The Light Years: Contemporary Art in the Age of Weightless Capital

By Anna Dezeuze, 9 June 2011
Image: Tom Friedman, Up in the Air, installation at Magasin 3, Stockholm, 2010

The art of our financialised times often resembles the weightless mobility of capital. But how does the unbearable lightness of certain art works differ from the loaded lightness of 'precarious' art? - asks Anna Dezeuze

Up in the Air

‘How much does your life weigh?' With this question, inspirational speaker Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney in the 2009 film, Up in the Air, introduces his lecture on the need to travel light - both literally and metaphorically. Bingham is the caricature of today's expert consultant who revels in the perks of first-class air travel and high-end hotel accommodation. He aspires to a weightless life, always on the go, free of care or commitment. ‘[M]ake no mistake', Bingham dramatically concludes in one of his talks, ‘moving is living'. Bingham has to travel all the time for his job because he is hired by companies across the United States to fire their employees. Throughout the film, we see him using the same discourse of weightlessness to convince workers that losing their jobs represents an opportunity for change, the freedom to pursue their true dreams. It is of course much easier for Bingham to deploy this vacuous rhetoric than the employees' own bosses - he knows that he will shortly jump on a plane and disappear.

Clooney's Ryan Bingham embodies a new form of capitalism that has emerged in the last 20 years. We now live in a weightless world, Diane Coyle announced in 1997.i Weightless outputs such as services, information and communication technologies make up for the most important growth in a new economy dominated by dematerialised products. Like the financial derivatives that are largely responsible for today's financial crisis, these weightless products do not, in fact, exist anywhere. As Jeremy Rifkin explained in 2000:

If the industrial era was characterized by the amassing of physical capital and property, the new era prizes intangible forms of power bound up in bundles of information and intellectual assets.ii


That same year, sociologist Zygmunt Bauman described this dominant form of capitalism as ‘fluid', ‘liquid', ‘lean' and ‘buoyant'. ‘Capital can travel fast and travel light and its lightness and motility have turned into the paramount source of uncertainty for all the rest.'iii Outsourcing, downsizing, short-term contracts and leases are all familiar features of our new ‘liquid modernity'. Constant change and transformation, evasion and escape are the new capitalism's weapons of choice. It is those who travel lightest, this ‘nomadic and extraterritorial elite', who are the winners.iv The rest of us have to learn to live with uncertainty and precariousness, since governments can no longer protect us against the destructive flows of liquid modernity - capitalism today only tolerates regulations ‘with a light touch'.

Up in the Air is also the title of an installation created in 2010 by American artist Tom Friedman that was, in part, a response to the economic crisis of 2008. This open-ended, suspended arrangement of disparate everyday objects and shapes - mainly comprising painted polystyrene trompe l'oeil replicas of everyday objects and cartoon symbols - occupies the whole exhibition space; it's part floating encyclopaedia of the artist's favourite themes, part exploding consumer universe. According to one critic, the installation reminds us that ‘the only certainty in the journey of life is uncertainty: we can count only on change and volatility.' Charlotte Eyerman is, however, quick to add that, ‘At the same time Friedman's work reminds us that if we let go of the illusion of stability and embrace the firmament of the imagination, great realms of liberation and dynamism are possible.'v With Up in the Air the lightness and playfulness of Friedman's early work becomes a celebration of the artist-as-alchemist able to transform uncertainty into an opportunity for delightful displays.

Up in the Air was also included in a multi-exhibition programme dedicated to Casanova, the famous author, risk-taker and libertine traveller. While Friedman acknowledges the modernity of Casanova as an author who turned his life into an artwork, curator Emmanuel Latreille celebrates Casanova's mobility, his openness to adventure and opportunities.viCasanova's credo, according to Latreille, could be simply summarised as ‘Moving is living' (Bouger, c'est vivre) - the very same motto used by Clooney's Ryan Bingham.vii Indeed, Casanova, a precursor for contemporary artists, can also be seen as a model for today's entrepreneurial capitalist who prides himself on the boundlessness of both his mobility and creativity. If, as Rifkin informs us, wealth today ‘is no longer vested in physical capital but rather in human imagination and creativity', then the alchemical virtuosity of the artist has never been more desirable.viii

Like Friedman, Francis Alÿs and Gabriel Orozco, both recently honoured with major touring mid-career retrospectives, started to develop a pictorial language in the 1990s which privileges a light touch, an openness to uncertainty and a playful creativity. If Friedman remains a sedentary artist practising his sleight of hands in his studio, however, the two Mexico-based artists took the road of a peripatetic practice early on. Their dematerialised art objects and openness to chance encounters are part and parcel of the flâneur's light baggage and aimless wanderings. As early as 1997, art historian James Meyer expressed his reservations regarding the relation between the wandering practices of artists such as Orozco and the unimpeded flows of globalised capital and technology.ix Referring to Bauman's study of ‘liquid modernity',xMarcus Verhagen re-iterated Meyer's concerns in a 2006 article, ‘at a time when capital itself is nomadic the travelling artist might more aptly be characterised as a liquid insider.' Hopping from city to city, do Orozco, Alÿs and other global flâneurs not risk being identified with the nomadic elite who has also come to ‘cherish the transient'?xi

‘Semionauts' and ‘Symbolic Analysts'

Nicolas Bourriaud's 2009 study of ‘an aesthetic of globalization', which includes examples drawn from Orozco's and Alÿs's practices, and refers in passing to Bauman's and Rifkin's studies, appears to address just such questions.xii In Radicant, the French curator and critic celebrates the wandering, nomadic artist who refuses to be identified with any fixed roots or identity, in favour of a series of journeys. Bourriaud acknowledges that the space inhabited by this figure is that of global capital, and he repeatedly tries to situate in this specific context what he calls ‘radicant' art practices. (Bourriaud borrows the term ‘radicant' from botany, where it apparently describes plants, like ivy, which develop their roots as they move along, rather than being rooted in a single location.) From the passing observations scattered throughout his study emerge two inter-connected strategies available to the artist today. On the one hand, the artist should capture globalised ‘fluxes, movements of capital, the repetition and distribution of information' in order to make visible such ‘furtive forces'.xiii By presenting this reality as an arbitrary ‘construct', Bourriaud argues, artists suggest other ways of living. It is in this sense that they are ‘altermodern', in the way that some anti-globalisation movements have described themselves as providing an ‘alter-globalisation' (altermondialisation), an alternative to globalisation.xiv On the other hand, however, simply presenting these global fluxes may end up replicating the very logic that such practices seek to reveal. If ‘global capitalism' seems to have ‘hijacked flux, speed, nomadism', Bourriaud warns, we need to ‘be even more mobile'. If the ‘global imaginary is dominated by flexibility', we need to ‘invent new meanings' for flexibility by introducing slowness and duration at the very heart of speed.xv

While I agree with Bourriaud that it is impossible for artists to escape the omnipresent flows of global capital, I find his descriptions of how this can be achieved problematically vague. If his emphasis on travel and nomadism in contemporary practices since the 1990s ultimately fails to engage directly with the critiques formulated by Meyer or Verhagen, the formal ‘patterns in precarious aesthetics' that he has singled out are even more ambiguous.xviBourriaud sets up a kind of equation between nomadic practices and the ‘formal nomadism' involved in such devices as ‘transcoding, flickering' and ‘blurring', highlighting for example the way images by Kelley Walker or Wade Guyton ‘are instable' and ‘perpetually transcoded', or focusing on ‘the total equivalence between different modalities of making visible' embodied in Wolfgang Tillmans' work or Thomas Ruff's Jpegs series.xvii Bourriaud seems to be returning here to the arguments that he developed in his 2002 Postproduction, in which he compared the activities of artists to those of djs and web surfers. All are ‘semionauts', he explained, who ‘navigate' the world of available signs, and recombine them ‘in original scripts'.xviiiBourriaud's account privileges translation and transfer, the way signs are inscribed into chains of signification that link one medium to another, one place to another, in a potentially endless series of reversals, ‘extensions and declensions'.xix

This conception of art as ‘an editing computer' appears to me to resonate with economist Robert Reich's description of the new, powerful elite that has emerged in the weightless economy of the last 20 years: those he calls the ‘symbolic analysts'.xx These ‘symbolic analysts' are engineers, lawyers, consultants, managers, advertisers and ‘other "mind workers" who engage in processing information and symbols for a living'. As Reich explains,

Symbolic analysts solve, identify, and broker problems by manipulating symbols. They simplify reality into abstract images that can be rearranged, juggled, experimented with, communicated to other specialists and then, eventually, transformed back into reality.xxi


If artists have long been in the business of manipulating symbols, the light-footed semionaut excels at it. In the Jpegs series, Ruff adds value to an image by blowing up its pixels until it is barely legible; in a work such as Black Star Press (2006), Kelley Walker rotates an image by 90° and silk-screens pseudo-expressionist toothpaste or chocolate drips on it. Do such interventions in the flows of image production and distribution constitute interferences and breaks, or extensions of this symbolic traffic? Bourriaud explicitly aligns ‘postproduction' practices with the ‘age of access' described by Rifkin, in which value lies in the use of content, rather than any material object. One of the inherent features of weightless products is that more than one user can access them at once - as economist Danny Quah put it, they are characterised by an ‘infinite expansibility', which also appears typical of the potentially endless chains of signification created by artists in Bourriaud's account.xxii

If I do not agree with Bourriaud that practices such as Ruff's or Walker's can be described as precarious - unlike those of Alÿs, Orozco or Thomas Hirschhorn, also mentioned in Radicant - it is because they err, in my eyes, on the side of abstraction, and thus can easily be subsumed within the symbolic analysts' playful systems of value. Whereas the precarious artwork is an ‘object of negotiations', as Bourriaud suggests, I cannot see anything that needs to be ‘negotiated' in Ruff's or Walker's works, as the symbols they create and exchange, like those of the symbolic analyst, flow freely and easily (from the internet to the gallery, from the maker to the viewer...).xxiiiThe ‘real' in Bourriaud's account is often paired with the virtual, and with the fictional, and I agree that this dialectic is necessary today. I also agree that precariousness is a central term for contemporary practices responding to ‘the precarisation of our experience' today. But how precisely can we define precariousness, and where exactly can we locate the cracks that precarious works can open in the weightless surface of liquid modernity?

Image: Thomas Ruff, jpeg, 2007

Articulation, Appearance, Precariousness

Translation is a key model in Bourriaud's Radicant, since it embodies for him a nomadic aesthetic that could resist the abstractions of global capital. The ideal translation is attentive to the singularity of the original, while addressing itself to a new, expanded audience. Bourriaud does not, however, remark on another feature of translation: the self-erasure or voluntary invisibility to which it aspires, which gives the illusion that the content has not been affected by the change of linguistic codes. It is in part because of this characteristic that Sandro Mezzadra has likened the very operations of capital to that of translation. As global capital encounters a ‘multiplicity of languages (that is, of forms of life, of social relations, of "cultures")', it constantly needs to impose its own language of value.xxiv These moments of articulation are, according to Mezzadra, the locations of resistance - it is in the refusal to be translated, rather than in the act of translation, that resistance can be found.

These moments or spaces are those that display heterogeneous features that do not adhere to the abstractions of capital. These articulations are points of transition where ‘homolingual translation' struggles to impose itself. Rather than a formal language of transfer and transcoding, which facilitate translation, I would like to propose here a vocabulary for precarious practices that would resist it, by emphasising futility and absurdity as well as waste - of time, effort and materials. Francis Alÿs, for example, has explored the relation between ‘maximum effort and minimum result' by asking 500 volunteers to move a sand dune by around 10 cm in When Faith Moves Mountains.xxvElsewhere, he tested the dynamics at play when doing something (like pushing a block of ice along the street) leads to nothing, or in the futile attempt to drive a Volkswagen Beetle to the top of a steep and sandy hill (paired with the efforts of a brass band rehearsing a piece of music).xxvi

These are moments that are both suspended in time and lost in the quicksand of inefficiency - they offer a break from, and an alternative to, the smooth operations of the symbolic analysts. Wasted time and effort are literalised by Alÿs as actual unrecycled waste in Barrenderos/Sweepers, which involved a line of street-sweepers in Mexico City pushing garbage down the street ‘until they are stopped by the mass of trash'.xxviiHowever hard we try to keep the streets clear for the efficient circulation of goods and people, however hard we try to erase the traces of the garbage we produce, the stubbornness of trash has the last word, thus revealing its resistance to translation. By focusing on the inertia of the real, artists such as Alÿs are not trying to show that ‘the world in which we live is a pure construct, a mise-en-scène, a montage, a composition, a story' (in Bourriaud's words).xxviii Rather than a vast container of signs to be re-arranged, the world according to Alÿs is already full of stories, inconsistencies, resistances and failures - those points of friction in the fluid passages of liquid modernity. Interrupting given narratives of progress and efficiency, Alÿs wants to create ‘a space for the survival and the creation of an identity that is not imposed by modernity and globalization'.xxix

Bourriaud cites the etymology of the term ‘precarious' (‘that which only exists thanks to a reversible authorization'), mainly in order to bring out the transitoriness of contemporary nomadic By contrast, I would like to shift the emphasis away from the indeterminate state of the precarious work and underline instead its fundamental dependence on the ‘authorisation' of others. As Thomas Hirschhorn has explained, the difference between the ephemeral and the precarious is that the ephemeral is subject to the laws of nature, whereas the precarious is dependent on the decisions of other human beings.xxxi This distinction denies the inevitability of cyclical time and introduces crucial notions of responsibility and solidarity. In her 1958 discussion of the modern ‘human condition', Hannah Arendt divided human activities into three categories - work, labour and action.xxxii In an analysis that prefigures Bauman's study of ‘liquid modernity', she observes that labour - the cyclical sequence of production and consumption of perishable goods for the survival of the human body - is fast becoming the dominant model for capitalist society, as planned obsolescence has turned even the most durable products into disposable objects of instant gratification. In such a society, according to Arendt, ‘the space of appearance' in which action can occur ceases to exist, because individuals are more focused on satisfying their (ever-growing) needs than on coming together ‘in the manner of speech or action'. This vanishing ‘space of appearance' is necessary for action because it ‘precedes [...] the various forms in which the public realm can be organized'.xxxiii It is, however, very fragile - it ‘does not survive the actuality of the movement which brought it into being, but disappears [...] with the disappearance or arrest of the activities themselves.' Above all, it exists as a potentiality, to be actualised through action. This kind of space of appearance, I would suggest, cannot exist when the symbolic analyst feeds information back into the frenzied loops of consumption and production, and the networked flows of data that direct them - this is, perhaps, why it is so easy for these creative minds to lose any sense of responsibility. The irreversibility of action (one of its central characteristics according to Arendt) breaks with the ‘infinite expandability' of weightless products.

Image: Francis Alÿs, When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002

Many artistic practices, developed from the 1990s onwards, seem to actively convey this sense of a shrinking space of appearance. Staring at the empty walls of their studios, Tom Friedman and Martin Creed shared in the 1990s a playful resignation at being unable to say or make anything new - this ‘feeling of total limitation', for Creed, came out of an acute awareness of the responsibility, and difficulty, of making choices.xxxiv Creed's desire to ‘balance the making of something and the not making of something' also echoes Alÿs's ‘paradox of practice': ‘sometimes doing something leads to nothing' and ‘sometimes doing nothing leads to something'.xxxv As long as this ambivalence between something and nothing, between appearance and disappearance, lies at the heart of the artwork, I would argue that such practices can be described as precarious. It is in this case only that I would agree with Bourriaud that precariousness ‘inscribes itself into the structure of the work'.xxxvi Conversely, when in Up in the Air Friedman replaces, with private experiments in alchemy, the algorithmic connections that had linked object, material and process in his earlier work, his practice seems to lose any sense of precariousness, leaving us instead with a form of escapism.xxxvii

Precarity and (Un)translatability

By creating precarious artworks, artists can open a space of appearance within the endless flows of capitalism. Crucially, action, according to Arendt, can only be understood retrospectively, through the stories that are told about it, just as many precarious works only survive through stories and documents. (Alÿs often favours the format of the fable, and is interested in the ‘rumour' as a vehicle for his work.) Though Arendt clearly opposed action to labour in The Human Condition, her descriptions suggest that both fields of activity share one common feature: the inherent inability to produce any durable object. As works such as Alÿs' weave together wasted efforts and futile gestures, they reveal this point of intersection, in which action and labour become somehow confused. It is in this sense that such precarious practices resonate with Giorgio Agamben's re-reading, in the 1990s, of Arendt's writings on labour. The Italian philosopher agreed with Arendt's prescient formulation of labour for contemporary capitalism - indeed Agamben's concept of ‘bare' or ‘naked' life is closely related to Arendt's definition of labour - but he expressed his belief that the balance between labour, work, and action at the heart of her study of the human condition has been forever lost in today's political context.xxxviii ‘We can no longer distinguish [...] between our biological life as living beings and our political existence', explains Agamben.xxxix Precarious works, in my eyes, seem to venture into ‘this opaque zone of indistinction' in which Agamben urges us ‘to find the path of another politics'.xl They bring together the biological dynamics of labour (or naked life) and the ‘space of appearance' required by action - in order to explore a definition of politics as ‘the sphere neither of an end in itself nor of means subordinated to an end'.xli

Precarious artworks reflect, in their very structure, what Bauman has called the ‘friability, [...] brittleness, [...] transience [...] of human bonds and networks' today, as they are ceaselessly being dismantled by the homolingual translation of ‘global powers' bent on achieving ‘continuous and growing fluidity'.xlii The human bonds and networks conjured by precarious practices range from collaborations and collective efforts to symbolic alliances forged between artists and those living in, or responding to, adverse circumstances.xliiiParallels can be found between the type of alliances established by such practices since the 1990s and contemporary political discussions of ‘precarity' - a Europeanised version of the word precariousness that has been used to rally different communities in a critique of the increased job insecurity characteristic of global, liquid capitalism.

Looking back on the general failure of the anti-precarity discourse as an activist project in the last ten years, Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter have recently suggested that the shared experience of precarity can nevertheless serve as a starting point for political organisation, as long as the differences between each situation within this alliance are acknowledged.xliv Neilson and Rossiter draw on Sandro Mezzadra's discussion of capitalism as translation in order to underline those irreducible differences between, say, a freelance web designer, an immigrant working as a cleaner and the nomadic artist. ‘Nobody would deny that some forms of precarity cannot translate into others', they explain. ‘But the deeper question concerns how this untranslatability is constituted.'xlv By probing, through empathy and solidarity, these contingent alliances, artists creating precarious artworks may be able to make visible these untranslatable nodes. Particularly relevant among those nodes is the relation between those whose precarious circumstances are endured as a matter of survival and those who voluntarily subject themselves to precarious conditions as a matter of choice - an articulation between futile labour and free action which can help us shed light on the central articulation of our identity today: between ‘our biological life as living beings and our political existence' in Agamben's words. Both T. J. Demos and Marcus Verhagen have similarly engaged with issues of translatability as they have sought to complicate Bourriaud's model of the semionaut by relating it to other contemporary wanderers such as the exile, the immigrant or the refugee.xlvi Indeed, Demos' reference to Agamben's writings points to these figures as crucial ciphers of the same ‘opaque zone of indistinction' between biological and political life.xlvii

If ‘moving is living' for Ryan Bingham and Casanova, for the refugee, the formula is inverted: ‘living is moving'. Living on the move, for the refugee, is of course a necessity rather than an aspiration. In this context, we can follow Agamben and start recognising ourselves in the figure of the refugee; recasting lightness as action, rather than as the weightlessness of capital, we can envisage precarious practices as potential spaces of appearance for dialogues, alliances, and a new form of politics emerging at the cross-roads of labour (as naked life) and action. I believe that there is room for poetics and humour as well as antagonism and despair within these fragile spaces, as long as lightness and play can be mobilised to create ‘means without ends' (in Agamben's words), rather than to feed the voracious means-ends logic of capital.xlviii Most importantly, by entrusting this light, brittle, precarious space to us, artists seem to be involving us in the responsibility of keeping it alive.


Anna Dezeuze <anna_dezeuze AT> is an independent art historian and critic. Her edited book, The ‘Do-it-yourself' Artwork: Participation from Fluxus to New Media, was published by Manchester University Press in 2010. She has written about 1960s practices, including Fluxus, assemblage and ‘junk' art, kinetic art, and the work of Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, and Bruce Nauman. She co-curated the 2009 touring exhibition 'Subversive Spaces: Surrealism and Contemporary Art', and regularly contributes to Art Monthly. Her current book project is entitled The ‘Almost Nothing': Precariousness in Art since the 1960s.


iDiane Coyle, The Weightless World: Strategies for Managing the Digital Economy, Oxford: Capstone, 1997

iiJeremy Rifkin, The Age of Access: the New Culture of Hypercapitalism, Where All of Life is a Paid-for Experience, New York: J.P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000, p.30.

iiiZygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity, Cambridge and Malden: Polity Press and Blackwell, 2000, p.121.

ivIbid, p.13.

vCharlotte Eyerman, ‘All that is Solid Melts into Air: Tom Friedman at Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall', 2010,

viTom Friedman, ‘Up in the Air' (interview with Christophe Golé), in Emmanuel Latreille (ed.), Casanova Forever, exh. cat., Montpellier, Fonds Régional d'Art Contemporain, Paris: Editions Dilecta, 2010, p.160.

viiEmmanuel Latreille, ‘Où est le cul? Questions de méthode', in ibid, p.23.

viiiRifkin, Age of Access, op. cit., p.5. Friedman speaks of his interest in alchemy in ‘Up in the Air', op. cit., p.159.

ixJames Meyer, ‘Nomads: Figures of Travel in Contemporary Art', Parkett 49, May 1997, reprinted in Alex Coles (ed.), Site-Specificity: The Ethnographic Turn, London: Black Dog Publishing, 2000, pp.10-26.

xMarcus Verhagen, ‘Nomadism', Art Monthly, 300, October 2006, p.9.

xiBauman, Liquid Modernity, op. cit., p.14.

xiiNicolas Bourriaud, Radicant: Pour une esthétique de la globalisation, Paris: Denoël, 2009. The book has been translated into English (Presses du réel/ Sternberg Press, 2009), but I will be using my translations from the French.

xiiiIbid, pp.66-67.

xivAltermodern was the title of the Tate Triennial curated by Bourriaud at Tate Britain, 3 February - 26 April 2009.

xvBourriaud, Radicant, op. cit., pp.59-60.

xviNicolas Bourriaud, ‘Precarious Constructions: Answer to Jacques Rancière on Art and Politics', in Open 17, 2009, special issue on A Precarious Existence: Vulnerability in the Public Domain, p.33. This article summarises some of the arguments developed in Radicant.

xviiBourriaud, Radicant, op. cit., pp.33, 35.

xviiiNicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction, Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World, New York: Sternberg Press, p.18.

xixBourriaud, Radicant, op. cit., p.157.

xxBourriaud, ‘Precarious Constructions', op. cit.,p.35; Robert Reich, The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism, New York: Vintage, 1992.

xxiReich, ibid, p.178.

xxiiDanny Quah, cited in Coyle, A Weightless World, op. cit., p.xiii.

xxiiiBourriaud, ‘Precarious Constructions', op. cit., p.32.

xxivSandro Mezzadra, ‘Living in Transition: Toward a Heterolingual Theory of the Multitude', Transversal, June 2007,

xxv . For a critique of this futility, see Grant Kester, ‘Lessons in Futility: Francis Alÿs and the Legacy of May ‘68', Third Text, 23:4, July 2009, pp.407-420.



xxviiiBourriaud, ‘Precarious constructions', op. cit., p.36.

xxixInterview with the author, Mexico City, 23 September 2008.

xxxBourriaud, ‘Precarious constructions', op. cit., p.32. For another perspective on precariousness as a concept to describe the art of the first decade of the 21st century see Hal Foster, ‘Precarious', Artforum, December 2009, pp.207-209, 260.

xxxi‘Alison Gingeras in conversation with Thomas Hirschhorn', in Benjamin Buchloh (et al.), Thomas Hirschhorn, London: Phaidon, 2004, p.24.

xxxiiHannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1958, 2nd edition, 1998.

xxxiiiIbid, p.199.

xxxivMartin Creed, video, London: Illuminations, 2001.


xxxviBourriaud, ‘Precarious constructions', op. cit., p.32.

xxxviiFor an overview of Tom Friedman's work, see Bruce Hainley (et al.), Tom Friedman, London: Phaidon, 2001.

xxxviiiSee Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995), trans. D. Heller-Roazen, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998, pp.10, 105.

xxxixGiorgio Agamben, ‘In this Exile (Italian Diary, 1992-4)', in Means without End: Notes on Politics (1996), trans. V. Binetti and C. Casarino, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, p.138.

xlIbid, p.139.

xliGiorgio Agamben, ‘Notes on Politics' (1992), in Means without End, p.117. Although Agamben never explicitly addresses Arendt's concept of ‘action' in this book, I detect her influence in his emphasis on ‘potentiality', ‘appearance' (in his essay on ‘The Face' in particular), and ‘means without end'.

xliiBauman, Liquid Modernity, op. cit., p.14.

xliiiSee my ‘Thriving on Adversity: the Art of Precariousness', 5 September 2006,

xlivBrett Neilson and Ned Rossiter, ‘Precarity as a Political Concept: New Forms of Connection, Subjectivization and Organization', in Open 17, 2009, pp.48-61.

xlvIbid, p.59.

xlviT. J. Demos, ‘The Ends of Exile: Toward a Coming Universality,' in Nicolas Bourriaud (ed.), Altermodern: the Tate Triennial, exh. cat., London, Tate, 2009, n.p. Marcus Verhagen, ‘The Nomad and the Altermodern: The Tate Triennial', Third Text, 23:6 (November 2009), pp.803-12. Demos discusses Alÿs' work in relation to the figure of the nomad in ‘Vanishing Mediator', in Mark Godfrey (ed.), Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception, exh. cat., London: Tate, 2010, pp.178-80.

xlviiDemos quotes Agamben's essay ‘Beyond Human Rights', from Means without End. Anthony Downey uses Agamben's term as the title for his discussion of these figures in contemporary art: ‘Zones of Indistinction: Giorgio Agamben's "Bare Life" and the Politics of Aesthetics', Third Text, 23:2 (March 2009), pp.109-125.

xlviiiFor a discussion of antagonism, in response to Bourriaud's earlier writings, see Claire Bishop, ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics', October, No. 110 (Autumn 2004), reproduced in Anna Dezeuze (ed.), The ‘Do-it-yourself' Artwork: Participation from Fluxus to New Media, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010, pp.257-80. Foster refers to different types of precarious practices, describing them as ‘mournful', ‘desperate', ‘poetic' or ‘outlandish'. Foster, ‘Precarious', op. cit., pp.209, 260.