This semester students in my Emerging Media Studio I grad class collaborated with students in Professor Starnaman’s Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies in the Arts and Humanities: “Fantastic Bodies,” and Professor Hanlon’s Modern Dance II to create a multimedia performance of (Parts 1 and V of) Walt Whitman’s A Song for Occupations.
This morning at 11am in room 518B Sabrina Starnaman and I are presenting the pilot project that we developed in the classroom before arriving at our ongoing project, The Laboring Self, at the National Women’s Studies Association annual conference. In “The Korl Woman & the Crowd: The Laboring Body as a Site of Digital Resilience/Resistance” we relate the invisibility of immaterial laborers to the recovery of a text that was near-invisible for a century, Rebecca Harding Davis’ Life in the Iron Mills.
If you would like to follow along, you can download our presentation.
This has been a work in progress for the last year. The fabrication of the vigil (made almost entirely of repurposed Amazon boxes) would not have been possible without Amanda Marder in the UT Dallas FabLab. This was my first time at the iDMAa conference, which I submitted to as an exhibiting artist because Christiane Paul was one of the jurors (and I trust her judgement). The exhibit is full of inspiring work. You should check out the list of artists and their websites on the iDMAa Exhibition webpage.
Here is the artist statement for this installation:
A Vigil For Some Bodies reimagines Amazon.com’s virtual job platform, Mechanical Turk (mtuk.com), as a site for recovering memories and investing in the human modality of the crowd worker. The shelf in this exhibition is fabricated from repurposed Amazon boxes. It holds artificial candles dedicated to the loved ones remembered by virtual workers. The sculpture, like Amazon boxes, is modular and can be constructed to fit various dimensions—in this format it is approximately 4 feet tall by 6 feet wide and 17 inches deep.
As a series of humanist, solidarity activities, I have been hiring digital laborers on Mechanical Turk since 2008 to realize their embodied selves in jobs where they are paid to perform athletic events (as in my previous project, Mechanical Olympics), meditate (in my participatory exhibit Mediations in Digital Labor), or chant “Om” for an ongoing video project, Endless Om. This project started as a Mechanical Turk job request in which I asked workers to light a candle in memory of a lost loved one. Fifty workers responded to my job by sharing details and memories with me by way of Amazon’s crowdsourcing platform. This interaction took place during the weekend of Halloween in 2015.
Shortly thereafter, Amazon advertised temporary job positions in their Fulfillment Centers during the November-December holiday season. I transformed my crowdsourced vigil into a series of modified battery-operated candles (purchased from Amazon.com) labeled with the names of those lost and remembered and the worker IDs of the Turkers who shared their memories. Then I applied for a job in a Dallas-area Amazon Fulfillment Center (AFC). I photographed the candles throughout the hiring process inside and outside the two AFCs I visited. The candles presented in this exhibition of A Vigil For Some Bodies have traveled to an Amazon Fulfillment Center, to Hong Kong during ISEA, and now to Winona for iDMAa.
This month Sabrina Starnaman and I delivered a presentation of our ongoing project (now called The Laboring Self, which was a 21st Century Korl Woman in its first iteration) to the Digital Frontiers conference audience from my classroom at UTD. This was the first time that I brought a class with me to a conference by presenting electronically from my home-podium. It was not difficult and my students enjoyed hearing a conference presentation from the seats they occupy each week.
While we couldn’t see our peers in the room at Rice University, we were delighted with their engagement in our Twitter feed. Thank you Frontiersfolk—hope to see you in person next year!
The Fifth Mechanical Olympics (2008, ongoing) is underway. This year I will be presenting videos from the past and present games to viewers at The Dallas Museum of Art’s Late Night event on August 19th, starting at 7pm. At 9pm I will deliver an artist talk about the project, tracing my interest and expectations of the project as they have shifted throughout the past eight years.
One thing I came to realize during the process of drafting my thoughts for the 9pm talk is that one Mechanical Olympian, Shamik Ghosh, has been participating in this crowdsourced game since its infancy–and he has recorded his son for each iteration of the games.
Here is Shamik’s son six years ago:
Here he is in 2016:
If you want to make a video, we’re doing that too but you have to stay up late. From 10-11pm we’ll be making videos and voting on gold medalists in the Center for Creative Connections.
I considered ending this post with some kind of joke or reference to making up a story about being robbed after you attend the DMA to participate in the Mechanical Olympics, but I thought better of it. I’ll make no guarantees about what happens when you leave the DMA, but I think you’ll have a fun time while you visit for Late Night.
The Women of El Toro (xtine burrough and Dan Sutko) pairs stories told by female veterans and military wives stationed at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro with locations on the same ground, in the Orange County Great Park. Originally recorded by the Center for Oral and Public History from 2007-13, these stories are now made available in a free iOS app to bring the voices of the women whose experiences in or with the Marines to visitors at Great Park locations. In broader terms, Dan and I are excited about the poetic way that The Women of El Toro lies at the intersection of locative GPS technology, digital oral histories of female veterans, and digital humanities work emphasizing the creation of new human experiences through new media, space, and place.
If you are planning to attend, please download the app on a trusted wifi connection before arriving at the park and find us in front of the Visitors Center!
We hope to see you this Friday, where our special guests include some of the women whose voices are embedded in the app.
Dan and I would like to extend our gratitude to California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. This project is the result of a Community Stories grant, 2015-16.
This semester Dr. Sabrina Starnaman and I continued our collaboration on a project that I have been calling a “recovery through mediation.” We worked with Dr. Starnaman’s class, Rebels, Reformers (and Recovery) to create a participatory media project that further recovers the text, Life in the Iron Mills by Rebecca Harding Davis. Published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1861, Life in the Iron Mills was first recovered—a once lost text now considered “a point of origin” for social realism–by Tillie Olsen on the Feminist Press (CUNY) in 1972. Students created a Mechanical Turk HIT (job) that asked Turkers to create self portraits expressing what they would imagine the Korl woman to look like. We sent these Turker selfies to a Fivver worker who created a 3D object file that we in turn fabricated as a larger-than-life portrait of a “digital Korl being.” The students then re-inscribed the sculpture with text from Davis’ novella. We are grateful for the support the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology showed us with a grant that put this pilot project into action.
ATEC graduate student Philip Barker helped us fabricate our 21st Century, mediated version of Davis’ Korl woman. Phil made this documentary video of the project as it unfolded in Spring 2016.