«Distortions in Modern Management»
(Introduction to Anomalies construites of Julien Prévieux by Clément Dirié)
A slow pan of eight minutes confronts the viewer with an armada of screens, showing the interfaces of simulation programs, of architectural conception, and of 3D modeling. A vast open space where each of us could be imagined, not in front of the projection screen but behind the monitor screen, at work. We look upon work, in circuitous fashion, and man’s newest best friend. At the beginning of our story, from an off-screen narrator—speaking from interviews with the users of these programs—the computer resembles, without hesitation, a most faithful companion, the instrument of personal and professionalaccomplishments.The narrator has just been elected by his peers as the «super modeler.» «(A)nd a grand total of 70 users only can now claim to be one of them, which you will agree is no small feat.» In the battlefield of the World Wild Web, the finalists win the prizes of SketchUp—a free modeling software from Google—and of «Captchas.» But, soon, the program for «modern management,» of an anonymous face, jams up, turning against its users. Faking development of a real world by modeling famous monuments on Google Earth, the super modeler is found at the heart of the development of a new system of working, closer to slavery than employment. A system where video games overwhelm true occupation and where work appears as leisure. «The machine is not a diversion for man, the machine is amused by man,» confirms the artist.
Work and management in the age of digital reproduction is one of the subjects Julien Prévieux continually approaches in his work, which is defined by irony, the anti-job, or critical analysis (the series of Lettres de non motivation, 2000-in progress, followed by La Soufrière, 2004, What Shall We Do Next?, 2007-2011, l’Atelier de dessin, B.A.C. du 14e arrondissement de Paris, 2011)This work comes from a drawing workshop founded by the artist with four police of the commissariat of the 14e arrondissement in Paris. The objective was to learn to trace the «diagrammes de Voronoï» based off of inventory maps of recent misdemeanors. Common in the US, but not yet so in France, these diagrams are cartographic analysis tools, made possible by computer, employed to visualize crimes in real-time, facilitating rapid police deployment. The artist has assigned to police forces the task of drawing such diagrams by hand, taking the time to execute one by one the different steps of the algorithm, and rendering the exercise slow and laborious. With this traditional technique, the optimization tool is dispossessed of its primary function, yielding results always too late. But what is lost in efficacy, is gained assuredly in other ways: intensive drawing practice during weekends and days off, deepened exploration of techniques of dividing surfaces into convex polygons, discussions on the transformation of the police and the implementation of new methods of management, and the production of a series of highly successful abstract drawings..
With Anomalies construites, he creates the character of a geek for whom pleasure and work are the same, until the day where work and pleasure are worthless. Through the course of his story, he evolves from a euphoric approach to his activities to a critique on this form of contemporary servitude that he has assumed, put into place by the new information technologies, and of the new reality posed by communication technologies on work. Of a bitter conscience, he resigns, «I think this time we really have been conned. Everything was so clever, that was it, so clever, that we didn’t even know we were working anymore, […] self-induced as we were in an advanced state of volunteering.» Anomalies construites bears a visual response to the current changes in this realm of the working world (its place of production, its audience, its materialization) where salary and pocket money are confused, professional and personal actualization dissolve, where micro-tasks (typing a slew of characters for leaving a message on a forum, reproducing a ticket on a blog, improving at using a software or a game) and crowd sourcing designate a new state of the relation between man and his tool of work.
Off screen voice - Part One
(Anomalies construites, Julien Prévieux, 2011 - Vidéo HD, 7’41)
Last November, I was officially voted one of the best geo-modelers in the world. The protocol followed by Google to give out «super-modeler» status has just changed, and a grand total of 70 users only can now claim to be one of them, which you will agree is no small feat. Before I discovered how to use architecture modeling software SketchUp, I was grappling with a grave melancholy, I had done no serious work for years, and I woke up every morning with a total and utter lack of interest in the day ahead. When I was younger, I trained as an interior designer but I always wanted to be an architect, and I feel I have now found my calling in 3D modeling for Google Earth. From the moment I first started, as soon as I learnt to push and pull surfaces and edges in the software, I never ceased to make tables, chairs, shelves, cupboards, chests of drawers, houses, bridges, buildings, and skyscrapers. My first model to successfully pass Google’s selection process was shown in Google Earth in 2008. That day, I felt genuine excitement and a certain amount of pride, two feelings shared by all geo-modelers who, like me, and regardless of whether their models are as good as mine, have seen their buildings published. My friends could not understand how I could be so passionate about this project; some would find this activity odd and poked fun at me, calling me the «model modeler,» asking me when I would finally stop playing with my 3D matchsticks. In any case, I always loved matchstick modeling–my dad had started making a 1:20 scale model of the Eiffel Tower. Only the lack of space stopped him from completing it, while impatient, negative and envious people around him had predicted certain failure due to lack of time. I only realized later that, like him, I like the feeling of understanding how buildings and cities are laid out, and why things are as they are … It is a true help when you feel overwhelmed, like architectural catharsis: no need to build a fortress, just populate the world with the world itself. When nothing has yet been created in SketchUp, you have this very flat, very green ground, and the gradations of blue in the sky, and the x, y, and z axes. It may seem difficult to imagine it without having experienced it, but the software’s environment immediately makes you feel like building, and doing so as best as you can. It would be nice to see more geo-modelers in Taiwan, so I will set up a community of users who can build Taipei more quickly. Obviously, I also like the idea of long-term development–I remember the scene in the first Die Hard, when German terrorists invade the Nakatomi Plaza building in Los Angeles. They stand in front of tables covered with models of all the buildings that the company wants to build in the world. At some point, Alan Rickman’s character remembers that Alexander the Great, on his return from the Indus Valley, and faced with the scale of his empire, shed some tears - of joy, because he has everything, and of sadness too, because there is nothing left for him to conquer, and he finds it hard to admit that his work is done. Personally, I am feeling somewhat euphoric, and enjoying still being at the very beginning.
Off screen voice - Part Two
Something very odd has happened. I think this time we really have been conned. Everything was so clever, that was it, so clever, that we didn't even know we were working anymore. It was even better, much more successful than before, because it was such fun or because we didn’t even know we were doing it, self-induced as we were in an advanced state of volunteering. I don’t know who first initiated it, or even if there actually was someone at the source of it all, or if a few people had started doing it and we followed. In any case, I had started to work for free while thinking I was playing a game or doing something else, just passing time. I had a friend, named Tang, who had become a volunteer super-modeler, and who was very proud to see his buildings appear in Google Earth. He spent his days making 3D models, free of charge, then uploading them onto the server. Tiananmen Square, that’s him; the Taipei 101 tower, that’s him too, and the Taiwanese pavilion of the latest World Fair. He was not alone: there was Peter, who decided to recreate Spain; Zeljko, who had sketched the whole of Belgrade; Enrico, who worked on Florence and the buildings of Italian Renaissance; and Tomasz, who had recreated several cities in Poland. Ok, so we hadn't been really conscious of why we did what we did before that either, and we hadn’t exactly volunteered to do so, but suddenly we all started, without being forced or compelled to do so, to work incredibly hard, free of charge. You know, getting you to work without you knowing about it is actually very simple. ReCAPTCHA is one example: we were helping Google to digitalize the content of scanned books by retyping a series of characters shown on the screen. It was child’s play. Almost all of us had done it–over 750 million users had transcribed at least one word with this system. When you opened an email account, or posted a comment on a website, the program asked you to confirm you were indeed a human being, and not a robot, through «Captchas.» Some said it was like participating in the great drive of collective intelligence. You know: the hive, the bees, the sum of the parts … World wisdom, basically. When I heard this kind of stories, I was usually wary, but not that time. I think I had already absorbed the whole thing without needing an explanation, without even having to believe in it, as I thought I was doing something else anyway. Ok, so for those who wanted to be paid, there was Amazon’s «Mechanical Turk,» thus called in reference to an 18th century automaton, which was believed to know how to play chess but was in fact controlled by a hidden human operator. With this service, you could do a task from home for a little money. You maybe had to transcribe a few minutes of an audio recording, translate a few paragraphs of a document, «like» books or websites, or analyze pictures. These tasks were paid a few cents and more than occasionally took a whole hour. These kinds of markets had become the norm; companies used «Mechanical Turk» to use our services for a very low fee; dozens of tiresome activities had been made into a game so that we worked without our knowledge. We were following the same trend ourselves anyway, writing articles free of charge that benefited others, or creating free upgrades for products we had purchased. At that point, I realized that something very odd had happened.
Translated from french by Chloé Pellegrin and Heather Tipton
(This article was published in Stream 02 in 2012.)