Nick Thurston; Of The Subcontract, 2013
Of the Subcontract is a collection of poems about computational capitalism, each of which was written by an underpaid worker subcontracted through Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk service. The collection is ordered according to cost-of-production and repurposes metadata about the efficiency of each writer to generate informatic typographic embellishments. Those one hundred poems are braced between two newly commissioned essays; the whole book is threaded with references to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Wolfgang von Kempelen, and the emerging iconography of cloud living.
Of the Subcontract reverses out of the database-driven digital world of new labour pools into poetry’s black box: the book. It reduces the poetic imagination to exploited labour and, equally, elevates artificial artificial intelligence to the status of the poetic. In doing so, it explores the all-too-real changes that are reforming every kind of work, each day more quickly, under the surface of life.
The first ‘computers’ were people, hired to do the tedious work of creating accounting systems and tax roles for the administration of newly created bureaucratic structures in post-Revolutionary France. Of the Subcontract presents the poems of their descendants. While this imaginative project extends a line of conceptualist practice that shows us how forms of aesthetic expression take root in the broader culture and what the continuum of amateur and professional work is, it also shows us how poetic acts, like other modes of production, conceal the contradictions and inequities of labour and value in a global world.”
–Johanna Drucker, artist, author and Bernard Breslauer Professor of Bibliography, UCLA
In an expanded field of writing Nick Thurston is changing the literary landscape. Unlike Francis Alÿs’ workers, who were moving mountains in the desert by shovelling sand, Thurston’s underpaid writers are moving (one spadeful at a time) Robert Smithson’s heap of language from one place to another, leaving us with language to be looked at / things to be read.”
–Kenneth Goldsmith, poet and founding Editor of UbuWeb