Labour in a single shot (2013) was one of the last collaborations by Harun Farocki and Antje Ehmann before Farocki’s death in July 2014.
It explores questions of globalisation and temporality, of subjectivity and formal documentations within the contemporary. Thus, it formulates a complex concept of contemporaneity and responds to Farocki’s own critique of cinema, namely only showing the workers outside of the factory.
After being on display among others in Berlin in House of the World Cultures, at the Ruhrtriennale, at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and at the Boston Center for the Arts, you can now see it at the Venice Biennale until the 22. of November or online.
All images included in this article are available at : Haus der Kulturen der Welt
Newspapers lie scattered on the pavement. Nimble fingers open them, staple them together, fold them, put them on a pile. Zoom out. Three woman and two men are sitting on the floor surrounded by newspapers. Their bikes, having their baskets filled with paper wait for them on the road to Hanoi.
Two minutes of diving into their world, looking precisely into the details, waiting to see their narrative unfolding. Striving for the strange and unknown. There is no birds eye view, there is no such thing as a central perspective. No cuts installing a story line. We have to get our hands dirty; we have to follow the workers, follow their hands, their fast gestures stapling. Are they the protagonists we are looking for?
Sitting on a grey carpet in the dim lighted exhibition space in the ‘Haus der Kulturen der Welt’ in Berlin; around and between us: 15 flatscreens, presenting labour. Ranging from delivering newspapers, to telling the fortune, writing, doing the laundry. Over 130 videos, shot in 15 different cities all over the world. Each video made by a different person; amateur or professional. Topic and format were given by the artists Harun Farocki and Antje Ehmann: Labour in a single shot. No cuts, no effects, just labour, in a 1-2 minute videoclip.
Books lie scattered on the floor. A girls room in Boston. Soft light. Her voice is reading a text she is writing on her MacBook. The young women lies coiled up on her bed typing in her laptop. Surrounded by books and comfort. Again two minutes to grasp her. Two minutes, a glimpse, a spotlight of her life which seems so familiar to us. Stampling, folding, writing? Being observed by the nimble fingers.
Struggling for a fixed point. Being able to see four screens at the same time. No way to contemplate on only one work. Overwhelmed by simultaneity. Where to sit? Where to look? Comparing and drawing distinctions become main tools of reception. Categorizing, differentiating, disavowing. The newspaper deliverers and the writer girl are living in the same world. They share the same time. They work. They repeat. They make a living. But there is the humming noise of Hanoi, the nimble fingers, sweat and the young woman with her MacBook typing calmly, surrounded by books and comfort.
Unity is a projection. A speculative act of imagination. A singular time constructed out of infinite presents, out of co-existing times, only to be unified temporarily. Tied, linked and netted. Radically different experiences, social spaces and practices being bonded together. What does it mean to be contemporary? There is no modernistic forever now. Instead “a coming together not simply ‘in’ time, but of times“. But who comes together? Striving for the strange and unknown. Imagining the present: mounting a disjunctive unity. Following fragmentary narratives, observing how to make a living in Hanoi.
Only practice, nimble fingers, typing fingers. There is no subject, there is no protagonist. Instead anonymous practices. Disjunctive unity: fragmented times, fragmented narratives, fragmented subjects. We have to get our hands dirty, we have to follow the workers. Could they be our Odysseus, our Leopold Bloom? Struggling for stories, a character, identification. Two minutes, a glimpse, a spotlight of her life which seems so familiar to us. No character symbolizing all the worlds presents.
Juxtaposing ,The Others’ and us? They are here, in the midst of us, not anymore only at the edge of our empire. Within our present. Outside of our present. But who are they? Who are we? Model of the subject: Dissolved in practice. Mr Odysseus and Mr Bloom: Dead. We ourselves? Being observed by the nimble fingers, become ,The Others’, the strange and unknown. Labour in a single shot: antagonistic contemporaneity. Installing temporary differences to make them negotiable. Linking partials and densities. Presenting the presents. There is no common ground whatsoever. It must be produced. Again and again. Together in time(s).
 Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All (London: Verso, 2013). P. 17