Artwork delivers key insights into gig economy

Engaging performance art, commissioned by the University, is exploring how the so-called gig economy impacts on people working in the creative industries.

Here to Deliver by Glasgow-based Shona Macnaughton is a playful reflection on a much-debated phenomenon that touches the lives of many artists and producers.

The interactive artwork is part of a wider research initiative that seeks to better understand how this disruptive, free market system is shaping the creative economy.

Macnaughton’s work is a response to a study by the Platforming Creativity project, which involves researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Newcastle University.

Artists’ engagement

The research sought to gauge artists’ engagement with the gig economy many platforms – be it renting a spare room, taking a second job delivering fast food, or even calling a taxi.

Here to Deliver takes the study’s findings and addresses some issues of its own, ‘exploring the conditions of artistic labour, when they are actioned through gig economy structures’.

Appropriately, for a piece focused on volatile consumer demands and job insecurity, this tongue-in-cheek meditation – commissioned in 2019 – has been reconfigured post Covid-19.

Original idea

Macnaughton’s original work had proposed to provide a taxi service during an arts festival that was based on the world’s leading cab-hailing app, but driven by the artist.

Instead of money being exchanged, the currency would be the performance itself.

The taxi service would carry passengers from venue to venue as the artist drove and performed whilst in character and following a script. 

Passengers would take a free ride in exchange for their participation in an improvised drama, as well as their consent to be recorded and included in a future video work.

The resultant drama, between performer and participant, would have invited audiences to muse on what the artist describes as ‘a system of direct exchange of performance for service’. 

Here to Deliver is the ghost of a work within a work. The ghost is the idea that couldn’t be made because of the sudden shift in conditions brought about by the global pandemic

Shona MacnaughtonCreator of Here to Deliver

Virtual encounter

Now, instead of a physical encounter, performances will take place over the phone from within the artist’s car, with people booking to take part via the event platform Eventbrite.

Participants will be taken on a speculative journey through a cancelled festival, mirroring what they might have experienced had the world not dramatically changed because of Covid-19.

In exchange for the free ride, passengers will consent to their voices being recorded as the artist films her journeys. Responses will be edited and become a new moving-image work.

Fresh purpose

The new format offers a chance to reflect on how the pandemic has altered the idea of an arts festival, and the gig economy conditions embedded in its structures.

A live cycle of performances will produced by the artist throughout October and November.

Macnaughton’s work will become a key resource for Platforming Creativity, which involves researchers from Edinburgh College of Art and the School of Social and Political Science.

Art Collection

The University of Edinburgh Art Collection supports the institution’s world-leading research and teaching. It spans two millennia and includes a multitude of artistic forms.

 Here to Deliver will eventually become part of the Collection’s Contemporary Art Research Collection (CARC).

Established in 2015 in partnership with academics in History of Art at ECA, the CARC takes globalisation as its central theme, with a specific focus on women's experience.

Performance artist

Shona Macnaughton creates live performances that explore how the world of work – particularly artistic work – and motherhood intersect with what she calls ‘governing institutional systems’.

Work by the artist is currently on display at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh as part of NOW: Katie Paterson, Darren Almond, Shona Macnaughton and Lucy Raven. 

Here to Deliver was funded by a University of Edinburgh Innovation Initiative Grant. 

Related link

Book here to take part

Edinburgh University Art Collection

Artist's website

Image credit: svetikd via Getty images