[ISEA2011] Paper: Stephanie Rothenberg & Jeff Crouse – Laborers of Love/LOL: Behind the Scenes


For this paper, Jeff Crouse and Stephanie Rothenberg will discuss the critical issues raised in their crowdsourcing project “Laborers of Love/LOL” created in collaboration with Michael Schieben. The project explores how sexuality and desire are mediated through new technologies, specifically new models of global, outsourced labor. The project takes the form of an Internet service that uses anonymous online workers to create “customers” video fantasies.

Utilizing Mechanical Turk, an online job engine created by Amazon.?com, LOL leverages a global online workforce of workers that are not specific to the sex industry but rather a diverse group of home/computer based workers. In an assembly-line fashion, Mechanical Turk workers collect images and video related to the fantasy from a variety of websites. A real time data visualization is then presented on the website consisting of worker locations (Waco, Texas; Bangalore, India; etc) and IP addresses of the mined content (images and video). This visualization maps the process and “production” of the video fantasy. The final product is a short video mashup, more funny than sexy and explicit, where 1970’s experimental cinema meets canned Photoshop filters, and ultimately reflects on how desire and pleasure are represented, fragmented and abstracted through the consumption of online digital media.

The project evolved from Crouse and Rothenberg’s 2008 project, “Invisible Threads”, a virtual designer jeans sweatshop created in Second Life (SL) that explores the growing intersection between labor, emerging virtual economies and real life commodities. Using “just-in-time” telematic production, avatar workers paid in SL Linden dollars operated virtual textile machines that manufactured real world, wearable, blue jeans.

Critical issues the paper will address include: outsourcing and the precarious/flexible virtual workplace with concern to ethics and worker alienation; the shifting role and definition of “sex worker”; sexual identity and preference; relationship of fantasy as a social construct and how fantasy functions behind the screen space of the computer. A brief overview of the technical side of the project including the custom software utilizing computer vision and advanced graphics techniques will be also discussed.

  • Stephanie Rothenberg creates provocative interactions that question the boundaries and social constructs of manufactured desires. Through participatory performance, installation and networked media, her work investigates the mediation of the physical, analog body through the digital interfaces of commodity culture. Adopting the role of cultural anthropologist, the medium of the techno-sphere itself becomes a laboratory for raising critical questions about our interpersonal relationship to technology and its broader socio-political implications. Stephanie has exhibited, performed and lectured in the US and internationally at venues including the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, 2004/2009 International Symposium of Electronic Arts (ISEA), Whitney Museum of Art Internet Art portal, Moscow International Biennial for Young Art, 2008/2010 Zer01/01SJ Global Festival of Art on the Edge, Banff New Media Institute, LABoral Center for Art & Industry, Amsterdam International Film Festival, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, ConFlux Festival, Interaccess Media Arts Center, Bent Festival, Chicago Underground Film Festival, Trampoline Radiator Festival New Technology Art, Knitting Factory, Studio XX and the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing. Recent awards include a 2009 Creative Capital in Emerging Fields and a 2008 New York State Council on the Arts Individual Artist Award (NYSCA). She has been a resident at Eyebeam Art & Technology Center and Harvestworks Media Art Center in NY, NY and at the free103point9 Wave Farm in upstate NY. In addition to her own artistic practice, Stephanie is Co-Director of REV-, a non-profit organization based in New York City, that furthers socially-engaged art, design, and pedagogy. REV- produces projects that fuse disciplines, foster diversity, and vary in form (workshops, publications, exhibitions, design objects, etc.). Engaged with different communities and groups, REV-‘s projects involve collaborative production, resource-sharing, and a commitment to the process as political gesture. The organization derives its name from both the colloquial expression “to rev” a vehicle and the prefix “rev-“ which means to turn—as in, revolver, revolution, revolt, revere, irreverent, etc. Stephanie received her MFA in 2003 from The Department of Film, Video and New Media at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is currently Associate Professor in the Department of Visual Studies at SUNY Buffalo where she teaches courses in Communication Design and Emerging Practices. pan-o-matic.com
  •  Jeff Crouse

Full text (PDF)  p. 2065-2068