Retraining Laziness (2022)

T(n)C in collaboration with Madeline Hall

© T(n)C

When we think of science fiction narratives, we often imagine scenarios in which we are threatened by an entity created by us, that looks like us, behaves like us, but is also more perfect than us. Our fear that a robot or sentient AI could steal our identity is fueled by our economic system, which we have specifically tailored to evaluate each individual based on their productivity. We are taught from an early age to identify with a job. We rank ourselves, we compete, we keep improving to stay relevant and benefit the society we are part of. In such an environment, the biggest threat to humans is a machine that outshines them.

In T(n)C´s video series, Agnes Varnai & Tina Kult tell a story where machines, with their newfound free will, abandon assembly lines to explore a silent, independent existence. They are curious to inspect the possibility of an anomaly in which disobedient machines help us to return to a healthy relationship with our work and let us reconsider the connection between humans, technology, production and time.


In Dialogue: Artist Talk with FACT, Liverpool

FACT: Can you say a little bit about the new commission and how it relates to your wider practice?

T(n)C: Our EMAP commission is the first chapter in a video series based in the near future - set within a city where humans and robots work alongside one another, and work has taken on a religious context. It follows a conversation between two uniformed labourers- an overworked human and a robot which has “malfunctioned” - it is refusing to work, preferring instead to discuss the morality of labour. The piece uses humour and intimacy to subvert the classic science fiction trope of an AI becoming sentient and taking over, allowing the robot to experience laziness and to consider its very nature. We often use humour both in dialogue and visual language to create a seductive pathway through serious topics

Our work is always mixed media, including more audiovisual elements since 2017. Even though our work is influenced by virtual worlds and unreal landscapes, we start from the materiality of an object or substance, working abstractly and physically, before bringing in digital tools and tech Most of the footage in the final film has been created or rendered in Unity but started as character puppets, costumes, unusual fabrics and textures, masks, paint, snippets of performance and story or mood boards. This develops into 3D scans, video footage and soundscapes - uniting the physical and virtual worlds and characters rich with possibilities and potential. The raw live-action footage was shot on Ainsdale Beach, just outside of Liverpool, and the 3D scans were taken in the FabLab at a university close to FACT. These will form the basis of this work and further 3 chapters of the ongoing film series which reflect on the word ‘lazy’ and preconceptions of laziness.

FACT: There is a really certain aesthetic and narrative usually related to the use of AI within digital art - yours feels and looks very different to that. Can you talk a little bit about why?

T(n)C: It is not as simple as “the AI is overproductive and therefore evil '', or “the human is lazy and therefore bad”. We’re generally very tired of classical depictions of science fiction, particularly westernised and English-speaking sci-fi. And this idea of productivity or perfection being the goal. We want to create seduction and surface attraction, but in a very different way - not hiding behind the digital veneer, but exposing it and complicating it, and creating a constant feedback loop between the textures of the “real” and virtual worlds.

We’re very into this idea of the digital wasteland and how that space rubs up against the everyday. This entails building something, scanning it and bringing it into virtual space - this is a workflow we really like and keep experimenting with. Within this work we have a real focus on “dryness” in terms of the environment or aesthetic - how do you reflect the overwhelming drought which everyone has been experiencing in one way or another: of the planet, of being overworked, of creativity drying out? How can you tap into the alluring aesthetics of relaxation and wellness (warmth, exotic textures, sensual light) without the problems of travel or physical presence? In the making of the work we are focusing on starting with something small and very manageable - things which are easier to consume and construct, i.e. using models which are made up of found objects, scraps, trash (or little treasures, as we think of them) to create those more complicated digital landscapes.

This way, the work is like a video game but as it progresses, revokes the idea of playability and cohesion, but becomes an endless journey of loops and portals. We’re always coming back to the materiality of the initial physical pieces and finding different digital outputs for it. We do this in an attempt to make people comfortable being uncomfortable with the topics and concepts of the work

FACT: We’ve talked a lot about residencies and this very intense way of working - can you speak a little bit about how being in Liverpool affected the work, and how even the way of working in a residency ended up shaping the theme of the artwork?

T(n)C: The making of the artwork started a little before we went to Liverpool for the residency, and will continue for months after we stayed at FACT. A couple of months before the trip to the UK, we took a micro-residency in the Austrian countryside which we dedicated to developing some small set pieces and using them to create digital files. During the residency we created characters (their backgrounds, faces, movements, clothing etc); plotted a storyboard, made sets and stage plans; began scanning things and placing them into unity; and ultimately created four unique landscapes which move between a working backdrop, a Silicon Valley-inspired environment, a silent cafeteria, and a transportation space.

We set up a few collaborations in Liverpool, working with some local artists, including Madeleine Hall - an audiovisual artist and musician - to create some of the soundscapes. Some of the FACT staff featured in the film or helped us put it together on location. We worked with the local FabLab to scan objects. It was interesting to be in a whole different landscape and the reason you’re there is to make a work - and especially one about work. You think you will be able to go and spend time just focusing, but actually, it’s not that simple.
We’ve talked about the difficulty of being in a totally different space and city with no context. It’s an illusion to think you can just go to a place with an idea, do 2 months and come away with something complete - it’s very intense. We quickly realised we wouldn’t be able to develop an installation by the end of the residency period, and instead worked with the team to refocus on production and the making of the film work itself, as so much of the post-production could be done remotely and we’re working on that from now until March. It was more important to spend our time in Liverpool exploring, collaborating, meeting people, and giving ourselves permission for experimentation - even to be lazy, take time, and let things sit.

So in a way, making the work itself became a reflection on working sustainably - making it in a way which responds to how you are feeling, where you are, and what is happening in the world around you. Not expecting it to be as easy as you are given a specific window of time for something and then it magically is created, in a final perfect form, at the end. It was important for us to be honest about how we brought our own sense of labour (and internalised ideas about it) into the world of the artwork - important that we centralise the need for that rebranding of “laziness” in creativity and production.

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