‘To See and Be Seen’: Ethnographic Notes on Cultural Work in Contemporary Art in Greece
A key term in discussions on the nature of cultural work is the concept of ‘autonomy’, or ‘relative autonomy’, according to which cultural workers are capable of realizing themselves in the processes of work. This article wishes to problematize this idea by examining the quotidian reality of cultural workers in the field of contemporary art in Greece during the current economic crisis. The analysis is based on ethnographic fieldwork, focusing on how the positive characteristics of cultural work are inscribed in workers’ experiences through their participation in ReMap, a contemporary art event that takes places biannually in Athens and is tightly interwoven with processes of gentrification. I argue that relative autonomy is neither a given nor a state where the cultural worker linearly progresses. Within the context of the larger cultural and economic implications of neoliberalism and its crisis, it is rather an ideal they are striving for, often through highly alienating conditions, in a field dominated by competition, voluntarism, low salaries, precarity and absence of collective bargaining.