Working Conditions, a solo exhibition by Brett Wallace, investigates the consequences and implications that new technologies such as artificial intelligence and algorithm-driven platforms have had in restructuring the relationships contracted workers have to their employers, their labor, and themselves.
The exhibition is composed of several workstations, each of which includes video essays comprised of both documentary and archival footage, such as advertisement copy, interviews with workers, and footage of protests. These video essays place the lived realities of workers in juxtaposition with representations crafted by PR departments—who describe these services in highly-abstracted and euphemistic terms such as the “sharing economy,” “gig economy,” and “the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” etc.
One of the workstations, Mechanical Turk Workers, is comprised of two monitors installed on a typical office desk among paperwork and office supplies. One monitor plays interview testimonials of workers who earn extra cash in their spare time by performing micro-work tasks at piece-work rates on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform. A second monitor plays a video of a typical task, identifying and tagging images an artificial intelligence program could not identify without assistance from a human being.
In Truckers, a bed, not unlike those found in the cabs of long-haul trucks, rests on the floor against a vinyl backdrop. A monitor mounted overhead plays a video essay in which experts and truck drivers discuss the rise in surveillance in the trucking industry; how new technologies enable employers to continuously monitor not only the trucks but also the drivers’ bodies.
HQ2 is a workstation composed of eighty cardboard shipping boxes, each screen-printed with the word “DATA.” A monitor in the stack plays videos of protests and city council hearings on the proposal to bring Amazon’s HQ2 to Long Island City. Another video on the floor shows a girl interacting with an in-ground light at the proposed HQ2 location as if it were Amazon’s virtual assistant device, Alexa.
Working Conditions is an investigation that is half-sculptural, engaging in the embodied, physical reality of labor; and half-journalistic, reporting on major cultural events as well as presenting oral narratives from those affected most. The exhibition asks what are the ethical boundaries at stake when corporations disrupt industries and labor practices with new technologies? What shifts will we see in labor markets and how will they affect future struggles for workers rights, livelihood, and dignity? What is the future for workers?
Brett Wallace is a New York-based artist whose practice involves an exploration of the future of work. His work spans writing, photography, experimental/ documentary video, performance and installation. Wallace is also the founder AMAZING INDUSTRIES—an R&D startup-as-artwork that demystifies the future of work and advocates for workers in the digital age. His work has been shown at Silas Von Morisse Gallery, New York, SPRING/BREAK Art Show 2018, New York, Reshaping Work, Amsterdam, Satellite Art Show 2018 and has been reviewed and mentioned in ARTnews, Artslant, Hyperallergic and WHITEHOT magazine. Wallace is currently a member of NEW INC, the world’s first museum led incubator created by the New Museum.
Image: Girl and Alexa studying. Brooklyn, New York. February 2019. 2019, Archival pigment print, 20 x 30 inches.