Continuing through July 12, 2015
Media artist xtine burrough’s installation, “Mediations on Digital Labor” drops us very gently into the brave new world of labor detached from the office. We enter by walking across a floor covered in large blocks of carefully transcribed, fragmented text — written in chalk. Dusting away letters and words as we walk through, we arrive at a video monitor, which informs us this piece was completed by the artist, who employed more than 50 Amazon.com MTurk workers, called Turkers. Earning rewards paid onto Amazon.com gift cards, burrough offered those who chose to rest from physical labor for up to five minutes in order to accept her short-term employment offer of 25 cents. She then had them describe their experience in 10-100 words.
Merging the idea of mediation and meditation on the subject of hidden laborers, the artist then posted another “human intelligence task,” or “hit," on MTurk asking for a 10 second video of the worker chanting the word “OM,” for which she paid 75 cents. The 30 detached, disembodied responses she received are each individually stored on jump drives that form two winding beige lines running across the gallery walls. Notes inform us that some of the videos have images; most, however, conceal the worker’s identity. If burrough’s use of crowdsourced labor is essentially benign, “Meditations on Digital Labor" does raise questions about the economic justice and psychological toll of this kind of labor with a visitor sign-up sheet. Asked to willingly participate for no compensation by resting on the gallery floor, chanting and adding personal ruminations with the supplied chalk, she summons questions about why people choose to do so. In this context we think not only about artists’ often unpaid labor, but also a global economy where limited opportunities for full employment to often unite American and Third World workers in accepting inadequate compensation for their labor.
Published Courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2015