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art & globalisation Arrow vol 4 no 1 contents
About borderlands Volume 4 Number 1, 2005

 


Photography and the Multitude: Recasting Subjectivity
in a Globalised World


Zanny Begg
University of New South Wales

 

Introduction

1. This essay will explore two aspects of globalization which have been analyzed by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri—"smooth space" and "the multitude"—through looking at the work of two photographers: Andreas Gursky and Allan Sekula. Both of these photographers are currently demanding attention on the world stage: Gursky held a major retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2001 while Sekula was included in Documenta 11 in 2002 and held a major retrospective at the Generali Foundation in Vienna in 2003. In this essay I will argue that a close examination of these photographers work provides a unique vantage point for a more nuanced understanding of these concepts, and, through this, the process of globalization itself.

2. Before getting into the discussion more deeply it is worth pointing out that Gursky and Sekula come from different generations of photographers (the former a younger German photographer who found prominence in the 1990s and the later an older American who came out of the student radicalization of the 1960s) and have very different approaches to both globalization and photography.

3. Gursky makes a good starting point for this discussion because his technique—a hybrid of photography and digital manipulation—and his relentless return to the same subject matter—the strange antiseptic world of late capitalism—make him a perfect illustrator of globalization (so much so his work was chosen to illustrate the cover of the 1998 Verso edition of The Cultural Turn). Gursky turned to digital manipulation because he felt that "photography is no longer credible" and that a "fictitious construction" is now required to "provide an accurate image of the modern [subject]." (Cooke: 1999: 14) The notion that reality can no longer be accurately conveyed by an indexical photographic image is crucial to an understanding of Gursky's approach to photography. Interestingly, Gursky still aims to provide an "accurate" image of the modern subject but, when confronted by the vast, complex dense world of globalisation, he feels he must digitally alter reality to achieve this.  

4. Jean Baudrillard has argued that postmodernity creates a world with "no relief, no perspective, no vanishing point" ( Baudrillard: 1994: p75). This claustrophobic "total screen" aptly describes some of Gursky's photographs, particularly two studies of John Portman buildings he completed in the late 1990s; Times Square (1997) and Atlanta (1996) (Museum of Modern Art, 2001: 160, 116). Times Square is an enormous image which literally overwhelms and dwarfs the viewer. In this work Gursky combines two photographs of the Marriott Marquis Hotel, from opposite directions, along a single line of sight. The result is a picture which confounds the viewer with its impossibility.   The main rhythm of the picture comes from the repetitive white rectangles of light above the hotel balconies, with their tiny fringe of greenery, which stretches the hotel lobby as far as the eye can imagine in all directions.

5. Fredric Jameson describes the experience of being in a Portman construction as entering "hyperspace" (Jameson: 1998: 14). He argues that Portman attains the improbable achievement of capturing in architecture the suppression of depth so typical of postmodern painting and literature. According to Jameson, Portman's buildings create a mini-world which replace or substitute for the city as a whole. Gursky's image conveys this sense—Times Square is so immense and dense an image it appears as a picture of a complete world.

6. Gursky's work brings to life a globalised world which is in the process of becoming—an eerie well lit world of travel, markets, hotel lobbies, airports, ports and crowds. But where there is light there is also darkness. Outside the spotlight of the globalised world is a darkened reality of relocation, labour, layoffs, dirt, sweat and pollution. It is this world which is the primary interest of Allan Sekula.

7. In 1989 Sekula started work on one of the first serious attempts to provide a visual response to the process of globalisation by tracking the changes in work on the wharves. He chose the sea, more anachronistic than air travel or the internet, as a metonymy for globalisation as it compressed much of the history of the processes of global travel, exchange and trade. The result of these investigations, Fish Story, combined a series of photographs, which spread out from the old industrial and shipping heartland of the west into the new industrial docklands in Asia and the developing world, with text responding to the "dismal science" of neo-liberal economics.

         Left: Detail from Fish Story: Welder's booth in bankrupt Todd Shipyard. Two years
         after closing. Los Angeles Harbour, San Pedro, California, July 1991, Allan Sekula.

         Right: CA Detail from Waiting for Tear Gas [white globe to black], Allan Sekula.

         Images courtesy Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica.

8. Fish Story was first shown at the Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art in 1995, and again in Seattle, at the Henry Art Gallery, coinciding with protests against the WTO meeting in November 1999 ( Generali Foundation: 2003: 340) and was part of Documenta 11. Rather than dating in the decade or so since its first conception this work came into its own at this exhibition. Sekula's preoccupation with globalisation, a more solitary artistic endeavour in the early 1990s, had found a global resonance with the Documenta 11 exhibition, which has been described as the most comprehensive attempt to deal with artistic responses to globalisation in a post 9/11 world (McNeill: 2002: 31).

9. In direct contrast to Gursky, who believes that photography is no longer credible and a "fictitious construction" is now required, Sekula is attracted to photography precisely because of its "social referentiality" (Sekula: 1984: ix). Sekula thus seeks a more indexical relationship than Gursky between his subject matter and his photographs. Sekula describes his approach as "critical realism" which seeks to construct works,

within concrete life situations, situations within which there was an overt or active clash of interests and representations. Any interest I had in artifice and constructed dialogue was part of a certain search for realism, a realism not of appearances or social facts but of everyday experience in and against the grip of advanced capitalism.

10. In Fish Story there is a telling image of a welder's booth which conveys a sense of the world that is disappearing through the process of globalisation. The photograph, Welder's booth in bankrupt Todd Shipyard. Two years after closing. Los Angeles harbour, San Pedro, California, July 1991 (McNeill 2002: 19) shows a rusty spanner which has been turned over to reveal a silhouette outlined in dust. The rusty forgotten spanner, and its ghostly trace, appear as a reminder of the skilled industrial workforce in the United States whose jobs have been relocated through a process of deterritorialisation, in this instance to Korea's huge Hyundai Shipyards.

11. This image provides an important contrast to Times Square. Whereas Times Square brims with the confidence of a successful globalised economy, purged of labour, and saturated in money and leisure time, Fish Story provides a sense of the human upheaval and displacement bought about by this process. The absent workers in the hyper-space of a Portman's building have made their absence present by their tools in Sekula's photographs. We are made aware of what has been lost, what is missing, what has left a ghostly silhouette.

12. Whereas Gursky conveys the world of globalisation by photographing what is in the process of becoming, Sekula focuses on what is passing away. The tension between these two approaches provides an excellent way to tease out the two main ideas I want to explore here; smooth space and the multitude.

Smooth space

13. When explaining one of his images, Andreas Gursky once claimed that he wanted to create the "most contemporary possible view." (Cooke: 1999: 14) True to this wish both Allan Sekula and Gursky provide the "most contemporary possible view" of the world through the sense of temporality and spatiality contained within their work. Both artists actively explore changes in the relationship between space and time initiated by globalisation—thus generating work which would be hard to comprehend in any other epoch.

14. The emergence of the capitalist system initiated a long term investment in the conquest of space (Harvey 1990: 264). In the first wave of trade expansion the capitalist powers stretched their domination over large areas of the globe—building railroads, telegraph poles, ports, army bases, cities, roads. As Marx foresaw in the Communist Manifesto the bourgeois order "by its rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all," into its sphere of production creating a "world after its own image" (Marx and Engels 1998: 49).

15. The victories of the emerging capitalist class over their feudal forbears enacted a change in how space was perceived.   David Harvey traces this rupture by contrasting the pre- and post-Renaissance visions of space. In the relatively isolated worlds of European feudalism, "spatial organisation reflected a confused overlapping of economic, political and legal obligations and rights" while external space was, "weakly grasped and generally conceptualised as a mysterious cosmology populated by some external authority" (Harvey 1990: 241).

16. The Renaissance, in contrast, organised this unbounded space through a single point perspective which grounded notions of space within functional confines of property, navigation and objectivity. According to Harvey the first great surge of modernism took domination of nature/space as a necessary precondition. The conquest and rational ordering of space, reflected through the Renaissance single-point perspective, was an integral part of this modernising project (Harvey 1990: 249).

17. Allan Sekula also explores the relationship between space, perspective and capital accumulation in his essay Dismal Science . He explains that "maritime space" is representative of an early pre-industrial capitalism based on primitive accumulation and trade which, when it was, "seized by the imaginary and made pictorial as a coherent and integrated space" became "panoramic" (Sekula: 1995: p43). Sekula argues that the paintings of the Dutch Renaissance established the panoramic space of the sea as this vision of space was consistent with their vision of Empire—where power flowed from a control of the trading routes of the ocean. The great panorama of the ocean, which stretched away on all sides, was analogous to the power of Empire which was presumed to cover as far as the eye could see. The horizon thus formed a strategic limit beyond which lay the danger of the unknown (Sekula 1995: 43).

18. The birth of industrial capitalism rendered this earlier vision of the maritime space anachronistic. Sekula explains how, in 1844, Friedrich Engels describes his arrival in London, rather improbably by the pre-industrial sailing boat, to write his famous study of the living and working conditions of the working class. Engels stepped off the boat into the industrial slums on London and thus enacted a "historical shift" from one mode of production—wind—to another—coal. By the end of the century this shift was so complete Engels was forced to add a footnote to the introduction to The Condition of the Working Class in England which explained the end of the days of the "picturesque sailing vessels" and the dominance of "ugly sooty steamers." (Sekula: 1995: p42)

19. According to Sekula, Joseph Turner first "grasped" the collapse of the panoramic vision of the sea. The great storms that tossed the sky in Turner's paintings, for example Snow-storm—Steamboat off a Harbour Mouth, pitted wind against the new power of steam cutting an imaginary and fragile, "straight line through a space previously governed by the unpredictability of the wind." Sekula argues that Turner saw the storm as a catastrophic limit set against the industrial hubris of humanity which sought to conquer space from nature and consolidate the power of capital (Sekula 1995: 42).

20. The late works of Turner challenged the single-point perspective of the Renaissance by immersing the viewer in a boundless horizonless space. As Lynne Cooke explains; "in the absence of boundaries and defining borders, most notable that provided by the horizon, a form of spatio-temporal self-surpassing can ensue". (Cooke 1999: p44) The feeling of sublime so associated with Turner is generated by this limitless space which reaches beyond the boundaries of the canvass into an awe inspiring distance.  

21. Cooke feels it is not by chance that Gursky chooses to salute Turner in his work from 1995 Turner Collection (Museum of Modern Art 2001: 100). Gursky's work is often described through notions of the sublime but Cooke argues Gursky, "evokes the sublime and in the same move precludes its proper operation" (Cooke: 1999: 14). The dispassionate, flattened, harshly lit space in Turner Collection works "unequivocally" as an image of the present and does not aim to be a catalyst for another experience. Cooke goes onto argue that, "such invocations of contemporality are intentionally antithetical to the ideals of the Romantic ethos. In this way [Gursky] precludes any straightforward reading of his subject, ...and hence any unmediated involvement with its aesthetic, and particular with that of the sublime, of the kind his admired predecessors sought" (Cooke 1999: 13).

22. The conquering of maritime space, which was propelled by steam powered-ships is described by Sekula as the victory of the straight-line over the zig-zags of the wind. This victory was completed a century later by the victory of the regulated box of containerisation over the messy ark of foreign cargo—creating the global factory; ships became indistinguishable from trucks or trains and factories became deterritorialised; able to transport their produce across all points of the globe.

23. Fish Story is a pictorial exploration of this conquest of space. It both compresses into one flow of movement the connection between the rusty tools of vanishing jobs in Los Angeles and the hubbub of production in the new ports in Korea and elongates the physical distance between them of the vast emptiness of the sea. Space is both the murky, overwhelming emptiness of the sea's middle passage and the cheek-by-jowl proximity of industry and production in ports at opposite ends of the globe. Sekula consciously invokes both these extremities as he plays with the notion of space in a globalised world. He confronts how space has been conquered by capital as the world becomes increasingly dominated by the flow of capital and goods in a globalised economy.

24. This rise in world trade and manufacturing has initiated another sort of conquest of space. The free flow of capital across the surface of the globe has placed particular emphasis on the sort of space capital may be attracted to. Harvey explains that globalisation has both fragmented and homogenised space at the same time. He argues it would be, "wrong to consider these two wings of thought—the universalism and the particularism—as separate from each other" (Harvey 1990: 275). One the one hand competition has created serial monotony of patterns of consumption and exchange but on the other the intense competition for space has also heightened local differences as various places seek to lure capital within their borders. As Harvey explains, "the result has been... production and fragmentation, insecurity, and ...uneven development within a highly unified global ... economy of capital flows" (Harvey 1990: 296).

25. The dialectic between fragmentation and homogenisation is smoothed by the flow of capital. The collapse of the gold standard has dematerialised money, breaking any formal or tangible link to precious metals or any other tangible commodity. For the first time human society has come to rely on immaterial forms of money—value is determined by which currency you hold and when. Which currency you hold is, in turn, determined by which country or space you place your faith in. Ultimately this renders the spaces that underpin value as unstable as value itself. The electronic herd rushes through economies and nations flighty, unstable, transient. It homogenised the experience of consumption in the world cities —shopping malls in Paris, London, Tokyo, Sydney all offer a similar sense of place —but also shatters this homogeneity but creating huge disparities of wealth and poverty and vastly different experiences of consumption outside of the flow of money in slums, ghettos and shanty-towns.

26. Hardt and Negri, following from Gilles Deleuze, describe this as "smooth space". They explain, "the establishment of global society of control that smoothes over the striate of national boundaries goes hand in hand with the realization of the world market and the real subsumption of global society under capital" (Hardt and Negri 2001: 333). The world market demands a smooth space of "deterritorialised and uncoded capital flows" which traverse the old divisions of imperialism. Hardt and Negri call this phase of capitalism "Empire" which replaces the striated space of imperialism with open frontiers.

27. The possibility of the smooth space of Empire can be glimpsed in the work of Gursky.   Since the end of the 1980s Gursky has increasingly favoured two distinctive vantage points for his work. In one he places the camera up above so the picture rises up to the horizon line which is often so high as to be obliterated, And in the second he places the camera flat on to the subject matter where the foreground space is compressed and the picture stretches horizontally in an infinite extension (Cooke 1999: p14) .

28. The application of such a distinctive vantage point over such diverse locations allows a sense of equivalence to develop between them. The difference between a picture of a river in Germany and a race course in Hong Kong are obvious but Gursky's stylistic maneuver also allows us to see a commonality between them. We look at these images, Rhein II and Sha Tin and notice and enjoy the distinctive sense of place they invoke; but we also start to feel that Gursky has given us a way of looking at the world which applies across this diversity. The taut visual image in both, which compresses the foreground and layers it with equal depth upon the middle distance and background of the picture, distorts our sense of depth of field—everything feels in equal focus and perspective.

29. Both Rhein II and Sha Tin provide a portrait of the world where our sense of spatiality has been altered. Gursky has not only flattened the depth of field in these images he also flattens the image horizontally. Using digital manipulation, and more then one camera, Gursky cleans up the image and removes any spherical aberration. The horizon, such as it exists in an image without depth of field, thus stretches across the plane of the picture in an impossibly straight line completely vertical with the foreground. Space has been bent into true—holding a too prefect match between the horizon and the foreground.

30. Like Turner, the Romantic he salutes in his work, Gursky eschews the single-point perspective of the Renaissance. Both Rhien II and Sha Tin have no actual sense of perspective at all; the image works as a continuous play of details across the whole surface of the work. What is eerily similar about both these images is that they invoke a world which is no longer round. The horizon fails to bend away from the viewer nor fade into the distance; everything is standing to attention, visible, in focus, squared off.   The omnipresent sense of everything being equally in focus is evocative of the smooth space of Empire—this is a picture of a world where flow is so uninterrupted and continuous that it no longer conveys any sense of movement at all.

31. What is also startling about an image, such as Sha Tin, is the sense of time it conveys. Looking at the image it appears to be simultaneously before, during and after the horse race. The attentive gathering of the crowd at the fence indicates a race about to happen, the intense hunch of the crowd in the immediate foreground and the giant TV image of horses galloping down the track indicates a race in process and the empty track indicates a race which is over. Not only dose Gursky compress foreground, horizon and distance but also past, present and future.

32. If capitalism has been the history of the conquest of space, globalisation is the conquest of space by time . As Harvey explains, the first great surge of modernism took domination of nature/space as a necessary precondition. The rise of globalisation has enabled the domination of space by time. Marx foresaw this eventuality when he described the search for profits as the search for "moments"—the whole economic edifice ultimately reduces itself to an "economy of time." Time is money and according to Harvey capitalism is driven by an "omnipresent incentive" to accelerate "turnover time vis-à-vis the social average, and in so doing promote a social trend towards faster average turnover times" and higher profits (Harvey 1990: p227). Harvey thus establishes a dialectical relationship between spatio-temporal realities.

33. This process can be marked by the increasingly fine divisions of time required—the seasons of an agricultural society collapsed into the months it took to sail across the world, the hours by which the working day were measured, the minutes by which the productivity of a Fordist assembly line was gauged, the seconds it takes for a fax to arrive, the milliseconds it takes to send an email and so forth with ever increasing rapidity. And by the accelerating speed by which distance—space—is covered by time; between 1600 (when the Dutch were dominating the seas) and 1840 (the time when Marx was writing), the average speed of horse drawn coaches and sailing ships was 10 mph, between 1850 and 1930 it was 65 mph for steam locomotives; by the 1950s, propeller aircraft covered distances at 300-400 mph; and by the 1990s jet passenger aircraft traveled at 500-700 mph (Hoogvelt 1997: 119). Today the speed of time has accelerated to what Jameson describes as a perpetual present (Jameson 1998: 20).

36. Gursky's photographs allow us an elusive vision of Empire as conceived by Hardt and Negri—a world of "smooth space" where flow is as continuous as an open expanding frontier. This vision is elusive, however, as the blurry line Gursky threads between the present and a "fluid, unique, visionary, irrational," (Galassi 2001: 43) view of the future he constructs within his work.

37. Sekula, on the other hand, deliberately complicates the possibilities of smooth space. He returns again and again in his work to the sea; Fish Story , Freeway to China, Black Tide/Marea negra, Tsukiji 2001, Dear Bill Gates, and Titanic's wake. This recurring motif is informed by Sekula's interest in how space has been transformed through the process of globalisation. Sekula views the sea as an indicator of both the distance and proximity of space in a globalised world. To those who want to forget the vast blue expanse, Sekula offers this reminder in the notes to Freeway to China; "postmodernists who fantasize about a world of purely electronic and instantaneous contacts,"   are "blind to the slow movement of heavy and necessary things" across the sea.   Sekula asks "how did your tennis shoes get here from Indonesia, Mr. and Ms. Jogger?" (Liverpool School of Art and Design 2002: 24) This reminder of distance, of the physical necessity of transport and therefore labour leads me into the next area that I will focus on—the multitude.

Multitude

38. The interaction between the deterritorialisation of capital flows, the compression of space by time and the growth of financialisation and cultural comodification has had a particular impact on the constitution of the modern subject. Although often described as synonymous with postmodernism, globalisation has also registered a certain paradigm shift, particularly in how the modern subject is understood. Globalisation has allowed a return of the collective mass subject into cultural theory. This return to the collective has shifted the terrain of the debate from more narrow definitions of class into a new discussion of the multitude, recasting some of the older points of contention between postmodernism and Marxism.

39. In the early 1990s I remember reading an article which pondered whether postmodernism would "kill the movement". In this article the question was posed,

What sort of rainbow smorgasbord would it look like? A postmodern demonstration would have workers at the back of the building, feminists in front, activists against the war round the sides, a collection of gay and lesbians to the left and a gaggle of greenies to the right. What chance does this cacophony of protest have of defeating the highly organised and centralised power of capital? (NOWSA flyer: 1994)

40. Today the way in which this question is posed seems quaint and clearly outdated by the emergence of the global justice movement which has gathered just such a "rainbow smorgasbord" of demonstrators who have scored an impressive number of victories against the highly organised and centralised power of capital.

41. During the early 1990s the debates over agency centred on the relationship between class and identity. Generally speaking Marxists were fearful of the postmodern penchant for fracturing of the movement into smaller individual identities, whereas postmodernists were suspicious of the homogenising bias of calls to the universal subject position of the working class. In the absence of a living mass movement these debates solidified into sterile accusations of blame on both sides.

42. The global justice movement has reconfigured this debate by bringing to life a movement which is singular and multiple at the same time. The global justice movement gathers together "one no, many yeses" to borrow a chant from the streets of Genoa. What this has achieved has been to bring the collective mass back into the frame of reference, a mass, like the crowd in Gursky's May Day IV (2000) (Museum of Modern Art 2001: 182) , which is neither homogenised nor entirely fragmented. Even the appearance of the collective mass as part of Gursky's oeuvre—which conveys all the other sign-posts of globalisation, travel, consumerism, leisure, trade—is an indicator of its re-emergence as part of the culture of globalisation.

43. The energy and excitement of a book like Empire , whose pages brim with optimism, and which concludes with an acknowledgement of the "irrepressible lightness and joy of being a communist" (Hardt and Negri 2001: 413) can only be understood in the context of the rise of this global justice movement. As Negri's English language translator, Matteo Mandarini, explains Empire, "has been able to tap into and give rational expression to the optimism expressed in the new age of militancy that emerged in the mid-1990s" (Negri 2003: 3). This optimism has been a healthy antidote to some of the more pessimistic musings of those, such as Fredric Jameson, who feels that it is, "easier to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and nature than the breakdown of late capitalism" (Jameson 1998: 50).

44. It also represents a shift away from postmodernisms preoccupation with individual identity towards an understanding of the collective or, what Negri, borrowing a term from Benedict de Spinoza calls, the "multitude". According to Mandarini the cultural, political and economic changes bought about by globalisation provide the core transformation which allowed Negri to develop the notion of the "multitude." Coming from the Operaismo or autonomist Marxist tradition, which has provided some of the more creative attempts at analysing the changing composition of the working class, Negri first expounded this concept in Empire developing it further in Multitude .

45. In describing the multitude Negri begins at a similar place where Jameson leaves off. Both Jameson and Negri assess the impact of hyper-capitalism, a phase in capitalist development where, as Jameson describes, the "world market has reached its limit and things and labour power have become universally commodified" (Jameson 1998: 91). As assessed earlier globalisation is characterised by the stage of capitalism where the world market has closed the distance between nature and culture subsuming the entire globe under capitalist domination. But when Jameson reaches this point, one that he acknowledges brings us closer to the point that Marx predicted would lay the basis for socialism, he runs into a, "blockage of the historical imagination," which cannot conceptualise a, "viable alternative." (Jameson 1998: 90-91). It is this very aporia which Negri attempts to breach.

46. To explain the concept of the multitude, Negri builds on earlier autonomist Marxist notions of the socialised worker which made a creative reappraisal of Marx's theory of the law of value. In Capital Marx argued that labour-power is a commodity which the workers exchange for a period of time in return for a wage. Time, in this instance, homogenises the experience of labour by providing a means by which to determine its equivalent (Marx 1986: 340). What Marx saw as, "specific to the capitalist mode of production," is the definition of the use-value of labour by its exchange value (Negri 2003: 25). Real subsumption by capital exists when labour is increasingly socialised and the whole of social life, production and reproduction and co-operation is subsumed by capital. According to Negri the real subsumption of society by capital, which could only be analysed by Marx as a tendency, is accomplished through globalisation (Negri 2003: 25).

47. In contrast to Jameson, and many other critical theorists who also analyse the process of subsumption of capital, the starting point for Negri is always the power of labour. Consistent with the approach of autonomist Marxism, Negri views the historic tension between labour and capital from the vantage point of labour. As the field of exploitation of life under capitalism expanded Negri refused to maintain the field of exploitation of labour at the site of production alone. He emphasised that the growth in job mobility, part-time and casual work, the diffusion of production into the informal economy, and the growth in intellectual labour did not mean the end of the working class. As Negri explains, " the only possible answer to this, from the working-class viewpoint, was to insist on and fight for the broadest definition of class unity, to modify and to extend the concept of working class productive labour." Negri extended this definition to cover, "wide range of behaviours in social struggles, above all in the mass movements of women and youth, affirming all these activities collectively as labour" (Negri 2003a).

48. Negri explains that the genealogy of the multitude comes from the shift in production from Fordist to post-Fordist production techniques. This shift solidified a transformation in the exploitation of the working class from that concentrated at the assembly line to immaterial and intellectual forms of labour. As Negri explains, "if we pose the multitude as a class concept, the notion of exploitation will be defined as exploitation of cooperation". Negri links the multitude to the new global justice movement when he argues, "in social terms the multitude represented at Genoa [the mass demonstration against the G8 meeting] was the first full representation of the new layer of precarious workers in "social" labour produced by the revolution of post-Fordism" (Negri 2003b) .

49. Andreas Gursky has provided an interesting portrait of the First World assembly line in Siemens, Karlsruhe (1991) which registers the shift in production away from Fordism (Museum of Modern Art 2001: 68). Siemens Industrial Park Karlsruhe is the fifth largest Sieman's location in Germany and produces electronic and computerised products. Gursky was commissioned by Siemens to participate in a photographic project which gave him access to the grounds of the factory. To his surprise Gursky was struck by how old-fashioned he found the factories, the mass assembly lines he encountered holding a place he assumed to be in the past (Museum of Modern Art 2001a). The contrast between the state of the art jumble of electrical wires and the nostalgic '70s lighting in this work manages to convey this sense of displacement—it is an idealised fiction of technological amazement captured from the viewpoint of an earlier generation. The contemporary edge is added by the mainly middle-aged women who work on the assembly line. This is not a booming successful factory of the future, but a relic of the past staffed by older marginalised female workers.

50. In Gursky's later works we see a shift towards the multitude. The giant crowds of sport fans, bankers and ravers which swell his work from the mid 1990s mix the collective experience of labour and recreation in a way which complicates earlier definitions of the working class. An image like May Day IV (2000) (Museum of Modern Art 2001: 182) conveys a mass of people photographed from the high vantage point typical of Gursky (see http://www.moma.org/exhibitions/2001/gursky/gursky2.html). The people are young, dancing, talking, having fun at a rave. The day is May Day, a traditional worker's holiday, and we imagine these people to be a mix of students, casual workers and young professionals who are having a day off. The entire surface of the image is in focus so each person stands out as a distinct unit, but there are so many people it is impossible to focus for long on any one individual thus evoking Negri's idea of the multitude as a "whole of singularities" (Negri 2003b).

51. The multitude is different from earlier concepts of the mob or the people. The mob appears as a collective entity, which like the mob of frenzied women in Emile Zola's Germinal tears through the singularities of its component parts. The mob is violent, irrational and easily manipulated. The people, as conceived by Thomas Hobbes or Jean-Jacques Rousseau, were an identifiable mass of individuals whose rights and needs were invoked by a contract with a higher sovereign power. The people were conceived of as a unity of interests that could be represented by a transcendental power. The theory of the multitude, on the other hand, requires, as Negri points out, "that the subjects speak for themselves, and that what is dealt with are unrepresentable singularities rather than individual proprietors." Negri explains that the multitude is, "an active social agent, a multiplicity that acts. Unlike the people the multitude is not a unity, but opposed to the masses or plebs, we can see it as something organised. In fact it is the active agent of self-organisation." (Negri 2003b).

52. Allan Sekula conveys this sense of the multitude in his portrait of the Seattle demonstration Waiting for Tear Gas [white globe to black.] Like May Day IV this image also complicates earlier notions of class by providing a picture of the multitude which combines various social and economic roles within society through a new collective experience. In this work, however, Sekula focuses on a more political conception of the multitude by portraying those who have been cast into this role through their opposition to trade, speculation and unproductive wealth.

53. The multitude appear in the Seattle demonstrations as a self-organising collection of singularities. They are not an angry mob which is being manipulated or led from outside, nor are they a unified group of people who can be spoken for by a higher body. The Seattle demonstrations were organised autonomously, bringing together a collection of singularities into a collective movement.

54. Suspicious of the often spurious claims of Leninist parties to be the vanguard, the global justice movement has been heavily influenced by autonomist political theories which stress self-organisation. This interest has been fuelled by the rise of the autonomously organised movements, such as the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, and the disobendienci in Italy. Sylvere Lotringer and Christian Marazzi, in their article on the Italian autonomous movement describe autonomy as, "the desire to allow difference to deepen at the base without trying to synthesize them from above to stress similar attitude without imposing a general line, to allow parts to co-exist side by side in their singularity" (Lotringer and Marazzi 2003: 111). Taking his cue from these sentiments Sekula let the diversity of this movement speak for itself, resisting the pressure to find the one "defining" image of "violence" which captures the movement as a whole (Generali Foundation 2003: 310).

55. Negri defines globalisation as an unmediated conflict between Empire and multitude (Negri 2003: 229). This conflict plays itself out through the work of Gursky and Sekula. Confronting the images of solidarity and struggle which Sekula has created in Waiting for Tear Gas and Freeway to China (Liverpool version) , are the images of the stock exchange workers and bankers created by Gursky.

56. An image like Chicago Board of Trade II (1999) (Museum of Modern Art 2001: 158) portrays a pre-multitudinous crowd—the new generation of worker/owners who have been created by financialisation. On the one hand it is a picture of exploiters, those who buy and sell the shares which have become the symbol of unproductive wealth and privilege, but on the other it is a picture of exploitation, showing workers who swarm like ants in this giant task of (un)productive labour.

57. In this work Gursky has created a crowd scene which, in the masses of people it portrays, appears similar to May Day IV, but can, in fact, be more usefully read as a depiction of the mob. The singularities of the crowd in Chicago Board of Trade II have been fused together through, what Marx describes as, the callous nexus of cash payment (Marx and Engels 1998: 948). The traders who crowd the trading floor are pawns organised through the machinations of the stock-exchange, not a self organised collection of singularities. Their activity is geared towards a competitive struggle for financial supremacy and is not a collective expression of their wants and needs unmediated by money.

58. Earlier I analysed how Gursky portrays a world becoming while Sekula focuses on a world that is passing. Here it is possible to return to this question from another vantage point. In their expression of collective subjectivity one could argue it is Sekula who invokes a world becoming whereas it is Gursky who focuses on a world that is passing. In a work, such as Waiting for Tear Gas, Sekula brings to light the counter force within globalisation, the multitude, which is seeking to construct an alternative form of globalisation. The multitude is challenging the old powers of money, self-interest, unproductive waste and privilege expressed in the stock exchanges and trading halls which fill Gursky's portrait of global capitalism.

59. The multitude is in a process of becoming by invoking a world which is not (yet). The slogan for the May Day demonstration in Sydney 2001 was "another world is possible". This slogan raises the possibilities of an alternative future which maintains the globalisation of communication, labour, travel and culture but challenges the unequal distribution of wealth and power within global capitalism. The "smooth space" of Empire is also a striated space for those without cash who find the flow of life blocked at every turn. The cashless masses who have found themselves the subjects of globalisation, struggling on welfare, forced to flee to refugee camps, labouring in the hull of the deterritorialised ships of convenience, have been transformed into the multitude who pose a radically different form of globalisation from below.

Conclusion

60. Globalisation is a distinctly new phase of capitalism which requires a fundamental change in our weltanschauung . Although a vast field, which could be analysed from a myriad of different perspectives, there are two interwoven factors   which I believe are distinctive about the current phase of capitalism which warrant the new label of globalisation. These two factors time-space compression and the multitude, have, in turn, generated changes in art which can be registered in the work of Andreas Gursky and Allan Sekula.

61. The difference between Sekula and Gursky's approach to photography highlights the diverse ways in which globalisation can be understood. Both worlds exist within globalisation—one holds the promise of borderless capitalism which is the focus of theorists such as Kenichi Ohame and Thomas Friedman. The other shows the reality of capitalist exclusion which has sparked the global justice movement and the new wave of militancy which arose in the mid-1990s.

62. Sekula chooses the sea as a means on conveying how notions of space have changed over the history of capitalism. The sea is embedded with the memory of earlier pre-industrial and industrial phases of capitalism which haunt Sekula's critique of globalisation. Gursky chooses the horizon as the "strategic notion" (Foucault in Sekula 1995: 106) by which to convey a sense of time-space compression. By flattening out the depth of field in his images he reduced the power of the horizon—sometimes even obliterating it all together—creating a new sense of perspective. Gursky creates a world which no longer bends away from the viewer. This all-over sense of perspective is evocative of the "smooth space" of globalisation described by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Empire .

63. The two worlds of globalisation explored by Gursky and Sekula—one of promise, one of threat—collide in how the artists have been influenced by the rise of the multitude or the global justice movement. Sekula has made himself part of this movement by participating in the Seattle uprising against the WTO and including a direct representation of it in his work—Waiting for Tear Gas. Gursky has been less obviously influenced by the movement itself but from 1995 he shifted from the depiction of single solitary individuals towards crowds of people reflecting a general re-emergence of, and interest in, a representation of collective social activity.

64. The clash between a world becoming and world passing, as it is expressed in the work of Gursky and Sekula, teases out the points of tension which make up a full understanding of globalisation. This understanding of globalisation, in turn, leads to a richer understanding of the work of Sekula and Gursky. Both artists express the desire to provide the most contemporary vision of the world; this vision is necessarily mediated through the prism of globalisation and its effects on contemporary capitalism.

 

Zanny Begg is a practicing artist, a PhD student at the College of Fine Art, Sydney, and a member of the Centre for Contemporary Art and Politics. Email: zanny.b@gmail.com


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© borderlands ejournal 2005

 

 

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