[NetBehaviour] Representing Labor: Ten Thousand Cents and Amazon's Mechanical Turk.

marc garrett marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Mon Feb 1 16:36:39 CET 2010

Representing Labor: Ten Thousand Cents and Amazon's Mechanical Turk.

review by Madeleine Clare Elish

Ten Thousand Cents" is a digital artwork that creates a representation 
of a $100 bill. Using a custom drawing tool, thousands of individuals 
working in isolation from one another painted a tiny part of the bill 
without knowledge of the overall task. Workers were paid one cent each 
via Amazon's Mechanical Turk distributed labor tool. The total labor 
cost to create the bill, the artwork being created, and the 
reproductions available for purchase (to charity) are all $100. The work 
is presented as a video piece with all 10,000 parts being drawn 
simultaneously. The project explores the circumstances we live in, a new 
and uncharted combination of digital labor markets, "crowdsourcing," 
"virtual economies," and digital reproduction.

"Arriving at the homepage of Ten Thousand Cents, an Internet artwork by 
Aaron Koblin and Takashi Kawashima, a mottled image of a one hundred 
dollar bill slowly fades into view. Ben Franklin looks out sedately. 
Mousing over the large image, the cursor is replaced with a small red 
rectangle. And here lays the beauty of the project; with the click of 
each rectangle, a zoomed in portion of the one hundred dollar bill is 
revealed. On the left side is a high-resolution photograph of that tiny 
portion of the bill. On the right side, a real-time moving image plays, 
revealing how the image was drawn by a human hand in a drawing program 
created by Koblin and Kawashima. There are, in fact, 10,000 such 
rectangles and each was created by a Turker through Amazon's Mechanical 
Turk marketplace."

Aaron Koblin is a media designer and artist focused on the creation and 
visualization of human systems. Currently working out of San Francisco, 
California, Aaron transforms large abstract data sets into humanly 
contextualized information. In doing so, he hopes to raise at least as 
many questions as he answers. Takashi Kawashima is a designer and media 
artist living in San Francisco. His work explores the re-contextualizing 
of commonplace items to create new awareness of the mundane.

About Madeleine Clare Elish:

Currently studying as a Masters student in the Comparative Media Studies 
at MIT in Boston. Her thesis for the program is focusing on print and TV 
advertising about early personal computers. Madeleine is particularly 
interested in thinking through how material objects extend and sustain 
agency and social relationships, as well as critical studies of 
technological innovation and consumer culture.

Equally important is Madeleine's interest and research about the 
communities and practices of technology, research and activist -based 
art.  She has a degree in Art History from Columbia University in New 
York. Worked at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the commercial 
art gallery, Gavin Brown's enterprise (as well as an assortment of other 
jobs!) Last year I was involved in Boston's Cyberarts Festival as a 
"correspondent." More recently, Madeleine spent the summer with the 
folks at the Medialab Prado in Madrid, working on a (still in process) 
research project about collaborative modes of artistic practice. Also 
currently involved in the planning stages of a digital archive project 
at MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies and Visual Arts Program.


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