In this edition, we have artist, curator, and GENERATORprojects committee member Laura McSorley, as a follow-up to her conversation with Safya Devautour, which you can watch here. This feature is brought to you by Creative Dundee in partnership with InGAME – creating space to explore the future of the creative industries and video games sectors, locally.
This article takes its name from an episode of Star Trek, ‘Night Terrors’ (season 4 episode 17). While on a mission to find a missing federation vessel, the crew of the Starship Enterprise becomes stuck in a spatial anomaly that causes strange dreams that stop them from getting any deep sleep. This sleeplessness leaves the crew ravaged; at each other’s throats and on the brink of death from exhaustion. An android called DATA can still function, as his synthetic body does not depend on rest or sleep, and he ends up saving the day with a dramatic explosion, one that blasts the Enterprise away from certain doom.
This reference may be worlds away, but elements of the story do not feel so far from my own. I would like to use it as a jumping-off point for some thinking out loud around creative labour, burnout, and rest as a remedy. I promise it is going somewhere.
Where no one has gone before…
Watching this episode (presumably trying to relax) all I could think of were the demands of early-career creative practice, and what keeping one up does to your body. Artists sleep-walk through an onslaught of admin and other work (applications! applications! applications!), with little room or energies left for the actual work: the focus, the joy, the creativity, and imagination. Synthetic beings we definitely are not. After a couple of recent unsuccessful job interviews, a friend and I laughed about illusions of success, at how having a successful creative practice fully depends on how burnt out you are willing to be.
Resistance is futile.
By this I mean – How hard are you willing to work in order to get some work? Is that work essential to the work you are trying to do? How much work can you do to support yourself while you work towards that other work? This burnout is a sickness that sneaks up on you slowly over time, or in trickles, in waves, in force fields or solar flares. It too often leads to the early resignation of creative people from their respective, and preferred fields. I asked Safya about burnout in the games industry during our interview – unsurprisingly it’s an ailment that seeps into all corners of the sector. Safya also pointed out the romanticisation of being a poor and overworked artist – an old trope that has proven seemingly indestructible.
Early career creatives are predominantly members of the precariat class, and the sector depends on that exhausted pool of workers in a way that is unsustainable, one-sided and unstable. We appear much like the extras in Star Trek – the nameless red-shirted crew members seen endlessly pacing the corridors, reliably the first (or only) ones to die when things get a little shaky onboard. I speak from personal experience when I say that this kind of ‘proximity to the action’ is not valuable. I ‘work in a gallery’, by which I mean, I sell postcards in the gift shop. This is also a red-shirted job, one that I found on the Creative Scotland visual arts opportunities page and one which will not get me any closer to a speaking role on the Bridge in this universe or the next. I also work at a pub, where I pull pints and serve burgers (no replicators here) and use my degree in Contemporary Art Practice to write the specials on a chalkboard in my very best handwriting. I volunteer at an artist-led gallery because there are no entry-level arts jobs in Dundee (or anywhere, for that matter), and – nearly two years on from graduating – writing this blog post is my first paid opportunity actually related to my chosen field.
Live long and prosper.
Dazed, we fall into orbit, temporarily sheltered by the stability of those bodies with greater gravity and mass. But what about our own trajectories? What is the strange dream that keeps us from sleeping?
Eyes in the dark, one moon circles…
This was the repeated refrain in the dreams that plagued the Starship Enterprise, and which ended up holding the key to its salvation (it was a clue all along – something about hydrogen?). In the arts we tend feel so strongly about the good the work can do, the value of the work, that we continue to exhaust ourselves with no security or support, settling with proximity, fighting over scraps. Some of us can and will keep working like this, blinkered in our red shirts, keeping ships afloat. A very serious blast is required to escape the pull of the system entirely. I do not have any radical or great solutions in me – only good intentions and a commitment to collaborative and caring practices, and the original dreams that led me to where I am now.
Given some rest, I think I could remember them; I think I could use them to imagine a sector that reflects the ethics of its artists, its theories, its workers, the work. What would that look like? How could it be made a reality? Daydream a little with me, close your eyes, slow to impulse, visualise a strange new art world… how do we get there?
Burn it down – eject the warp core – make it so.
Δ I would like to make a special thank you to an extraordinary writer, friend, and co-conspirator – Jamie Clare Doherty Donald, for always helping me find my words, arranging and rearranging my thoughts thoughtfully, and being a number one collaborator.
Beam me up!
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