In the current phase of late capitalism, we are experiencing a crucial contradiction every day. On the one hand, the increasing automation of productive processes is apparently making John Maynard Keynes’s promise of a post-work society not only more real, but also closer; on the other hand, labour – far from disappearing – is colonising and altering any given moment and aspect of our existence. The rise of precarious labour has freed us from the alienation of a permanent job, but has also made our lives more unstable and anxious, and is producing new social diseases. The increasing automation has made us more unemployed – a condition we are frantically trying to escape with micro-labours, turning us into “entrepreneurs of the self”.
Simultaneously, the explosion of the information society, with the rise of personal media devices – such as the smartphone – and social media, has brought a pantagruelic growth of what has been called “peripheral work”: the daily, fragmented, uninterrupted, unwaged labour we do for ourselves – reading and answering emails, shaping our online identity on multiple platforms – and, increasingly, for the companies that make profit from our online interactions and data. Every time we run a search, send a message, upload content, consume content, solve a “captcha”, authorise an app to access our position, monitor our walks or our sleep, we are working for somebody. Even the increasingly developing field of artificial intelligence, from machine vision to neural networks to chatbots, while promising to automate all the things, is actually generating more invisible, unregulated, underpaid human labour, and it is often educated by our online behaviours.
The result is that labour, far from fading out, has overrun the working days and hours and become a 24/7 activity: but instead of making us wealthier, happier and more stable, has made us more anxious and poor, and is depriving us of the future. This evolution and crisis of labour is the subject of an ongoing artistic research, for various reasons: first, because it is correctly perceived as one of the aspects of a more general crisis of the future and its imaginaries, to which artistic practice cannot but respond; second, because artistic labour has been inevitably affected by this evolution, from all points of view: precarious by definition, based on self-entrepreneurship and on means of production that have been radically changed by globalisation, outsourcing and automation; finally, because the evolution of labour allows us to observe the “man-machine complexity” that is one of the crucial nodes of our present.
Hyperemployment – a word borrowed from media theorist Ian Bogost, describing “the Exhausting Work of the Technology User” – is a year-long programme focused on post-work, online labour, AI and automation, conceived as an attempt to scrutinise and explore some of these issues. Featuring a group exhibition with the same name, a symposium, several solo exhibitions, and a final catalogue presentation, Hyperemployment covers a variety of topics, from automation to the gig economy, the end of free time and self-improvement apps, social media fatigue and quantification, AI and the post-work society.