Text by Sinead Nunes
The brainchild and personal project of FACT’s director, Mike Stubbs, Time and Motion: Redefining Working Life explores our contemporary relationship with work, and how this is influenced by factors such as digital technology. The exhibition raises some important questions about how our jobs are encroaching on our down-time, and what the future of the workplace will look like.
Sam Meech combined digital technology and traditional knitting techniques to produce Punchcard Economy, (2013); a banner emblazoned with Robert Owen’s iconic phrase “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest”. The artist used data about people’s working hours in the arts sector to demonstrate how there is no longer a clear divide between work and rest, as his accompanying short film gives examples of how smart phones and other portable devices are causing people, especially freelancers, to take their work home with them.
Meech wanted to demonstrate how digital technology could reincarnate a traditional North West craft, and used the data collected to produce a pattern using dots, which the knitting machine can read using a tactile punchcard system. Viewers can see how the irregular dots on the banner log contemporary shift patterns, illustrating the overlap between work and rest.
A striking example of modern working life comes from Oliver Walker’s One Pound, (2013). Comprising 6 HD videos on separate screens, each film lasts as long as it takes its subject to earn £1, from over an hour for an agricultural worker, to little more than a second for a high flying financier. Visually compelling and begging pause for thought, Walker’s work asks us to consider the gulf between white and blue collar working wages in today’s society.
Upstairs, iPaw, (2011) is a darkly humorous take on the future of technology: in a digitally saturated world, a dog paws perpetually through a giant iPad, trapped in a passive state by the increasingly intelligent computer system. Though comic, iPaw anticipates a gloomy future, and asks us to consider our already heavy dependence on technology at work and at home.
Meanwhile, Andrew Norman Wilson’s Workers Leaving the Googleplex (2009-11) immerses the viewer in his work/life story. Cleverly curated, this piece surrounds the audience with Wilson’s voice, as he narrates the tale of his dismissal from Google, and the complex infrastructure he was caught investigating. Wilson’s work uses digital media to explore how segregation is rife within the Googleplex, where a colour-coded class system is implemented by senior staff, able to divide their employees by colour, even today.
Finally, my favourite piece of the exhibition visually was Gregory Barsamian’s Die Falle (1998), an incredible kinetic sculpture. Using an optical illusion known as persistence of vision, Die Falle depicts a zoetrope of man’s reality in dream time, as he wakes, works and sleeps once more. Using a strobe light, Barsamian creates a surreal and hypnotic effect: bodiless heads dream of work while they sleep, and crawl into a mousetrap bed at the end of each day, to start the cycle once more.
This immense exhibition is brought together by the creative design of Alon Meron, whose modular wooden structures add a sense of continuity and order to our journey through the world of work.
Sinead Nunes is a recently graduated aspiring writer and artist, based in Liverpool.