Sunday, 9 February 2014

Systems of Labour - working with HMRCollective at BSA

Systems of Labour

HMRCollective employed the gallery space as a workplace over a period of 29 days to explore the repetitive, durational and potentially excessive aspects of process and labour within a collaborative framework. 

A system was devised where by specific words were randomly selected in order to instruct the artist/worker on their daily tasks. Tasks were logged and passed on to other workers via a filing system so that there was no face to face communication required. The decision as to when a piece of work was complete was left as an open option which once taken could not be altered by another worker. Work completed was filed out of sight, leaving only the shrinking stack of paper and the tally of tasks on the work log board as evidence of progress. Much of the collaborative process was achieved before the system was operational. Once started the artist worked generally in isolation and attempted to negotiate their way through the system, often guided only by following the evidence of a previous worker. Mistakes are an inherent part of the system but potentially are impossible to spot.

In Postscripts on the Societies of Control, Deleuze discusses the idea that in a control society one is never finished with anything. Kafka addresses this idea in the Trial using his concepts of Ostensibly Acquittal and Indefinite Postponement. The latter involves the subject constantly engaging in bureaucratic and legal wrangling in the hope that a judgement will never come, (rather than a temporary acquittal with the prospect of the full charges reappearing at any unspecified moment, the consequence of which may be death). 

There is no visible purpose to the work other than to keep the worker occupied, busy and tied to the system. As Bourriaud discusses in Post Production, the role of worker extends through our daily lives; work and leisure time blur as we use the technology and systems of the workplace in our free time. We use technology to have constant access to work emails, supposedly in a helpful bid to ease work pressure, so inevitably we are never away from work or its rhythms and demands. 
Our bodies and brains are programmed to tackle tasks in small chunks of time, never really finishing before starting the next task, and maybe later returning to the first task after passing it to someone else to check. Why take care not to make mistakes? Documents are checked and rewritten over and over before ever being sent. 

In our current capitalist society workers commonly face Zero hour contracts, constantly on call. Our workplaces and jobs are mainly now of a sedentary nature. Labour is very rarely about hard physical graft, more the daily grind of repetitive tasks, often sitting at a computer screen. The physical hardship becomes back pain and neck strain; sitting in unnatural positions, the ache of the body confined and contorted at a desk. 

The system used here echoes and explores some of these ideas but the computer is absent, in the primary workspace, only suggested through the system words used to instruct the workers. By intentionally logging off what do we achieve?