Published in: Painters & Sculptors Building Cooperative Wuhrstrasse 8/10 Zurich (ed.), Working and Living, Zürich: Scheidegger & Spiess 2021, pp. 152–169.
Artists live and work. This sentence with corresponding place name introduces the short text that accompanies practically every exhibition, media release, or grant application. The information inevitably provokes geographical and cultural allocations: known or unknown, center or periphery, and sometimes several places—possibly as an indication of cosmopolitan mobility. In addition, the information seems to reassure a potential public: artists live and work, too. The matter-of-fact formulation is not much different from the description of any other occupation, but no resume for any other form of employment would ever begin by stating location of life and work.
As mundane as this observation might seem at first glance, it proves most telling upon inquiring into the perception of artistic work as being normal— and yet quite special, after all. The fact that one could even find this astonishing and possibly even a springboard for art theoretical ruminations lies in the distinctive use of ordinary language in the field of art. That use is meant both to communicate belonging and to mark difference. It indicates being part of everyday life as much as being apart from it. The formulation implies a specific understanding of works of art as well as the work that goes into making them. It emphasizes a certain conformity to a social standard and is a positively demonstrative indication that artists work and live just like everybody else. It could, of course, simply be a throwaway phrase. Although it’s frequency alone is quite enough to contradict that assumption, there is also the fact that artistic output is almost always classified as “work” in contrast to the occasional, earlier use of “(handi)craft.” This is an iteration of a certain normalization that is reinforced with every respective reiteration. It barely occurs to anyone that it may once have indicated an agenda. And yet, this was most certainly the case in 1953 when the studios and flats were built at Wuhrstrasse 8/10 in Zurich at the height of postwar modernism in Switzerland.
Considerable political persuasion was required before painters and sculptors could actually begin living and working in their housing cooperative of the 1950s—not least in order to acquire a building site and financial backing. In the following, I should like to take a plea made by the architect Alfred Roth prior to the Wuhrstrasse project as the point of departure in considering how the normalization of artistic work has proceeded since postwar modernism. Roth was known at the time for his modern design of the Doldertal apartment houses in Zurich as well as publications such as Die Neue Architektur. The buildings of the cooperative and the surrounding neighborhood in Zurich-Wiedikon will serve as an occasional point of reference—a built argument as it were—for the current, heated debate on this issue. In his article “Wer soll Künstlerateliers bauen?” (Who should build artists’ studios?), Roth unsurprisingly highlights Ernst Gisel’s proposal for cooperative flats and studios not far from Zurich (a forerunner, as it were, of the Wuhrstrasse project) as exemplary for the role of artistic work “in today’s society.” Roth’s article does not simply put in a general plea for public support of artistic life and work. Based on the development of working quarters for artists since the 19th century, it is, in fact, about nothing less than a matter of exemplary parallelism between artistic work and forms of modern architecture: modern architecture as the embodiment of a new standard of life and work—without exception. Instead of “stinking backyards” and “amusing rooms” in the center of medieval towns that accommodate “dubious characters,” modern artistic work now takes place “in spick-and-span studios” where only the “best and most renowned painters and sculptors work and live.” The new domicile for artists shall no longer be the expression of bohemian life at a deliberate remove from society but shall stand for the rapport, assimilation, and indeed integration of artistic work “into society and its rules.” On one hand, Roth was clearly attempting to allay the widespread fears, entertained by the board members of cooperatives and government financiers, of the debauched, uncertain lives of artists and, on the other, to submit unmistakable evidence of a historical break.
While Bohemians of the nineteenth century—and related artistic tendencies of aestheticism—cultivated a maximum of detachment from the industrial work world, the modernist avant-garde in the early twentieth century advocated quite the opposite in certain programs that aimed to integrate artistic work into an industrialized society as efficiently as possible. In positive terms, one might say that industrial principles were enlisted to establish a rapport between forms of work and life but also between art, architecture, and a nascent discipline of design. A new self-understanding of artistic work often went hand-in-hand with new designs for a productive life. It is not surprising that specialists in modernist design repeatedly give a voice to Henry Ford and Frederick W. Taylor, well-known protagonists of industrial rationalization. Sigfried Giedion, for instance, contributed substantially as of the late 1920s to the spread and international network of modernism in Switzerland. He introduces his manifesto Befreites Wohnen (Liberated Living) with a Ford quotation, while Taylor’s theory of rationalizing the organization of work according to scientific principles plays an important role in Giedion’s historical survey Mechanization Takes Command. Not only is housing to be “liberated” from darkness, crowding, and poor ventilation; people are to be liberated as well—from the useless task of laborious maintenance. At the same time, the distinction between living and working—in Gideon’s words, between “productive” and “private” life—is to be eliminated. Personal space—once a place to retreat from professional demands and efforts—would also be optimized as a place of (re-)production. Does that mean that the logic of industrial work in modernism will now invade all areas of life, and work will therefore be carried out everywhere, all the time, and thus in ever-growing quantities? Or does it perhaps herald the optimistic economic vision of a future in which increasingly less work will have to be done thanks to technological and social progress?
In the 1950s, many protagonists of modern design still saw themselves following the progressive path of industrial rationalization with the intention of establishing a rapport between cultural and other forms of work or even eliminating the separation of life and work altogether. The approach to modern design was often interdisciplinary, to the extent of suggesting a universal concept of design. The ideal of a creatively active and efficiently organized “good” consumer would become reality. But instead of proclaiming a future of modernist liberation, as Giedion did in the 1920s, the mid-20th century saw a more moderate, pragmatic belief in the—at least partially—successful normalization of artistic work. This process of normalization applied not only to society’s understanding of what artists do but also increasingly to the work organization and product marketing of major concerns. While social economic and standards of the 1950s normalized the understanding of artistic work, companies focused increasingly on such artistic principles as self-regulation, creativity, and flexibility. The creative subjects of Western industrial nations did not “find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment,” as Herbert Marcuse once summed up the new conditions of postwar modernism, but rather in creative work whose boundaries are increasingly permeable to newly acquired free time. While this may have attenuated the utopian pathos of modernist visions of liberation, it was certainly not merely due to the normalization of the modernist project but perhaps also a consequence of the devastating industrial logic that prevailed in the Second World War. Moreover, Swiss protagonists of modernism in the 1930s and 1940s hardly enjoyed the widespread public support, ascribed to them today by current popular marketing. On the contrary, many barely eked out a likelihood not only because there was little demand for their work and correspondingly few commissions but also because they often offended the sensibilities of regional traditionalists and diehard anti-Communists. In contrast to the international modernism championed by Siegfried Giedion, Alfred Roth’s writing, as in his support of a publicly funded artists’ colony, might be read as a pragmatic compromise with various social tendencies in postwar Zürich.
Thus efforts can be observed in the 1950s to socially integrate—i.e., normalize—artistic work, whereby the boundaries between different social sectors seem particularly permeable, as between industry and art, mass production and individual creativity, and work and free time. On the other hand, it also becomes apparent that the utopian aspirations of the 1920s to overcome all material and social constraints through the principles of industrialized work were not achieved. Instead, the contradictions became all the more apparent. This is revealed, not least, in the understanding of artistic work: care was taken to remain set apart, even though modernist programs rigorously sought to conform to industrial structures—and in Switzerland, to those of a capitalist social state. Even in his impassioned plea for new forms of artistic work, Alfred Roth describes the studio as a “sacred place” for “the noblest and most sublime endeavors a creative person can produce.” In fact, he even writes about the “primacy of the fine arts in cultural life and of the artist in today’s society.” In addition to the modern narrative of artistic work productively integrated into the operations of well-organized daily life, the architect also insists on its transcendental, quasireligious character and its divine place in society. And when Roth applies conventional art historical genres to the “painters and sculptors” of his time, he not only couches his argument in anachronistic terminology but also—in view of the increasingly blurred boundaries between genres and materials—avails himself of a long outdated concept of “work.” The latter had already become obsolete by the beginning of the twentieth century thanks to the avant-garde and, moreover, contradicts Roth’s remarks on the fundamentally changed character of artistic work. Apparently, the idealism of the nineteenth century, which lent greater value to creative activity (especially art and philosophy) than to any other work and, in fact, declared it the very goal of human existence, has not only outlived all modern tendencies toward normalization, but has actually become still more radical. Doesn’t this patently contradict a program of normalization in which artists live and work like everyone else?
The shape of the Wuhrstrasse buildings is also subject to ambiguous interpretation. The saw tooth roof of the studios suggests the typology of a factory while the secluded, backyard location, walled off and with an inwardly oriented ground plan, seems to be inspired by monastery architecture. The simplicity of the ground plans, construction, and materials could be read as a response to the dictates of efficiency in industrial production as well as a quasireligious exercise in modesty and renunciation. The immediate environs are, however, dominated by the major architectural modifications that occurred in the wake of industrialization towards the end of the nineteenth and in the early twentieth centuries, transforming the once rural community of Wiedikon into a burgeoning urban neighborhood. Small tradesmen can still be found today in some of the inner courtyards and until just a few decades ago several larger factories were still in operation on the margins of this neighborhood.
One could object that Alfred Roth’s inquiry into who should build artists’ studios represents a merely subjective defense of certain preferences regarding artistic life and work in the mid-twentieth century. Especially well-meaning journalistic support for former staff member and later architect of the Wuhrstrasse complex, Ernst Gisel, may also have played a role. Roth certainly lays no claim to a universally valid theory of modern artistic work and its housing. Nonetheless, his prominence and substantial influence as a journalist does give me cause to speculate that a programmatic quality underlies his plea – and in addition to that, his argument does share common ground with similar, mid-twentieth century reflections on artistic work. In the 1950s, Max Bill defended both the individual genius of artistic work as well as its integration into the modern standards of the principles of industrial production. In this respect, Roth’s remarks on work could be read as symptomatic of broader social developments, which increasingly idealized the active—and in modern terms, working—person in general.
In the 1950s, Hannah Arendt introduced the concept of vita activa to describe the modern approach to life, which foregrounds work instead of contemplation and leisure, as the “the most highly appreciated of all activity”. According to Arendt, this appreciation is, in fact, so great that gainful employment is the only modern activity to be taken seriously, which means, conversely, that all non-work activities are demoted to the status of hobbies. Although Arendt explicitly mentions that artistic “workers” are the only acceptable exception, one can well imagine how great the social pressure of normalization must have been on artists as well. What’s more, this tendency not only met with resistance from artists—quite the opposite. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, principles of industrial work and production were repeatedly proclaimed as the agenda and goal of artistic artwork—specifically in the form of constructivism and concrete art. Regardless of whether artists embraced or opposed this approach, the “industrial condition” would become a self-evident, determining factor in the twentieth century not only as applied to individual works but to contemporary art in general. Similarly, when the Zürcher Baugenossenschaft Maler und Bildhauer (Zurich Building Cooperative of Painters and Sculptors) was founded, the studios and apartments at Wuhrstrasse became a location shared by a wide variety of artistic approaches—some incorporating materials and techniques that showed a close relationship to industrial principles of production, and others less so. Indeed, the deliberate emphasis, in some cases, on traditional artistic qualities—in terms of handicraft or embeddedness in traditional genres such as painting and sculpture—could even be seen as unabashed opposition to any adaptation to the circumstances of modern industrial production. But in the mid-1950s they all moved into the same modern architectural complex. Recalling Alfred Roth’s plea for the implementation of a cooperative project a few years earlier, different forms of art had actually come together under the heading of the cultural and political argument of normalization—despite certain contradictions.
The wide-ranging normalization of work in the wake of modernism is clearly connected with the establishment of new social norms, but it is certainly not a one-way street heading in the direction of industrial efficiency. The nearly transcendental idealization of creative output, found in Roth’s plea for a colony of “painters and sculptors” in Zürich, is indicative of significant movement from the opposite direction—from the social context assigned to artist bohemians in the nineteenth century. It is a sphere of artistic autonomy and creativity in which artists live (and are meant to live) in opposition to bourgeois values, where the “rules of art”  regarding work and added value are reversed. The success of life and work is not measured by financial gain but by an almost demonstrative monetary disinterest. The greatest gain is promised by a precarious, but deliberately nonconformist life under the aegis of personal eccentricity and ingenious creativity—albeit in a different currency, namely that of “symbolic capital.” This is, of course, an abridged juxtaposition with the bourgeois working world. For Pierre Bourdieu, who bases his argument on a retrospective look at the nineteenth century, specifically explores the relations between the field of art and the industrially defined, capitalist economic system. My somewhat pointed representation of the two poles is intended, on one hand, as a reminder of the reversal of economic values in the cultural field—a point of departure for setting oneself apart in ongoing opposition. On the other hand, this demarcation in the field of art proves to be a resource for developments in other social fields as well. For decades, cultural critics denounced the logic of capitalism for encroaching on the supposedly autonomous zone of cultural work. That same argument reappeared in the late 1990s in controversies about work in postindustrial capitalism—but now in reverse. Artistic life and work were seen as a role model, with independent creativity, flexibility, and networking increasingly regarded as standard qualifications.
New forms of work that characterize an increasingly digitally networked, postindustrial service society now take their cue from much that was still considered as contrary to the working world in the nineteenth century—with one exception: the financially disinterested bohemian. This anti-figure is as unlikely to have survived in the everyday working life of most freelance artists as it has in the human resources departments of major corporations. Apart from this one exception, many principles that were once the exclusive preserve of art have become the new normal. The unprecedented expansion and pronounced political function of so-called creative industries since the 1990s illustrate the exemplary role of artistic work; just think of the role played by design, art, and media in global location marketing. Artists often contribute to projects initiated, for example, by newly opened museums or biennials. Whether in frequently changing, project-related engagements or as the vanguard of urban real estate development in former industrial neighborhoods, artists not only embody a new norm in determining their own creative and flexible working conditions, they are also strategically exploited as an enhancement, as a factor that adds value to the location. This applies particularly to the Wiedikon district of Zurich. A new feeder road has calmed traffic and two large industrial plants have been repurposed over the past 20 years, upgrading the neighborhood and ensuring a steady rise in real estate prices. In the immediate vicinity of Wuhrstrasse, condominiums, a spa, a shopping mall, and Google’s European headquarters now occupy land that once accommodated a large brewery and a paper factory.
Today however only few artists can reap enough benefit from their contribution to the upgrading process to keep their neighborhood studios and flats in the long term. And current buzzwords that characterize artistic work, such as post-studio or even post-Internet, suggest these flexible creative workers no longer even need this form of real-estate stability since they are always ahead of the game as the avant-garde of prevailing work forms. There are no doubt positive aspects of this flexibility, for instance, as a welcome opportunity for individual emancipation from the uniform optimization programs of industrial modernity or even as an attempt to implant forms of critical, artistic action into the social and economic field. This flexibility could also be criticized as clever exploitation of art and artists by a social state dismantled through neoliberalism or by real estate companies—more or less as effective PR replacement for slashed social funding. Others voice concern that artistic work as an all-encompassing role model is rather more like an aesthetic assault on the social field that could lead to all-embracing social aesthetization.
The two fields actually do interrelate in many respects: living is like working in that it is not by nature random but subject to certain forms. And art is produced under specific social circumstances. Artistic work no doubt often entails precarious living conditions—even if many artists commit to this situation by choice and enjoy the freedom related to it. Working conditions elsewhere are different, particularly in the low-wage sector or digitally organized sharing economy where precarious circumstances are aggravated by the long-term social consequences of the model of artistic creativity and flexibility. One can naturally choose to accept or reject a job in this case as well, but the personal background that leads to the decision makes a significant difference. Isabell Lorey observes another difference from the precarity of the latter working conditions in the twofold motivation for so-called “precarity by choice”: the combination of the freedom of self-fulfillment and the diffuse feeling of contributing to a higher, indeed transcendental “good” called culture. Flashes of the idealistic transfiguration of artistic work still appear in the contemporary processes of normalization that I have here described. It is therefore impossible to judge how dramatic the future change will be in the relationship between idealization and normalization—in fact normality in general, regarding work, added value, flexibility, and mobility.
As I see it, there are two aspects to the developments here described as normalization of work: on one hand, they trace a path from the pathological stigmatization of creative, independent output in the nineteenth century to today’s social norm and on the other, they represent the normalization of work per se. In other words, artistic work has shifted from the margins into the midst of society, while the productivity and efficiency factors of work are increasingly determining all spheres of society. Both tendencies are encountered daily in normative calls for creativity, on one hand, and effectivity, on the other. This twofold understanding of normalization means that these imperatives are already acknowledged as social norms. The mechanistic view of industrial work, as a cog in the machine, has been replaced by the self-fulfillment and creativity imperative. The artist bohemian has become obsolete, yielding to a creative and flexible enterprising self. These are, of course, ideal objectives that can never be fully achieved, which merely increases the allure, as seen particularly in the field of culture. The Wuhrstrasse flats and studios in Zurich can be considered built testimony to the distinctively modern claim to normalization and simultaneous isolation. A claim of clearly historical character in today’s postindustrial Zurich under the sway of a global digital and financial environment. Aiming to achieve social integration in the context of industrial standardization may seem obsolete today, and yet there still seem to be a diversity of attempts to connect up with it. As far as societal appreciation of artistic work is concerned, it is, however, more a matter of contradictory overlapping and counter movements than of continuities: for instance, between normalization and idealization or through the mutual normalization of art and other fields of endeavor. Thus Wuhrstrasse 8/10 is not only an example, in the modern sense, of the pragmatically structured life and work of artists; it also forms a contradictory zone of different normalizations of work.
 Alfred Roth, “Wer soll Künstlerateliers bauen?”, in Das Werk 35 (1948), Heft 12, pp. 369–374.
 Alfred Roth (ed.), Die neue Architektur. Dargestellt an 20 Beispielen, Les Editions d`Architecture, Erlenbach/Zurich, 1946.
 Ibid., p. 370.
 Ibid., pp. 373f.
 Ibid., p. 373.
 Cf. Sigfried Giedion, Befreites Wohnen, Orell Füssli, Zurich, 1929.
 Ibid., p. 3.
 Sigfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command, a contribution to anonymous history, Oxford University Press, New York , 1970, pp. 122ff.
 Giedion 1929, p. 5.
 Ibid., p. 10.
 A vision, already suggested by Karl Marx, that would be brought about through communist liberation from capitalist division of labor and the financial necessity to work. See, for example, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, “Die Deutsche Ideologie,” in Karl Marx. Friedrich Engels. Werke Band 3, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1978, p. 33. In the first half of the 20th century, less radical economists like John Maynard Keynes expressed the conviction it would be increasingly less necessary work for future generations. John Maynard Keynes, “Economic possibilities for our grandchildren,” in Lorenzo Pecchi, Gustavo Piga (eds), Revisiting Keynes, MIT Press, Cambridge MA/London, 2008, pp. 17–26.
 Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man. Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society , chapter 1, Beacon, Boston, 1964. https://www.marcuse.org/herbert/pubs/64onedim/odm1.html (accessed April 24, 2021)
 Andreas Reckwitz, “The psychological turn in creativity: From the pathological genius to the normalisation of the self as resource,” in The Invention of Creativity. Modern Society and the Culture of the New, Polity, Cambridge, 2017, chapter 5.
 One of the most biting attacks came at the time from Alexander von Senger, architect of the Swiss-Re building in Zurich, 1914, and fervent Nazi during the Second World War, who discredited the movement of Neues Bauen as “a torch from Moscow.” Alexander von Senger, Die Brandfackel Moskaus, Kaufhaus, Zurzach, 1931.
 I am indebted to Stanislaus von Moos’s evaluation in his introduction to Alfred Roth. Architekt der Kontinuität, Waser Verlag, Zürich 1985, pp. 9–34, pp. 20f.
 Alfred Roth, 1946 (see note 2 above), p. 374.
 I am referring particularly to G.W. F. Hegel’s idealization of spiritual, creative activity, which has been variously criticized (e.g. by Karl Marx), but nonetheless continues to make an appearance in our philosophical writings (as in conceptual art).
 Cf. Max Bill, FORM. A Balance of Sheet Mid-Twentieth Century Trends in Design, Karl Werner, Basel, 1952.
 Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1998, p. 119.
Ibid., p. 151.
 Ibid, p. 152.
 Burkhard Meltzer, Das ausgestellte Leben. Design in Kunstdiskursen nach den Avantgarden, Kadmos, Berlin, 2020.
 Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, Stanford University Press, 1996.
 I am thinking particularly of the inestimable influence of Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, whose writings on the culture industry were seminal to the reception and, above all, the criticism of these conditions in the second half of the twentieth century. Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” in Dialectic of Enlightenment, Stanford University Press, 2002.
 Andreas Reckwitz, “Creative Cities: Culturalising Urban Life,” in Reckwitz 2017, pp. 173-200.
 Thus Antonio Negri/Michael Hardt no longer speak of the human masses of modernity but rather of the “multitude” of the present—a largely self-governing entity, where individual forms of expression are exchanged via networks, while simultaneously ensuring that one belongs to the “multitude.” Antonio Negri/Michael Hardt, “Multitude,” in Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of the Empire, Penguin Press, New York, 2004, pp. 97–228.
 Cf. the much cited analysis of the relationship between art criticism and social criticism in Luc Boltanski/Ève Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso, 2018
 Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells, Verso, London/New York , 2012, pp. 14f.
 Reckwitz, 2012.
 Isabell Lorey, “Vom immanenten Widerspruch zur hegemonialen Funktion. Biopolitische Gouvernementalität und Selbst-Prekarisierung von KulturproduzentInnen,” in Ulf Wuggenig, Gerald Raunig (eds), Kritik der Kreativität, transversal texts, piano, 2016, pp. 257–282, p. 261.
 Ibid., p. 260.