Rehearsals in Self-Direction
A Visit to the Choir of the Self-Organized. daegseingcny


"We've read Karl Marx and we've taught ourselves to dance" - just this one line and Aina forgets about her doubts, why she came here. The adapted number one hit by Bros fades away. Aina scans the room and the present people, her expression tells that she's exploring invisible lines, structures of the social space: the subtleties a spectrograph would miss.
Two hours ago she arrived at the semi-public choir rehearsals of the university. It's her first time, but she's familiar with the situation: ten to fifteen people, most of them recent graduates, a common challenge (singing in this case), a challenge which is the focus of activity but also compost and catalyst for socialising and networking. One sings songs politically and produces a political space, singing. All done in self-direction.

The space is an enormous lumber-room, actually a saloon of an time-honoured institution, yet to be renovated and thus it can be used by the choir before it can be rent out to corporates as prestigious party location. Neo-classicist style, old mirrors on the walls, endlessly reflecting the extravaganzas of both setting and performance.

So the choir rehearsals are using this dusty curlicues interim. During the rehearsal time rehearsing and breaks become more and more blurred. The breaks extend, some people resume singing while others still drink their coffee. For two weeks it has been openly discussed, if rehearsing and breaks should be separated more strictly again. First of all, this discussion lead to more commingling, which has been reflected upon as well in turn; after all it has been decided to pick this phenomenon up in the songs. Well, the songs… next on the list is a remix of a Prog-Rock classic. From the apocalypse concept album "666", a song in which Aphrodite's Child use a famous counter culture slogan, attributed to Abbie Hofmann.

the Choir of the Self-Organized:
"We found the system to fuck the system
We found the system to fuck the system
We found the system to fuck the system"

Laughter. The self-organized have a cigarette break and talk another time about the late 60s. Another time. Some chat about their own past and the relation of space and work. Matt, almost 40 and surely one of the elders in the round:
"15 years ago we moved out of the studio. We wanted to get out of there, into society, mix ourselves again, and if only with other studio fugitives."
Other voices report:
- We've also been looking for the others. The ones that left some decades before us. We wanted to know what they became?
- Oh well… actually we had been thrown out. They threw us out, we should be looking for a job in the creative industries.
- Looking for a job? Inventing a job! And to be honest, we did a good job, didn’t we? We could be proud, couldn’t we? SHOULDN'T WE?
- Actually I haven’t been around for that long. I just think it that way. To me the question has never been posed, studio, or not studio, respectively it appears only now… All this project-based work, well I don't know. Fizzled out a bit. Another empty gesture. "Artists and their flexible and subjectivity-based economic models are becoming the role-model of post-fordist labor conditions, also here the material production in the studio gives way to project-based research and communication networks."
Recently read in a funding application. Or written? In such statements there is a weird mix of self-critique and pride. Because at least the artist plays a role again, doesn't she? After the Situationists the avantgarde model was gone for while in the arts, but now we're part of it again, the vanguard, and be it only of the economy (stupid).

By the way, do you know the story of Frederick the Mouse? A family of mice gathers reserves for the winter: corn, nuts, etc. Only Frederick doesn't. So the others ask him "Why don't you work?" He says, he DOES work, he gathers sun rays, colors, words. Later in winter, all the food has been used up, and Frederick shares his supply, telling about summer and colors. The story is a parable for kids on the function of art.
"Ok, let's take it like this for now, this reduced understanding of art. What I find interesting about this today, is that the role of immaterial labor, affective labor is being described. In the context of the ongoing discussions on transformed labor conditions the question of the legitimation of Frederick's work cannot be posed like that anymore. Rather, if not all of us have become Fredericks, respectively who gathers the corn now?

A few meters aside, Aina steps into the next conversation.
"Recently I watched the Muppet Show. Paolo Virno was the guest, presenting his current book 'A Grammar of the Multitude'. When I was in London last fall, taking part at this meeting about artist unions, everyone had a copy of the book in their bags. Some kind of an unofficial conference reader. Virno sketches out a differentiated image of the multitude. Some of the key terms of the book underline the role of the contemporary artist as model for post-fordist economy: virtuosity, performance and performative art, idle talk, curiosity and cooperation. Kermit introduces him, the curtain moves and Virno stands there, big bushy beard as Marx, and starts his first sketch. He handles balloon figures and tells some stories about surplus value and the special status of performative artists. With their work, there is no end product which could be separated from the performance, the activity, the act of producing itself.

Gonzo is totally impressed by Virno and scents the chance that his virtuous talent might be discovered finally and he makes it big. He shadows Virno and wants to know what he still needs to learn. In his wardrobe, Virno shows him the next trick: He conjures Hannah Arendt out of his hat. Arendt strikes out and compares virtuosity with and political activity. Both need a publicly organized space - the presence of others - and both share the lack of an end product.
Virno goes on lecturing, about the role of communication and language in the context of affective labor, particularly by two terms of Heidegger: idle talk and curiosity. According to Heidegger curiosity is the degraded and perverse form of love for knowledge. Curiosity is the persistent search for something new, without dwelling on it anytime. This takes place when there is nothing to procure for. Curiosity is characterized by non-dwelling, distraction and restlessness. And idle talk defines curiosity - what one "has to have read or seen".

At the end of the show, Virno tells poor confused Gonzo: "Each one of us is, and has always been, a virtuoso, a performing artist, at times mediocre and awkward, but, in any event, a virtuoso."
Meanwhile the break is over, and some self-organized resume lilting. Smiths. "And you must be surfing very long tonight / The devil has found work for idle times, too..." Aina remembers her last visit to the theatre, an evening about post-fordist labor conditions. "A stage with mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice, and she sings 'We are all just prisoners here, of our own device'. Amazing play!"