There may be no greater act of resistance to the worsening global crises of illness and exploitation than to stop working (or, failing that, to do as little as required). For the bare minimum collective, this is a last resort. Formed of a group of friends — writer, organizer, and facilitator Lola Olufemi; artist, researcher, and curator Christine Pungong; art historian Christie Costello; cultural programmer and producer Leo Wood; and creative strategist and writer Diamond Abdulrahim — who became acquainted during their undergraduate studies at the University of Cambridge and, before long, bonded over their shared hatred of work and working culture, the collective, incorporated just before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, produce work as an act of resistance … against work. The irony of this situation is not lost on them. Their one-line Instagram biography, which oers details on their ongoing residency at the ICA, London, reads: “We hate work. We like making things together.” As Olufemi explains, “It is a performance — owed, however, to no one.”
The collective are midway through the realization of “THIS WORLD MAKES US SICK,” a program of events developed during their residency that includes workshops, screenings, talks, performances, and happenings. The goal is to explore the implications of work and the illness it causes as an endemic social condition, one suffered by all participating as workers under capitalism, and the potential for countering this condition with collective action and loving gestures — for example, artistic production in the context of community. A succinct blurb on ica.art offers an explanation of this “illness,” a literal condition treated as a metaphor suffered individually and collectively: “If one of us is sick, we are all sick. The history of illness has never just been plagues and the invention of penicillin. It is a history of disparate access to care.” The text continues, offering an explanation of the program’s title: “When we say this world makes us sick, we mean that it is organized by capitalist logics that produce precarity, instability of relation, and unlivable conditions.” It concludes on a note of reassurance: “Our bodies are not the problem.”
The work of the bare minimum collective offers an opportunity to reflect on the strategies required in order to enact the liberated futures we desire. Beyond their public program, the collective’s many writings, including their manifesto, published on social media platforms including Substack and Medium, lay the groundwork for the inevitable cultural turn away from work and toward oneself.
Olamiju Fajemisin: Firstly, I’m interested to know the circumstances of your coming together and forming a collective. How did you get to know each other?
bare minimum: The story of our coming together is quite predictable: we were a bunch of queers who met at university, kept each other alive, continued those friendships after we left, and needed an excuse, or framework, to make art together. We all believe strongly in relation to each other, and so we created this collective to give us the permission to make. And when you make an Instagram, people start to take you seriously.
OF: How do your pooled skills—with your individual, sometimes overlapping backgrounds across artistic production, organizing, facilitation, research, curation, academia, et cetera — contribute toward the realization of your speculative goal: the general prioritization of rest and recuperation over capitalistic productivity culture?
bm: The one thing we could agree on across our different fields was that we hate working, and not just theoretically. We take the principle of anti-work to be a critique of the exploitation that occurs in capitalistic conditions but also a stand against the way that selling labor shapes our desires. We find it odd that people feel as if work brings them purpose — that they wouldn’t know what to do if they weren’t working. We know that a world without work would not be a world without labor or exertion; we’re just interested in what exertion or doing could look like in conditions that weren’t fundamentally miserable. We wake up every day and feel the misery of having to sell our labor in order to pay rent and keep ourselves afloat. We didn’t want the collective to become another monetization of our interests or a side hustle. We wanted it to be a space for us to reflect on that hatred. To find out what is productive about it — what kind of art we can make when we’re daydreaming, wasting time, stealing back time from the boss and so on.
OF: How exactly do you make anti- work work? What do your days look like, producing texts, organizing readings, talks, workshops, screenings, and performances? What do you do during studio hours as a group of people united by their mutual apathy toward modern working culture?
bm: Unfortunately, it looks like work! The irony is not lost on us. But we try, wherever possible, to work collectively, to share labor, to redistribute our resources and hold each other accountable. We remember that this is not a money-making endeavor. We don’t owe anyone anything, even the performance of our not working.
OF: Tell me, what does it mean to “work smart, not hard,” per the opening lines of your manifesto?
bm: Doing the absolute bare minimum that is required of you to pass or not lose your job. Refusing to “aspire” to be good at your job and be rewarded on this basis.
OF: What advice can you oer to those caught between the need to survive and the desire to be lazy? How does your collective practice negotiate this tension?
bm: Laziness is not just “doing nothing.” Laziness is a political commitment and ethic to doing in service of something other than capital. We are lazy at work but not lazy with each other. Our advice would be to prioritize relation over the selling of your labor, always. Do everything you must do to survive — but remember what is important.
OF: What is the ideal vision of the collective’s “feminist imaginary”?
bm: Feminism is a vast and unwieldy political project. Our imaginary concerns what feminism can offer us in terms of skills, methodologies, strategies to make this world anew. The feminist imagination is a site of expansive possibility — it thinks beyond the limits of language or party politics and offers a promise of the things we desire. We desire freedom, to be free of state violence, free of possession, free from the demands of racial capitalism. We desire more time spent with others, in meaningful and transformative ways. We desire a world that gives us a reason to live. The list goes on. The feminist imaginary gives us some way of envisioning these desires without embarrassment or shame or without silly questions like, “but is this achievable in our lifetime?” It gives us something more robust than hope — determination.
OF: What catalyzed the production of “THIS WORLD MAKES US SICK”? How did you begin your collaboration with ICA?
bm: We began this collaboration at the ICA because their Learning program was looking to work with emerging collectives. Scarily, the idea for the program was conceived before the pandemic. It made us more determined to create a space to “diagnose” our conditions and present a critique of the medical model. The possibility of safe in- person events is a luxury, and we’ve been thinking of ways to still allow our program to be accessible for those who can’t or won’t meet in person. A lot of people have expressed fatigue at the idea of the continuance of online events, but we understand how crucial they are and continue to be for disabled people. As a collective that includes disabled artists, our interest in sickness is really an interest in what Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls “survival pending revolution.”
OF: What might a “healthy” future look like? How do programs such as yours help spur the imagination necessary to move toward a more equitable society?
bm: We don’t aspire to “health” in the present or the future. We are more interested in thinking about what a future based on mutual aid, care, interdependence, and pleasure looks like — and in living it now. Health is defined in opposition to sickness: we hope in the future that neither of these concepts are relevant in their current forms. Our program imagines a move towards a liberated rather than equitable society in its attempt to facilitate spaces where we might be able to give each other what we need. We desire freedom, not equality.