Work, Lewis Hyde writes, is distinct from labour. Work is something we do by the hour, and labour sets its own pace. Work, if we are fortunate, is rewarded with money, but the reward for labour is transformation. ‘Writing a poem,’ Hyde writes, ‘raising a child, developing a new calculus, resolving a neurosis, invention in all forms—these are labours.’ This list reveals to me my problem. I want to give my life to labour, not work.Eula Biss in Having and Being Had, pg 99
Earlier in the week I stumbled across an old personal note which triggered an everyday epiphany. The note was written in a very pragmatic Q and A format around 2018, after some years of disappointing freelance work. One question in particular caught my eye, it read What does success [in my work] look like to me?. I’d outlined five simple fundamentals:
- autonomy over my work
- feeling intellectually challenged
- cooperative working relationships
- being able to pass on knowledge through mentoring
- being relatively financially comfortable
Returning to these fundamentals, so explicitly articulated, it dawned on me that I can count myself successful.
I never imagined that I would work anywhere other than small, boutique design studios, but sometimes, often, our abstract projection of success is incongruent with our granular definition of it.
Redistribution of power
[ not perpetuation of power ]
[ not in isolation ]
foster constructive collaborator dialogue
[ not hostile client monologue ]
support the public interest
[ not private interests ]
[ not singularity]
[ don’t simplify ]
produce critical reflections
[ not narrative descriptions ]
Quality of process
[ not quantity of outcome ]
[ not division of labour ]
fenced work week
[ not overtime ]
scheduled responding to emails
[ not a perpetual flow ]
permit unstructured time
[ reduce billable projects ]
[ less sustained screen-time ]
more primary research
[ less secondary/online research ]
After Rosalie Schweiker‘s Rules for Work
While speed refers to the rate at which something occurs, the rate to which it now refers is almost exclusively quick. This simple transformation, that speed now means going fast, in itself speaks volumes of our accelerated age.Jeremy Millar and Michiel Schwarz (1)
This chapter aims to validate a suspicion of acceleration; it argues our acclimatisation to this condition; expresses concern for its impact on the mind and body; and examines the three realms of conflict raised in the research question – individual reflection, labour and common space.
Published alongside a twinned exhibition at The Whitechapel and Photographer’s Galleries in 1998, Speed—Visions of an Accelerated Age gathers essays and art that address ‘the defining theme of our age’. Editors Millar and Schwarz write, ‘Speed is all around us; we can feel its effects even if we are unable to see it. Speed is both forceful and immaterial, like the turbulence from a moving vehicle, like the thrust of a jet, like a good idea. Speed can blow us away’. (3) Comparably, actress Fanny Kemble recounts her first railway journey in 1830, ‘You can’t imagine how strange it seemed to be, journeying on thus without any visible cause of progress other than the magical machine, with its flying white breath and rhythmical, unvarying pace’. (4) As speed continues to ‘blow us away’, it is no longer ‘strange’ but our habitual mode of existence.Read more
This chapter explores walking as a method of deceleration; it traces the historical significance of walking for aesthetic pleasure; discusses examples of deceleration in art practice and contemporary culture; it interprets the ‘slow’ nature of walking; and finally, explains the use of digression and association as a strategy within the research.
I can only meditate when walking, when I stop I cease to think. My mind only works with my legs.John Jacques Rousseau (1)
The intentional act of walking for aesthetic pleasure has a specific history within Western culture, beginning with ‘the wilful wanderer’ in the eighteenth century. Literary individuals sought to align themselves with the Sophists and Peripatetic school of Ancient Greece, and philosophical reflections on the intellectual benefits of walking were emerging from Burke, Kant and Rousseau (2). From the outset this particular type of walking was rooted in privilege. It is not the history of ‘the tramps, the hobos, the vagrants, the dispossessed, the fugitives, the harmed and the jobless’ (3). Being freely chosen, it was mostly undertaken by a healthy, white, educated male of a certain social and financial standing that permitted reasonable free time, access and safety.
The transformation of the private garden from ‘the formal and highly structured, to the informal and naturalistic’ simultaneously fostered the democratisation of walking practices (4). The medieval garden was situated within a walled fortress in which occupants reclined, in conversation or listening to music. The Renaissance and Baroque gardens complemented safer, more palatial residences that encouraged sitting and walking, however, the order and geometry imposed on the landscape promoted formality rather than autonomous experience. In the eighteenth century, walls were substituted for the ha-ha, an inconspicuous ditch marking the perimeter of the property and enabling views of the countryside beyond. Winding paths were introduced and sculpture was curtailed – ‘the subject of gardens was becoming nature itself’ known as the Jardin Anglais (5). Notably, the burgeoning interest in nature that empowered unprecedented physical and mental freedoms coincided with the onset of the industrial revolution. And while it began as an aristocratic preoccupation, its inherent accessibility made it popular amongst the working class too.Read more
A meditation on the verb ‘to traverse’, written during post-graduate research exploring connections between walking and labour.
In an increasingly dematerialised and production-oriented culture, how might the act of traversing inform the possibilities of labour?
Walking shares with making and working that crucial element of engagement of the body and the mind with the world, of knowing the world through the body and the body through the world.Rebecca Solnit in Wanderlust(1), pg. 29
Despite, or perhaps because of, its infrequent appearance in the landscape of everyday language, the verb ‘traverse’ pleases both the ear and the mind. Tongue pressed briefly to the roof of the mouth, T–R–A, like a plucked guitar. Then a bitten lip, a fling and a hiss, V–ER–SE. My delivery is voiced with an emphasis on the second syllable, TRA–VERSE, disclosing geographic origins and at the same time performing. A phoneme thrown, outstretched, into the nearby yonder.
To traverse is, at the very least, to set out. The Oxford English Dictionary outlines it as ‘travel across or through’, which points past any modest beginning to a centre. But what is the quantifiable breadth of across? And what, in fact, are we travelling through? If I step onto the porch, have I traversed? Or must I also progress past the door? And the foyer? And the hall? It’s difficult to comprehend the scope of this centre in an age that offers return flights to Ibiza for the price of a Uniqlo t-shirt.Read more