Hardly Working

Artifacts of our lives & labour

At its worst work is draining, dull, disparaging. At its best it is hardly work at all. I am fortunate enough to be on a short sabbatical. During this time I am kicking off a little creative project to explore the changing dynamics of work. This is hardly unchartered territory. But I believe there is still an opportunity to explore and express the topic differently; to creatively connect the dots between disjointed conversations that span purpose, productivity and ordinary people’s working lives.

Our economy is stalled. Inequality is worse than ever. Workers are anxious and disengaged. At the same time entrepreneurship has emerged as the characteristic art form of our age. Work is at the heart of so many of our fundamental societal challenges. It also holds so many solutions. Many of us are struggling to reconcile the idea of following our passions with the reality of paying our bills. Those lucky few who find that elusive flow create aspirations and expectations that feel unattainable to the rest.

Over the next few months I am aiming to explore the problems and potential of contemporary work by collecting and presenting stories of the people, places and things that symbolize its shifts. The project as it stands has two parts. First is a story-gathering phase. I will be interviewing a collection of people representing three different subsets of jobs: the most common jobs (i.e. teacher, accountant, retail clerk); today’s rapidly growing fields (occupational therapist, genetic counsellor, computer scientist); and roles that are largely disappearing (travel agent, journalist, mail carrier). Where these interviews will lead exactly is unclear, but at bare minimum the raw material will plug into the second portion of the project.


Digitization has profound implications on how we identify with our work.


The second piece is a more creative endeavour exploring contemporary ‘work things’. Our world is rapidly dematerializing — and that’s largely a good thing. But that digitization is also having profound implications on how we identify with our jobs. As industry after industry undergoes digital transformation, the items that change and remain make for revealing artifacts.

The Museum of Contemporary Work is an exploration of the recent past, present and future of labour through the objects that support the working world. These artifacts, both real and fictional, explore themes such as performance, productivity, status, identity, gender and motivation. Many items have all but disappeared. Others are re-emerging as souvenirs. Some are tools, others inspirational tokens. Each is a symbol of the invisible forces at work in our work. They tell stories of how our daily labours are changing us — as employees, individuals, teams, families and communities.


While ultimately the plan is to show in a physical space, this project will begin, fittingly, as a digital exhibition. In the coming weeks I will be reaching out to prominent folks across a variety of fields to contribute ideas for artifacts to include in the study— these submissions may either be representative of a contributor’s professional perspective or of her more personal experience of work. If you are someone who has thought about this space and/or you are interested in participating in some fashion, please don’t hesitate to email me at hazell.sean[at]gmail.com

Stay tuned, more to follow.