Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives on by sucking living labor and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.*

The story of Sprague Electric in North Adams, Massachusetts, is a story that we have all heard before, that has been heard throughout multitudes of cities in the United States, about when labor became a commodity that could be outsourced—and suddenly the jobs were shipped away. The project On Symptoms of Cultural Industry by Bureau for Open Culture seeks to suture this everyday social reality with the affects created through Post-Fordist capitalist production. What does the redirection of Capital mean to those who had every intention to pay their children’s college tuition, finish home improvements and retire to Florida and on time? How does failed investment, or belief, in the capitalist American dream lead not just to alienated disillusionment, but initiate a whole new situation where production in the form of culture and image becomes the essential economic agency? What are the alternative creative and practical ways of finding economic stability in arenas where jobs manufacturing material products simply are not there?

While these questions seem prescient for our current economic conditions, On Symptoms of Cultural Industry is interested in the overlaps between now and the more distant era of the past forty years when the terrain of transformation and shift towards the production of knowledge, communication and ideas and thus new subjectivities in Post-Fordist capitalism began to take shape. These subjectivities that are manifested through images, urban infrastructures, knowledge and networked relationships implicate the necessity for considering alternative modes of influence through constant cultural production. To be sure: Capital’s relation to labor has not changed since manufacturers like Sprague ceased operation. Indeed, the hold Capital has on the immaterial laborer’s time is virtually every single moment of every single day. A font of ideas can forever flow, if allowed. In our realization of On Symptoms of Cultural Industry we struggle with, and complicate, the inevitable discourse in late capitalism and ulterior methods of non-utopian world making by means of artistic instigation. We know it. Without a doubt, there is a necessity in a project such as this to avoid the commodification of identity for cultural capital through the materialization of radical identity politics rather than a means in and of itself. Instead, with this project Bureau for Open Culture seeks to make a proposition that identity must be subsumed for liberation to occur, and in the words of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Commonwealth, “you have to lose who you are to discover what you can become.”

* Karl Marx


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