Can Work Be Play? Initial notes on Robert Filliou, Network Technologies and Immaterial Labour

Dear Art-of-Peacemaker,

I’ve been trying to draw some very initial thoughts together which might in turn connect Robert Filliou’s thoughts on art, materiality / materialism, network technology and labour. I think doing so might help explain why Filliou was so engaged in utopian ideas of network on one hand but not so much with network technologies on the other. So here goes with a very initial sketch. Discussion welcome.

Let’s begin with the materiality / materialism issue. Filliou’s works are noted for their conceptually-driven ephemerality consisting of performative, often social, gestures and/or economically cheap, disposable material. In combination with his utopian socialism after Fourier and later engagement with Zen, Filliou’s practice is thus read as both a Marxian critique of commodification and a Buddhist critique of materiality. The economic precarity and poverty of his living conditions – he dropped out, remember – is often anecdotalised and to an extent romanticised in recollections. Though declaring the historical avant-garde to be obsolete, Filliou is still in many cases the perfect formulation of the humble but heroic artist disengaged from the vulgarity of making a living and the trap of alienation therin. Still, he was not a hermit as that formulation often requires – he was a networker, and one of few who espoused the importance of social relations as the basis of networked coproduction. His conception of The Eternal Network concerns cosmological consciousness more than infrastructural efficacy but was also a karmic potlatch of hospitality and reciprocity through which the artist could economically survive and creatively prosper. A potlatch where the gift-giving is of innocence and imagination. This network, this La Fête Permanente, is the poetical economy Filliou desired to transcend the political economy and which could only be realised through networked solidarity.


image: postcard of Statue of Charles Fourier, Place Clichy, Paris before German occupation of 1940

The alternative is the misery of renting one’s labour – the inevitable destiny of the proletarian. This however means renting labour time and becoming entrapped within the machinations of alienation of the spectacle. A surplus of time (that is time not necessarily dedicated to wage labour) is also arguably behind the conception of the artist – and by extension art itself – as inherently bourgeois. Not necessarily everyone an artist then from that perspective, unless being an artist can be considered as a refusal of labour. Ne travaillez jamais. This may be a concern shared equally by Filliou and the Situationist International – a connection I’ve always wanted to be able to make somehow. Can Fourier help provide an intersection? The Return of Fourier?  I’ve asked before whether the ludic Filliou, someone for whom play is central to innocence and imagination and vice versa, is also necessarily a luddite Filliou? I’m more certain of how The Eternal Network’s utopian desire for a ‘globalism’ of network consciousness transcending mental and physical borders of mind and territory differs from a ‘globalisation’ of a virtual class of immaterial labourers whose desire to be ‘dematerialised’ and ‘decentralised’ has made flexibility a liability. In this sense the machines have failed us again or rather we have failed the capacity of technologies to abolish work. Its the addict, not the drug. This paradox is the foundation of a battleground of ‘cyberfeminists and venture capitalists alike’ and the contested territory on which The Next Art-of-Peace Biennale seeks to return to Filliou’s conception albeit in – and precisely because of – very different conditions of production, distribution and reception today. A luta continua!

Roddy Hunter

Self-appointed curator,

The Next Art-of-Peace Biennale 2015-17