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//Social class as a creative impulse// Igor Stokfiszewski

Social class as a creative impulse Igor Stokfiszewski

The art that aspires to be critical, counterhegemonic and emancipative is constantly looking for new impulses which would allow it to help transform society into a more egalitarian and more just community. In recent years this search has given rise to two separate currents. The first consist in art oriented at involving lower echelons of society. The second manifests itself in labour and popular disputes in the area of culture. Both have a common denominator, namely  “classification” of culture. This means that only class analysis can reveal why the two currents have emerged with such a force and what the origins of their true emancipating potential are. How precise our answers will be depends on our grasp of class stratification of contemporary societies.

The current issue of The MOCAK Forum is an anthology of texts intended as an introduction to the class analysis of the Polish society and a contribution to the global discussion on class. It has been conceived as a guide to artistic practices that stem from the intuition of class characteristics and to cultural practices of different social classes. The latter reinforce their self-identity through those practices but at the same time use them to oppose social inequality. The aim of this issue of The MOCAK Forum  is to give a new momentum to the sociology of art, propose class interpretation  as coherent with the dynamics of the most fruitful contemporary artistic practices and draw attention to the class orientation of the most recent art, which has the greatest emancipative potential of all counterhegemonic artistic practices.

Why does art reach to common people?

The first of the currents mentioned above manifests itself in artists’ collaborating with the proletariat. It can be institutionalized (e.g. Łaźnia Nowa Theatre in Kraków’s Nowa Huta district whose aim is to cooperate with the local community, mostly of lower origins) or take the form of a series of prominent long-term artistic activities (e.g. collaboration with workers from the Gdańsk Shipyards) and artistic animations (e.g. a cycle of art interventions Etnography/Animation/Art in hamlets of southern Mazovia coordinated by Tomasz Rakowski and with the participation of, amongst others, Łukasz Skąpski as well as the activities of the Studio of Socially Engaged Art “Rewiry” from Lublin coordinated by Szymon Pietrasiewicz and with the participation of, amongst others, Arek Pasożyt). A unique place among the artistic practices focused on collaborating with the labouring class is held by projects that involve former industrial workers (e.g. projects coordinated by Jaśmina Wójcik and her team in the Ursus Factory) as well as those focusing on the emancipatory legacy of the former working class (e.g. performances commemorating the revolution of 1905 in Łódź).

Employing critical discourse, in which art is seen as an area of social intervention, we would say that cooperation with labouring classes constitutes a turn towards the underprivileged and an attempt to engage them in social life. Class analysis enables us to understand that the working class is in possession of cultural practices and values that have a large emancipative potential today (amongst them are: community spirit, solidarity, familiarity, mutuality, work ethic, tolerance and resistance) and that working together with the labouring class means fighting to make these values universal and thus create a more egalitarian and fairer society.

Why do artists become art workers?

Labour and popular disputes in the area of culture have become a distinguishing feature of art in the last five years. From the establishment of Citizens’ Forum of Contemporary Art in 2009, the artists’ strike in 2012, workers’ and popular protests in galleries and theatres or the setting up of trade unions’ representations in cultural institutions through to such publications as  Czarna księga polskich artystów[1] [The Black Book of Polish Artists]and the issue of Krytyka Polityczna[2] devoted to workplace democracy in art institutions– in all this we are witnessing the emergence of “the dangerous new class”, as the subtitle of Guy Standing’s The Precariat[3] runs.

Overcoming this precarious predicament appears to be the main and most urgent obstacle to creating a community based on solidarity, freedom and tolerance. Precarity is the common denominator in labour and popular disputes in the area of culture as well as in artistic collaborations with working classes. As Jarosław Ubrański demonstrates in his new book Prekariat i nowa walka klas[4] [The Precariat and the New Class Struggle] the precarity trap is an interclass experience, uniting  emancipatory disputes in the so called creative sectors of the middle class (including art) and labour disputes within the working class (e.g. in caregiving, cleaning, building or logistics sectors). The ongoing We, the precariat campaign[5]launched by the artists’ trade union and aimed at uniting disputes in creative and labour sectors, exemplifies the socio-political operationalization of the emergence of the precariat, which is possible thanks to the cooperation of artists with workers as well as labour and democratic disputes in the area of culture.


The current issue of The MOCAK Forum tries to recreate the narrative sketched out above through texts dealing with: 1. Class characteristics of contemporary societies; 2. Class determinants of aesthetics and tastes; 3. Interclass tensions expressed in art; 4. Analysis of cultural practices of the working classes; 5. Descriptions of artistic interactions with the working classes (including the former proletariat); 6. Analysis of labour disputes in the area of culture; 7. Consolidation of the precariat.

I would like to express my gratitude to all the authors who have written texts for the 10.th issue of The MOCAK Forum as well as too all those who have contributed to its final shape.

Translation: Dorota Malina

[1] Czarna księga polskich artystów, K. Górna, K. Sienkiewicz, M. Iwański, K. Szreder, S. Rukszy,
J. Figiel (eds.), Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, Obywatelskie Forum Sztuki Współczesnej, Warsaw 2015.
[2] „Krytyka Polityczna” no. 40/41
[3] The Precariat; The Dangerous New Class, G. Standing,  Bloomsbury Academic, London and New York 2011.
[4] Prekariat i nowa walka klas. Przeobrażenia współczesnej klasy pracowniczej i jej form walki, J. Urbański, Instytut Wydawniczy Książka i Prasa, Warsaw 2014.
[5] www.myprekariat.pl [accessed 25.4.2015]