The Laboring Self

The Laboring Self is a socially engaged, interactive installation that draws parallels between unregulated labor and its effect on workers’ bodies in the Industrial Revolution and Mechanical Turk workers on’s online job platform. For each site where it is installed (the Dallas Museum of Art’s Center for Creative Connections, October 3-January 8, 2018, Castleton University, February-March 2018; the Context Library Series, University Library Gallery at California State University San Marcos, March-July, 2018) burrough and Starnaman present three works within this larger series: Hired Hands, Weaving Texts: An Untitled Audio Tour, and Illuminated Voices. Each work is an artful invitation for visitors to participate in a conversation about labor and their bodies. burrough created a series of ten videos for the DMA video wall that tells the story of the project and is recombined for screens at each location. Starnaman works with the history and archives at each site to generate a site-specific audio tour for Weaving Texts. At each location we present a site-specific version of The Laboring Self, collecting Hired Hands with various zip codes and universal stories of the working body.

The Laboring Self has been partially funded by a Community Project grant from Humanities Texas and a grant for pursuing civil and social justice through art from Puffin Foundation West, Ltd.

Read more about our collaboration on this project at:

The Dallas Museum of Art Blog, "Uncrated," Artist Interview: xtine and Sabrina (October 11, 2017)

“While contemporary digital and crowdsourced work seems different from the industrial labor that became common in the 19th century, there are many parallels. For instance, workers who enter evolving industries have few protections. Laborers in the 19th century were ultimately able to address some of the exploitative and dangerous conditions in their workplace, but today’s crowdsourced laborers have few mechanisms to voice their concerns.”

The UT Dallas Magazine, "Professors Collaboration on Plight of 'Invisible' Workers" by Stephen Fontenot (December 2017)

“We meet an amazing cross-section of people at the DMA, and talk about their jobs,” Starnaman said. “And whenever we’ve brought up this project with UTD students, we learn many of them work via the sharing economy. You’ll witness this moment of connection — sometimes, it’s not until you see how your work interacts with the world that you really understand what you’ve made.”

“As part of the exhibit, there are cardboard worker hands that visitors can write on to tell their stories.”

“We ask the community, ‘How does work affect your body?’ People respond in Sharpie, some people even embroider, and that gets added to the exhibit,” Burrough said.

Seven Days Vermont, “'The Laboring Self' Critiques Digital Gigs" by Rachel Elizabeth Jones (March 21, 2018)

“Predominantly a conglomeration of cardboard and string, the exhibition doesn't look like much. Behind the works, however, is a powerful mission: to make visible the labor of "hired hands" in the digital space, and to detail that labor's impact on the bodies and minds of those who perform it.”

“Combining digital savvy and low-fi craft, "The Laboring Self" argues against the internet as an inherently liberating force. It counters that vision by highlighting how bodies and capital are caught in a complex, sometimes overwhelming, web — whether or not we can see it.”