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e-flux conversations

Holding Up the World, Part II: Time/Bank, Effort/Embankments

These short remarks emerge from a conference that two editors of e-flux organized at Documenta 13 around the provocative assertion “I am my own money.” Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle did not hide their investments. The panel was an extension of their globally situated Time/Bank, a tripartite arrangement consisting of a labor-exchange website, a series of conferences/panels, and curated exhibition spaces. At the center of Time/Bank is a working web-based skills exchange network in which participants offer and earn “hour-dollar” credits for labor exchange. “Time banking is a tool by which a group of people can create an alternative economic model where they exchange their time and skills, rather than acquire goods and services through the use of money or any other state-backed value.” But Time/Bank is not one thing. It is a series of forms of activity—a working labor-exchange network for the art community; an evolving concept about value, time, and labor in the context of art and global capital; and a series of exhibition spaces for insubordinate objects—meant to produce a form of life.

Rather than mere statement then, “I am my own money” is a demand and an assertion about something this is real and yet not actual. Time/Bank claims that the skills that I have, the skills that I am (my art, my thought, my affects and senses; my life as an exercise of my potential), can be the vehicle of not merely a new form of labor exchange but a new form of the social. What I already am could be the foundation for what is not yet. When we act on the fact that we are already our own money, we will no longer need the authorized currencies supporting what actually is. We will instead exchange the concrete forms of our specific capacities, and in doing so, change the actual world in which we live. I will directly invest in you, and you in me. I will give you my capacity for perfect pitch; you will give me your ability to write software. Insofar as these kinds of capacity exchanges are oriented to an attentive other, the basic structuring category of social interdependence will be the specificity of my and your being and becoming in the world, rather than our measure against the illusion of an abstract coinage.

The tripartite activity-concept of Time/Bank and its assertion “I am my own money” stretches across two contemporary concepts of insubordination, if not insurrection—the concept of immaterial labor and the concept of the virtual—with the hope that these concepts could be concretized. But are these concepts adequate to capturing a certain kind of event, and certain conditions of the event, so as to create a counter-actualization (effectuation)? In particular, how do these concepts help us understand something I have called “the tense of the quasi-event” (but that others have called “crisis ordinariness” and “slow violence”) and the conditions of the emergence and endurance of the otherwise? What would happen if we substituted the concept of Time/Bank with Effort/Embankments? The answers to these questions are not clear-cut.

For Negri and Hardt, immaterial labor refers to the informationalization of capital that came about when the service sector broke free of the service sector, reorganizing and resignifying the labor process as a whole. As a result, the service industry can no longer be thought as merely referring to low-wage burger and coffee shop employment or call center employees. The service industry now refers to an entire reorientation of labor, production, and consumption, including the financial sector, dependent as it is on information and communication technologies oriented to learning about and responding to the desires of others. This information-communication network includes communication between software and machines and between commodities and market desires (other machines, other consumers, other producers). It doesn’t matter what the concrete technology is. All sorts of technologies of information collection are deployed, including new algorithms that mine buying habits, paper slips distributed in hotels marked “give us feedback,” and Facebook and Twitter feeds. What matters is the heart of this new logic of labor—affective-informational loops oriented toward capturing the desire of the other so that capital can insinuate itself ever more exactly, ever more anticipatorily, as the object of the desire of the other. To be sure, service capital also seeks to anticipate what is real (virtual) rather than actual (“the next big thing”). But it does not seek to stage an antagonism of desire, out of which, the Hegelians posit, would come a world historical unfolding that began with the master-slave and that would end with the universalization of equal recognition. Capital seeks to anticipate our desire, not antagonize it.

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