In the past few years, a number of websites have appeared that allow people to buy what is called micro-labor: small, discrete tasks that can be performed by workers with internet access, usually for proportionately small sums of money. This work aims to highlight the layers of obfuscation inherent to crowdsourcing and virtual labor markets—anonymous employers hiring anonymous workers to perform tasks in a context vacuum.

I commission these workers to write personal stories on these platforms where the identity of each worker is restricted to an identification number and communication is effectively eliminated outside of the commissioned task. After each story is completed, I collaborate with other virtual workers to reify and reimagine the original storytellers. Workers narrate the stories and create artificially generated photographs (“forensic face composites”) to bring the person they imagine telling the story to life. I compile and then animate these components into the videos below.

The workers’ harrowing stories in this work (whether true or fiction) open the door to questions around wage standards, labor laws, the lack of benefits, moral alienation from the end product of one’s labor, and so on. It speaks to the precariousness of building markets and community upon virtual systems that make us, at best, hyper-accessible avatars and, at worst, anonymous and inaccessible outside the confines of virtual transaction. The project is essentially a collaborative act of translation that conveys the growing agency gap in virtual labor marketplaces as one’s ability to work comes at the expense of one’s humanity.

In the midst of the pandemic, economies are reconfiguring and people are turning to alternative markets for financial solvency and safety. As we navigate social isolation, it is increasingly important that we value, and strive to hold onto, our social lives and question the efficacy of markets predicated on social estrangement and disembodiment.

Forest Kelley
Worker ID nlANu24dKBd87yo, 2020 Installation view
Worker ID CkuzSq3vmO5sZjT, 2020
Worker ID Bm2GNery7dPAh2l, 2020
Worker ID Tg9GckipNxlosg1, 2020
Worker ID jLGiEdXnDgbIJQ5, 2020
Worker ID UEhFzo5yaSGq4Id, 2020
Worker ID vOANqkxkExslhUH, 2020
Worker ID nlANu24dKBd87yo, 2020
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