Coffee, no sleep, an undefined task. Waiting for a video to upload, while practicing a musical instrument. Amateur investigates the role of the amateur in 24/7 capitalism and its mediated constituents.
I read an article in The New York Times about “Quiet Quitting”. It is one of many articles to outline the emergence of a trend in contemporary labour practices to not quit outright, but to continue to turn up and work only to the degree necessary to fulfil one’s job requirements. The expectation to extend oneself beyond the requirements of a given job is normalised to the extent that a term has been coined to describe the unusual behaviour of working ‘only’ to the capacity that one is paid to work. Rather than drawing attention to people losing the desire to extend themselves at work, the article highlights the impossibility of the agency required to quit.
The article confirmed the phenomenon via a series of references to the emergence of the term on social media. I started to think about the work I was making in my spare time, to be shown at a gallery run by volunteers, as speaking to the impossibility of ever quitting anything in a world of 24/7 capitalism. Actions required to “stay connected” online are converted into data that is on-sold, turning the simplest of actions into commodities. I retrospectively used this term in the title of this long in-development video work, as a provocation, rather than as a description, which poses a question: what does quitting looks like when work is pervasive across all aspects of life?
Quiet Quitting/Always On started in 2019 with lessons in playing the harp and a two-year process where the details of every pot of coffee made in my home was recorded (cups-grams of coffee-date-time-brew time), as a way of thinking through the symbiotic and ubiquitous processes of 24/7 capitalism. The harp seemed to me like an elaborate and difficult pastime requiring the accumulation of skills that I knew would not result in any translation to capital. The instrument is replicated via rubber bands, which I ‘play’ in a series of scrolling videos akin to outtakes from an ad hoc YouTube video. In this video both the actual harp and the rubber band harp are symbols of amateur labour. This connects to the historical beginnings of video art, when artists turned the newly commercially available Sony Portapak onto themselves, recording the simplest gestures and experiments. The artist and YouTuber both tread a fine line between amateur and professional.
In Quiet Quitting/Always On the boundaries between sleep, work and leisure blur, as the protagonist, herself a blending of documentation and fiction, never seems to leave the bedroom. This evokes Beatriz Colomina’s notion of the bed as office, which she identifies emerging with the waning of Modernism and the emergence of late-capitalism. Modernism is understood as being a cause of a separation between work and life that has now dissipated.
Caffeine is one of the fuels of 24/7 capitalism. In Quiet Quitting/Always On it is brewed, weighed, poured and drunk. In the readymade assemblage After Dylan Ayres caffeine is referenced by the energy drink Bang, which is a prominent feature of Dylan Ayres’ TikTok and YouTube compilation video, which documents an extended process of making a rubber band ball. This video is documented in a way that is reminiscent of contemporary art, in much the same way that, conversely, Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s The Way Things Go could be mistaken, in the current post-internet era, as the work of a couple of YouTubers. Deep Time (Media) consists of a video that I made in 1996 as an undergraduate. The video depicts me placing red glass beads in my mouth until my mouth is full and I then spit them out. Some twenty-six years on, the glass beads evoke sensory water beads (aka Orbeez) which feature in numerous YouTube videos. Water beads are placed on a plinth around the base of a bucket which holds the equipment required to view the 1996 video. The conflation of glass beads with water beads via the conventions of screen continuity is anachronistic. The discontinuity between my image here compared to Quiet Quitting/Always On evokes the possibility of deep fake technology, but this is countered by the title, Deep Time (Media), and the suggestion that the twenty-six years between making the video and its public display is, in media time, akin to millenniums in geological time.
Two themes run throughout the exhibition Amateur. The first is the convergence of the practices of artists and YouTubers via shared methodologies, which are based in the commodification of amateur skills that result in an ad hoc aesthetic. The second is the notion of labour as constant and embedded within every aspect of lived experience via our engagement with the internet. The two threads form a nexus via the portable technologies for connecting, recording, storing and uploading that we dutifully carry in our pockets. These devices allow us to be constantly connected, dissolving the distinctions between work and life, professional and amateur, artist and YouTuber.
After Dylan Ayres, 2022, Rubber bands, Rainbow Unicorn Bang, Birthday Cake Bash Bang, Candy Apple Crisp Bang and Frosé Rosé Bang.
Deep Time (Media), 1996-2022, Medium Density Particleboard, Acrylic Paint, Water Beads, the bucket I use to collect water when my roof leaks, audio visual cables, 4:3 monitor, Brightsign, USB-powered speaker.
Quiet Quitting/Always On, 2019-22, 4K digital video, stereo sound, 7min21sec.
Exhibited at Wreckers Artspace, November, 2022.