Getting Rid of Leisure Time

Getting Rid of Leisure Time, essay, Who are We Talking With? What Can Institutions (Un)Learn from Artists? symposium, organized by, 17th and 18th May 2019, Kampus Hybernska, Czech Republic, photo:

In the following text, I focus on the topic of human activity. In the last three years I have hit on this theme several times in three different art projects. Perhaps for this reason I have become convinced that a detailed analysis of human activities can answer a number of basic questions that have surrounded various artistic disciplines for the last several centuries. Above all this concerns the issue of social responsibility and the openness of artistic practice and artistic institutions.

By the term "human activity", I mean all actions that individuals or social groups perform. This includes those that are ubiquitous, which we experience with every breath, with every movement, and which we execute in order to satisfy our basic human needs, as well as those through which we help those close to us or get to know the world around us. Essentially, there are as many human activities as our languages have verbs. Each verb refers to a specific act.

Every artistic agenda relates in some way to specific activities. Some examples can be mentioned at random from the second half of the 20th century – Maintenance Art Performances by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, In Praise of Laziness by Mladen Stilinović and Lying-Down Ceremony by Milan Knížák. In all three cases, the artists began making use of various human activities as a metaphor to postulate new aesthetic norms, but even more so to point out the rigidity and imperfection of the political systems into which they were born, in which they lived, and in which they were attempting to live out their artistic practice. Thus did they demonstrate their social exclusion and the impossibility of fully realising their artwork as a mother, an immigrant, and an Eastern European artist.

They demanded that their disadvantaged position in the world of art be rectified, thus inadvertently urging for equality amongst activities themselves, as the superiority of one human activity over another is the cause of unequal social status between individuals and groups of individuals.

The Preparatory Sketch for a Public Autopsy of a Human Activities, 2017, 70x50 cm, Lambda print, author’s archive

I am convinced that an analysis of human behaviour can reveal the hidden democratising tendencies in the history of art. For this reason I would like to present two artistic studies that led me to this specific way of thinking about art and artistic practice.

The first of these is the project Art Practice and Other Activities from 2017, in which I subjected to analysis the majority of activities I encounter every day as a visual artist and in which I participated voluntarily or involuntarily.

The starting point was all the data stored on several external memory drives. I transferred all of them onto a single disc and then divided them up by activity, either associated with artistic practice or with regular everyday concerns. Eight items form the foundation of the archive: Salaried Work, Unsalaried Work, Organised Education, Procrastination, Idleness, Free Time, Recreation and Sleep.

After adding up all the data I came to the conclusion that there are roughly twice as many items in the folder Unsalaried Work as under Salaried Work. This means that for me to be able to carry out my work as an artist and teacher, I must perform twice that number of unpaid tasks. It should also be emphasised that the study did not include activities that do not leave behind a digital footprint, the vast majority of which we perform for our loved ones and friends free of charge.

Thanks to this monotonous clerical work, I have to admit that I have long been neglecting vital activities to the detriment of my artistic practice and leisure time. It was something of a cathartic moment that changed my point of view on the institution of art.

This experience ended up inspiring me to create a software instrument entitled Human Activities. I brought it into being by working with Jakub Valenta over the course of last year and this one. When making it, we drew primarily on the typology of human activities from the previous project, merely reducing the number from eight to four.

The application allows users of the operating systems Windows, Mac OS and Ubuntu to rename the archival folders like Music, Pictures, Videos and Documents to the folders Paid Work, Unpaid Work, Recreation and Other.  

These can be monitored using a simple icon on the operating system's Control Panel. When you click on it, a list of all folders (with percentages showing their degree of usage) appears. The sum of data is based on file size and the amount of information in the given folder along with the time spent interacting with the data therein. In my case, the difference between paid work and unpaid work was staggering. This time the percentage difference was two hundred and fifty. Again in favour of unpaid work.

"It is meant for individuals who work based on contracts, who are unhappy with their employer or who are working on a number of part-time projects all at once. We offer those people our software tool, thanks to which they will be able to gain greater control over their time and space and also get a critical look at their daily interaction with their surroundings."

We do not expect this software tool to be successful or that those with precarious work will immediately begin using it. It is more of a symbolic act that highlights the formal archiving of data in digital technology and infrastructure. We are convinced that this state reflects the value framework of employers and senior employees rather than the needs of the average user.

Human Activities, an illustration, an application and a website (, 2019, in collaboration with Jakub Valenta, author’s archive

Both works are based on the tradition of the emancipatory struggle for equality of various social groups. I have dedicated myself to this topic for a whole decade. Everything began with the series of photographs Two Families of Objects from the year 2007 and continues to date. Over ten years I have focused primarily on the beginnings of the workers' movements of the 19th century and their struggle for the social equality of manual labour. In many cases workers were not fighting solely for the societal recognition of their own work, but were also demanding equality for domestic work and the liberation of women from the day-to-day performance thereof.

The thematisation of "low" social activities led to greater democratisation of society. This process was not however simple and smooth; it was accompanied by unexpected revolutions and bloody military conflicts. The political, economic and cultural elites were loathe to give up their societal advantages. Both distant and recent history are thus an unfinished story of society-wide negotiations on the meaning and status of diverse human activities. Under the given situation, advantages are afforded to those activities and segments of society that are able to offer society prosperity or which are able to ignite arising crises most quickly.

For the these reasons, I gradually began to focus on analysing human behaviour. A detailed study thereof opened up new horizons of art history and artistic practice for me. From my own experience I can declare that this method of interpretation helps uninitiated audiences to better understand the inner dynamics of works of art, as they look at them from the perspective of everyday experience, which is often based on activities that are not consider "high" by contemporary elites.

Human Activities, a print screen, an application and a website (, 2019, in collaboration with Jakub Valenta, author’s archive

Up to this point I have refrained from any attempts to provide a specific recipe on how to open up the world of art to the rest of the population. I am convinced that alternative educational programmes or strategies taken from participatory democracy will not help us in this. It is necessary to change the whole intellectual framework in which contemporary art finds itself. This is based on a complex system of human activities in which certain activities are more valued and others less so – both on a symbolic level and in the form of financial compensation. The activities that are most positively valued in art are generally those that relate to the term Leisure Time.

I dealt with this societal consensus in my last work In the Shadow of the Lion from last year. This was a series of six photographs and one essay. In it I focused on defining the differences between Leisure-Time Activities and Leisure Time.

The first term refers to non-productive activities that an individual or group of individuals performs as part of the state or private infrastructure, and is usually associated with the development of national states.

The second idea can be connected to the idea of autonomous time, to which every individual is entitled, and which is completely independent of the modern division of the world.

The idea of Leisure Time originated during the 1960s and appealed to the lifestyle of the European aristocracy, bourgeoisie, the bohemians of the 19th century and the interwar avant-garde and to their concept of art and culture based on idleness and leisure. It is no coincidence that the generation of artists and theoreticians of this decade chose as their model the artist Marcel Duchamp.

I consider this fact to be the result of the period's search for a compromise among various types of societal activities. It was a meeting of the life experience of an old man who grew up on the values of the urban bourgeoisie of the 19th century, where leisureactivities were highly valued, with the agenda of a young generation that refused the post-war societal consensus based on state planning and adoration of paid work.

In his best known and most valued works, Duchamp focused on the everyday being of industrially manufactured products. He attempted to change our point of view of the things that surround us and to which we do not pay attention. This was an unavoidable emancipatory process, without which 20th century art would not be a fully viable and interesting field that constantly surprises us and forces us to think.

At a symbolic level however, Duchamp's artistic practice relied on the term Leisure Time. At this moment his legacy becomes problematic, as it does not allow us to open the world of art up to a broad spectrum of social strata. If we truly want to open up the institution of art, we must cease raising behaviour associated with Leisure Time above all others and pursue an equality of all human activities. Only then can the proper opportunity for democratisation of art arise.