Artist pays homage to L.A.’s unseen workers

You know here at Difference Engines, we (I?) I am always posting about invisible work.

The LA Times features artist and sometimes-nanny Ramiro Gomez and his cardboard installations standing witness to the largely invisible gardeners, valets, nannies, delivery people, and other workers who make LA go.

“We see the beautiful homes. The hedges are trimmed, the gardens are perfect, the children are cared for,” Gomez said. “We’ve come to expect it to be this way. But who maintains all this? Who looks after it? And do we treat the workers with the dignity they deserve? Do we stop and notice them?”

Soon the [home] decor magazines that had entertained Gomez began to take on another meaning. He saw the posh living rooms, the fancy kitchens and immaculate gardens, but there was no mention of the workers who took care of them.

Go! Watch the Times’ video showing Gomez’s work! Then come back.

I’m reminded of Leigh Star’s writing on invisible work (“Arenas of Silence, Layers of Voice”) — how there are circumstances where “even when the act of working or the product of work is visible to both employer and employee” the employee is invisible, or a “nonperson” in Goffman terms. She cites Judith Rollins’ experiences of housework for her ethnography where employers diligently ignored her even when she was in the same room.

Invisibility isn’t just an unfortunate oversight in the information system. (A favorite framing of Turkopticon by observers of Amazon Mechanical Turk.) It is a social accomplishment, done through effort. I guess the interesting question for me is why? How does this invisibility get accomplished in different work arrangements and for what purpose? At Google and at UCI, the janitors come around 11pm in part I’m sure to have a clear site to work and be out of the way of daytime activities. Having them out of the way also makes it easier for UC administration to squeeze budgets and cut janitorial hours while applauding themselves for achieved “efficiencies” on the ledger. Bureaucratic rationality and invisible work interlock to make “nonhumans.”


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One Response
  1. Zinc says:

    Here’s a good invisible-labor riff on the “we built it” meme:

    Slaves were the largest labor-pool in the building of the white house. What’s continually weird to me is that it’s surprising to most people. Does this just mean that we shoudl be patient and persistent in pointing to it? But feminists and labor theorists have done that for so long ! Then I think: do they (the Surprised Ones) not know the history of slavery in America? etc. But actually, it’s not just facts that people need to know; it’s the seductiveness of that nonsenical narrative of individualism and the self-made man that’s often at the root of the mis-recognition and invisibility of race-d, gendered forms of labor).