In 2010 I created a project funded by the Stiftung Menschenwürde und Arbeitswelt on internships and precarious work in Europe. I traveled, interviewed and photographed interns and former interns from various European countries and showed the results in four exhibitions.
If you want to know more about what inspired the project, read “The situation“.
The full list of exhibitions with archived media coverage can be found at the Exhibitions page.
The message I wanted to convey with my work is the feeling of “modularity”, “interchangeability” that this system of employment gives us.
Why the title “Structurally recyclable. Basically disposable”?
Structurally recyclable: internships are a way into the labor market, the symbol of market flexibility. Structural is also a synonym for “essential”, “basic” and that is what I think is our current perception of internships: a natural, almost compulsory way to enter the labor market for skilled workers. We are expected to be flexible, humble and accept to work for free for a period of time in the hope of getting the foot in the door, hoping to be among the “elected” ones.
Recyclable is an important term nowadays. We pay more and more attention to our consumption, knowing that the kind of items we buy and use directly affect the environment. Recyclable means reusable, an object that can be allocated for further use, whose flexibility is of course seen in a positive way.
We are expected to be flexible, humble and accept to work for free for a period of time in the hope of getting the foot in the door, hoping to be among the “elected” ones.
Basically disposable: basic stands for “of primary importance”.
Disposable is often used as an antonym to “recyclable”, to indicate an object that can only be used once and is to be thrown away. However, there are things that are reusable and disposable at the same time (disposable cameras have a very high recycling rate, paper cups, and other normally disposable objects made of recyclable material are an example).
It is important to try to render the feeling of “not being essential” along with its contradictions: as said before, where the interns can be essential, along with the services they provide, they are not, individually, indispensable. The other thing is, interns are often used as skilled but very cheap labor to cut with labor costs.
But mainly, with the word “disposable” I want to pay tribute to the general feeling of interns of being merely “used and thrown” away.
The association of these four terms, mostly at odds with each other, is also a way to take into account the fact that the phenomenon of internships does not have the same characteristics in all the European countries. Whereas the element of flexibility is always present along with the idea that internships are important, the diffusion of the phenomenon itself and the future after an internship changes a lot, not only from country to country but also from sector to sector.
It is extremely important that one understands how these kind of experiences affect us personally. It causes loss of self-confidence, inevitable feeling of failure towards our families that have supported us through university and the internships. It ultimately becomes, a form of “schizophrenia”, because even hating the system, we are forced to go back to it for fear of a “blank” in our CV. In the end, many tend to reproduce the same social norms which have served to their exploitation.
The subjects came from different European countries. In fact, the internship phenomenon is not only very diverse according to the country (different legal conditions, different level of flexibility of the economy, different statistics), but it is first and foremost a very widespread one.No tags for this post.