Time & Motion: Redefining Working Life, at FACT in Liverpool
Finally! A few words about FACT's ongoing exhibition, Time & Motion: Redefining Working Life....
The title of the show is a direct reference to the Time & Motion Study, a method developed by Frederick Taylor (and later by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth) in the early 20th century to analyse work procedures and determine workers' optimal productivity standards.
By bringing side by side archive material and contemporary artworks to explore how the working day has evolved from the industrial revolution to the digital age, Time & Motion: Redefining Working Life makes it quite clear that a lot has changed since the days of the good mister Taylor. Digital technology has brought numerous work opportunities, but also new rhythms: work accompanies freelances and employees whether they're in an office, at home or in transit from one to the other and back. Some people juggle several jobs (no wonder at a time when a London flat earns more than a professional writer) and zero hour contracts are the ultimate expression of work 'flexibility'.
Our economy has changed too, it is now mostly characterized by services and knowledge (whether they are outsourced or crowdsourced) and mass consumption coexists with models in which we are both consumers and producers.
In this context, what remains of the Eight Hour Day movement preconized by social reformer Robert Owen in the first half of the 19th century? Is there a new definition of 'work life balance'?
Artists, along with anyone working in the cultural sector, have experienced this evolution of working standards perhaps more acutely than most people. It seemed thus natural that FACT, in collaboration with the Royal College of Art, would ask them to explore these questions. The result is timely, thought-provoking and at time, upsetting. Time & Motion will, i am sure, bring a new perspective on your working day.
I've actually already interviewed some of the artists in the show: last year, Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen told me about 75 Watt, an object for dancing in the factory line and last week, Oliver Walker explained his One Pound video installation.
Here's a couple of works i found equally interesting:
Sam Meech paid homage to the heritage of the local textile industry, whilst delineating contemporary working patterns in which digital technologies have enabled the blurring of work and private life.
Meech asked people working in the 'creative industry' to log their working hours on the project website. The data collected was compared to the traditional 8 hour shift and translated into a knitting pattern which was used to create a banner based on Owen's '8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest' slogan.
The banner was produced on a domestic knitting machine using a combination of digital imaging tools and traditional punchcard systems.
Between 1978 and 1986, Tehching Hsieh did a series of One Year Performances. He lived one year inside a cage, one year completely outdoors, one year tied to another person, one year without making, viewing, discussing, reading about, or in any other way participating in art (and as a consequence this last performance is barely documented.) A photo in the exhibition reminded us that in 1980-1981, the artist spent a whole year punching a workers' time clock in his studio every hour. This last endeavour involved never being able to sleep for more than one hour running or not being allowed to leave his house for longer than 60 minutes.
The Minimum Wage Machine allows visitors to work for minimum wage. Turning the crank will yield one penny every 5.7 seconds, for £6.31 an hour (UK minimum wage). If the participant stops turning the crank, they stop receiving money.
The process couldn't be more transparent: you turn a handle, a clock records your effort and penny fall down as a reward. Ultra simple and cynical!
In the future, I see possibility in a lot of these machines hooked into a grid, with people performing basic human labor for money, Fall-Conroy told Make magazine. Perhaps a new form of renewable energy generation? A new kind of supercomputer with thousands of people performing basic calculations at minimum wage "stations" across the world? Who knows?
Molleindustria's usual neat aesthetics casts a critical eye at the increasing popularity of online management games in which the user performs time-based tasks. The game examines the blurring of work and play and highlights the tensions between labour, automation, unemployment and repression.
Andrew Norman Wilson's short video Workers Leaving the Googleplex draws a direct parallel with what is regarded as the first real motion picture ever made: the Lumière brothers' silent film Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory. Wilson planted his camera in front of two Google locations in California to document the various levels of workers. It turns out that the possession of a badge of a certain colour dictates your place in the Google hierarchy and the amount of privileges you have access to. The artist manage to film very little as his efforts were stopped by Google security and resulted in the termination of his own employment at Google.
Adrian McEwen hacked an antique clock that used to regulate strict time management and remixed it with the retro mathematical Game of Life, created by John Horton Conway in 1970.
Each day a new game plays out, driven by the punch of the time clock. The mechanical action of the clock is combined with a computer which drives a nearby monitor - and also replayed on the LED screen at the front of the FACT building - to visualise the Game of Life grid and move it on a turn every time a timecard is stamped.
More images from the exhibition:
Gregory Barsamian's Die Falle (German for 'The Trap') is a zoetrope of a man's dream-time reality.
Electroboutique, iPaw. Video by FACT
Time & Motion: Redefining Working Life is at FACT in Liverpool until Sunday 9 March 2014. The catalogue of the exhibition contains a series of essays by artists and curators reflecting on topics that range from Video games and the Spirit of Capitalism by Paolo Pedercini to an essay by Harun Farocki examining the cinematographic representation of factory workers (get the Time & Motion: Redefining Working Life book on amazon UK and USA)