The Art of Collective Bargaining: An Interview with Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge

Greig de Peuter and Nicole S. Cohen (2015) “The Art of Collective Bargaining: An Interview with Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge”, Canadian Journal of Communication 40(2): 333-346.

Toronto-based visual artists Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge are internationally known for their staged photography rooted in workers’ experiences, labour struggles, and social movements. Condé and Beveridge’s work, a critical response to unfettered capitalism and ecological crisis, includes such recent pieces as Scene Otherwise (2012), a photomontage based on the Occupy encampment in Toronto; Precarious (2010), a series addressing unstable employment among college support staff; The Plague (2009), a tableau of the recurrent convulsions of finance capital set in a quintessential space of flows, an airport terminal; and Fall of Water (2006–2007), a photographic epic, based on Pieter Bruegel’s The Fall Of The Rebel Angels that depicts the planetary water crisis and the political conflicts surrounding it.

Condé and Beveridge’s practice was not always so overtly politicized. In 1969, the couple, then working independently as conceptual artists, left Toronto for the New York art world. Caught up in the political tumult of that city’s art scene in the 1970s, the artists took a radical turn. Their political shift was marked by their controversial 1976 Art Gallery of Ontario exhibition, It’s Still Privileged Art, a collaborative show targeting the inequities and complicities of the art market system. Since resettling in Toronto in the late 1970s, Condé and Beveridge have pursued a political art practice distinguished not only by the representation of the lives and struggles of working people, but also by close collaboration with the trade union movement.

Condé and Beveridge’s art and activism extends beyond photography to the building of infrastructures for labour-centred cultural production. The couple was integral to the creation of Toronto’s Mayworks Festival of Working People and the Arts and Hamilton’s Workers’ Arts and Heritage Centre. Condé and Beveridge have also been protagonists in efforts to collectively organize artists in Canada, from active involvement in the Canadian artist-run centre movement in its formative years to founding the Independent Artists’ Union (IAU). The IAU organized in Ontario in the 1980s, calling for a living wage for artists—a demand with continuing relevance given the precarious socio-economic conditions of artists in this country (Miranda, 2009). Beveridge has also served as the co-chair of the Bargaining Committee of CARFAC (Canadian Artists’ Representation/le Front des artistes canadiens), the professional visual artists’ organization whose advocacy since the late 1960s has enabled countless artists in Canada to be compensated for their work.

We interviewed Condé and Beveridge as part of a larger research project, Cultural Workers Organize, which explores collective organization in the arts, media, and cultural industries. Condé and Beveridge spoke about a range of topics, from the Independent Artists’ Union to Status of the Artistlegislation and the labour dispute between CARFAC/RAAV and the National Gallery of Canada. Present throughout our discussion is the struggle for, and through, collective bargaining—a process that clashes sharply with the prevailing reputation of artists as role models of contemporary capitalism, which puts a premium on creativity, flexibility, and risk-taking. In an age of deepening precarity, creative class boosterism, and do-what-you-love ideology, Condé and Beveridge’s art and activism has much to contribute to our understanding of the on-going value struggles marking cultural production in Canada.

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Image credit: Carole Condé & Karl Beveridge, It’s Still Privileged Art (1975)