Seize The Day is a mixed media artwork I made recently for my popup show at Jealous Gallery, “Surprised But Not Delighted”. It’s a conceptual noticeboard - based on reality, that divided my audience: some enjoyed its humour whilst some felt angry at the idea that “not everything about startup culture is to be celebrated”.
Co-working, the popular grass roots movement of individuals and small teams working together in shared spaces, has been co-opted by global businesses wishing to support entrepreneurs and tech communities by giving them a sanitised, branded workspace experience. Coworking spaces promise greater productivity than you might achieve at home and better networking opportunities than you could achieve in your own office. In London, Google’s co-working space ‘Google Campus’ is aimed at wannabe startup entrepreneurs and their teams and comes with a light up ‘Seize The Day’ slogan and life sized space suit as you walk in - and a community notice board which is the starting point for this piece of work. The items on my noticeboard are either real or reimagined, but based on real life content as an indicator of the motivations, preoccupations and aspirations of their inhabitants.
The unpolished nature of the space, and the fact that it has ‘old school’ notice boards is by design rather than by accident. It paints the sponsor as a friendly approachable benefactor and I imagine, seeks to establish the ‘you can make it’ message (although most don’t). “Seize The Day” itself is a translated “Carpe Diem” motto for anyone who hasn’t studied Latin, (or watched Dead Poets’ Society).
And what of the content? In this case the tech co-working community, via its notice board is advertising internships, is expecting its engineers to want to be ‘rockstars’, and is helping insurance giants to improve their fortunes via hackathons. Yes, there are opportunities, there are things to get involved in; some of them might well be good. But generally the items on the notice board are uninspiring: a bunch of ‘social media’ internships and some mindfulness courses.
With “Seize the Day” I want to offer a glimpse of the tech co-working culture to the uninitiated; whilst the overuse of stickers and smileys exaggerates the content, this is based in reality. Whilst I want to challenge the ‘happy clappy’ enthusiasm for technology and startups in general, for low-paid-high-skilled work and for sharing your ideas with Google in exchange for desk space, I didn’t have to try all that hard - the actual content on the community notice board kind of did a lot of that work for me. The bootstrapped necessity and DIY ethos of tech industry hopefuls is typified by the improvised, hacker, slacker, bootstrap aesthetic. I fear Startupland is being dumbed down and simplified to appeal to a lowest common denominator. I doubt that real startups, or people with exceptional ideas and talent are to be found here.
“Seize The Day” inspired visceral reactions in my audience, some felt I’d dealt a below-the-belt blow at an honourable activity and aspirational, innocent community. Really? If people need a notice board with too many smiley face stickers to think harder about Google's co-opting of a grass roots movement and startup (disruptive?) culture, then I need to make more like this.