‘Working Glamour’ by Andreas Rumpfhuber

A promise of leisure can be read in a number of avant-garde architecture projects from the 1960s. Here, the bed, or at least the mattress, played an important role. People lounged around in covers, cuddling in soft-porn-like manner in whirling bubbles, letting themselves be synced into rhythm by the machine for the coming society. Or they organised free time in horizontal structures following grassroots principles in now flexible and airy forms above the stone city, where day and night have already been abolished. These were projects that affirmed the popular promise of the European welfare state and fantasised about a future without labour that had, as popularly believed, already begun.

This architecture of immaterial labour not only mirrors how diffuse the concept of labour has already become, and how this seems to permeate all aspects of human activity, but it also points to an emancipatory aspect at the moment of its emergence. The development of this architecture could be discussed on the basis of many examples: the invention of the office landscape by the German management consultants Eberhard and Wolfgang Schnelle (1956), Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price’s Fun Palace (1962–66), Herman Hertzberger’s Centraal Beheer (1967–72), also Hans Hollein’s Mobile Office (1969), Haus-Rucker-Co’s Yellow Heart (1967/68), and not least John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s use of space in their two Bed-Ins in Amsterdam and Montreal (March and May, 1969). These are all examples of working spaces, most of which were created parallel to and in conjunction with the emancipation movements of the 1960s. Taken as models, they illustrate how new immaterial labour can be portrayed and which possibilities architects, artists, and their teams come up with to deal with the new work paradigm using architectural means. In the movement toward immaterial labour, spaces of production undergo a number of convergences: human and machine, house and city, living and working, architecture and mechanical emotion machines, art and commercial, outside and inside.

Working in a luxury hotel

Especially Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s appropriation of the hotel room — during their two one-week Bed-Ins, first in the Hilton in Amsterdam, then in Montreal — can be seen as a template for the contemporary form of ‘working glamour’. The Bed-In is a foil for a life in which working in bed and from a hotel as the most extreme workers’ fantasy — as the most extreme fantasy of freedom — increasingly becomes reality. As working, leisure, and life are more and more intertwined, the tipping points into a seemingly glamorous way of working become visible, presenting themselves between an unbounded claim to space and its limited realisation. The Bed-In performance is thus less interesting as a protest performance. However, it is significant for understanding a proletarianised form of working in bed that is no longer the privilege of the bourgeoisie and their children. In their Bed-In performance, Lennon and Ono appropriate the generic node of a worldwide trade network by reorganising the space.


John Lennon & Yoko Ono in the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel, room 902. Photo by Nico Koster

They operate in an entrepreneurial way for their own agenda. Their work consists of communication, and it is only made possible by being connected and distributing it via the media. At the same time, the Bed-In performance should be divided into three sections to illustrate the paradox of entrepreneurial and/or alternative action in the contemporary economy. In the first section in Amsterdam, the total exhaustion and depressive state of the protagonist and her partner become visible. Then, there is an emancipatory turn achieved through idleness and the subsequent reorganisation of the hotel room. In the third section, the performance in Montreal, the emancipatory moment of the performance is returned to conventional stereotypes. In this last moment of the performance, Lennon and Ono’s production of added value is exploited by third parties.

Living space and working space converge in the staging of the Bed-In. It is not arranged on the stage of a theatre or in a stadium, nor in a museum or an art gallery. Instead, the performance takes place in rooms where Lennon and Ono live. The spatial framing differs fundamentally from the sites of Ono’s art, the music studios where they both worked, or the concert arenas where Lennon performed. While the art space, the studio, or the stage space are traditionally separate from living spaces, the couple’s everyday living space becomes a temporary working space during the Bed-In, and their working space conversely becomes their living space: they live in the space of their performance and work in their living space. Apart from the press conferences and the visits, apart from the telephone interviews, Ono and Lennon reside in these rooms, eat and sleep there.


Yoko Ono and John Lennon Bed-In at a Montreal hotel in 1969. Photo: Gerry Deiter, source MoMA.

The entrepreneurial self in bed

Often-forgotten pictures of the Bed-In show Yoko Ono and John Lennon lying peacefully and lost in the oversized bed of the Amsterdam Hilton. The pictures reveal an aspect of entrepreneurial action that the French sociologist Alain Ehrenberg calls ‘the exhausted self’. It is a latent exhaustion that can become depression which Ehrenberg associates with the disappearance of the boundaries between what is allowed and what is prohibited, between the possible and the impossible, and which alters and irritates the mental order of every individual. With the blanket pulled up to their chins in a room that seems darkened by the Hilton decoration, Ono and Lennon appear completely exhausted, as the “Ballad of John and Yoko” — which Lennon recorded with Paul McCartney in London shortly after the Amsterdam Bed-In — also recounts:

“Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton
Talking in our beds for a week
The newspeople said
‘Say, what’re you doing in bed?’
I said, ‘we’re only trying to
get us some peace’.”

The last line of the song — “to get us some peace” — can be interpreted in two ways: on the one hand, I can read it, in keeping with the intention of peace activism, as the desire to gain peace for the world. On the other hand however, the line can also mean that Lennon yearns for peace for himself and his wife. The one undisputed interpretation follows the conventional narrative about effective media work for peace through refusal. The other interpretation emphasises the reverse side of the activist acting from within himself: exhaustion, the desire for non-confrontation, harmony, and personal peace.


John Lennon and Yoko Ono Bed-In at a Montreal hotel in 1969. Photo he released to CBC News, Source CBC.

John Lennon is less of a working class hero in the traditional sense, who rebels against the system, than he is portrayed in countless biographies. In the Bed-In he reveals more contours of a new type of worker that must be called, following Ulrich Bröckling, the entrepreneurial self. Lennon works creatively and entrepreneurially, as an active and independent subject; he is innovative and uses imagined opportunities for gain, bearing the risks of these endeavours and closely cooperating as a team with his wife. Lennon calls the Bed-In an advertising campaign for peace. It is an event that makes use of media attention on their wedding to play with public expectations: what could top the scandalous record cover of Two Virgins (1968), where Ono and Lennon are depicted naked?

With the Bed-Ins, Ono and Lennon disappoint the expectations of the journalists and initially do nothing, or simply conduct absurd conversations with those present. In keeping with Ono’s art practice, they frame a setting of astonishment, in which expectation are disappointed. Initially in Amsterdam, the Bed-In is also an artistic performance outside an art space that borrows from Ono’s artistic practice. Without realising it, all the journalists wanting to report on the event became viewers of an art form taken from the avant-gardes of the time, causing first pure confusion and misunderstanding. It is only after this that the initially depressive atmosphere, the passivity, and the absurdity generated by Lennon and Ono through their performance, is exchanged through the reorganisation of the space for an active and seriously-meant work towards the essentially unachievable concern of ‘world peace’. The use of the hotel room thus changes from passive insertion into the existing structure to actively arranging and taking action. The couple set themselves up in the hotel room: the bed is moved in front of the window, only white sheets are used, and many flowers are set up around the bed. In addition, instructions for attaining world peace are written in block letters on paper and attached to the window and the walls for everyone to see: “Hair Peace”, “Bed Peace.” Lettering is even scribbled directly on the window of the hotel room.

>>> These are excerpts from the essay ‘Working Glamour,’ by Andreas Rumpfhuber. Published in the book Into the Great Wide Open [dpr-barcelona, 2017].
To read the complete essay, download it in PDF format, here.

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Related to this topic, you can read at the Het Nieuwe Instituut’s web-site the essay The 24/7 Bed, Beatriz Colomina’s take on the bed as a unique horizontal architecture in the age of social media, where she writes about a variety of spaces and times, from bed to bed, as a contemporary workspace transforming labor. Her essay ‘The 24/7 Bed,’ has been published in the book Work, Body, Leisure, published in conjunction with the Dutch Pavilion at the Biennale Architettura 2018.

Work, Body, Leisure. Edited by Marina Otero Verzier, Nick Axel. Het Nieuwe Instituut and Hatje Cantz Verlag GmbH, 2018. [Hatje Cantz Verlag]

Plus:

In 2009 the magazine mu·dot published their issue #2, ‘The Glamour Issue,’ including Andreas Rumpfhuber’s essay “The Working Glamour. John Lennon, Yoko Ono: Bed-In Amsterdam and Montreal, 1969.”(download the PDF here).

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