In Capital, Karl Marx explains that “money as a measure of value is the necessary form of appearance of the measure of value which is immanent in commodities, namely labor-time.” Put simply, money is an extreme form of fetishism. The invisible hand is not that of the all-knowing, mystical market but that of labor. Marx was interested in the social: how people came together to work and how power relations were forged between them. No doubt, the labor market has changed since the nineteenth century. As the Italian philosopher Paulo Virno notes, productive labor in post-Fordism “appropriates the special characteristics of the performing artist.” The products of white- and pink-collar workers can no longer be separated from the act of producing. Yet Marx’s insight that as soon as people “start to work for each other in any way, their labor also assumes a social form” is still poignantly relevant.
Ivo Dimchev’s P Project is an interactive performance, inspired by several P words such as Piano, Poetry, Pray, Pussy, etc., where audience members are invited to perform for money. The concept is simple in premise and provocative in practice. This is not a redundant commentary on human greed or exhibitionism. You don’t need to go see P Project to find out how far people will go for money. Just scroll through Craigslist. Although it might sound as a cynical experiment in opportunism, P Project is nothing less than a utopian exploration of how to recuperate the emancipatory potential of art in the era of unremitting capital. If all cultural activities, including political art, can be commodified into capitalism, there’s no point in playing coy.
Dimchev’s starting point is to lay bare the capitalist mode of production. Artists want and need to be paid for their work. Audience members more often than not have to pay to see a performance unless they are watching a free show in Las Vegas meant to entice them into a casino. And they rarely think about labor and the costs of production unless they’re made to, as when attending NYU Skirball’s On Your Marx Festival. All that out of the way, what follows is an adventure. Making the presence of cold, hard cash explicit results in an arresting paradox. Suddenly, our attention shifts to all those moments between people that somehow manage to escape the logic of the capitalist exchange — the beautiful, the strange, the wild.
Alisa Zhulina is Assistant Professor of Theatre Studies in the Department of Drama at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Her scholarship and art practice focuses on the relationship between economics and performance.