Only a week into working with Studio Porte Bleue, and the theme of Time has had a distinct presence in our transatlantic collaboration with CAT in Cologne, Germany. The project, Citizens vs. Work, will be conducted in several cities throughout Europe and North America, utilizing performance methodology as a means to investigate notions of labor. In our recent work on the project, Colin Lalonde (Artistic Director at Studio Porte Bleue) has conducted three interviews, each focusing on men in Montreal who each represent a different generation. From these interviews, Colin is transmitting the stories of labor to myself. He's using techniques seeped in oral history, passing along the story to myself in a way that echos the passing down of labor from generation to generation. Colin tells me the story several times before I begin the process of physically embodying the tale of labor.
In the course of the first week, we have begun the process of passing along oral histories for two of the individuals interviewed. Although this is a highly micro investigation of labor in Montreal, both have been rich with material. Material that presents challenges and raises questions, while also providing insight into the query, "Why does one labor?" I've found that both interviewees make connections to labor and its relationship with, as eloquently described by Samuel Beckett, the "double-headed monster of damnation and salvation - Time." In the first instance, the story told by a man who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II highlights the importance of investing for the future. In this case, the specter of future hardships directly influences his present thoughts on his past modes of labor.
In the second instance, a younger man tells his story of defying the eight hour a day work week by being so efficient that the work can be done in four hours. One might argue that he is freeing himself from the ballast of time, subverting the 40 hour a week norm. And there is merit to this argument. He is in fact finding autonomy within a 40 hour a week schedule. He's able to do the work in four hours, yet bill his employers for eight. However, within this seemingly flexible time frame, he must still abide to certain rules of engagement in order to give the illusion to his employers that he is working eight hours a day rather than four. He must give the perception that the hours are being filled with labor, regardless of how quickly he is able to do the job.
From working to ensure a secure future to re-imagining the 40 hour week, labor and time are woven together in various ways. As I noted in an earlier thought on Samuel Beckett and Don Hertzfeldt,
"Time has a penchant for being spurious. Giving us the false sense of freedom, time lulls people into a sequence of habits that form the routine of life." A few of the many aspects of the Citizens vs. Work project that interests me is a communal investigation of the eight hour work day, reflecting on why individuals labor, and challenging the pie chart at the top of the page - the "sequence of habits that form the routine of life."