One Person’s Play is Another Person’s Work

by | Nov 3, 2013 | Conversations | 0 comments

“The effects of the ‘digital revolution’ have been analysed for the most part in terms of their effects on individual consumers, rather than from the perspective of the pressures exerted on those charged with their production” (Harry Sanderson, “Human Resolution,” Mute, April 2013)

I’m feeling really lucky to have been able to participate in a series of conversations around digital images, labour and surveillance as part of Harry Sanderson’s “Unified Fabric” project at Arcadia_Missa over the past month, including watching Ge Jin’s fascinating documentary about gold farmers in World of Warcraft last night as the closing event for the exhibition.

Gold farmers Trailer from Ge Jin on Vimeo.

This way of talking about what is being called “digital labour” in a panel being convened at the Historical Materialism conference happening at UCL later this week—of thinking about the embodied effects of supposedly immaterial, networked digital information economies on real human bodies—seems new to me, and potentially generative. As someone pointed out in a conversation after the film screening last night, it’s a discussion that seems obviously influenced by Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s The Soul at Work, which I’m somewhat familiar with, but in my experience so far, Bifo’s work is most often used to analyze the experiences of the user/consumer, or the middle-class-creative-class’s precarious affective and intellectual labour, rather than that of the physical working-class labourer (as Sanderson points out so eloquently in his essay). As part of what seems to now be a never-ending interest of mine in thinking about how conditions of labour are made to appear and disappear in contemporary art, it seems vital to think about why this dimension of labour within contemporary image-making has so far been obscured in critical discourse (or at least the critical discourse I’m familiar with—maybe this conversation’s been happening a long time in contemporary art and I’ve been looking in the wrong places?).

Is there a similar conversation about digital labour happening in the art context in Canada, and I’ve just missed it? If not, how can we start one? (cheyanne turions, I’m looking at you).