In their collaborative exhibition at Alkovi Galleria, Angela Washko and Alex Young present SerfNet - a project which focuses on crowd-sourced labor platforms and the individual worker’s relationship to the products of their labor, the environment in which they produce it, their understanding of the larger framework they’re producing in, and whether or not they consider what they are doing labor at all. Instead of replicating existing statistical research about online networked labor, Washko and Young decided to create a business within Amazon Mechanical Turk.
Operating as SerfNet, Washko and Young created Human Intelligence Tasks or HITs (small tasks that a business or researcher might need humans for, often things computer algorithms cannot do yet, ranging from research surveys to transcribing text from receipts or audio) for Mechanical Turk Workers to complete in exchange for money - all mediated through mturk.com’s interfaces and the Amazon Marketplace pay site. The jobs (HITs) the artists created solicited and rewarded individual workers’ contemplation and reflection on the value of their own work within and their personal relationship to the systems in which they are participating.
Over 150 individuals working within this labor platform participated in SerfNet’s surveys - reporting bases in the United States and India. Through SerfNet, Washko and Young also sought out to examine the English language’s hegemonic position within global business and its impact on aspirations toward upward mobility (while simultaneously being a requirement for mTurk HITs which may only pay a few cents per hour). Looking to the past and future to animate the etymology of the English conception of labor and the interconnectedness of concepts of pain, toil, travel, and more... SerfNet presents this contemporary crowd-sourced labor phenomenon under the lens of medieval European feudalism.