Networked_Performance

[iDC] MTurk project – introduction

Francesco Gagliardi wrote:

I’ve been on the list for a while, but I don’t think I ever introduced myself. I work in performance and occasionally film and video, and write about performance history. Trebor asked me to introduce to the list the work I will be presenting at the Digital Labor conference in November. I can’t say too much about it yet since it is still developing, but here are the basics.

The piece will be based on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. I was struck in learning – through this list I believe – that, according to a recent survey, a good number of (western) MTurk workers engage with the tasks crowdsourced through the service in order to kill time and have fun, rather than simply to earn money. Given the outrageously low wages paid for these tasks, this should not have come as a surprise. Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the notion of engaging in MTurk “HITs” (Human Intelligence Tasks) as a form of entertainment. More specifically, I was intrigued by the performative quality of this mode of engagement, in which repetitive undemanding activities meet a pervasive habit of compulsive multitasking.

The original plan was to commission the execution of a series of tasks highlighting the performative aspect of this type of labor. After looking closely at a number of projects similarly engaged with Amazon’s service, however, I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable at the idea of positioning myself as a task requester, albeit in the context of a critical project. This discomfort is rooted, I suppose, in a more general skepticism about the effectiveness of critically confronting a problem by way of instanciating it, a strategy that nonetheless seems to have a sound standing in some sectors of the art world, and which occasionally has produced compelling work (I’m thinking, for instance, of the work of Santiago Sierra).

I decided that I would develop my project entirely from the standpoint of the “provider”: I enrolled on MTurk as a worker and have been performing HITs for the last month or so trying to get a sense of how the platform works, what kind of tasks do people request, and what is it like to engage in this kind of work. One of the first things that struck me is the variety (and oddity) of tasks crowdsourced through the service. Some tasks are quite straightforward: finding and matching information, translating text, transcribing audio, cataloguing images, answering surveys. Others verge on the scam: visiting a blog or a website and living “positive feedback”. Others are so odd that they sound like they could in fact be artists projects (“Write about a never before seen living environment”) or cognitive experiments (“Name all the objects in this photograph”).

I am considering different possible forms for the project’s final presentation. One way to proceed would be to embrace fully the performative aspect of this way of engaging with HITs and to devise a way to document this online work AS performance. Another way would be to appropriate and subvert material from the HITs (images, instructions, text, lists, etc.) and use it to produce performance “scores” or “scripts” in the spirit of Fluxus instruction pieces: short texts, images, or drawings prompting open performative realizations.

I will be looking forward to meeting some of you at the conference, and to lively and stimulating discussions.

All the best,

Francesco

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Sep 26, 14:28
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