BY Ahmet Öğüt in Features | 07 DEC 16

Work in Progress: Ahmet Öğüt

In a new series that sees artists discuss unfinished projects, Ahmet Öğüt introduces the Unconditional Basic Income Lounge

BY Ahmet Öğüt in Features | 07 DEC 16

In 1977, Jenny Holzer began creating numerous hand-typed one-liners. One of them is the well-know statement, 'Private Property Created Crime', which in the early 1980s was displayed on a vast electronic advertising hoarding in Times Square.

Around the same time, a discussion was taking place amongst academics in Switzerland about a new form of basic income that would make future poverty reduction a more attainable goal than it was under the existing system. It wasn’t until the 2000s that this debate started taking the shape of a public debate, and only in 2012 was an initiative was launched calling for an unconditional basic income to become a constitutional right. Within 18 months, more than 120,000 citizens had signed the petition, and 3 years later, in June of this year, the entire nation was given the opportunity to vote on the proposal, making Switzerland the first country in the world to vote on an Unconditional Basic Income (UBI). The proposal was for all adult Swiss residents to receive a basic income of 2,500 Swiss francs per month, with children receiving around a quarter of that sum. Under the Swiss popular initiative system, the new legislation was rejected, with only by 23% of voters backing the project. In spite of this result, UBI is still an appealing prospect to politicians on both the left and the right, with other countries like Finland, Canada and Netherlands initiating pilot prospects to test the viability of the system.

Next summer, as part of the group show 'Action!’ at Kunsthaus Zurich, I’ll be establishing the Unconditional Basic Income Lounge, which Swiss citizens who voted 'Yes’ will have access to enter, as well as those who pledge to change their minds and the non-citizens who say ‘Yes’ but didn’t have right to vote. Thus fair, I’ve been working in close collaboration with Mirjam Varadinis, curator at the Kunsthaus Zürich, and I’ve been exchanging ideas with Greta Seeger, an innovation consultant based between Berlin and Hamburg. Within the space, we will establish a programme of events that circles around the on-going debate, but most importantly we will create a platform that doesn’t just address UBI for citizens, but also for non-citizens. We plan to invite local organizations, lawyers, activists, economists to get involved, in the hope that an antagonistic but productive debate will be launched that looks at the issue from all critical perspectives – economy, ethics, politics.

Logo for Ahmet Öğüt, Unconditional Basic Income Lounge, forthcoming. Design: Martin Stoecklin

The plan is to push UBI into the spotlight by looking at a number of inspirational figures. The former President of Uruguay, José Alberto ‘Pepe’ Mujica Cordano, for example, who donated 90% of his income to entrepreneurs and charity, will be invited to participate, as will Joachim Ackva, who is urging the civil society to activate the UN’s ‘2030 sustainable plan’, which pledges to provide universal access to social protection and, rather ambitiously, end extreme poverty by 2030. We will also invite The Whole World in Zurich, an initiative that investigates the concept of urban citizenship, and Daniel Häni, an entrepreneur and one of the co-founders of the committee that first launched the UBI proposal in Switzerland. In addition to this, we will organize events revisiting certain historical statements, including Guy Debord’s famed slogan ‘Ne travaillez jamais’ (Never Work), which was painted on a wall on the Rue de Seine in 1953, Mladen Stilinovic’s 1993 text The Praise of Laziness, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s 1969 Manifesto for Maintenance. We will inherit what Ukeles described so long ago: ‘I am an artist. I am a woman. I am a wife. I am a mother. (Random order) I do a hell of a lot of washing, cleaning, cooking, renewing, supporting, preserving, etc. Also, (up to now separately) I ‘do’ Art. Now I will simply do these everyday things, and flush them up to consciousness, exhibit them, as ART.’

As Yannis Varoufakis says, just as the world didn’t make sense after 1929 crisis, it doesn’t make sense after 2008 global economic crisis. Politics, he says, has become toxic. Wages have stagnated to such an extent that the working class can no longer to insure itself, the redistribution between capital and labour has become increasingly unfeasible, and the rise of the machines will ultimately see repetitive routine work and algorithmic labour be replaced.  He argues that, if we are to have any hope of stabilizing and civilizing this post-crisis society, then UBI is essential.

As we increasingly feel the effects of unemployment in the time of the automation of labour, and continue to steady ourselves amidst the aftershocks of the 2008 economic crisis, Unconditional Basic Income Lounge will not only approach the discussion within the framework of immaterial labour, precarious labour, ever-recognized domestic labour and indebted man, but will also focus upon the urgent need to unconditionally recognize the undocumented masses and non-citizens who remain disenfranchised. 

Ahmet Öğüt is an artist based between Berlin, Germany, and Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In 2018, he had solo exhibitions at Kunstverein Dresden, Germany, and Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Denmark. He is the initiator of The Silent University.