Michelle O’Higgins Theilmann
A mechanical treadmill, hacked with cardboard cogs, held together by hot glue and crossed fingers, faces a computer. As the rubber belt rotates, a cursor fidgets across the screen. Exaggerated beyond a twitching index finger, the movement required to operate this interface is exploded. Limbs gesture clumsily, a sweaty kind of conversation swallowed into the pixels of a screen.
This installation foregrounds the importance of clumsiness in our relation to the digital world in hopes of softening the rigid expectations that are woven through our technologies. Clumsiness makes space for that which is not understood by normative scheduling, attempting to unsettle our priorities of the productive self. To make room for clumsiness is to acknowledge a temporality of care while asking how we might design our technologies with these alternate temporalities in mind?
We flirt a world at the fringes of work, plotted somewhere between a daydream and a dread. But as we drape ourselves optimistically across these new structures, we find our fingertips pruned with the texture of precarity.
Digital labour throbs invisibly beneath the surface of streamlined computational systems as bodies are absorbed into the virtual assembly lines of online micro-tasking. Auto’correct and ToastWork are films that reimagine automatic processes to include an extra outsourced layer of work, exposing the invisible humans-in-the-loop and revealing this process to be suddenly more laborious. They expose of moment of slippage where the limitations of the body spill into the algorithm, creating cracks in our expectations of impressive functionality.
Somewhere, something slipped.
Work slipped into something like play, and play slipped further again, throwing definitions between them like a hot potato.
Micro-Work(out) recontextualises the script of a workout video, critiquing the role of flexibility in turning all times into potential work times. It aims to highlight the cultural ideologies that run through both commodifiable labour and the abstract labour of self improvement.
Micro-Stories is an ongoing series of co-written stories, distributed by chain email, that respond to story beginnings prompts written by Amazon Mechanical Turk workers. These stories tell narrativized tales of precarity, overwork and unpredictability along with the desire to overcome these exploitative structures of work.
Finally, the films, writings, installations are compiled on a cardboard desktop, blending the digital with the analogue tools this site was crafted from. In suspending shininess and seamless functionality, this desktop explores a less efficient utilitarian side of technological progress and digital labour.
Sreenshots from Micro-Work(out) film.