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Renate Wöhrer

Documentary as an emancipatory practice
Artistic strategies of representation of work under globalised conditions

In my PhD I investigate different artistic strategies, which combine documentary and political efforts. Within this field I concentrate on art projects since 1990 dealing with representation of labour and changes of labour conditions due to globalisation. According to public discourses especially unskilled work and marginalized forms of labour seem to disappear in the so-called “industrial countries”. In fact they are rather carried out by immigrants and therefore less discussed in public. So my question is, what kind of images do these art projects establish in contrary to public elimination (or rather displacement) of this subject?

Considering global division of labour the entanglement of social and colonial discourses as well as their expression in visual documentary have to be examined. In the 19th century members of the working class as well as people of different cultures were perceived as the „other“ to a white, male and middle class conceived norm in Europe and in North America. As part of this concept primitivistic discourses and anthropometric practices used and partly produced visual documentary. So in how far is the entanglement of social and colonial discourses inherent in visual documentary practices? How do contemporary artists cope with this heritage?

During industrialisation social documentary on labour was mainly produced within the realm of journalism and social studies. Today these pictures as well as contemporary projects are more and more presented in the art field. These various contexts have different social functions and duties, what does that mean for politically motivated documentary? Which kind of public sphere does the art world provide for images of labour and workers, since it is a differently structured social field than those of labour? How do these conditions structure modes of representation and gazes? And which artistic strategies have been developed to provide an emancipatory potential within this context?


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