Digital Labor

Ben Thorp Brown


Ben Thorp Brown is an artist and filmmaker living in New York. He received a B.A. at Williams College, an M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. Utilizing video, photography, writing, performance, and installation, his work examines relationships between language, memory, and labor. His work has been shown at MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight, Harvard Film Archive, Images Festival, and in exhibitions and presentations at The Whitney Museum, SculptureCenter, and MoMA PS1. He is participating in the LMCC Workspace Residency and is a Visiting Scholar at NYU for 2014-2015.

Freedom from Everything
Freedom from Everything is a project that explores the massive transformations of economy, labor, and life in response to new structures of distributed workforces. As an artist and researcher, I am particularly interested in how our bodies are transformed, and adapt to new cognitive and physical demands of digital life. I am proposing an “experimental lecture” that seeks to address the issues posed by the conference “Digital Labor: Sweatshops, Picket Lines, and Barricades” through a unique research process and presentation structure.

There is a long tradition of working class poetry throughout the US. However, particularly in the 1920s and the 1930s, literary modernist practices begin to overlap with the political interests of the working class, which become legible in leftist publications such as The Partisan Review. Concurrently, union run publications welcomed poetry and song contributions from their members, many of which have been collected in the anthology, “You Work Tomorrow: An Anthology of American Labor Poetry, 1929-1941.” This history of artistic work in relation to the conditions of labor is the starting point for a new project called Freedom from Everything that I would like to present at this conference.

Working within the distributed labor relationships defined through platforms such as Mechanical Turk, Crowdflower, or Task Rabbit, I would like to attempt to invite (and pay) digital workers to write poems, song lyrics, or written text about their experience of digital labor. At the conference, I would like to read a few of these poems and put them in conversation with a brief historical overview of “worker poetry” from the 1930s.

The Labor of Love & the New Soviet Man in Silicon Valley
Fri, November 14
02:15 PM - 04:45 PM