Gertrude Glasshouse, Melbourne
10 October – 9 November
The politics of labor encompass, more presciently now than ever, seemingly each action we undertake as a participant within the social fabric of contemporary life. Our activities on social-media function as a form of unacknowledged, unwaged labor that powers multi-national and multi-billion dollar economies, and the demand of work itself is never more than a smartphone away. This can be evidenced with the rise of the so-called gig economy; workers, who are legally limited to outsourcers, work (“perform tasks”) within the precarity of a system that values the task, but not the individual labor provider, all accessed through the convenience of an app.
The ubiquity of the company/platform Uber, now a verb, is the most visible manifestation of the gig economy. Although ‘visible’ doesn't seem applicable as the Silicon Valley tech-giant is shrouded in opacity and obfuscation, coupled with the harsh, unliveable wage conditions of its labourers1, wage theft,2 and the safety3 and privacy policies inflicted upon its ‘users’4. Uber however might exist as a synonym for the gig economy, but there are currently as many platforms as conceivable tasks - Airbnb: accommodation, Homejoy: housecleaning, Instacart: groceries, the Australian companies Deliveroo and Menulog: meal delivery, Airtasker: everything else.
Eugenia Lim’s ‘ON DEMAND’, recently exhibited at Gertrude Glasshouse in Melbourne, addresses these economies by creating a voice, with fair remuneration and benefits, to participants engaged in the local Melbourne gig economy. A quad-screen configuration, elegantly installed upon a scaffold structure, is enabled only through the act of viewer participation/labor via two bicycles that generate power to the video and its accompanying audio. A lone gallery attendee confronts the idle blue screens and is immediately presented with a dialectic of labor, and if willing/compliant, accepts an unstated/invisible contract, experiencing the video through physical work and subsequent implication as a participant that plays mimesis to some of the performed on-screen tasks. This act absorbs (a minimum of one audience member) this labour into the installation, making visible through a use-function that extends the registration of the overall installation.
Eugenia Lim, ON DEMAND 2019, video still, courtesy of the artist.
The hushed tones of Lim’s narration sit antithetical to the power of a dynamic, electronic musical score by Becky Sui Zhen. This has the effect of limiting/usurping the ‘voice-of-god’ motif that exists in documentary filmmaking and hybrid artistic video-essay formats, which suggest a tentativeness in expressing ones voice within the precarious subsistence of the gig economy. It further asks the viewer to ‘pay attention’ to Lim’s voice, and/or the sub-titling that accompanies the dialogue, which puts the attentiveness of the audience on the individual as a responsibility – there is no passivity here in experiencing the work. This voiceover is the result of Lim’s transcribed discussions with the participants, whom present personal and work related experiences that cut through labor politics and practices, mental and physical health, along with racist prejudice that pervade these economies (“It feels like because I’m Australian, I’m trusted more”) through the exploitability of a large foreign workforce. The anecdotes of “ON DEMAND” participants also touch upon our complacency and disassociation as consumers (“Once I delivered a tartare sauce”), probing: is it the labor-services that are ‘on-demand’ or our insatiable appetites for cheaper and more convenient services, at any given-moment, irrelevant of social and labor costs?
1 https://www.forbes.com/sites/janetwburns/2019/03/25/uber-and-lyft-drivers-strike-in-la-after-yet-another-pay-cut/ 2 https://www.smh.com.au/world/north-america/almost-100-000-drivers-accuse-uber-of-wage-theft-20191108-p538kv.html 3 https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/09/26/uber-makes-safety-changes-amid-swarm-criticism-over-protection-riders/ 4 https://bloom.co/blog/uber-and-the-ongoing-battle-over-consumer-data-privacy/