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This is (Not) a Love Song – A people’s tribunal in four acts on precarious work and life discussing wage, love, freedom & risk (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

September 9, 2018

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As artists, designers, writers, critics and other cultural workers we have to deal with a lot of flexibility in our everyday life. The work we do in the creative industries is based on our capacity as individuals and on an independent status, making professional relations often tied to an emotional context where the boundaries between life and profession are blurred. Our work is based on our ability to invest ourselves personally – to love what you do, to seduce, to adapt – and to rely on yourself.

This Is Not A Love Song is a People’s Tribunal addressing the issues relating to precarious work and life conditions taking place on October 11th, in Amsterdam. It sets out to discuss precarity within the arts and beyond in light of current neoliberal tendencies that inform today’s highly flexible, insecure and meritocratic employment model, the logic of which is particularly present in the Netherlands. We will address precarious labor as the predominant working condition in the creative industries, which often translates into unpaid work, short-term contracts or no-contract work or internships, insecure and unstable work and life conditions, individual competition, deprivation of rights and status, reinforced inequalities (class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality) – while promoting an insecure or flexible way of life as the privilege and freedom of making your own choices.

 The artist is easily understood as a paradigm for the ideal worker: passionate about what they do and willing to forgo material wealth for the love of it.[1] This day aims to collectively diagnose how precarity thrives on this argument, how it exploits recognition and promotes the merits of individualistic behavior and competition over those of collectivity and solidarity – a model that is formulated as the blueprint for the future worker based on the artist’s capacity to rely on him or herself. In this respect, while precarious conditions are particularly poignant in the creative field, the discussion will tie into a more general debate on the changing conditions of work and life in an increasingly flexible, deregulated and privatized landscape that forces many more professional occupations into the liberal perspective of a more open relationship that confuses wage and love, freedom and risk.

This Is Not A Love Song is not a love song. It will play out as a People’s Tribunal where the issue will be discussed drawing on courtroom protocols such as shared testimonials, expert witnesses, a collective deliberation and the formulation of a  verdict. We will put specific focus on neoliberal thinking and how its core values affect this issue: Whereas liberalizing the economy allowed for more open terms and free-market policies in the course globalizing trade, today its ‘laissez-faire’ [2] philosophy characterizes many other types of relationships beyond that of economic ones; between governments, enterprises, institutions and individuals, all of which are under pressure to be more flexible and independent as well. In doing so neoliberal thinking normalizes attitudes towards work and the self, discourages collectivism in favor of individual freedom, and fundamentally challenges “what a relationship is”; by promoting the concept of individual autonomy over that of mutual responsibility. According to a recent article in The Guardian it should become clear how the neoliberal perspective ‘has been applied to all of society, until it has invaded the grit of our personal lives, and how the attitude of the salesman has become enmeshed in all modes of self-expression. ‘In short,’ The Guardian continues, ‘ “neoliberalism” is not simply a name for pro-market policies, or for the compromises with finance capitalism made by failing social democratic parties. It is a name for a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practice and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organizing principle for human activity’. [3]

The debate will set out to examine this relational shift with regards to precarity as an institutionalized and systematically applied employment model that normalizes insecurity and instability and extorts unpaid labor and other exploitative forms of work that characterize its open, flexible and independent ways.

This Is Not A Love Song aims to discuss precarity first in order to share immediate working conditions that creative practitioners face on a day-to-day basis concretely and practically. Secondly, its role within larger socio-political developments will be deliberated in order shed light on its ideological underpinnings and its current application via institutional frames (cultural institutions, schools, legal frameworks, …) and open the door to how we could be part of a change.

The Precarious Workers Brigade, Training for Exploitation? Politicizing Employability and Reclaiming Educaction (London, Leipzig, Los Angeles: Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press, 2017), 17

Sidney Fine. Laissez Faire and the General-Welfare State. (United States: The University of Michigan Press, 1964.)

3 Stephen Metcalf, ‘Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world’, The Guardian, Aug 2017


Guests & Collaborators

We will welcome guest speakers or ‘expert witnesses’ to take the stand; The Precarious Workers Brigade, from the UK, Art Leaks, and Wages For Wages Against, from Switzerland, to share their knowledge on the issue, their experience in calling out in solidarity, in addressing institutions and peers and their tools for doing so. Also joining is artist and activist John Jordan and Isabelle Frémeaux from The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination who’s work merges the imagination of art and the radical engagement of activism. In addition, each of the four acts will include testimonials from different cultural workers, artists, institutions, and audience members. We urge you to contribute as well, in whatever form you find best to express your point of view or your experiences.

You can read more about how to contribute your testimonial here. We’re also excited to partner up with PUB Radio & Journal, and we’ll set up a temporary bookshop during the event with San Serriffe, offering great material on what is work and what is love to continue this debate with after the tribunal. In the meantime, you can have a look at a list that we’ve compiled of groups, books, publications and other platforms that deal with this issue here.



To RSVP we’ve composed a brief anonymous questionnaire with some questions about work. To attend the tribunal we’d like you to fill it out. This process is anonymous and all information will be treated with care; we will use it to share a view of where we stand – and what needs to change. Thank you.If this got you thinking and eager to act, you can also contribute to the tribunal proceedings with your testimonial, more about this up here. Send it to

Learn more at This Is (Not) A Love Song 


This Is Not A love Song is an initiative of Elise van Mourik, Rosa te Velde and Tiphanie Blanc. Graphic design by Miquel Hervás Gómez

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