Larry Wilson wrote this generous article about the Computational Literature panel with Nick Montfort and Eran Hadas at CalTech I was honored to join early last week. The student who asked why my process is so inefficient really made my day–one of the best questions I’ve ever had to field about art-making.
An artist statement I wrote about Mediations on Digital Labor at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana appeared in Leonardo on October 1, 2016.
Lion’s Breath is a participatory, generative installation that amplifies the complicit role humans play in the sixth extinction. This immersive project reflects the role and impact of humankind on the loss of species in a global environment with reduced biodiversity. In the installation, we choreograph time to create an experience in which participants degrade an audio representation of the sixth extinction by contributing a single breath. The soundscape translates biodiversity to sonic variety—the taxonomy of animals is used to design musical structures that, with each breath, becomes sparser and more monotonous. It begins with a multilayered, wild orchestration of the lives of animals undergoing extinction. A part of the aural landscape is removed with each breath until the installation transforms to silence. Upon entrance, the projected image displays a blue sky with white clouds. Adding a breath to the installation animates a single-channel projected image to darken until the sky is black. In Lion’s Breath, breathing—essential for life, reduces the soundscape and fades the scene to black. Mass extinction requires no extraordinary activity on behalf of the individual. We present a poetic representation of human impact in a changing global landscape.
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!