Mechanical Labour (again) (another question)

How can algorithmic, iterative human labour be related to mechanical labour? Can, for instance, the process of in-fill dotting in Central Australian Indigenous painting be meaningfully related to the process of intricate drawing in algorithmic computational art? They may share a very general, formal resemblance (in terms of features of repetition and fine detail), but is this sufficient to forge a link between two such culturally alien phenomena? If the process of in-fill dotting opens up a vital, non-reflective relation to aspects of Indigenous culture, this is very much because of a human dimension of shared time and labour. Here labour passes away from Hegel’s conception of rational abnegation and delayed reward towards a ritual context, in which the choreography of aspects of space, time and human action summons the shimmering realm of the Dreamtime. Now, although mechanical labour is associated with the breakdown of precisely such holistic, ritual, cultural frameworks, it may be that something of the older schema remains, if not adequately in the experience of ordinary work (think of Dicken’s Hard Times or the contemporary conditions of IT manufacturing workers in China) than in contexts in which the relation to labour is more freely determined. Artistic labour provides a possible (not altogether convincing) example. Of course, I am thinking particularly of the computational labour involved in algorithmic drawing. Here, very unlike the Indigenous painting context, the modes of labour elude human access. They occur in another, experientially inaccessible space and time. Yet, perversely, this may be what enables computational labour to discover a ritual aspect – a form of ritual appropriate for the modern day, in which the silent, blind operation of computational machines provides a bridge to the beyond human, to the inanimate, to a field of non-reflective shimmering. So, however unlikely, however dubious, I’ll stick with this analogy between in-fill dot painting and algorithmic drawing, because it highlights another way of conceiving the non-reflective dimension of computational labour; not as a conceptually determined figure of animate death, but as a charged point of access to another space altogether.

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