Disassembling the cloud factory: superconductr intervenes in platform-mediated work


by Matthias Kispert

View Matthias Kispert's Biography

Matthias Kispert is an artist, researcher and educator based in London who works across the intersections of art, politics and activism. 

Disassembling the cloud factory: superconductr intervenes in platform-mediated work

Matthias Kispert


Download the app. Register on the website. Create a profile. Use your own equipment, organise your own time, be your own boss. The dream of working through online platforms, as painted in rosy colours by gig economy companies, glitters with temptations of freedom and control, when the reality is often based on the dismantling of workers' rights that have been won through centuries of struggle. Risk is offloaded onto workers, the boss has turned into an algorithm that monitors everything that you do, created by people whom you will never meet, their job is to minimise your earnings, and if you need to raise any problems, you get stuck speaking to a bot or a person in a call centre far away.

The conditions and contradictions outlined here are what superconductr's work investigates, through employing artistic research methods that intervene in the infrastructures as well as the ideological constructs upon which digital labour platforms operate. superconductr was developed by the author as a practice-based PhD research project at the University of Westminster in London and presents itself first and foremost as a somewhat ambiguous entity through its website1 where various projects are archived.

The name 'superconductr' references both the Foucauldian notion of power as the conduct of conduct (Lemke 2002: 50) and the ways in which under neoliberal economic governance, digital networks are put to work in order to create a smooth space for frictionless economic transactions. Digital labour platforms extend this space to human labour-power, with the aim of enabling the latter to be bought and sold with the ease of a financial instrument.

In many of superconductr's interventions, the platforms' own functionalities are repurposed for the production of resistant flows that are inserted into or extracted from their networks. These are networks whose purpose it is to turn working bodies into addressable appendages of computer code that can be called up with a few clicks of a mouse or taps on a mobile phone and then discarded again just as quickly once their labour is not required any longer. As Lukas Biewald (quoted in Marvit 2014: np), then CEO of a platform called CrowdFlower, neatly summed up in a now infamous statement from 2010:

Before the Internet, it would be really difficult to find someone, sit them down for ten minutes and get them to work for you, and then fire them after those ten minutes. But with technology, you can actually find them, pay them the tiny amount of money, and then get rid of them when you don't need them anymore.

While a comment such as this vividly demonstrates the casual disregard that is commonplace among the self-styled 'disruptors' of tech capitalism towards those whose labour their platforms feed off, what is perhaps more interesting is how it also highlights a number of the structural regimes that platform-mediated labour puts in place: for one, companies offload costs and risks to workers, as workers only get paid for exactly the time during which they are productive (Christiaens 2023: 39). Any kind of downtime, training, time spent looking for work, holiday or sick pay and oftentimes also the required equipment need to be covered by workers (Prassl 2018: 21). This is reminiscent of the piecework that used to be the preserve of nineteenth-century sweatshops, now making a comeback under the guise of digital capitalism (Ravenelle 2019: 5–6). Secondly, platforms' business models depend on their operating outside existing labour law (Woodcock and Graham 2020: 43–44), which is substituted by sets of rules made up by business executives, venture capitalists and programmers, and put into practice through code (Prassl 2018: 12;) as well as through attempts to influence labour regulations (Prassl 2018: 20–22). Thirdly, the technology used to employ someone for a precisely determined duration and then fire them again also allows for extensive surveillance of workers (Woodcock and Graham 2020: 24) – as platforms operate the infrastructures that connect sellers and buyers of labour-power, they are in a position to collect masses of data that are being generated in the process. This data is then used to continuously tinker with algorithms that affect wages and working conditions in order to maximise profits, and for the disciplining of workers (Woodcock and Graham 2020: 65). Finally, technological mediation separates workers from those who buy their labour, variously allowing employers or customers to call up workers through lines of code, entries in a spreadsheet, or by placing an order through an app or by browsing online profiles. In the most egregious instances of this, the only reference to a person working on a given task is an anonymous string of random digits that is linked to the data that they have submitted as fulfilment of their job (Irani 2015).

In the wider context of labour under capitalism, these issues are part of a continuation and intensification of existing structural trends. These involve moves towards increased outsourcing and the concomitant precarisation of labour relations since the 1970s (Christiaens 2023: 27–28; Woodcock and Graham 2020: 37–38), the driving down of labour standards through globalised competition between an oversupply of workers (Prassl 2018: 58–61), algorithmic management as an extension of Taylorist factory discipline to ever more areas of work (Prassl 2018: 52–53), and deskilling of labour through data collection and the parcelling out of work into small steps that can easily be quantified with the help of code (Christiaens 2023: 32; Lehdonvirta 2016: 58). While predictions of swathes of the labour market becoming 'gig-ified' (Economist 2018) might not have come true, it is not difficult to see that digital labour platforms provide something of a testbed for methods of radically reorganising labour relations in favour of the interests of capital.

This article discusses superconductr's practice through a number of interventions that investigate labour platforms as architectures, apparatuses, socio-technical configurations with structural effects that extend into subjective, affective, embodied realms. These interventions take a range of different forms and use a variety of media. Processes employed include the posting of service offers on gig economy platforms, the sourcing of responses from workers to given tasks, the collection of bodily matter, as well as work with labour rights activists, while the media used range from photography, video and text to oil painting and craft cheese. In opposition to the capture of data streams and labour-power for extractivist projects and the treatment of humans as addressable appendages of profit-generating networks, superconductr homes in on refusals, solidarities, discomforts and the materiality of bodies, as a counter to platforms' abstraction of labour into the general equivalents of data, code and monetary profit.

In the projects under discussion in the first part of this paper, strategies that unambiguously refuse the ideology of entrepreneurial subjectivity within digital platform labour are put in tension with approaches that put forward more complicated positions. As superconductr moves between the roles of worker and employer, oppositional stances come up against questions regarding possible complicities of artistic production in the systems that it critiques. In these cases, the contradictions at play are explored and accentuated rather than resolved. Next the discussion moves to bodily matter, through work that highlights the presence of embodied workers contradicting the ostensible dematerialisation suggested by platform interfaces, as well as embodiment as a site of resistance against platform capital's drive for profit extraction. The final part discusses a collaboration with labour rights activists. This helps to address the set of contradictions brought up earlier, in the process allowing customary artistic concerns such as open-endedness or reflexivity recede into the background in favour of a commitment to social action.

Do algorithms dream big of working hard?

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superconductr, Work hard dream big, computer screenshot, 2017


One of superconductr's first interventions, Work hard dream big (2017), was surreptitiously inserted into the entrails of the platform Fiverr, a marketplace through which freelancers sell remotely performed services ranging from copywriting, coding, graphic design and video production to spiritual healing and dating app profile management. At the time that this project was created, Fiverr was still a venture capital-funded startup on which many services were sold for the price of US$ 5 and at times multiples thereof. Since then, the company has floated shares on the New York Stock Exchange and is at the time of writing valued at just over one billion dollars, with the average price of services being traded on the platform being considerably higher than in 2017.

Around the time when Work hard dream big was launched into Fiverr's marketplace, the company had just splashed out big on a shiny new advertising campaign, one that was so tone-deaf it might have easily been taken as a biting anti-capitalist satire. The most infamous image was part of a poster campaign that graced the walls of cities such as London and New York, and this particular placard was dominated by the photograph of a woman in her twenties, staring straight at the camera with a look that suggested a kind of manic exhaustion – hair in disarray, eyes accentuated with black eyeliner and sunken cheeks highlighted by stark lighting. Underneath her face, bold letters spelt out:








The campaign as a whole was centred around the figure of the 'doer', a kind of entrepreneurial hero for whom self-exploitation to the point of complete exhaustion is a perfectly desirable thing. The ostensibly glamorous aspects of the lifestyles portrayed were however lost to pretty much anyone outside of Fiverr's startup bubble and the advertising agency responsible for the campaign. In a similar vein to the quote by Biewald cited earlier, this appears to be one of those unguarded moments at which the underbelly of the ideology that drives labour platforms is conspicuously articulated without much in terms of window dressing.

In its rendering of the heroic figure of the 'doer', the Fiverr campaign put forward a model of the subject amenable to the demands of platform capital, and this recalls Michel Foucault's writings on neoliberal subjectivity. For Foucault (1979/2008: 226), the neoliberal subject is interpellated as 'an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur of himself [sic]', for whom an ever-growing range of areas of life is subjected to the market logic of competition and profit-and-loss calculation. Here, the human is moulded in the image of a set of economic hypotheses, and this resonates with Foucault's notion of power as extending down to the level of the production of subjectivity. In the Fiverr campaign, this model of the subject as an extension of market logic is driven to new levels of intensity, and this is revealing in terms of the wider ideological project operative here.

superconductr's Work hard dream big thus began as an act of refusal to participate in this culture of glorified self-exploitation, put in practice as an artwork whose medium is the Fiverr platform itself. The image above shows a screenshot of a 'gig' posted by superconductr on Fiverr, which uses the fields available on the website's interface to interrupt the platform's interminable deluge of offers posted by eager sellers peddling their services. The title of the gig itself is made up of two parts: 'I Will' is the formula with which every listing on Fiverr starts by default, interweaving in the meeting of those two words the figure of the entrepreneurial subject and its credo of doing, hustling, being proactive in the struggle for survival on a crowded and competitive marketplace. In the statement that follows however, the attitude suggested here is immediately turned on its head, as the service on offer consists of the provider doing absolutely nothing for a set amount of time.

The obligatory image accompanying the listing continues where the title left off: the figure's head is obscured by a cardboard box which has been covered by crudely taped-on entrepreneurial slogans sourced through various internet searches. The holes cut out for eyes and mouth, reminiscent of a balaclava, lend the figure a vaguely threatening aura. The print on the t-shirt, framed by a smart jacket, conveys the phrase obstinately reiterated by Herman Melville's (1853/2009) literary character Bartleby, a lawyer's clerk who steadfastly refuses to carry out any of the work that is assigned to him by his boss: 'I would prefer not to'.

Finally, the section labelled 'About This Gig' is where sellers on Fiverr are asked to enter some details about the service on offer. In the present case, this field has been repurposed to, first of all, explain how the duration of the inactivity for sale was determined. This is equivalent to the length of labour time that could be purchased at minimum wage for the net fee that would be paid out for $5 after Fiverr as well as their payment processor PayPal had taken their cuts. After this comes a list that is presented as free extras that a buyer would receive with their purchase. These ostensible benefits however are easily recognised as pointing out the unpaid work as well as labour protections that need to be covered by sellers on the platform in order to be able to offer their services in the first place.


2 - 02 superconductr - Work hard dream big 3.jpg

superconductr, Work hard dream big, computer screenshot, 2017


As it turned out however, Fiverr was not too convinced that superconductr's proposal was 'appropriate' for their marketplace or would attract any buyers. Apparently, this was reason enough to remove the listing from public view after a mere three days, as disclosed in the message shown above. Thus no sale was ever made, which would have allowed the project to proceed to its next planned stage, the recording of a video showing the author doing nothing for 23 minutes and 2 seconds while wearing the attire shown in the image. This would then have been sent to the buyer in return for their payment.

This incident offers a glimpse into the opaque surveillance and control systems in operation within the confines of the platform: it is not clear how this decision was made, what the criteria were or which persons and/or algorithms were involved in the process. Moreover, the removal of the offer without prior warning demonstrates the power that platforms wield over their workers: platforms make the rules, enforce them and are the arbiters in any dispute. On the one hand, workers are expected to invest substantial time and energy into developing their profile on a platform at their own cost; on the other, platforms reserve for themselves the power to discipline workers and terminate accounts at their own discretion.


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superconductr, Work hard dream big, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm, 2017


Determined not to leave things at that, superconductr's intervention was given a new lease of life. With the intention of reinforcing its status as an artwork, the original screenshot was emailed to Meisheng Oil Painting Manufacture Co. in Xiamen, China, who for a fee of $155 including delivery created an oil painting of the same. Thus unknown hands got busy materialising pixels on screen into oil on canvas, and a circuit was connected between different forms of outsourcing – the short-term employment of gig economy work and the delegation of the manufacture of artworks to third parties who realise the artist's concept. Both of these in turn are second-order manifestations of a much larger economic trend towards offshoring, outsourcing and precarisation that has been in process for decades under neoliberal capitalism.

The move from seller to buyer of services that occurred here is one instance in which disparate layers of resistance and complicity come up against each other in superconductr's work. On the one hand, the act of commissioning the painting extends the satirical inclinations of the original posting: this time in the form of a jibe aimed at the philistinism evidenced by Fiverr's removal of the original offer, and by refusing to bow to the platform's dictates that would rather let this intervention suffer a silent death among the digital detritus of unsellable matter that slides from view. Instead, the on-screen visual arrangement is preserved and revived with a somewhat overblown insistence on its quality as an artwork – now as an oil painting, even. On the other hand, the physical object through which this critical stance is put forward is itself the product of hands put in motion through anonymous outsourced labour, commissioned by the artist who has now become an employer. What the opposition between these two poles allows to come into view is art's own participation in the capitalist division of labour, and this also rebounds on the original intervention that started this process and complicates the notions of resistance put forward therein.

In this sense, the position of worker taken initially can be seen as already inflected by the differences between artistic and other kinds of labour, which are only brought into more explicit view in the later move to outsourcing. While sellers on Fiverr present what they see as their commodifiable skills in the hope of generating an income through the platform, the artistic intervention created for Work hard dream big is not concerned with any immediate need for producing monetary value. Sellers are occupied with finding buyers and completing tasks, while artists' work involves manipulating signifiers, posing questions, multiplying interpretations and the like. The list could go on. By making these contradictions operative in the work, its critical currency is multiplied beyond opposition to the digital platform regime: the move from worker to entrepreneur also holds up the mirror to the privileged position that artistic production holds as unalienated labour in relation to other kinds of work under capitalism. By extension, this points towards the ways in which the figure of the art-maker itself has become instrumentalised in the service of the same ideological apparatus that drives platform work, such as when artists are interpellated as entrepreneurs (Precarious Workers Brigade 2017: 8), or when business managers (Austin and Devin 2003) or even sandwich makers (MySubwayCareer 2021) are told to see themselves as artists.

The void at the heart of frantic hyperactivity

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superconductr, Doing and nothingness, digital collage, 2021


One insight that emerged in the course of superconductr's encounter with Fiverr's disciplinary apparatus is that the offer posted for Work hard dream big is by far not the only act of non-compliance that surfaces on the platform's crowded marketplace. On the contrary, there is a steady trickle of postings appearing at regular intervals that in a similar vein seek to sell a slice of nothing for money. Invariably, these get detected and eliminated from the platform after some time, but new ones spring up as older ones become unavailable, and cumulatively they offer something of a compendium of refusal, each an act of non-participation in the brave new world of hyper-competitive, hyper-precarious gig work peddled by platform capital.

A growing collection of these offers is being assembled by superconductr under the title Doing and nothingness (2017–ongoing), and the collage shown above has been put together from this archive. In the collected postings, a range of affective dispositions accompanying the public act of refusal can be identified: for one, there is plenty of satire, with some users on the platform clearly posting their offers of nothingness as something of a joke. Then there are those who are perceptively angry, venting their frustration through colourful language or random characters hammered out on the keyboard. Other postings betray despair, a sense of inadequacy and hopelessness that sets in when faced with the challenge of proving one's monetary worth in a place where countless others are competitively vying for attention. Finally, some are sincerely asking for a purchase to be made out of sheer generosity and kindness with nothing in return, as they are in need of money but are unable to identify any skills that they could put up for sale.


superconductr, Doing and Nothingness 1, video, 12 sec, 2018


superconductr, Doing and Nothingness 6, video, 16 sec, 2018


superconductr, Doing and Nothingness 11, video, 1 min 19 sec, 2018


In addition to collating this expanding archive, superconductr contacted some of the sellers whose offers of nothing were encountered, with a proposal to purchase their non-service, however with an added request: they were asked to create a short video in which they would read out the text accompanying their posting, while showing something on screen that represents nothingness for them. Not everyone responded, and some refused with the perfectly reasonable objection that accepting this proposal would go against the spirit of their offer. Nevertheless, some agreed to participate, and their 'gigs' were bought through the platform for $5 each. The videos submitted in response dramatise what had started out as two-dimensional offers scrolling by on screen, and together they congregate into a somewhat absurdist accumulation of acerbic protests against the entrepreneurial credo promulgated by the platform in its publicity materials. As with the postings themselves, the tone of the performances varies from theatrical to laconic, humorous to sincere, pleading to irritable.

In parallel to Work hard dream big, the process of superconductr operating as a buyer of services complicates the unequivocal resistance to and satire of entrepreneurial ideology that is communicated in the original postings collected for Doing and nothingness. The antagonism between critique and complicity acquires an additional layer here, as it is the Fiverr platform itself that has been used for their purchase of the videos created for this project: in one sense, this approach involves a kind of subterfuge through which the platform's own functionality has been repurposed for the extraction of a set of critiques of its workings. At the same time, the scope of participation in the exploitative labour relations under investigation has been intensified, this time including direct participation as a buyer of low-wage, precarious labour through Fiverr itself. Furthermore, absurdist videos in which people, often from the Global South, perform custom messages or dance moves in amusing ways have long been a staple sold through the platform, in what could be characterised as a genre called gigsploitation.2 The videos created for Doing and nothingness are more complicated than this however, as in their case, self-enactment is mixed with refusal and the abstract imagery on show is a far cry from the exuberant movements of exoticised bodies that form the visual matter of gigsploitation fare. As is the case with Work hard dream big, the project thus inhabits rather than resolves a number of contradictions, which in the process extend to a critique of the artist's own position in relation to the kinds of labour that the work investigates.

Sweat to be a winner

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superconductr, Fromage faux frais (of production), cheese, sweat, glass jars, dimensions variable, 2019


I wanna smell you

Yeah, I wanna smell you

I wanna smell you, even from far away

I wanna smell you

I wanna feel you

So I can know if you are a winner, baby

Marie Davidson – 'Work It' (2018)


Embodied aspects of platform work come into play in Fromage faux frais (of production) (2019), which engages with the localised gig work that happens on city streets, in this case food delivery. In simple terms, the project consists of a series of craft cheeses made from sweat collected from food delivery cyclists in the course of doing their job. The cheese gets its name from the term faux frais de production, a concept from classical and Marxist political economy that refers to the operating expenses of business, costs that do not directly relate to commodity production (Marx 1867/1976: 446–447).

In the present case, the faux frais refer to the operating expenses of the labouring body, the fact that it produces sweat as a byproduct of the exertion involved in pedalling a bicycle while transporting food at the request of a customer who has ordered a delivery through a mobile phone app. In general, this sweat would just end up evaporating, leaving behind bacterial traces that get swept away again with the next shower and laundry wash. In Fromage faux frais however, this microbial remainder is being kept alive by the cheese culture, which in turn also preserves the olfactory note of the sweat that has been added to it during its fermentation process. From this emerges a form of documentation of the working body that is inescapable in its sensory immediacy and through this highlights the latter's profane and potentially discomforting qualities.

Sweating is a perfectly commonplace aspect of everyday bodily functioning and naturally becomes more pronounced when one is engaged in lengthy stints of cycling, potentially under time pressure in order to fulfil as many deliveries in as short a time as possible. Yet this aspect of food delivery is something of an obscene excess, better not spoken about lest it might lessen the appetite of the recipients of the incoming meal package. Figuratively, sweat tends to be linked with imaginaries of work, from biblical origin stories to the notion of the sweatshop and sweated labour. Yet an encounter with the smell of the actual substance triggers a whole set of bodily registers that highlight the fleshy existence of working bodies in an inescapable acuteness that short-circuits the distanciation instigated by platform-mediated commoditisation of workers. Moreover, the end result of the fermentation process is again Fromage, and thus in the shape of food, although it should be noted that cheese made from sweat is not edible. Instead, this cheese is shot through with the excretions produced by the strained body, making a living by delivering life-supporting nourishment to others for a wage.

Documenting these exhausted bodies of delivery workers, whose labour is obscured by the platform interface that instead highlights tantalising food offers and the convenience of home delivery, also brings to the fore the resistant qualities of the working body. The latter have been noted by political philosopher Tim Christiaens (2023: 79), in an analysis that recalls some of the themes raised earlier in relation to the notion of the superconductr:


The body puts physiological limits on the industrial growth machine. Once a certain threshold of labor intensity is crossed, bodies break down and disrupt the productive rhythm of industry. The shape of resistance in this passage is more akin to the electrical resistance of conducting materials.


Conduction has earlier been referenced in relation to Foucault's writings on power and to neoliberal imperatives for frictionless transactions, yet what can be seen here is that conduction also implies resistance, particularly when it encounters bodies. This is where the fact becomes central that despite pervasive imaginaries of cloud computing and digital platforms inhabiting some kind of dematerialised realm, labour mediated through these platforms still is an obstinately embodied practice. It is the bodies engaged in this work that provide the grounds for resistance through their capacities and limits, which stand in direct opposition to platform capital's demands for unceasing availability for its algorithmically generated commands. In Fromage faux frais, this embodiment is made palpable, albeit in a somewhat abstracted form that homes in on one of its qualities, namely sweating.

The relations between the positions of artist and worker are different here compared to those in the interventions discussed earlier. For one, no platform intermediation took place in the procurement of the sweat samples, which were instead sourced through personal contacts. Secondly, the sweat used is a byproduct of work, not a commodity produced through paid labour. The issue of the artist as employer replicating exploitative labour relations thus does not apply to this case. Still, the extraction of bodily matter, however noninvasively collected and voluntarily given, could be seen as its own kind of exploitation, in turn highlighting the vampiric qualities of capital that Marx (1867/1976: 342) speaks about in his more colourful passages. At the same time, the issue of resistance is broached in a more or less figurative way – through reference to the body and its potential for non-cooperation – rather than worked through across a range of conflicting layers between refusal and complicity as in the projects discussed above.

Organised, not atomised!

The issues and contradictions intrinsic to the works discussed thus far have been approached from a very different direction in superconductr's collaboration with labour rights activists. In principle, the way in which digital labour platforms atomise workers has made it more difficult for the latter to organise and put forward collective demands. Particularly when it comes to work performed remotely, there is no shared space where it is possible to meet, build interpersonal connections, share advice and grievances, and develop solidarity. Work stoppages are near impossible to organise. Some forms of mutual support have however emerged in this field: this includes a profusion of online discussion boards and social media channels where workers can share their experiences, problems and advice. There also are academics such as Lilly Irani and M. Six Silberman (2013), or Saiph Savage (Heaven 2020), who develop tools in collaboration with workers which allow the latter to counteract the information imbalances inherent in platform work and make more informed choices about how and for which requesters they work.

The situation is different in localised gig work such as food delivery or taxi driving, which began to emerge some years after the online variant. While workers in this field are still being managed by algorithm in highly individualised ways, the fact that they share the same urban space as their workplace has meant that they inevitably began to meet and build networks, initially mostly through online group chats, and later also through more formal structures. One of the first organised actions was a strike by Deliveroo riders in London in response to changes in the platform's payment structure from hourly pay to piece rates that was being forced onto workers unilaterally (Tassinari and Maccarrone 2020: 42). Riders mobilised through WhatsApp groups and decided to collectively log off and rally outside the company's offices in a noisy protest, footage of which quickly spread through social media as well as mainstream news channels.


superconductr, Deliveroo – Join the Roovolt, video, 1 min 47 sec, 2019


From these initial actions developed links with a number of grassroots unions which themselves had recently formed out of the struggles of migrant and precarious workers. superconductr established a collaboration with one of these, the IWGB (Independent Workers' Union), with the aim of contributing to workers' struggles happening on the ground. The result of this is a series of activist videos that have been created in support of a number of union campaigns, for Deliveroo riders, Uber drivers, university cleaners and security guards, restaurant kitchen porters and the like, and these videos have been collected under the title Keep your promises (2017–2020).

This work has taken leave from the artist-interventionist strategies employed in the projects discussed earlier, and instead followed the demands of activist campaigning. The videos are cut at fast pace and put forward a series of workers' grievances, demands and calls for action, accompanied by urgent rhythms either sourced from recordings of drum bands at protests or custom-made as in-house musical productions. As a collaboration, this process has also upended notions of clearly defined authorship, and any sense of the primacy of artistic reflexivity over direct messaging or of the separation of artistic work from everyday political action. This last point is important because ultimately, the process of working on Keep your promises set its aims not only on fighting exploitative employers, but also sought to undermine the privileged and somewhat remote position of artistic work in the capitalist division of labour, putting instead the tools of the artist in the service of workers' struggles.

This revisits questions raised earlier in this paper, which in their previous iteration have been left unresolved by practices that engage with modes of resistance while also participating in the structures that their critiques are aimed at. In itself, this kind of productive ambiguity is a not uncommon artistic strategy. Yet, when creating work about exploitative labour practices, the question suggests whether and how artistic work could do more than comment on the latter and instead involve itself in concrete workers' struggles on the ground, as well as subvert its own privileged position in the capitalist labour hierarchy. In Keep your promises, these issues are addressed head-on, and this approach has given rise to a kind of artist-activism that also calls into question some common assumptions on how artist practice encounters the social. In relation to social practice art, for example, writers such as Grant Kester (2011) or Pablo Helguera (2011) emphasise how artistic interventions can reframe social situations. In the present case, on the other hand, it is an encounter with the social that reframes art by calling into question the primacy of notions such as authorship, reflexivity or autonomy as suggested above, instead focusing on effective social action.

Are you sure you want to go offline? Demand is very high in your area. Make more money, don't stop now!

The heading above is a prompt that had been sent to drivers on the Uber app for some time when they were about to log off (Rosenblat and Stark 2016: 3768), inducing them to work longer hours at the expense of any concerns for road safety. In the present context however, this assertive sequence of promises and demands will not be heeded and instead signal the approaching end of the shift.

By way of parting, then, the interventions discussed here take their aim at the labour relations that are put in place in digital platform-mediated work through the code that creates the infrastructures upon which platforms operate, through flouting of and tampering with labour regulations, and through an ideological edifice that variously glorifies precarity and self-exploitation, and obscures the existence of living, breathing workers behind digital interfaces. In relation to the latter, superconductr's interventions seek to dispel the mystifications that easily insinuate themselves into debates when labour turns digital: work still is an activity carried out by embodied humans who are caught up in capitalist relations of production, and these bodies' struggles over how labour is organised remain the main site of resistance against exploitation. At the same time, artistic work that is critical of labour relations under capitalism needs to account for the privileged position at which art itself finds itself in the capitalist division of labour. This issue has been explored in the projects discussed earlier by way of contradictions that were left unresolved, while in the work with labour rights activists evaluated later, artistic production was put in the service of concrete workers' struggles.

Despite some predictions to the contrary, platform-mediated work makes up a relatively small section of labour overall, and this is unlikely to change in the near future. Still, the structures put in place by digital platforms that enable increased surveillance and control, the outsourcing of risk to workers and intensified precarisation have much wider repercussions. Tools developed for these purposes are also redeployed in different contexts, and the erosion of workers' rights in one area opens the gates for more of the same in others. More generally, practiced solidarity needs to stand first and foremost with those who are the most vulnerable to being at the receiving end of exploitative practices. This is why it is crucial to keep on disassembling the regimes of work put in place by digital platforms and locating sites of resistance, by dismantling ideological constructs that serve to obscure exploitative labour relations, laying bare the inner workings of platforms' technical and disciplinary apparatuses, making perceptible the bodies whose labour is mobilised through their interfaces and collaborating on equal terms with workers fighting for their rights.

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Work hard dream big (superconductr, 2017).


  1. http://www.superconductr.org 

  3. See, for example, Camel Man's 'I will say anything or your message as sahara gangster' (accessed 22 May 2022) or Vandana Dancer's 'I will be your dancing girl' (accessed 22 May 2022).