Dear Līga Spunde,
I could not resist but sink into that luxurious office chair and perform exhaustive research. It was boiling hot, it felt as if there was a fire blaze surrounding me. Time seemed like a construct that faded war away from the space I was in, and all I wanted to do was to work, work, work. The desk gradually began to resemble a mosaic of piled-up dirty dishes, unfinished coffee cups, snack leftovers, scraps of paper, and stacks of opened books with highlighted passages. The environment I should feel at ease turned into an alienating shack. My choked brain had extended into a computer screen. I became a cyborg.
Allow me to take you on a journey of statistics, numbers, time, and web spaces.
According to Gettysburg College research conducted by Andrew Naber in 2007, an average person spends around 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime1. That is approximately 10 years of our lives. An average working day in Western societies is agreed to have 8 hours, which counts as 2920 hours per year. However, an average artist is thought to work around the clock.
According to the United Nations, the global average life expectancy in 2019 was 72.6 years2. Which are an overall 6359760 hours. However, Finish Centre for Pensions says the average retirement age is 65 years in the EU Member States, which is 569400 hours3. Yet, the suicide rate increases among people aged between 15 and 244. Vincent Van Gogh shot himself at the age of 37.
According to the Finnish Institute for Health and Care, heavy stress shortens our life expectancy by 2.8 years5. That is approximately 24528 hours. However, the highest factor to shorten life expectancy was smoking, which shortens our lives by 6.6 years6. And that is approximately 48180 hours. In 1929, famous public relations agent Edward Bernays launched an advertisement promoting smoking cigarettes amongst women, with the slogan “torches of freedom”7. Although, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that males tend to smoke 3,1% more than female users in 20158.
According to an article in American Psychology, written by A.C.Parrot, stress levels increase in those who develop a habit of smoking9. However, the fallacy of a cigarette being able to reduce stress is widely popular amongst average hard workers10. David Lynch once famously stated: “While I was doing Eraserhead I had 40 coffees every day and I smoked 40 cigarettes.” Yet, the myth of an artist whose image was perpetually accompanied by cigarettes has never been unresolved11.
According to WebMD, a combination of mental stress, feeling not at ease in a job environment, and losing a sense of self is called burnout12. It is a state in which one can no longer maintain daily routines. The New Yorker article released in 2021 states that three out of four workers experience burnout13. However, there is little evidence on the average percentage of artists that experience burnout. But among artists, the idea of artistic burnout, also known as artistic blockage, seems to be very prevalent14.
Without a warning my bodily sensations ejected my brain, I had to have a wee, my apologies. I am a human again.
According to my Macbook pro clock, I have spent approximately 2,5 hours researching topics related to the changes in human behavior since the advent of the industrial revolution. I took a 20 minutes break to smoke a cigarette and make a cup of coffee. To make a perfect moca, it takes around 6 minutes for the water to boil. While waiting, I managed to scroll through approximately 25 Instagram stories, check new messages on Whatsapp, and look up unopened emails. I am planning to spend 2 more hours writing this letter to you. Am I still a human, or a 3D-printed sculpture programmed by AI?
I cannot neglect the fact that your work Work Work Work harshly resonates with my own everyday routine. Research, take notes, copy-paste, read, research, take notes, work, work, work. I do not really know when or from where the notion that one’s life goals can be attained by hard labor first entered my head, but at this moment it feels like it naturally belongs there.
It’s as though one is unwittingly baptized into the labor religion. But like any other system, it has its consequences. As Slavoj Zizek famously stated in The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology, thirst is not satisfied by a can of Coca-Cola, but by a yearning for something more. A foregrounded excess that fuels the drive to crave. Here, in the same way, an illusionary desire to fulfill individual desires tethers the body to an office chair and seizes its full concentration on what is to be done on a computer screen.
Did we forget how to take a rest? Or perhaps it is better to ask, what is rest? Do you know? The modern wisdom sphere ( better known as Google) returns 6.440.000.000 answers when I type in “what is rest”. Though I must work again in order to come up with a suitable response. To look for the best explanation. Since the two hours have already passed, I’m not sure if I can plug myself into the machine again.
Dear Spunde, your work is a satirical modern paradox, I cannot find my way out.
1 Gettysburg College. (2021). One third of your life is spent at work. Gettysburg College. https://www.gettysburg.edu/news/stories?id=79db7b34-630c-4f49-ad32-4ab9ea48e72b
2 Roser, M., Ortiz-Ospina, E., & Ritchie, H. (2013). Life Expectancy. Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/life-expectancy#:~:text=The%20United%20Nations%20estimate%20a
3 Retirement Ages. (n.d.). Finnish Centre for Pensions. Retrieved July 6, 2022, from https://www.etk.fi/en/work-and-pensions-abroad/international-comparisons/retirement-ages/#:~:text=At%20the%20moment%2C%20retirement%20at
4 Suicide by Age | Suicide Prevention Resource Center. 2017. Sprc.org. https://www.sprc.org/scope/age
5 stress and lifestyle can predict how long we live. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200311100857.htm
6 stress and lifestyle can predict how long we live. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200311100857.htm
7 O’Keefe, Anne Marie; Pollay, Richard W. (1996). “Deadly Targeting of Women in Promoting Cigarettes”. Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association. 51 (1–2): 67–69. PMID 8868553
8 NIDA. 2021, April 12. Are there gender differences in tobacco smoking?. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/tobacco-nicotine-e-cigarettes/are-there-gender-differences-in-tobacco-smoking on 2022, July 6
9 Parrott, A. C. (1999). Does cigarette smoking cause stress? American Psychologist, 54(10), 817–820. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.54.10.817
10 Smoking and mental health. (2021). Www.mentalhealth.org.uk. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/a-z-topics/smoking-and-mental-health
11 Smith, P. (2014). The glamorisation of smoking in art. Voice Magazine; Voice Magazine. https://www.voicemag.uk/blog/3590/the-glamorisation-of-smoking-in-art
12 Brennan, D. (2020, December 3). Burnout: Symptoms and Signs. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/burnout-symptoms-signs
13 Nast, C. (2021, May 12). Burnout: Modern Affliction or Human Condition? The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/05/24/burnout-modern-affliction-or-human-condition
14 66% Of Artists Have Experienced Burnout At Least Once. (2021, August 18). Pirate Studios. https://pirate.com/en/blog/news/sixty-six-percent-of-artists-have-experienced-burnout/
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