Under the Calculative Gaze

Sanela Jahić
Sanela Jahić
Under the Calculative Gaze

25 January–24 February 2023
Aksioma | Project Space, Ljubljana

3 March–2 April 2023
Cukrarna, Ljubljana

In the framework of konS – Platform for Contemporary Investigative Art

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The project Under the Calculative Gaze investigates how socially applied AI is not only directly intertwined with unresolved injustices of the prevailing socio-economic system, but actually enables a transition towards authoritarianism that is present in the technology industry itself, in the politics of various countries and institutions, and in the rise of far-right political movements. AI reinforces existing power dynamics and, by hierarchically categorising individuals, furthers societal divisions based on exclusionary and ideologically underpinned criteria of value and allocation.

Targets of the extensive digital control and algorithmic optimisation are typically “low-rights environments”, where expectations of political responsibility and transparency are easier to disregard. Counteracting this are collective practices of self-organisation, where positions of social and political disadvantage give rise to solidarity across differences and beyond models of algorithmic governance.


No to AI, Yes to a Non-fascist Apparatus (video)

The video No to AI, Yes to a Non-fascist Apparatus looks at the way mathematical separations  ‘repeat the trick of ranking and ordering being’ – particularly in the ideas of worth, greater worth, and less worth – from within systems that are already enabling forms of exclusion and harm. The narrator is Dan McQuillan, who authored the text for the video, which features animated 3D scans of actual places of resistance. With the use of photogrammetry, the artist constellates different localities and situated testimonies, aligned by the commonality of their struggle for better social conditions. From 56a Infoshop, a DIY and self-managed social centre in South London, through tensegrity structures used in an Amazon warehouses blockade, to Rozbrat, a centre of independent social and cultural activity in Poznan. These grassroots networks of solidarity are forms of counter power that challenge the processes of extraction and exclusion from a perspective that is fundamentally relational.

1s and 0s, haves and have-nots (prints)

The ability of AI to understand society and classify it into actuarial risk categories is frequently used to restrict access to loans, subsidies, employment, medical care and pain relief for particular groups of individuals, as well as to prevent them from crossing international borders.

1s and 0s, Haves and Have-Nots is a series of digital graphics that creates a highly standardised pseudo-marketing environment and presents numerous concrete examples of discriminatory and harmful practices proceeding from probabilistic algorithms and applications of AI systems.

Workers’ Initiative: Union (video)

Amazon’s business model represents a significant regression in terms of labour rights. Instead of using technological automation to improve workers’ conditions, the company employs it as a means to exert systematic and vigilant control over their bodies, labour and working environment. Scanners and computers record and analyse every second of a worker’s shift and the resulting data is used to pressure them into reaching the productivity quota generated by algorithms.

In 2018, the grassroots union Inicjatywa Pracownicza (Workers’ Initiative) convinced Poland’s National Labor Inspectorate to measure the energy expenditure of workers during a shift in the warehouse. The results of the examination showed that some employees burned two to three times more calories than the legal limit. 

Amazon also relentlessly opposes any organisation formed by workers to fight for their rights and better working conditions. Magda Malinowska, who worked in an Amazon warehouse in Poland for six years and is a representative of Inicjatywa Pracownicza, was dismissed in November 2021 when Amazon sought to further suppress workers’ resistance in the workplace. While fighting to get reinstated, she continues to organise with the Amazon Worker International (AWI).

The video Workers’ Initiative: Union records her experience of shop floor organisation and of using unions as a powerful tool in the fight against a corporate system that treats workers as mere numbers, pressures their bodies past the point of exhaustion, and then discards them.

Workers’ Initiative: Resistance (video)

Although the mainstream media portray them as powerless victims of algorithmic capitalism, Amazon workers are busy organising disruptive collective action from inside their warehouses – with a direct impact on the company’s profits.

Those who work on an Amazon shop floor develop a deep understanding of the company’s global production and distribution network, which relies on the labour of more than 1.5 million workers operating in virtually identical logistic centres around the world. As this is a highly standardised working environment, all employees share the same problems and seek to unite to address them. For its part, the company exploits every possible circumstance and legislative disparity in the countries where it operates to inhibit any kind of cohesion among employees.

Workers resist by organising themselves transnationally and sharing information about their struggles and strategies. Amazon Workers International (AWI), a grassroots network of exchange, support and solidarity, uses Amazon’s global chain of warehouses to exert coordinated and distributed pressure on the company.

Agnieszka Mróz, a union organiser and member of AWI and Inicjatywa Pracownicza, has been working at Amazon’s first warehouse in Poland since its inception in 2014. In the video Workers’ Initiative: Resistance she gives an insight into the company’s exploitative practices and the workers’ fightback.

Tensegrity structures

Tensegrity structures proceed from the root to contest the distanced, cold, thoughtless mechanisms of structural inequality and enclosure. Based on a system of isolated components inside a network of continuous tension, the two bamboo DIY towers allow the viewer to feel the potential of resistance as they tie into a specific event: the protest site in front of Amazon warehouses. In the Extinction Rebellion action intended to draw attention to Amazon’s exploitative and environmentally destructive business practices and disregard for workers’ rights, the structures appear as a splinter in the power relations.

Domen Pal / Aksioma

Sanela Jahić (1980, Kranj) graduated in Painting from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design, University of Ljubljana in 2008, and received her master’s degree in 2010 in Public Art and New Artistic Strategies from the Bauhaus University in Weimar. Jahić is an intermedia artist, who constructs visual and technologically supported kinetic objects and installations. Her artistic practice often involves collaboration with specialists for mechanical engineering, automation, software and electronics. She lives and works in Škofja Loka. Jahić has exhibited her work in numerous shows in Slovenia and abroad.


Author: Sanela Jahić
Technical director: Andrej Primožič
Author of the essay ‘No to AI, Yes to a Non-fascist Apparatus’: Dan McQuillan
Visual image and graphic design: Jaka Neon
3D animation: Toni Mlakar
Audio post-production: Julij Zornik
Image post-production: Art Rebel 9
Thanks: Magda Malinowska, Agnieszka Mróz, Inicjatywa Pracownicza, Matti, Lenart J. Kučić, Extinction Rebellion, Jacqueline Serrato / South Side Weekly, Hedi Tounsi

Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 2023

In the framework of:
konS – Platform for Contemporary Investigative Art

The project konS:: Platform for Contemporary Investigative Art was chosen on the public call for the selection of the operations “Network of Investigative Art and Culture Centres”. The investment is co-financed by the Republic of Slovenia and by the European Regional Development Fund of the European Union.

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