Q&A: APHIDS’ Eugenia Lim is taking on the gig economy

Image by Bryony Jackson.

This season at MPavilion, artist collective APHIDS is joining us for a very special multi-event project. As APHIDS and artist Eugenia Lim develop a major new performance work—Easy Ridersvisitors to MPavilion will be able to drop in and see the creative process in action as well as enjoy a night of music hosted by APHIDS and a panel discussion about the work and its concerns. We call it one of our MPROJECTS, but you might also call it an APHIDS takeover!

Eugenia’s performance work, Easy Riders, is being developed in collaboration with members of your friendly local network of gig workers. Combining dance, synchronised bike-riding and performance, Easy Riders is a collaborative choreography that explores the nature of work and human connection in the digital age. Developed and co-created with workers of the gig economy (independent artists and ‘independent contractors’ for companies such as Uber, Deliveroo and Airtasker), Easy Riders asks: How much of our daily lives should be lived by others? What are the moral and social implications of outsourcing? And who do we become once we’re fully outsourced and at our most ‘efficient’—Übermenschen or über-assholes?

Explore all events during Eugenia Lim & APHIDS present ‘Easy Riders: The Prologue’ from Monday 2 to Tuesday 10 December at MPavilion 2019. 

We spoke with Eugenia about the project and why it’s important to APHIDS in the collective’s twenty-fifth year.

Eugenia Lim. Photo by Bryony Jackson.

MPavilion: Congratulations on twenty-five years of APHIDS! How do you view the collective’s role in the current cultural climate?

Eugenia Lim: Thank you! APHIDS was born in the 1990s but in our third decade of experimental art-making, we remain as vital and searching as ever. Our motto is “urgent art for urgent times”—locally and globally, we need art more than ever to pose, process and offer alternative perspectives on the wicked problems of past, present and future. APHIDS has always been about cross-artform and artist-audience collaboration and exchange. In 2019 and beyond, we take this further both through our artistic projects (new works, including EASY RIDERS) and through the way we do ‘business’: we are artist-led, we are deliberately polyphonic—our leadership is made up of three distinct but kindred artistic voices (Lara Thoms, Mish Grigor and myself), and we listen as well as speak to and shape culture. We don’t proclaim to know everything and we believe in learning and sharing the long-game and bringing under-heard voices and perspectives to the fore. Honestly, in this volatile time of climate crisis, social and political polarisation and rising conservatism, deep states, toxic nationalism, socio-economic inequity and far-right-led controls on women, queer, non-binary, First Nations and refugee bodies and rights, APHIDS is an important panacea to patriarchy and business-as-usual.

MPavilion: Your Easy Riders project is an investigation of the gig economy, and what it means to ‘outsource’ our lives. On your website you ask, “How much of our daily lives should be lived by others?” Was this question the germ of the project?

Eugenia: It’s a central question for sure. As our smartphones become an extension of our bodies, we are leaning on and living through them more and more in every aspect of our lives: how we get around, how we eat, how we consume, how we work, how we clean, how we see the world through news, how we hook-up. So I’m interested in the giving-over of our agency and decision-making to the algorithm and what this means for us as individuals, and as a society is becoming more unequal, more neo-feudal. Late capitalism has concentrated power and wealth in the hands of the Zuckerbergs and the tech-bros of our time and that is a very narrow and uneven distribution. The de-unionised and underpaid workers who keep that system afloat suffer in the name of ‘efficiency’. Like so many others, I am not outside this system: I use Apple and Amazon products that are produced, packed and shipped through the just-in-time manufacturing process and have used Airbnb and Uber in the past. Easy Riders is also about trying to find the shared conversation and experience between independent art practice and ‘gig work’: people who often work without guarantees, who self-exploit and under-pay themselves to get jobs and make ends meet, without a social safety net. My work comes from a place of questioning and figuring out how to live with myself, understanding but not subscribing to complicity; finding the cross-over between ‘ethics’ and ‘aesthetics’ and what art can do.  

MPavilion: Easy Riders is currently in development and will incorporate dance, synchronised bike-riding and performance. You’re also collaborating with people working for ride-share apps such as Uber and Deliveroo. Can you give us an idea of how this will all come together?

Eugenia: When it premieres next year, Easy Riders will be a ‘collaborative choreography’ featuring a group of around twenty ‘worker–performers’: gig-workers who work for platforms such as Uber, Deliveroo, Airtasker and the like, and independent artists including myself and members of APHIDS. Working with choreographer Nat Cursio, we will perform a kind of live dance and cycling piece together in civic space: on the forecourt outside ACCA in Southbank. The work will be staged as night falls for an audience of hundreds each night for a few nights; free and accessible to the public. Stay tuned! 

APHIDS collective. Photo by Bryony Jackson.

MPavilion: Easy Riders: The Prologue at MPavilion 2019 welcomes visitors into the development of the project over seven days, with a night of music soundtracked by ride-share drivers and Sui Zhen, plus a panel talk discussing the project’s concept. What will we find if we wander into MPavilion on the days of your project development?

Eugenia: I’m so excited to get stuck into thinking, talking and moving time at MPav! During our residency, we’ll be onsite working through dance and movement workshops with Nat Cursio (you too can move your body: book into two free public lunch sessions on Wednesday 4 and Friday 6 December, 12–5pm), sharing readings related to care, gig work, labour and digital ethics, listening and recording sounds and music with our composer Sui Zhen and hearing from provocateurs from Rose Steele and Alan Macgill from Gig Workers Victoria and digital ethics and equity law researchers Jeannie Paterson and Alysia Blackham from University of Melbourne. You might meet some gig workers and artists and some really interesting thinkers: and together, we will dance, listen or party (or all of the above!).

MPavilion: You’re also separately leading one of our MPavilion Book Club on Thursday 12 December. We can’t wait! You’ve chosen Heike Geissler’s novel Seasonal Associate. Why this book?

Eugenia: Words and titles are actually where my works start: I’m interested in words where meanings are hidden or multiple, and I’m interested in euphemisms. I’m looking forward to talking with the book club about this curious book, written in a kind of detached, almost dehumanised style, and based on Geissler’s own experiences of working the brutal winter season in an Amazon ‘fulfilment’ centre in Leipzig, Germany. As far as I’m aware, Heike’s book is the first long-form published account of working within the ‘just-in-time’ manufacturing and delivery system. That a factory and ‘just-in-time’ casualised, often unsafe work can be called a ‘fulfilment’ centre is fascinating and alarming; as is the poetry of the job title ‘seasonal associate’ which hides the lack of certainty attached to any role as a footsoldier for a digital giant (I don’t work for Amazon, but I myself am a ‘teaching associate’ at a university). 

Explore all events during Eugenia Lim & APHIDS present ‘Easy Riders: The Prologue’ from Monday 2 to Tuesday 10 December at MPavilion 2019. 

All events for Easy Riders: The Prologue are supported by Australia Council for the Arts and APHIDS.

MPavilion 2019 opens in the Queen Victoria Gardens on 14 November 2019 – 22 March 2020. MPavilion is an initiative of the Naomi Milgrom Foundation in partnership with City of Melbourne, Victorian Government through Creative Victoria and Development Victoria, ANZ, and RACV. 

Wominjeka (Welcome). We acknowledge the Yaluk-ut Weelam as the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet. Yaluk-ut Weelam means ‘people of the river camp’ and is connected with the coastal land at the head of Port Phillip Bay, extending from the Werribee River to Mordialloc. The Yaluk-ut Weelam are part of the Boon Wurrung, one of the five major language groups of the greater Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to the land, their ancestors and their elders—past, present and to the future.