A controversial art project funded by Public Art Agency Sweden (Statens konstråd) will pay a worker to clock in every morning at an office at the soon-to-be-opened Korsvägen train station in Gothenburg. Once this person punches their time clock, a bank of fluorescent lights will turn on to allow commuters to watch them at work doing, well, anything. Or nothing.
“The position holds no duties or responsibilities, other than that it should be carried out at Korsvägen. Whatever the employee chooses to do constitutes the work,” the job description reads.
The ‘job’ is an art project called Eternal Employment. ‘Eternal’ because the job is “of indefinite duration” and ‘Employment’ because whoever takes this position will be paid on par with an average public sector worker and will also be given commiserate benefits like holiday allotment and even pension contributions.
The plan calls for the monthly salary to start at 21,600 kronor ($2,282 or €2,032) per month, which will be followed by 3.2 percent annual increases for at least 120 years, with the assumption that whoever is selected for this job will eventually quit and be replaced by others.
The project is the brainchild of the artist duo Jakob Senney and Simon Goldin, who said that whoever gets the job will not just be put on display to amuse visitors to the station.
“We are taking care with the physical infrastructure at the station as to guarantee that the employee does not have to be seen by anyone unless he/she chooses so. We do not want to ‘exhibit’ a person in that sense, although the employee can of course choose to make their position public themselves,” Goldin told The Local.
Goldin added that the employee doesn’t even have to actually spend the day at Korsvägen.
If they want, they could simply clock in at the start of the working day, leave, and then return to clock out. The job description stipulates that the chosen employee cannot “take on other paid employment during the working hours of the Eternal Employment position”, but even that restriction is fairly loose with Goldin saying that person could choose to spend their time writing a novel or engaging in similar creative work.
But if the idea of getting paid to do whatever you want for as long as you want has you ready to fire off an application, hold your horses. The project won’t begin until the station opens in 2026 and applications won’t be accepted until 2025.
Artist rendition: Goldin+Senney/Statens konstråd
Job description as poem
In the meantime, the Eternal Employment project is a bit of an enigma.
In addition to the job description that shares such nuggets of wisdom as “money pays better than work” and promises that “Eternal Employment could become a nostalgic memory, a future ruin, a utopian premonition of a post-work society, or all of the above,” there is also a nearly 700-word mock-up of a job ad written by poet Lina Ekdahl.
“There’s a scent. Do you smell it? The scent of something. We smell it. It’s seaweed. You’re seaweed. You want to be seaweed. You shall be seaweed. Eat seaweed. You can eat seaweed. You know that. Thank you for knowing! Thank you for the seaweed. Thank you for the scent of seaweed,” one passage reads. The rest continues in similar fashion.
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Goldin said Ekdahl’s poem was inspired by “the context in which the artwork is situated”.
“At the time of writing the proposal we were unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits. The format of the job announcement was written as a riff off the kind of announcements we were receiving from our unemployment officer at the time,” Goldin said. He added that it was actually their unemployment officer who suggested that he and Senneby apply for the 2017 competition sponsored by the Public Art Agency and the Swedish Transport Administration which called for public art design submissions for Korsvägen.
Rather than suggesting a physical work of art in the form of sculptures, paintings or murals, the duo said they suggested using the station to make a statement about “a measure of our growing inequality” and to question “the very notions of growth, productivity and progress which are at the core of modernity.”
The project materials include a long job description in poem form. Artist rendition: Goldin+Senney/Statens konstråd
When the Public Art Agency jury selected Eternal Employment for Korsvägen, it said it was the project that best exemplified its ‘Chronotopia’ theme of providing “an investigation of the present, a review of the value of the past, and a glimpse into the potential of the future.”
Saying the project addressed the theme in “both a humorous and critical way”, the jury praised Eternal Employment as “a well-thought artwork whose potential unfolds mostly in the minds of the audience”.
Magdalena Malm, the director of Public Art Agency Sweden and chairperson of the selection committee, said there was “a very strong consensus” amongst the jury that Eternal Employment was the best submission.
“It addressed the way the competition was set up in a very interesting way. It transformed it from being about physical space to being about time,” she told The Local.
That doesn’t mean everyone is a fan of the project, however. Malm admitted there were some “unexpected reactions”to the project from the art community.
“Some people within the cultural sector were concerned about the project and some people in the art world thought the concept was too complicated and difficult for the public space,” she said. “On the other hand, a lot of people who are not normally fans of art were really enthusiastic about it.”
Goldin also acknowledged that controversy has surrounded the project since it was first announced in 2017, although he says part of that is due to greater resistance to the Västlänken railway project.
One critic, the influential right-wing writer Rebecca Uvell, went so far as to claim the domain eternalemployment.se, where visitors are greeted by a message that seems to take a jab at Sweden’s “art establishment” and another stating that “no matter how much you polish a turd, it's still a turd.” The Local reached out to Uvell for comment but did not receive a reply before deadline. For the record, Goldin said the official website is eternalemployment.com, although it is not set up yet.
With articles about the project appearing in both the Washington Post and the Daily Mail just this week, it’s clear that Eternal Employment is still pushing buttons. Which, one could argue, means that it is already effective some seven years before becoming reality.
Malm said that while the project proposal touches on very complex issues like inequality and the future of work, it does not aim to provide solutions.
“This is not an artwork stating things, it is an artwork questioning things. In the future, we are going to see less and less of the permanent employment that we have today so the intention is to spark thoughts and discussions on the what the future of work will look like,” she said.