Online via Garage MCA’s digital program page: https://garage.digital/en/outsourcing-paradise-2020
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my relationship with the internet. On a recent holiday I had a near-total digital detox and it felt great. Really great. When they say holidays are about ‘getting away from it all’, it’s that niggling, tugging feeling that there’s something you should be doing. With the internet that feeling never has to stop. A holiday was the perfect excuse to make it stop, and now I’m resetting my relationship with this whole world. Social media isn’t the pure evil it’s sometimes made out as, and the 21st century online engagement is necessarily in opposition to ‘real life’ (I’m a big fan of Legacy Russell’s definition of life lived offline as AFK, ‘away from keyboard’). It’s no more or less problematic that any of humanity’s age-old problems, just with the additional caveat that we’re still, really, figuring out how to move through.
I’m lucky in being able to make the space to for considering this: my personal dilemma of how to use my time is far from the most serious quandary the internet throws up. The notes for Outsourcing Paradise brings up the concept of alienation; the experience of being problematically separated from the outcome of labour. This idea applies to workers who respond to opportunity rather than audience, and to consumers with little comprehension of the people – even, really that there are people – who make our experiences possible. Though of course neither new nor a uniquely online phenomenon technology has arguably ballooned this issue through its promise. More of us than ever can have the freedom to freelance – act in the ‘gig economy’ – a type of freedom which brings with it its own dilemmas regarding impermanence and insecurity.
The voices of the workers who exist within this system are the backbone of Outsourcing Paradise. Though the Moscow-based Garage MCA’s Digital Program website is actually home to many projects, eeefff have been allowed to take over the whole thing with this work. But the way you’re guaranteed not to find it is by searching for it. It’s when you simply consume for a while, usually for somewhere between 10 and 45 seconds, that the work appears. Words, faces and voices start appearing, overlaying and interrupting what you were doing to make their presence felt. Left unchecked – for example, if you disappear off to another tab for a while – they take command of the entire site. They appear as glitch, in random order and spaces. Sometimes just the edge of a video appears, but if you try to scroll to it, you will fail. The whole thing is fragile, disappearing the second you touch a button.
Different aspects of the outsourced worker lifestyle are investigated by the contributors to this installation. Some, of course, are focused on the tangible effects of this way of working: stress, isolation, of course alienation. Others choose to take a different attitude: one describes herself as a ‘dominatrix’ who wields the ultimate power through the magic of remote login. It’s dark humour – but are it implications of power real or ironic? For in its current form the audience/consumer wields all the power really. Yes OK these people can take over our screens, but only for as long as we let them. One flick of a mouse and they’re sent back into the shadows, their existence predicated on our interest. It’s just one of the contractions embedded within the world of Outsourcing Paradise. The conditions in which agency is bestowed are still those of person-as-commodity. And yet, it only works if we do nothing – we are dependent upon their presence for experience to be possible.
Then there’s the voices. As I mentioned before, if you leave this for any longer than a minute or two, the glitches take over. But it’s not silent labour: the tab is always running new voices, always remind you that there’s work being done here. It’s like getting a notification ping but instead of to summon us to work, it’s to demand our attention on their work. The tables somewhat turn – but then they are still the ones working, us the ones who can choose whether to respond right now. There’s an unintended additional point for a non-Russian audience here too that the voices speak in their native tongue. We are globally connected, that aspect of the internet having allowed me to even discover and access this work. And yet it’s a reminder of why the internet can be quite so alienating, too – there’s often little awareness of or connection to where work is being made.
I don’t feel that Outsourcing Paradise has, or even intends to have, a definitive view on how the dynamics of such systems should work. Though there is an underlying implication that a collective power is possible – a union of sorts – it’s not really a call to arms. It’s an exploration of an experience, and what we do with that is up to us. Which leaves as much room for cynicism and exploitation as it does for empowerment. As a work I like that it is ephemeral, the way I wasn’t even sure my screenshot records were going to exist. But I can enjoy its fleeting nature because I don’t have to exist within it. It’s fun and clever, and I enjoy finding out what it’s going to throw up next – but as a way of life? It’s yet another contradiction with Outsourcing Paradise, one of many which are necessarily to accurately capture the dilemma of the precariat.