‘All of us want to work less. It is an intriguing question as to why it was that the world’s leading economist of the post-war era believed that an enlightened capitalism inevitably progressed towards a radical reduction of working hours. In ‘The Economic Prospects for Our Grandchildren’, Keynes forecast a capitalist future where individuals would have their work reduced to three hours a day. What has instead occurred is the progressive elimination of the work-life distinction, with work coming to permeate every aspect of the emerging social factory.’ [1]

In 1930, John Maynard Keynes wrote a short essay titled Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren [2] during the years surrounding the 1929 Wall Street Crash, which sparked a worldwide depression. The essay was published during a period of economic retrieval from the worst financial crash in American history. The United States was broken, people were economically distraught, they persevered with the maladjusted sentiments of a deep national pessimism. Keynes’ essay openly declares a potential for reduced working hours with a distinctly alternate vision of what an ‘enlightened capitalism’ might become. In a premise that is now ninety years old, Keynes’ essay encapsulates what could be interpreted as a present-day discussion surrounding rapid social standard improvements, labour absorption and advanced technological unemployment. While forecasting possibilities, Keynes presents a balanced, non-violent transition of prosperity in support of future generations and, specifically, his grandchildren. However, he did not consider the accelerated onslaught of consumerism.

In a similar spirit, at Govan Project Space, Beagles & Ramsay install their most recent solo exhibition: Circular Holding Pattern. The title alone suggests how we acknowledge today’s work–life balances. The artists do this through a collaborative art practice that remains increasingly swamped in the realisation of a precarious debt–ridden future-present. Whether this is something Keynes considered during the late 1920s in terms of future studies that fail on former ideals or as an historical account in the present – the essay suggests otherwise. Similarly today, any prospect for an improved economic turnaround of sustainable political means remains equally questioned and constantly revised. What Keynes identifies is both curious and intellectually seductive, although just how three hours a day of work could be a possibility seems unthinkable, yet stimulating, if not overlooked today. In other words, all of us need to work less….

At Govan Project Space, Beagles & Ramsay showed new works that further develop themes present in their collaborative practice for many years. Circular Holding Pattern reminds us that present day, Western societies hang in the balance and what you hear is not equal to what you see, especially in the public reception and production of social news media. Sometimes it is alright to need less, to put out little, and productively stand outside coherent, rational communication. After all, these are the powerful qualities that many of these artworks present so well.

Another example of a ‘circular holding pattern’, that might suggest needing and working less, is Glasgow hosting the 26th United Nations’ Climate Change Conference. This will include representation by nearly every country that acknowledges the climate crisis. In a united front, we enter a challenging decade in which the subject of decarbonisation (or carbon literacy) will attempt to head wearily towards net-zero levels across the globe. And yet, it’s a contrary exercise, to repeatedly prepare for how the worst of the climate crisis will manifest as it is already happening. Post–progressive speculation is not always effective despite the fact that it is what so many governments are doing. Of course, we still fail to understand what this ‘circular holding pattern’ entails in actionable terms, as Pankaj Mishra remarks in an article titled, Welcome to the Age of Anger. He states ‘Never have so many free individuals felt so helpless – so desperate to take back control from anyone they can blame for their feeling of having lost it.’[3] Or indeed, what we have lost (and more importantly what artists are holding) is a critical component in understanding the value of what Beagles & Ramsay produce in their collective practice.

If all of us ‘did’ want to work less, we can also wonder what it will mean for our physical bodies and emotional states, in a renewed occupancy of visible labour in the future. In a progressive and commercially unfriendly climate of increased state technologies, it’s easy to question if this is the beginning of a dark, visible cycle. After all, this is where illiberalism and future democracies constitute an increasing disinterest for the humanities and the welfare of the general public. Besides, we can actively override, separate and intervene the self-governing decisions that upset and challenge the predictable silences of power that surround our daily lives. These are the soft sentiments of what is coming, and what so many have feared in the past is now happening, where our position is beginning to slip away as we move into a new era of democratic disenchantment.

Beagles & Ramsay’s project proposes artistic life as connected to modern urban culture with all its potential pitfalls. In experiencing their proposition, one also begins to encounter the sensory processes of a democratic disenchantment through a wide range of material means and digital animations that offer the contradictory visions, which are vitally built into their worldview. It is striking how this exhibition (among many in the past) circulates on the complex realities of a professionally fatigued state of working global affairs. The socio-political fictions of today’s West are transversally blurred and co-opted in digitally reproducible forms. While this is more frequently connected to a millennial movement (or a ‘snowflake generation’ born after 1984), their project curiously develops images that are partitioned and distinct in a constellation of one–to–five-minute video fragments that occupy the main gallery throughout the installation. In the same capacity, theories surrounding democratic disenchantment constantly revise the waning behaviours of recent democratic regimes; from voter disenchantment and growing apathy, to political discontent, alongside the political mobilization of radicals and an increasing decline of voluntary organizations and their members. Beagles & Ramsay, however, contain an important perspective of lived–human–experience whereby the alienated understandings of a ‘before and after work’ scenario are visually revealed and critically addressed as the context. In other words, the overwhelming narrative of today’s ‘employer and employee’ culture infer the historical inventories of the past. The value of ‘employer and employee’ suffering is not unfamiliar to many cultural practices today although Beagles & Ramsay focus this on the digital, the human and the systemic narratives of work that remain critically unbalanced.

Among previous and existing artworks presented in this book, an evolving perspective from the animation, To Do Joy Complete, to a more recent image of a fallen office chair at Govan Project Space brilliantly conveys the institutionally saturated neurodiversity of today’s compulsive screen technologies. The title alone of To Do Joy Complete is unsympathetic and equally holds the thought that we all need to work less – it combines various perspectives such as the widening sense of isolation and disenchantment linked to many working professional relationships. Importantly, this includes how today’s creative sector (alongside art education) is positioned within a start-up/fintech mentality. These suggested relationships unwittingly interpret and put forward a presence on today’s employment workplace environments such as WeWork that offer on their website, ‘a multinational company that provides membership, shared workspaces for technology firms, subcultural communities, and services for entrepreneurs, freelancers, start-ups, small businesses and large enterprises’. While todays artists increasingly fall prey to corporate instrumentalism under a similar banner of state inclusivity, art organisations openly engage with processes of gentrification (artwashing) that are given incentives by the state in public-private-third sector partnerships. What creative productivity implies to a working office environment is reconsidered in To Do Joy Complete – not just because it is full of today’s despair or because it is produced within the autonomy of a collaborative art practice but because it questions what ‘knowledge’ we are working towards. This is a vital distinction that permits a timely place for such contributions today. We are all attempting to improve our shared circumstances while equally addressing new ways to envisage our working lives. While all of us want to work less, this is a carefully crafted comment on workspace brutalities.

While Beagles & Ramsay share a united concern in their desire to capture an ‘elsewhere’ within their project, the infrastructure throughout Govan Project Space renders the subject to a vacuous world state – this may be equal to any deeply unsatisfying working environment. Significantly, collaboration and integration are paired down to a descriptive list of materials in the press release: “office furniture, grommets, wool blend fabric, silkscreen, heat transfer, vinyl, lanyards, digital animations, resin teeth, brooms, mops, steel, jesmonite, cast concrete, acrylic, cable covers” – which are scattered and built in careful composition to the gallery space and crafted consciously towards today’s social insignificance. What Beagles & Ramsay’s project does so well is question how a culture of ‘open source spirit’ represents collective concerns in today’s labour-based ecologies. The burden of bodily organs and planetary exhaustion is conveyed as intensely relevant here by an ideology of committed sparsity through images that somehow linger in resilience, even as their effects centre disproportionately across the gallery site. Such images adapt and prosper within the disappointments of everyday, online, neoliberal living.

The use of interspersed animations dotted throughout relay the connective words in a dope narrative of Triumph of Zero which falls under the title of the Govan Project Space exhibition. A key motif lies in the imaginative renderings of sweeping brooms and a swinging chair. The idle invitation is to assess class–based circumstances of labour, but these objects are decoratively adorned with other references outside such a debate, which come closer to the digital sublime and the posthuman condition of todays’ users. Alongside the imaginary organs associated to each wooden broom, the inference here is on collective figuration. Each broom is adorned with a dual–sided object for a head, crude hollowed facial features, and endlessly long necks that shoulder several emoticon-like faces that divide, double, and suggest the temporality of a very flat future. With every unprofiled face (and undocumented future), these objects embody the human subject shifting between static and mobile forms of state collapse sonically charged by the resonance of a domestic hoover. The longer one lingers on the sound and each broom’s sudden collapse; one can equally recall just how these images provide a sinister register and undertone on today’s societal landscape. It is a poetic glimpse into an unfulfilled state that pervades our present consciousness.

Further such offerings are found through an informal index attached to some of Beagles & Ramsay’s titles such as: Smile, On the Beach, Happy End Of, Ceiling Tile Cosmos, Pause Relax Insert and Circular Holding Pattern – whereby visions of a Western demise occupy and filter a post-Fordism agenda. These suggested titles unwittingly interpret and put forward a presence on today’s employment workplace environments, such as mental health, wellbeing, social impact and social capital. All are considered and noted in the visually enhanced compositions of each image. While these titles are challenging, the observations evoke various concerns related to isolated figures gesturing with apolitical ‘media–like’ hands and fingers, lanyards, cardboard boxes, meal deals, vacant oversized cabinets and the like. Through various associations and symbolic attachments, Beagles & Ramsay carefully reinforce neoliberal branding exercises and the self-profiling tendencies of our times whereby the cultural environment depicted is ominously orientated to what is valued above what should be considered valuable in the first instance. The implication of aestheticizing approaches towards the social and political workplace is increasingly a relationship to question in relation to new technology developments, just as Keynes suggests – all of us want to work less.

As a result, modern life appears very much as an enactment of class or lifestyle where individualism and possibility are unfairly treated and ‘less knowable’ for the future-present. Institutions, company branding, group portraits featuring throughout the work – all identify as a symptom of our current obscurification, which reinforces a mode of surveillance capitalism. Is this knowledge based on utter frustration and despair or is it locked into the grey utilities of communication technology? Today’s workspaces remain implicit to the digital/human transition whereby the journey of experience in Circular Holding Pattern carries a genuine claim on what is potentially essential to it. This project successfully continues to seek the challenges of this subject, it clearly identifies what has been lost at the workspace for everyone. All of us want to work less, all of us need to work less.

1. http://criticallegalthinking.com accessed 24 January 2020. Accelerate Manifesto states in support of their aims the following words: ‘Accelerationism pushes towards a future that is more modern, an alternative modernity that neoliberalism is inherently unable to generate.’ Consult the second point, third section, titled – 03: MANIFEST: On the Future

2. John Maynard Keynes, Essays in Persuasion, New York: W.W.Norton & Co., 1963, pp. 358-373. This essay originated as a talk in 1928 and only later in June 1930 did Keynes expand his notes into a lecture and publishable text over two instalments in the Nation and Athenaeum, 11th and 18th October 1930.

3. Pankaj Mishra’s acclaimed book is titled: Age of Anger – a history of the present published by Penguin (2018). Welcome to the Age of Anger was published online by The Guardian on 8th December 2016 and accessed on 24th January 2020.

Dr Stephen Wilson is a writer and theorist on contemporary art. He is a senior lecturer and coordinator of postgraduate theory at University of the Arts, London. His upcoming book Transpersonal, instructions is due to be published by the Vargas Museum and the Filipiniana Research Centre, University of the Philippines.