The Glasshouse Productions team are British. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that I met my fellow colleagues Charlotte (a digital artist) and Tom (a coder) for the first time whilst waiting in a queue. Who would have thought such a chance meeting would result in such a fantastic collaboration. But it has...
I had been invited to the inaugural Space Arts hackathon at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall (HackTheSpace) because of my reputation as a digital painter. I had never attended a 'hack' before and felt obliged to produce something wonderful. It was a surprise therefore to meet Tom who had no intention of doing any such thing. In fact, he had no intention of doing anything at all. It turns out the idea appealed to me: let me explain why.
He didn't want to produce anything for the event personally, suggesting instead that we should subcontract it out to the Global South who are a major supplier of everything we use in the west. So, why not art? The idea appealed as it has long been my view that our work is very much dependent upon the tools we use and the artisans who create them. In creating art nobody attributes value to such tools or the people who teach you to use them. So is it not more honest to subcontract all your work and freely admit you did not do it yourself?
Consequently, alongside an entrepreneur called Emil Wallner, we set about subcontracting everything required to produce digital art for the HackTheSpace event. Even our name Glasshouse (Productions) was kindly supplied by people on the next table when we asked them to 'think of a good name for an art group'.
We subsequently engaged the many and varied online work platforms over the next 12 hours (9 pm to 9 am) to find people in the Global South to create a piece of digital art, capturing the events on Twitter (@hackthespace) along the way, using the profile of the event to increase awareness for our work via social media. In the end, Glasshouse presented its wares, came third, and were subsequently commissioned by The Space Arts to expand on the theme we developed at HackTheSpace. After a chat with the wonderful Ruth Mackenzie of The Space Arts we decided to do this in conjunction with the Web We Want Festival: hosted by Southbank Centre in partnership with the inventor of the Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee's World Wide Web Foundation.
After much deliberation we agreed that The Work We Want would be a good title for our piece, as few people who are not freelancers, self employed or zero-hours workers know how competitive this work is becoming because of the advent of an online global talent pool.
Phase 1 involved running a competition. In this we asked workers on the global digital talent platform Freelancer to tell us what work they get, and how much they are paid. We also asked them the work they wanted and how much they wanted to be paid. At the first Web We Want weekend in November 2014 we asked attendees to choose which freelancer they would like to know more about. They chose Tricia based in Canada. With our help, Tricia chose an artist to tell her story during Phase 2 - at the Work We Want exhibition at Southbank Centre in May 2015. At the same event we will launch a series of twelve two-minute films on freelancing. But, to see them at the event we require you to do some digital labor. At a workstation at our stand you can log in and tag each of the videos with keywords whilst watching them. You will then be paid for what you do in peanuts (literally).
The overall aim of the work is to highlight a 'Glass House' created by the Internet: that we all think you can get the work you want online. In fact this is no longer true. The nature of global digital work platforms is that they force people to initially compete on price, and there is always somebody prepared to undercut you.
To make the point, 12,000 new workers have come online since you began reading this article. Many of these people are very well educated, experienced and entrepreneurial and come from regions where the price of a Western European coffee is the equivalent of their current daily wage.
It has been great fun, and a privilege, to have produced The Work We Want and we deeply appreciate all the support provided by those involved in its creation. As a digital artist, I found the process challenging, insofar as I have not been in complete control of the content of artwork we have delivered. This experience is very much like those people who seek to purchase work online from people that they have never met. You need to put your faith in the fact that your brief is detailed enough to enable the end work to be acceptable to your client. The words 'Let it go' have resounded in my ears for the past year and kept my controlling nature at bay. Forever the song of the same name from the film Frozen will remind me of the Work We Want, and shall remind me that we have shown ourselves to be very talented producers.
This story being told, it occurs to us there are are other 'Glass Houses' created by the Internet, the robustness of which we would like to test with the weighty stone of reason and truth cast in an amusing fashion. For example: how your free time on the Internet is no longer free; or how you will no longer be able to use a digital device without it automatically measuring and storing your emotional state.
Watch this space. We will be breaking through a Glass House near you very soon.
Glasshouse: The Work We Want is part of Southbank Centre's Web We Want festival
Friday 29 - Sunday 31 May, 11am - 6pm, Level 2 Foyers (Blue Side) at Royal Festival Hall