Sweep Walkers, Night Cleaners, Organising Dust

Rab-Rab Journal (FI), Signal Magazine (FI) and Clark House Initiative (IN) in Myymälä2 (Helsinki), April 1-2 2015, 6pm-9pm

An event over two evenings and an exhibition over two days will discuss the relations between artistic forms and labour struggles.
We address different models and practices of artistic engagement with labour struggles through the work of Amol Patil (IN), Martta Tuomaala (FI), Berwick Street Film Collective (UK), selections of historical texts and manifestos. Amol Patil’s works ‘Sanitation Network’ (2013), ‘Talking Sweepers’ (2014), and ‘Sweep walking’ (2015-ongoing) engaging with city cleaners will be installed in the gallery, parts of Martta Tuomaala’s project ‘The Cleaner’s Voice’ (2014-ongoing) and the full-length film ‘Nightcleaners’ (1975) by Berwick Street Film Collective will be screened, and viewable through the day from a small TV facing the street.

Aino Korvensyrjä, Zasha Colah and Sezgin Boynik will introduce the works, addressing both the theoretical and conceptual issues and the more concrete and organisational objectives of these artworks. They will discuss the different forms of engagement ranging from media like film, video, drawing and performance to organisation and advocacy. The point of departure is that the representation of politics is not the whole story. We need to re-open debates relating to a ‘politics of representation’ and ask again: on which formal properties does political art differ from reactionary art? In which terms does struggle through forms and concepts contribute to organisational novelties? How does the notion of the ‘collective’ transform the condition of art practice? How is art related to concrete political struggle? We intend to multiply these questions, and face the contradictory position of addressing them from the position of artistic practice.
Sezgin Boynik will present the film ‘Nightcleaners’ by the Berwick Street Film Collective (1975) by dealing with its relevance in contemporary art practice, primarily by looking at Marry Kelly’s involvement with the Collective and further by discussing the relevance of this film to contemporary filmmakers such as Petra Bauer. He will present the political and cinematic context of this film through writings of P. Willemen, C. Johnston, S. Heath, and B. Brewster which were published in the journal Screen in the mid-seventies on the occasion of the ‘Brecht Event’. He will discuss how a film, whose starting point was solidarity with organised labour struggle of night cleaners in London, has also influenced highly theoretical debates on montage, subjectivity, representation, narrative, and other actual issues of artistic practices.
Rab-Rab is journal dealing with political and formal inquiries in art. It is published bi-annually in Helsinki by Sezgin Boynik and Gregoire Rousseau.
Aino Korvensyrjä in conversation with Martta Tuomaala. Tuomaala’s ongoing ‘The Cleaner’s Voice’ (2014-) is a militant research project into labour conditions in cleaning work in Helsinki. It has so far been exhibited as a multi-screen video installation consisting of interviews with cleaners and a staged video manifesto ‘The Right Not to be Silent’ (13 min). The latter will be screened as well as little excerpts of the interviews. Korvensyrjä and Tuomaala will talk about these connecting them to the main objectives of the project: creating awareness on the dismal and deteriorating contracts and facilitating collective struggle on a branch which employs a high number of foreign citizens in precarious situations regarding residency. Besides contemporary problematics of organizing low-pay service workers, Korvensyrjä and Tuomaala will also connect the project to the history of feminist and radical art practices. ‘The Right Not to be Silent’ will also be viewable through the day from a small TV facing the street.
Signal is a new bilingual magazine on migration issues published by the Free Movement Network (Helsinki). Aino Korvensyrjä is member of the editorial collective.
ZC: “Amol Patil inherited from his grandfather, the spoken-word histories of BR Ambedkar, the thinker who gave India a road out of caste and toward social equality. These found hand-written songs written by his grandfather give impetus to Amol’s creation of drawings and a sound work, and to a new artistic language and forms within a very old protest tradition, of Powada spoken-word-rap-like protest from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, much in use before and after national independence – speaking always from the view-point of the lowest castes. Amol refers to this with his old-telephone-boxing-ring-bell work, and drawings over pages of his grandfather’s songs that speak the life of sweepers of the city of Bombay, who all still somehow, despite everything, only ever seem to come from the lowest castes. Hands peer over walls of rules, and acid holes bruise bodies.” Zasha Colah will discuss the inability to locate Amol Patil’s artistic language within the terms of political art, and will instead discuss a rich cultural heritage of all its artistic languages and strategies. One possible heritage is the performative work of the feminist artist Mierle Ukeles, through the writing of Kari Conte, the author and editor of the first monograph on the artist, ‘Mierle Laderman – Ukeles Seven Work Ballets’ (2013).
Clark House Initiative (IN) is a curatorial collaborative and a union of artists, founded in 2010 in Bombay by Zasha Colah and Sumesh Sharma, about ideas of freedom.