This thesis charts the course of a practice-based project that has employed a range of artistic research methods to explore modes of critical engagement with digital platform labour (commonly referred to as the ‘gig economy’). Digital labour platforms act as intermediaries between buyers and sellers of labour, through which a temporary employment relation can be entered into with a few clicks of a mouse or taps on a mobile phone. The wide range of questions that this throws open in relation to how work is organised include issues of workers’ rights and organisation, precarity, management by algorithm, opacity of decision-making, the disconnect between digital interfaces and the bodily reality of labour, and an entrepreneurial ideology that is promulgated in order to obscure the problematic aspects of work of this kind.
The central question that has motivated this project is how artistic inquiry, with its specific concerns and methodologies, as well as the distinct kinds of precarities it engenders, can intervene in this emerging area of work on several levels, particularly in relation to questions of representation and the critique of hegemonic discourses, as well as practiced solidarity. The practice conducted in the process comprises two broad strands of inquiry: one has made use of digital platforms as a medium with which to create artistic works, the second has taken to working directly with labour activists. Reflecting on what has emerged in the process, this thesis is ultimately concerned with a methodological investigation that asks, firstly, what kinds of interventions are possible within the restrictions of proprietary digital infrastructures when the objective is to highlight the contradictions of work under platform capitalism; and secondly, how artistic practice can engage with its own problematic position in the capitalist division of labour, particularly when leaving its field of operation and extending solidarity outwards, to workers whose struggles are external to the sphere of art.
The main contribution to knowledge in this thesis is twofold: firstly, the development of a methodology by which artworks employ the functionalities of digital labour platforms in order to critically intervene within their own structures, as well as test what kinds of oppositional flows can be inserted into or extracted from their workings. Secondly, a critique of the former methodology through working with labour rights activists has led to the development of a form of and attitude towards practice that seeks to undermine art’s position in the capitalist division between intellectual and manual labour, through what I call artwork that is not artwork as a model for artistic counter-production.