Workers Leaving the Googleplex

Andrew Wilson - 2011, 11:03, HD, Chicago

Workers Leaving the GooglePlex investigates a top secret, marginalized class of workers at Google’s international corporate headquarters in Silicon Valley. As Andrew Norman Wilson documents the mysterious “yellow badge” Google workers, he simultaneously chronicles the complex events surrounding his own dismissal from the company. The reference to the Lumiere Brother's 1895 film Workers Leaving the Factory situates the video within the history of motion pictures, suggesting both transformations and continuities in arrangements of labor, capital, media, and information.

Andrew Norman Wilson currently lives and works in Chicago, IL. He holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a B.S. from Syracuse University's SI Newhouse School of Public Communication. He is a 2011 recipient of the Dedalus Foundation MFA fellowship and the Edward Ryerson Fellowship. Past exhibitions and presentations include the De Young Museum, The Banff Center, UCLA, UCSD, The Academy of Fine Arts Finland, The Sullivan Galleries at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The TINT Arts Lab, threewalls Gallery, video_dumbo, The Iowa City Documentary Film Festival, The Abandon Normal Devices festival, Krowswork Gallery, Extra Extra Gallery, and Other Cinema.


Questions & Answers

ATA: Workers Leaving the Googleplex refers to two preexisting works: the Lumiere brothers' 1895 film Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory in Lyon and Harun Farocki's 1995 investigation of that film, Workers Leaving the Factory. Can you speak a little bit about your engagement with the latter filmmaker's work?

AW: Harun Farocki's work has had more of an impact on me than most filmmakers. In Workers Leaving the Factory and his essay on the film he discusses how the primary aim of the Lumiere's film was to represent motion; in particular to create an image of a work force in motion, organized simultaneously by the work structure (a temporal synchronization), the factory gates (a spatial grouping), and the filmmakers' choreography of this spatio-temporal relationship. Yet we have come to recognize that moving images not only represent movement, but can also grasp for concepts. This is what Farocki's film is about - how signs and symbols are taken from reality, as if "the world itself wanted to tell us something." He uses a particular motif in film history - that of workers leaving the factory - to interpret.

The Lumiere's film overflows with information about the historical moment from which it emerged. Above all it was a display of an emerging technology that represented workers at the Lumiere's factory for that emerging technology. It lasts 46 seconds, because at 16 frames per second a 17 meter film reel allows that much. Though Harocki's film is of course embedded with its own historicity, it appropriates footage from other films of workers leaving the factory, and carries along their historicity to investigate film history. Therefore, while being conceptually indebted to Farocki's, I see my video as more closely tied to the Lumiere's as a whole. Though my role as a maker differs from that of the Lumiere's, both works are highly emblematic of their particular moment. There is a multiplicity to any form of visual media that defies any essentialization. But there are dominant tendencies that I can choose from, and for this project I have adopted spatial montage, information visualization, high-definition video, web-distribution, and multimedia installation. Even earlier developments of screen-based media that we take for granted, such as color and audio, are conceptually important. The original Workers and my own present social and technological conditions of their time. Both tell us things. Both represent movement. However, in my representation of movement, the work takes a departure from the other works. What we see are clearly defined tiers of workers. The white, red, and green badged workers on the left side of the image are seen passing by, entering, and exiting a variety of buildings at the Googleplex. Some of them ride the Google loaner bikes, some of them enter a luxury limo shuttle headed towards San Francisco. Some of them may be leaving work, some may be walking to another building to pick up their laundry or exercise in one of the gyms, some may even be just arriving at the Google campus to eat a free meal from one of Google's 20+ gourmet cafes after a day of working at home. The yellow badged workers on the right side of the image are seen leaving the one building they are allowed access to. Much like the workers in the Lumiere film, the yellow badged workers are leaving at the same time because their superiors have asked them to. But their synchronized departure is not especially arranged for a camera. They are leaving at 2:15 pm, like they do every day. The separation and exclusion of the yellow badge class creates difference in movement. Their movement is much closer to the industrial proletariat of the prior two films than the kinetic elite of the white, red, and green badged workers sharing the screen.

And so Workers Leaving the Googleplex suggests both transformations and continuities from where Farocki and the Lumiere's had left us. As we transition from analog media (film, books) to digital media (video, digitized books), "the digital" is still wholly inseparable from the material world. There are voltages in electronic circuits, server farms, upgraded tech for every new product cycle, and a persistent necessity of repetitive, manual labor despite technological progress and the increasing prominence of cultural and informational labor.

ATA: I thought it was fascinating that the plastic, undefined footage of ScanOps workers leaving the 3.1459 building took on the identity and definition that it did -- resulting in your finished piece -- because of upper management intervention. Do you think about what the footage might have become if the subsequent cascade of events had not taken place?

AW: What I accomplished was basically research and development for a much larger, though still very nebulous plan. I was operating with very little information, and hoping to find out more. If those events would not have taken place, I would have continued my research and perhaps collaborated with the workers of the 3.1459 building.

ATA: What new and, perhaps, fun/exciting ventures do you presently have ahead of you?

AW: I recently decided to develop a more large-scale fiction/documentary hybrid video based on the information people have sent me. I can't say much about that at this point. Otherwise I just finished grad school, so I will be teaching this fall, along with preparing exhibitions + publications. I'm considering reducing my possessions to a bare minimum, but what complicates that is a desire to start a collecting crystals.

Q&A by Liz Wing

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