I'm so proud to be sharing this conversation with one of my nearest and dearest creative peers, Naomi O'Reilly, who currently works in creative consulting. Recorded on the chilliest of winters' eves, I attempt to explain the concepts underpinning Immaterial Labour to her, and she reacts! Stick with it through our awkward beginning as we warm up. As we meander through the subject, we go on a few tangents, take a deep dive, and come back up again. It's broadly applicable whether you work in a creative field or not, I felt pretty inspired at the end, and I hope you do too!

The essay we are discussing is Creative Labour by Sarah Brouillette, you can find it here:


Oh, and if you hear giggles, that's our audience of two, Sophie and Caden!

Updated: May 19, 2020

Before this residency began, I'd been thinking a lot about how to have a focused and process-oriented practice- one in which you actually "practise"!

For the last few years, I have been functioning in a deadline-based, distracted and perfectionistic way with a massive emphasis on productivity at all hours of the day, which definitely contributed to my burnout. One of the side effects was that it smashed my ability to focus. By October last year, I could hardly switch between tabs on my computer screen without forgetting what piece of information I was looking for!

Luckily it's largely come back, and lockdown has actually helped a lot to remember to live more attentively. Jenny Odell's book How To Do Nothing; Resisting the Attention Economy has also been instrumental for informing why intentionally cultivating focus this is important (and in our current epoch- radical!)

As a result, in my recent forays back into my art practice, I've been thinking in more depth about the importance of the process of making art, rather than the productive outcome. My feeling is that if you can't relish the process, you'll never be satisfied with the outcome anyway. In response, I'm embarking on a calligraphy project to remember how to learn again, and remember how to practise again, throughout this residency. I also anticipate that it will be nice to have a repetitive activity to do with my hands to help me integrate the big ideas I've just researched.

I've never done calligraphy before, and that's kind of the point. With a 25m roll of rice paper, every single attempt is going to be recorded on the one scroll (this recovering perfectionists' nightmare!) The resulting artwork will be the whole scroll- I'm not touching or "editing" it one bit.

Using my new ink-making book, I brewed a batch of eucalyptus ink from locally foraged leaves, with an iron mordant, making this gorgeous warm-grey colour. This is also a nod towards Jenny Odell's call for bioregionalism- living in context with the local natural and cultural world.

I also decided the phrase "as I practise sculpting life & cosmic forces" as my practise phrase. It was inspired by one of one of the group therapy sessions in my recent work 'cultivating reciprocity' (more on that to come), and it felt at once sincere, magical and a little playful- a reminder not myself seriously but not too seriously. It also seems to capture what I'm talking about this residency when I bring it all back to my own context and my own work- hopefully armed with new knowledge and direction, I'll continue practising to sculpt!

Updated: May 19, 2020

I can't believe it's already been a week! One down, five to go.

This week I did a bit of a deeper dive into the research around Immaterial Labour. Right now, it feels like a big tangle, but I'm starting to unravel it. The journal is starting to fill up.

Later this week, I'll be meeting my fellow art school alumnus Naomi to record a more detailed conversation about the topic. This will be an exercise in vulnerability for both of us- in the spirit of "learning publicly" we're trying out a format where I attempt to explain what I've been researching and thinking about, and she'll try and wrap her head around it.

For a start though, I've realised I've been asking the wrong questions. Rather than asking "how can we get society to value this immaterial labour more?", I've realised that in the current post-factory capitalist system, ANYONE who engages in culture, whether you're creating it or consuming it, is creating value for someone that can be, and is currently being, capitalised on and profited from, even if it is in an indirect way (for example, a property developer capitalising on the cultural capital of a suburb). In reality, a situation has been created where we are all, artists or not, simultaneously creating demand for new and innovative ideas and aesthetic combinations, and satisfying that demand. This system is what the term "Immaterial Labour" is describing. I've found parallels in the term "bio-capitalism", which describes how capitalism has managed to commodify almost every aspect of our life, whether we realise we are doing labour for other people or not. One example from Jenny Odell (below) is how social media platforms have managed to commodify our attention by designing the platforms in a way that enhances their addictive qualities. However, as usual in this hamster wheel, the profit is rising to the top and not being shared around the bottom to those who really need it, or are actually doing the bulk of the creative labour! The systems also do not have the wellbeing of everybody as a priority, or the content, just how readily consumable it is.

Therefore, the question is less "how to get society to value this more", but about how we can either resist the hamster wheel, get off it completely, or make it somehow more equitable so that creative labour is not being so taken advantage of, and diverse, critical and quality creative output is more accessible to everyone.

Before I sign off, introducing my cocktail of reading material for this residency. It's a delicious mix!

In order from bottom to top:

  • No Order; Art in a Post-Fordist Society: this one I happened to find at secondhand bookstore Bent Books, and started me off on this whole journey! It's got a seminal text by Maurizio Lazzarato, who coined the term Immaterial Labour, amongst a whole bunch of wonderfully critical texts and artworks by artists and theorists in Europe about making work amongst this cultural labour paradigm.

  • Make Ink; A Forager's Guide to Natural Inkmaking by Jason Logan: this is purely in service of my current calligraphy project which I am working on throughout this residency whilst I compost the big questions. Beautiful images!

  • The Artist's Way; A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron: the seminal text on creativity, where it comes from, what conditions it needs to thrive, and how to harness it in your practice! This one is going to better inform how I manage to interface with the world and take care of myself at the same time.

  • How to be an Anti-Capitalist in the 21st Century by Erik Olin-Wright: I am excited for this one, because it's got strategies! Too often we get stuck in a theoretical rabbit hole and can feel helpless and overwhelmed, and eventually apathetic.

  • Culture as Weapon by Nato Thompson: This is a broad-spectrum overview of how "culture" has been used by different entities to influence mass populations, and how artists have gotten mixed up in it. I was especially taken by this review: "Read it and discover exactly how mistaken is our assumption that human creativity brings us always closer to some earthly utopia."

  • How To Do Nothing; Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell: a beautiful call to reclaim our attention as the building blocks for agency, resisting the capitalist treadmill in favour of deep thought about complex issues, and cultivating interrelationships in context with other people and the natural world.

I'm already finding so many interrelated ideas, while often under different names. I love these moments when the lightbulb comes on in my head and I start to connect the dots.