The ABC of the projectariat

Living and working in a precarious art world

By Kuba Szreder

The ABC of the projectariat
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  • ISBN: 9781526161321
  • Publish Date: Nov 2021
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
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  • Publish Date: Dec 2021
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    Book Information

    • Format: Paperback
    • ISBN: 978-1-5261-6132-1
    • Pages: 288
    • Price: £14.99
    • Published Date: November 2021
    • Series: Whitworth Manuals


    The ABC of the projectariat contributes new thinking on and practical responses to the widespread problem of precarious labour in the field of contemporary art. It works as both a critical analysis and a practical handbook, speaking to and about the vast cohort of artistic freelancers worldwide.

    In an accessible ABC format, the book strikes a unique balance between the practical and the theoretical: the analysis is backed up by lived experience, the arguments are rooted in concrete examples and there are suggestions for constructive action. Roughly half of the entries expose the structural underpinnings of projects and circulation, isolating traits such as opportunism, neoliberalism, inequality, fear and cynicism at the root of the condition of the projectariat. This discussion is paired with a practical account of different modes of action, such as art strikes, productive withdrawals, political struggles and better social time machines. Just as proletarians had nothing to lose but their chains, the projectarians have nothing to miss but their deadlines.


    'The ABC of the projectariat delivers an essential contribution for examining artistic work in relation to political-theoretically, sociologically and art-theoretically informed perspectives, in order to expose the internal contradictions that have shaped the art world.'
    Christoph Chwatal, Springerin

    'The ABC of the projectariat lays out starkly the labor that sustains cultural production, and the daily conundrums, mundane and existential, inherent to navigating the many intersecting art worlds ... The book offers a historicized trajectory of care for labor in all its forms, but also allows projectarians a bit of insurgent optimism, in proposing new ways to reconceive our privileged precarity.'
    iLiana Fokianaki, Art Agenda

    'The text feels like a chat with a trusted friend who understands what actually happens rather than what the P.R. wants you to believe. It gives you the real deal, revealing what theory obscures through its need to make pure architectures.'
    Marc Herbst, transversal texts

    'Kuba Szreder's ABC of the projectariat asks searching questions of an international art world that promised to change dramatically at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic... [It] shows the possibility of a different art culture, in a way that's practical and pragmatic, and far more concrete than certain institutions' empty rhetoric around (say) COVID-19 or Black Lives Matter.'
    Juliet Jacques, Tribune

    'Will we ever go back to "normal" again? Should we, even? Hell no, says Kuba Szreder! But during the current interim period in which Gramsci's monsters dwell old certainties shrivel and evaporate. Old power structures suddenly look brittle while new ones are created and vanish as if in a crazy political particle accelerator. In this kind of mayhem Szreder goes back to the A and O of any philosophical thinking - an alphabetical list - trusting that the mess will sort itself out once articulated aloud. From A for "antifascism" to Y for "you are not alone", this is an essential compendium to recalibrate orientations amid the meteoric impacts of current history.'
    Hito Steyerl, author of Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War

    'A radical dictionary of key terms, Kuba Szreder's The ABC of the projectariat critically diagnoses what it means to live and work in the precarious art world. Organised alphabetically into incisive, readable elaborations, the book unpacks timely concepts of domination - neoliberalism, NGOisation, co-optation, entrepreneurs of the self, precarity - and with other vital selections - art strike, interdependence, productive withdrawal and instituting the commons - offers a crucial vocabulary for anti-capitalist transformation. For a more egalitarian, democratic and inclusive world, it's urgent that we learn this language together.'
    T. J. Demos, author of Beyond the World's End: Arts of Living at the Crossing

    'Kuba Szreda's book is a bracing exposé of the lives and concerns of people who do projects for a living. Yes, it is based on the artist projectariat, but this book will speak to all workers across the world who "run on the fumes" of the recognised economy. This ABC offers critical insight into matters of individual survival, but more importantly it is a primer on strategies for recognising interdependence and living and working otherwise.'
    J. K. Gibson-Graham, authors of Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming our Communities

    'The ABC is more than a glossary; it examines the political economies of the global art world, centring on the structural conditions of the projecteriat, its entanglements and interminable uncertainty. Szreder connects the theoretical corpus developed over the last two decades to material reality and lived experience. Looking at everything from the fatigue of hustling to the banality of speed-working and the extractionist practices it leads to, he provides an overview of "the field of contemporary art in the process of its decomposition".'
    Vasif Kortun, curator and author

    'A long-awaited alphabet, spelling out the real conditions of artistic and creative labour in the age of networks and circulation, but also borders, The ABC of the projectariat is a must-read for anyone studying, and possibly living in, the contemporary art field. A curator and critic known for his imaginative and daring propositions, Kuba Szreder has managed to write the most structurally innovative and (perversely) enjoyable book on the formidable subject of the production of the art field as such. The book's sixty-six entries are sharp, lucid and full of remarkable insights about the life and work of art projectarians - that is, those who create through the ubiquitous project-form. The entries are also incredibly informative, honest and attentive to geopolitics. They combine hands-on experience, theoretical rigour and political situatedness. Insofar as it is almost impossible to think of anyone not working from project to project, and therefore living out as personal burden the social consequences of the global project hegemony (with precarity chief among them), this study is about a way of life as much as about what governs work - our life and our work. Committed to practices of social transformation towards an end of the socio-economic injustice that rules our life and work, The ABC of the projectariat is a unique encounter that will move you - forward.'
    Angela Dimitrakaki, author of ECONOMY: Art, Production and the Subject in the Twenty-First Century

    'Kuba Szreder's projectarians are a vanguard part of the precariat. We need a new subversive vocabulary for a new progressive politics, and this book provides much of what is needed.'
    Guy Standing, author of The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class

    'This is an urgent and accessible anatomy of the conditions of art-making today. It vividly conveys the crushing impacts of "the cruel economy of contemporary art" on the material and creative lives of artists while mapping a network of imaginative paths out of it.'
    Josh Cohen, author of Not Working: Why We Have to Stop

    'From his innovative research with the Free/Slow University of Warsaw to his breakthrough concept of the artistic projectariat, Szreder tenaciously levels our collective attention towards the paradoxes of a cultural economy in crisis, without abandoning hopes for its radical transformation.'
    Gregory Sholette, author of Dark Matter and The Artist as Activist

    'This book is a weapon for anyone who wants to resist the dominant economy of art. Its voice is situated in the semi-periphery of Europe and resonates with the projectariat from all over the world.'
    Zdenka Badovinac, curator and author


    A is for aftermath (COVID-19 as a forced suspension)
    A is for Anti-fascist Year
    A is for application
    A is for Artyzol
    A is for assemblage or apparatus
    A is for art strikes (lessons to be taken)
    A is for art workers
    B is for belt-tightening
    B is for (no) borders
    B is for burn-outs (and other pathologies of responsibility)
    C is for capital (economic, social, and symbolic)
    C is for capture
    C is for circulation
    C is for control
    C is for co-opetition
    C is for co-optation
    C is for curatorial mode of production / revolution
    C is for cynicism and cliques
    D is for dark matter
    D is for deadline
    D is for demonstration of paintings
    E is for enthusiasm
    E is for entrepreneurs of the self
    E is for exclusion
    E is for exodus
    E is for expanded field (of art)
    F is for fear
    F is for Free/Slow (University of Warsaw)
    F is for footprint (or carbon miles)
    G is for generosity
    G is for grant art (NGO-isation)
    H is for herding cats
    H is for home (office)
    I is for independence
    I is for instituting the commons
    I is for interdependence
    K is for (no) kids
    L is for labour of love
    M is for mutualising (risks and economies)
    N is for neoliberalism
    N is for networker
    N is for numbers and measures
    O is for one percent
    O is for opportunism
    P is for patainstitutions
    P is for pollination
    P is for poor (artists)
    P is for precarity
    P is for productive withdrawals
    P is for project
    P is for projectariat
    R is for radical pragmatism
    R is for repurposing
    S is for seeing everything twice, or the catch 22 of the projectariat
    S is for semi-peripheries
    S is for sprint
    S is for squabbles
    S is for struggles
    T is for time machines
    T is for trawling
    T is for turns, or on the vicious cycle
    T is for twilight or support structures against exclusion
    V is for visibility
    W is for wages (for artwork)
    W is for winner takes it all
    Y is for you are not alone


    Kuba Szreder is a lecturer in the department of art theory at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He combines his research with independent curatorial practice. His previous publications include Joy Forever: Political Economy of Social Creativity (2011) and Art Factory: Division of Labor and Distribution of Resources in the Field of Contemporary Art in Poland (2014). In 2018, together with Kathrin Böhm, he initiated Centre for Plausible Economies, a cluster devoted to reimagining economies of contemporary art and utilising artistic imagination to redraw the economy at large.

    The ABC of the projectariat

    By Kuba Szreder

    Paperback £14.99 / $22.95

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