Survival in the post-fordist society requires increasingly more creativity. Inventing and re-inventing is the spirit of life long learning. Workers performing immaterial labour are exemplary here, moving from project to project, residency to the next, animated by creative energy, training and re-training themselves as they go. Pets share more than what we might expect with the other new types of so called “affective labour”. They, too have to perform, control their instincts and at the same time provide their audience with something that can not be measured in material terms. As regards to the activity that produces the cultural content of the commodity, pet labour involves a series of activities that are not normally recognised as work- in other words, the kinds of activities involved in defining and fixing cultural and artistic standards, fashions, tastes, consumer norms, and more strategically, public opinion. Domestic pets are primarily producers of subjectivity.
Comparing household pets to workers in cultural industries might be a foolish idea. As the saying goes: fish can’t see the water they’re in … research findings confirm we might have a deal to learn from these animals.
AUTODOMESTICATION started with my observations working alongside a rented cat in an artist residency in Vienna in 2006. The project has continued to feed my other activities. In short Autodomestication is based on practical and theoretical research between various disciplines and species.
Let me try to explain this. The basic value of a household pet is of course a subjective notion depending on the intentions and preferences of every pets particular situation, their owner, their environment, cultural values etc. Just think of your own pet or the pet of someone you know if you do not have one yourself. Almost everyone knows a pet. However I am making these crude generalisations on the one hand in order to bring awareness and respect towards the “fine” type of immaterial labour every household pet in our society performs and on the other hand I am trying to shatter or undermine the (self-)image of the independent individual and individualistic contemporary artist.
The definition of a pet claims that its value does not lie in what it “does” (as opposed to the production value of live-stock, racing animal and the like) but in what it “is”. Now remember for example how Richard Florida described the processes of gentrification caused by artists and creative workers migrations – the artists may or may not be aware of the value of their mere presence however on a larger scale they produce “results” by simply existing.
The value of being – is of course not a new thing – not at all – all art works are tracked back to it’s authors, obsessive researches to find where the work comes from… is it a hidden “core”, what is the magic that makes your pet so mysterious to you, is it the “difference” that fascinates you, or the “unknown” in its eyes, does it love you? Or the food you give to it? Many questions, no answers. Theartists themselves can find this either flattering or irritating or it may simply leave them untouched, depending on personality (cat, dog, fish, insect). In any case this is how the artists are believed to and encouraged to “mirror” their being, their personality in the art.
Another topic involves certain new types of pet-training (clicker-training) where the roles of the trainer and trainee have been reversed. The pet eventually becomes the trainer (it would use its “tricks” to make the trainer perform their “clicks”). Positve feedback training has also been the fundamental interest of the utopian project of the Los Horcones commune in Mexico, operating and training itself according to the positive -feedback principles of B.F. Skinner since the early seventies.
But back to Autodomestication, back to the dogs, back to the function of the artist in the society.
I would like to emphasize that my proposal may appear cynical at first sight but is in its core a questioning (or making fun) of my own “artistic research”, the reflections are based on my experiences and expectations in the freelance work that I have been doing for the past decade and the characteristics it has encourged me take on in order to survive, make money and live/work. Through the seemingly derogatory juxtaposition I am in search for a certain power, a power that may previously have been considered a weakness. Searching in silly places because it’s easier or funnier? I also see a utopian charm in the proposal. I remember the way Marx described the future of capitalism and the total dissolution of labour in Grundrisse. Would that maybe be a type of pet paradise that is perhaps already here?
I am not an academic and this research includes the element of my own performance as artist which exemplifies the point I am trying to make, and at the same time undermines it, since one of my “strengths” in performance is my relative unprofessionality, ignorance and maybe the “cuteness” that that results in.
To conclude, Autodomestication: part joke, part irritation, part sticky metaphor…