This text was adapted as a perfomative piece on two occasions: Sandberg Instituut's Critical Studies "End of Year" Programme in June 2017 and the Conference "Reshaping work in the Platform Economy", in October 2017. The version used below is the stripped down one presented during "Reshaping Work". For more information, please check http://reshaping-work.com/:
AN ARTIST DOESN'T CARE ABOUT MONEY
"You work three jobs? ... Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that.” George Bush. Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005
I graduated from an arts academy in the summer of 2016.
I have to confess. What I do doesn’t usually sell. Funding has also been postponed.
Shit got real, fast.
So the first thing I aimed for after exiting the academy was a stable source of income.
And I wasn’t the only one. People all over Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Singapore and Spain also jumped in.
How do I earn my living, you wonder?
I am one of the chosen few who’s still employed (yet soon to be reclassified as self-employed), out of around 20,000 food delivery couriers working for this one particular company, which charges you 2,5 Euros to deliver anything and everything edible from restaurants all over the city. But if you look at the stats, there are many more of us, divided over around 4 food delivery services, all enjoying our freedom of movement and freedom from stability.
They asked me to ride with them and deliver great food to homes and offices everywhere. Flexible work, competitive fees.
And as a rider I got:
Freedom to work my own schedule.
Small working areas, keeping things fast by delivering in local neighborhoods.
A great app (for iOS and Android) to manage orders for me.
No need to handle cash (apart from tips!).
High-quality gear and equipment.
Sure, but an artist never cares about money.
All I needed was:
A social security number
A bike or scooter
An iPhone phone
And an Internet subscription
As a freelancer, add to that:
A KvK number
An invoice workflow
Paid taxes every quarter
160 Euros to cover for the equipment and delivery bag
I also needed a lot of determination, as I was about to find out
I signed up in January.
It’s now October.
On most days I wake up at 10:00. I don’t start my shift until 17:00. I experience the occasional sore, back ache, headache, need to sabotage the process. It goes on until 22:45, or 21:00. I take a day off per week, sometimes two, when I travel. All my shifts are pre-approved. I don’t get to work when I want, but I can express preference.
My hourly rate is of 9,06 Euros + 1 Euro bonus + tips. My monthly limit is of 160 hours. You do the math.
I have a limit of 23 months of working for this company after which my contract lists me as a potential freelancer or unemployed.
My skills are non-transferable.
My training consisted of a two hour session and one trip to an initial costumer.
After that, I was on my own.
During the activity itself my thought process is never suspended or fully focused on the task at hand. Navigating the city is automatic, a process propelled by an algorithm. Me and my colleagues, we almost never meet. My boss is tied to my wrist and accessible through a 4G network connection. He makes up in efficiency for what he lacks in subtlety.
I sometimes forget if I just picked up an order from a restaurant and need to go to a client, or if I got a new order and I need to go pick it up, or if I’m just biking through the city and need to get home. But then I remember I’m carrying the bag.
I end up ringing around 12 different doorbells throughout the city on a day to day basis. Accumulating between 40-60-80 kilometers of biking per day, depending on the day.
From Bos en Lommer, to Rivierenbuurt, to Dam square, Oud West and Watergraafsmeer, from rich, to poor, to drunk, all hungry.
And then there’s the waiting, the downtime, the in-between moments which allow you to understand that you are part of a larger network and that you depend on it in order to begin your working day. There are times when I wait for 40 minutes for an order to come through. There are no guarantees, but I am plugged in. Me, and others like me. We depend on each other in order for this to work, one extended fabric of selves and their needs, tapped into the same network designed to solve them.
A side-job is not an abstraction. It feeds a constant reflection on the conditions of life in a polyphonic neoliberal society. I’m not an artist who just happens to deliver food. They’re sides of the same coin. I’m an artist and a food delivery courier, at times an account manager for a software firm that outsources its workforce, a stage designer, a project manager, a web developer, a copywriter etc.
Did I tell you I also started working for a cleaning platform two weeks ago?
I am part of what is called “the precariat”: I’m flexible, I bend, enough not to snap, I’m “on call”, “in demand” and “I deliver”, without letting you know the real cost.
But an artist doesn’t care about money.