• Tue 15 09 2020 – Sat 24 04 2021 •
Ghosts, Traces, Echoes: Works in Shifts


Work produces not only goods but also land, communities, biographies, legacies, actions, desires and values. North Rhine-Westphalia and the Ruhr region in particular have historically been shaped by industrialization, massive urbanization, deindustrialization and the later revitalizing of industrial areas. Migration, demographic plurality, resistance by the population and post-industrial melancholy are integral parts of the region’s cultural history. And in the gaps in the official history lies much that has been forgotten and obscured, overlooked and marginalized.

Ghosts, Traces, Echoes: Works in Shifts brings together research-based artistic explorations of various histories of work in Cologne and the Ruhr region. The project foregrounds lived history which, until now, has been sidelined by official historiography. It transplants the ghosts, traces and echoes of past decades into the realities and experiences of the present day, to help make new visions of the future possible.

The project reveals the results of the participants’ research, and brings together artistic productions, archive initiatives, conversations, exhibitions, guided tours and workshops. In collaboration with local history initiatives, an industry museum, non-governmental archives and collective remembrance projects, as well as a series of artists and social scientists, the project will unfold layer by layer, shift by shift, from September 2020 until March 2021 – reflecting the rhythm of industrial production.

The exhibition Ghosts, Traces, Echoes: Works in Shifts, curated by Eva Busch and Madhusree Dutta, spans the period from the late 20th century to the pandemic of the present day. Stories from the past are juxtaposed with contemporary images. Three research projects are presented in three shifts as part of a growing exhibition. New levels are added over the course of time, and others disappear: first stories about ghosts in October 2020, then maps of traces in December 2020, and songs as echoes in January 2021.

The exhibition explores the question of how concepts of work are manifested in different historical and artistic contexts, and how they can be connected across time and space. Which ghosts, traces and echoes influence the way we understand ‘work’ today?

Like a palimpsest, the individual projects come together to form a narrative made up of overlapping time periods and realities. For example, accounts and images of a group of women from Hattingen who wore ghost costumes to protest against the closure of the local Henrichshütte steelworks are juxtaposed with forms of platformcapitalist ‘ghost work’, which requires real bodies and their labor.

A miniature cinema room specially designed for the exhibition plays host to a six-part film program called Film-Work, curated by Madhusree Dutta. The cinematic narratives encompass different eras and geographical contexts; they revolve around bodies, places, conventions, infrastructures, emotions, strategies for the community production of work, and the cultural dimensions of our work-oriented lives. Whilst the exhibition focuses on histories from Cologne and the Ruhr region, the film program opens up perspectives on different places, genres, times and formats.

The events also opens up the themes of the exhibition to further questions and geographical contexts: public guided tours with the curators, a lecture performance, a bicycle tour around Cologne, and a multi-day workshop with Arts of the Working Class provide opportunities for in-depth reflection and discussions.

Let us look at them, these ghosts, traces and echoes of work in late capitalism! Perhaps they can help us to better understand the future, and to reject hegemonic visions. Can stories about what is only just perceptible, about what is left, help us forearm ourselves for as-yet-unknown futures?

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In cooperation with RVR/Interkultur Ruhr and the LWL-Industriemuseum – Westphalian State Museum of Industrial Heritage.