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Work Ethics


Photo on 11-12-2018 at 21.13 #3 copyPhoto on 11-12-2018 at 21.13 #3 copy

Luke Dash, Keita Ikeda

To contribute to the discussion surrounding art’s vocational validity, we imposed an automated structure on to a speculative drawing practice.

The simple algorithm we wrote works by pseudo-random population of a multidimensional array structure, which represented vector drawings. Each ‘drawing’ was made up of six steps, which could each constitute one of six distinct methods for mark making. The primitive images were displayed step by step (gesture by gesture) on projectors. Treating ourselves as employees of this system, we drew what we were told to draw, and tore down the pages and set up the new drawings exactly when we were told to do so. If we were behind by enough, a blank page must constitute a drawing, and if we found ourselves momentarily ahead of the system, we had to obediently await our next instruction.

At the point of execution, this provocation is underpinned by cursory scrutiny of Agency, Automation, and Labour theories in the context of artistic practises.
In these acts, we are considering implications of labour and automation theories upon perceived agency and autonomy in Artistic practises. Therefore, the standard definitions (and conflations therein) most central to understanding our intent and observations are of Agency and Autonomy.

Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy establishes a standard theory of agency as a beings exercise of its capacity to act (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2015).  The entry itself cites the debate over whether the standard definition adequately encompasses ‘human agency’, since intentionality behind action is only loosely implicit in this description. However, this may be a conflation with our idea of autonomy, which defines the discussion of the extent to which a beings actions are constituent of their individual intentions, or conversely the extent to which these actions are the product of external forces.

The vast confusion of these key definitions resonates with the material semiotic impression left upon culture and its studies by contemporary discussion surrounding labour and automation.
The degree to which resonance between these topics is superficial or impactful is the essence of what we are trying to provoke as discussion with our work.

The essay In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell (Russell, 1935) deftly illuminates the real implications that problematic figuration of these topics can have. To paraphrase, the idea presented is that bizarrely, our pre-industrial work ethic (that hard work to the ends of prolific production alone can be considered virtuous) persists despite the advent of industrialisation remediating the need for these attitudes toward our vocations and their value.

The wider public figures art as a privileged social role due to its expressive freedom. It is also well understood how the backward work ethic Russell highlights affects an artists own impression of success. One only needs to use instagram for a few moments to see how an uncannily algorithmic continuity tends to garner more attention for art than the content itself and it’s qualities. These confused aspects of our ideas of contemporary art make it an ideal tool for useful speculation about our work ethics and what they mean for our perceived agency and autonomy.

Put simply, artist or not, we always wonder which aspects of our routine labour will be denied of us by advancements in technology.  This in mind, pushing these ideas into focus is paramount to maintenance of arts semiotic potency.

We find that the work has opened the door to questions we had previously not considered as creative practitioners. The act revealed itself not to be a superficial role reversal of man and machine in an unexpected context. Rather, we were prompted to rethink what a shift in dynamic between an artist and their tools might mean. When the role of an artist can shift away from physical routine expression toward a more systematic and intentional definition of (automated) expression, at what point do the materials stop being vocabulary in creative language, and start being currency in a system of production? At what point does time spent on expression lose its relevance for the value of the things an artist makes? How do technological advancements exacerbate problematic ideas of labour when our social structure places too much importance on routine aspects of Art which seem to be becoming outmoded?


Bertrand, Russell. (1935) “In Praise of Idleness”, In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays. Routledge.

Crawford, Kate.  Gregg, Melissa. Linchuan Qiu, Jack.  (2014) “Circuits of Labour: A Labour Theory of the iPhone Era”. TripleC.

Gillespie, Tarleton. (2014)  "Algorithm [draft][# digitalkeyword]." Culture Digitally.

Harron, Rory Joseph (2013) Exodus: towards a non-identity art. PhD thesis, The Glasgow School of Art.

Snelting, Femke. (2006)  “A fish can’t judge the water”. OKNO Publix, Brussels.

Suchman, Lucy. (2007) Human-machine reconfigurations: Plans and situated actions. Cambridge University Press