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.
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.
THE OC WEEKLY favorably covered my exhibition in the Grand Central Arts Center Project Room in last week’s printed edition. In Jail Benches and Amazon.com at Santa Ana’s Grand Central Art Center Dave Barton understood the project as “a deceptively simple take on low-wage jobs.”
I captured the above video to showcase the hand-drawn aspect of the exhibition, which Barton described as “chalked out on the floor of the gallery, using the natural lines of the black utility tile to provide something akin to a giant piece of lined paper, with the worker’s feedback done in cursive or block letters.”
Seen and heard below: A time-lapse video created on the night of the opening showcases the fragile nature of the “unencrypted data” on the floor of the gallery while the Mturk workers chant in unison (my digital post-production mediation). Barton wrote, “The now ephemeral quality of work (and lack of security that comes with it) reveals itself on the installation itself. Patrons have to interact with the misery of the workers represented: If they want to read what has been written, they have to stand on other words to do so. Those words—and the work represented by those words—slowly becomes an indecipherable blur of white chalk dust after enough people have shuffled through it.”
On May 2nd from 7-10pm I hope you will join me at Grand Central Art Center (Santa Ana, CA) in the Project Room for my opening of Mediations on Digital Labor.
The exhibitions statement follows:
Mediations on Digital Labor began with a hijacking of the Amazon.com Mechanical Turk website (Murk.com) for a critical, poetic, and alternative practice: Artist xtine burrough hired the Turkers to pause from physical labor.
As a play on the Mturk model, for which an industrial-sized, global workforce is paid less than minimum wage to work in untraced conditions, earning “rewards” paid on Amazon.com gift cards, the artist offered her set of workers 25 cents to break from labor for up to five minutes. She instructed the rested workers to describe their experience in 10-100 words. Trebor Scholz uses the word “playbor” (as in play/labor) to identify the tension between digital work and play that takes place not just on sites like Mturk.com but in all facets of online pseudo-participation. Scholz writes that in digital culture, “It has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between play, consumption and production, life and work, labor and non-labor.”
When more than 50 Turkers took burrough up on her alternative job she imagined the international group sitting together, respecting each other in silence. Though it is impossible to target a single worker, or a group of workers, for employment on Mturk.com she posted another “HIT” (Amazon’s word for “job” is “human intelligence task” or HIT) requesting a 10-second video of the worker chanting the word “Om,” for which she paid 75 cents per video and received nearly 30 responses. These videos became the pool of digital data stored on the jump-drives hanging from the Grand Central Art Center Project Room’s walls. Each digital container has one file, a single disembodied “Om” chant from a virtual worker. The workforce extends from the USA to India, and these chants are in various mother tongues. One of them was made electronically, the computer itself speak/chanting “Om.” Some of the videos include an image. Many are black or some variation on pink or red, the color made when a video-maker’s finger is pressed against the camera lens to conceal her identity.
On the floor of the gallery burrough has spent time in silence drawing out the Turkers’ feedback in chalk. Presented here is a small selection of the data, on her hard drive there is more than she could fit on the floor. Burrough chose the texts that resonate with her own experiences with intentional resting, or meditation. As viewers step into the gallery her chalk letters are unencrypted, analog data for human participants that morphs and erodes. Viewers are encouraged to participate: Reach for the sky to select a (now recycled) recording of the Om chant, or sit on the ground and rest. Use the chalk provided to add your feedback. What was it like to rest, intentionally, for a couple of minutes? How did you feel before and after your rest?
Like Scholz’s gray space between play and labor, this collection of digital chants, compiled from a virtual job board, showcases the voices of disembodied strangers making a sound that can accompany one’s return to her body at a vibrational frequency found throughout the natural world.
I’m excited to be traveling to New Orleans this week for the annual Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference. The Communication and Digital Culture area, led by Mark Nunes, has been a long time theoretical “home” for me and I’m looking forward to experiencing all of the C&DC sessions this Thursday in Studio 8 at the Marriott.
This year I’ll be presenting thoughts and images from my recent exhibit Please Participate using the framework presented in Francisco Ricardo’s book, The Engagement Aesthetic: Experiencing New Media Art through Critique.
Image tiling in Illustrator was the key to production in the making of this giant scroll of Jack holding his scroll. A happy accident: The pixelization in the halftone pattern sort of looks like a copyright symbol (appropriate seen as how the image this is based upon is appropriated from a photograph taken long ago by Gerry Nicosia) and/or a smiley face (an image that sometimes appeared on LSD stickers, I forget how I know this but it’s not by direct experience…anyhow, Jack would have probably liked that reference even though the publication of On The Road was a little ahead of the Timothy Leary era).
Come to the Aussi Gallery at the Art Institute of CA-OC on Friday, 11/7 from 5-7pm for the opening of Please Participate, an exhibit funded in part by a CSUF intramural grant.
AiCA-OC is located at 3601 W. Sunflower Blvd., Santa Ana, CA (near the Costa Mesa Ikea).
I just sent my poster to Micol for inclusion in her Tally Project exhibit opening on March 29th at For Your Art on Wilshire Blvd here in Los Angeles. I’m looking forward to a fun night of posters and female artists. Read more about Micol’s project on the Huffington Post or visit the Tumblr page to view more posters.
This Monday from 4-5pm stop by the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art to create your own Mechanical Olympics video. I’ll be there with a camera (probably just a flip or my iPhone camera, as it is a low-fi project) and some goofy props. All you have to do is show the camera your best Olympic-style performance. You can swim, play baseball, tennis, soccer, hockey, or make up a new sport. Anything goes.
For the duration of the exhibit I have put together a “best of” video reel featuring highlights from past Mechanical Olympics. It’s hard to believe this project has lasted as long as it has, but it’s fun to review some of the creative videos made for the 2008 and 2010 Games.
New Media Festival Los Angeles @ LACDA
102 W. Fifth Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Workshop: 4-5pm on Monday, 7/9/12
Opening: 6-10pm on Thursday 7/12/12