cannot agree with them completely, they are too romantic and simplistic. They do not fully accept the long-term tension between salaried and unsalaried work that manifests itself in historical prejudices and chauvinism. That is why, I have, under the influence of modern feminist theories dealing with the unpaid work of women in the home, further divided the unsalaried work folder into 2 subfolders - a free time folder and a folder with unsalaried work. The book The Second Shift by Arlie Hochschild and Anne Machung served, in this case, as inspiration.

In the case of the Idleness folder, I was inspired by the writings of Paul Lafargue's The Right to Be Lazy, Laziness as the Truth of Mankind by Kazimir Malevich and, above all, Praise of Laziness by Mladen Stilinović. The origin and designation of other folders (Recreation, Procrastination, Sleep, and Organized Education) are not based on specific sources but are derived from my own experience and long-term interest in various activities.

Salared Work (231,8 Gb and 21586 items), 2017, Lambda print, 60x40 cm

Hard drives and artwork

The biggest problems arose with the Artwork folder. I have been working on it for the last ten years and I did not want to give up on it. It was not possible to simply split it up into 2 - one folder with salaried work and one with unsalaried work. This classification would not make sense in this case and I would not learn anything from it.

After a long hesitation I reorganized the artwork folder thus - work for which I received a financial reward can be found in the Salaried Work folder. Work done without the claim to wage is stored in Unsalaried Work. And I have moved Artwork in the preparation and creation stages to the Free Time folder under the Art in Progress label.

In this case, I was inspired by the idea of autonomy espoused by artists and theoreticians from the 1960s. However, unlike them, I have come to the conclusion that the idea of temporal and spatial autonomy can only be related to the preparation and realization of an artwork. But at the time of its incorporation into the society of people and objects, we have to think of it in terms of salaried or unsalaried work.

During the transfer of artwork to the folders of salaried and unsalaried work, I had to admit that the vast majority of my artistic activities falls under unsalaried work. The difference between the two is nearly double. In the first one, 21,587 files are stored, taking up 232 GB, and in the other I have 47,551 files occupying 270 GB.  During the final evaluation, I focused on the number of items. For a simple reason. In the Salaried Work folder, several videos are stored, accounting for up to 40 percent of the data. Unlike the Unsalaried Work, where I have mostly lyrics, pdfs, and low quality photos.

Sleep (0 kb and 0 items), 2017, Lambda print, 60x40 cm

The Unsalaried Work folder is the largest one. Its content is divided into eight subfolders, which refer to the most diverse human activities in the context of unsalaried work (free time activities, self-presentation, cooperation, concern and care).

There is an AVU (Academy of Fine Arts) subfolder. This concerns non-occupational activities at the Academy (photographic documentation of atelier activities and taking care of regular social media output). A three-year term in the Academic Senate and a failed attempt to represent the Academy in the Council of Universities also falls into this category.

There are sub-folders dedicated to managing bank accounts and paying taxes. As well as one containing graphic work done without renumeration.

Finally there are subfolders for Family and Miscellaneous. In these folders you can find information about parenting and helping friends and acquaintances. These activities occupy a very small part of the hard disk. These are mostly jobs that are invisible to digital technology, they take place outside of them.

Unsalared Work (282,52 Gb and 34428 items), 2017, Lambda print, 60x40 cm

There is also a subfolder dedicated to maintaining my computer and learning new technologies. These activities belong to unsalaried work. I do not account for them in my self-employment nor am I salaried for them at the Academy of Fine Arts.

Finally, there is the Artwork folder. It features PowerPoint documentation, web site backups, and e-mail correspondence. There are also items devoted to inspirational sources, artists, books, texts. Followed by unrealized projects and unsuccessful grant applications. Also, I store there documents, questionnaires, interviews, lectures and presentations. Everything ends with twenty years of artistic work, followed by a seven-year collaboration with the Etc gallery and long-term membership in the PAS group and Skutek organization.

Now I have everything divided and quantified. Not only do I know which artistic activities are under Unsalaried Work, but I also had the opportunity to learn about and explore other human activities. I gained more control over my life and a critical distance from my work. I'm not afraid of any questions: What are you doing? What is your art practice? Now I know how to answer them. Thanks to a small device that I always carry with me and to which I have a very specific relation, it has eliminated my formal view of art practice. Above all, it allowed me to place some human activities at the same level as work for which I am grateful.