A Good Work

 “Can that be called a happy life? Can it be called living? Is there anything more intolerable than that situation, I won’t say for a man of mettle nor even for a man of high birth, but simply for a man of common sense or, to go even further, for anyone having the face of a man? What condition is more wretched than to live thus, with nothing to call one’s own, receiving from someone else one’s sustenance, one’s power to act, one’s body, one’s very life?”

Etienne de la Boetie.


Woodworks Buschmann Bella is a project in the form of a workshop which offers a space and a time from which to reflect upon the complexity of a period of crisis which we  cannot fully understand from our current perspective. Woodworks Buschmann Bella seeks answers through the recovery of artisan woodworking.

Frank Buschmann trained as an artist, industrial designer and cabinet-maker. Of German origin, he spent his childhood between South Africa and Nigeria, and his adolescence and higher education in Germany and Holland. His professional life has been marked by an experimental spirit, often working independently or in association with projects which push established limits and definitions.

After a long trajectory which began with fine woodworking, then went on to design, cultural management, conceptualization, art, international cooperation and more... he returns to wood. This time, with a project which is purist in its approach and exacting in its execution.

It is said that crises serve to bring about a shift in the way we see, and that occasionally that shift may prompt a change of model.  But it is likewise said that in contexts of crisis, instead of projecting ourselves into the future, we tend to look backwards, seeking refuge in the recollection of supposedly better times. There are various ways to position oneself. There are those who take the position of the atemporal, seizing the crisis as a moment of opportunity to make others' vulnerability a source of personal wealth. There are those who take the position of the present continuous, approaching the crisis as a symbol of struggle and resistance, of social claims and bonds with which to invoke and renew slumbering values.

Then there are those who take positions from which to imagine a different world to come. These are the ones who, despite everything, must always situate themselves in the future tense, must look to the past just enough to reinvent, it if at all. For them the atemporal position is not useful because it offers only opportunism. They support those whose position is in the present continuous, but join their struggle from a different angle, one which is difficult to grasp because it is already somewhere else and always in process (of becoming).

Throughout our recent history, the relationship between life and work has gradually consolidated an itinerary of dispossession and alienation, casting the individual into a constant and painful loss of identity. It is with the first Industrial Revolution that an initial operation of dispossession produces a change in the individual. It takes place through the transfer from  a manual work and life to a mechanical work and life, from the work and the life of craftsmanship to the work and the life of the factory.

As a consequence of this operation, the manual abilities and artisan skills acquired through experience—a constant relation of exploration and innovation with form—are transformed into tasks of surveillance and supervision of machinic processes. The system of relations that existed between our intellectual being and our hands, both in life and work, is no longer associated with shaping form through its materiality.  This is the beginning of the empowerment of a society of middlemen, based on management and services.

A second dispossession takes place as a consequence of the step from Fordist to post-Fordist production. This amounts to a second Industrial Revolution which, with the introduction of the technological machine, opens the door to the communication industry.  In it information, knowledge, language and thought become the principal productive force mobilized by capital.  Work appropriates “life”, that is, the sum of specifically human characteristics. “Life put to work” and at its disposal , as Virno says. This constitutes an extreme and radical dematerialization. A sense of impossibility and incapacity advances, obstructing the understanding of a world which, while more within reach than ever, suffers a total de-identification.

It is from this state of affairs, from this very location,  that Woodworks Buschmann Bella proposes to mix the meaning of life in with knowledges and work. Through a practice that is, above all, performative and radical: a practice that holds itself in a process of making that cultivates forgotten attitudes such as dedication, resistance, acceptance of discomfort, affection and care. These attitudes, put to work like a set of gears, take their final form in wood.

Woodworks Buschmann Bella is also an ethical challenge, interrogating principles such as liberty, the shared participation in knowledge, peace, environmental protection, justice and solidarity, all principles which we experience in a complex and dual manner. On the one hand they feel near to us, basic and common, while at the same time they are alien to us, easily deteriorated and incommensurable. Frank repeats, like a mantra, queries such as the one Gandhi posed to question our commitments in the world: Is there any beauty in the finest cloth if it causes hunger and unhappiness?

Frank Buschmann's work is a “reenactment” which seeks to restore “worldliness” to the world, returning to the world those things of which it is comprised. This “worldliness”, which Arendt tells us is required to recognize the system of relations which exist within the world, to inquire about its history and its language, and to insist, especially, upon the need to care for our common world.

María Bella curator and researcher in “Curatorial Knowledge”

Documentary by  Juan Alcón Durán