Dictionary of Invisible Work
Note to the reader
This dictionary is a tool for sharing cultural workers` experiences of invisible work. We call “invisible” the work that takes up a significant part of our daily routine, however without being acknowledged as “actual” work. This dictionary particularly focuses on activities that are, on the one hand, essential for our “official” work to be realised, but which nonetheless remains hidden from even our own understanding of productivity.
The goal of the dictionary is to identify and name those blind spots of our daily labour and to define them as precisely as possible in terms of the experience of doing them. As a point of departure for the writing of definitions we created a set of guiding questions:
How would you define/describe this activity?
How do you feel about doing this work, how does it affect you (emotionally)?
What does this work produce, what is its outcome?
How much time do you spend doing it?
What is your strategy for dealing with this activity?
Therefore, the definitions in the dictionary combine a matter-of-fact style of writing with a subjective perspective marked by the use of ”I“.
You can contribute to the dictionary by adding an activity and its definition or by redefining an already existing term and sending us your proposal. We will review and proofread, then upload your contribution as soon as possible.
Contact info: email@example.com
A | Analysing – Anticipating (someone’s unspoken needs/desire) – Archiving – Ass-kissing – B | Backing off – Building a trust – Browsing – C | Calculating the budget – Cleaning – Clubbing – Commenting on written work – Compromising a vision – Coordinating – Creating a common vocabulary – D | Designing a flyer – Developing strength – Developing a vision – Discussing – Doubting – E | Exploiting your sociality – F | Feedbacking – Following up – Facebooking – G | Graveyarding/Ghosting – H | Having a Skype conference – I | Investing money – Informing yourself – L | Looking for (the cheapest) tickets – M | Making a phone call – Managing a dependence relationship – Mis-documenting – Misspelling (and correcting a misspelling) – Moneypullating – N | Networking – O | Observing – Over-doubting – P | Planning of future activities – Pretending to be identifying – Pretending to kiss asses – Printing – R | Reading – Recovering emotionally – Refining sensibility – Rehearsing – S | Self-organizing – Sharing a vision – Sitting/Staying seated – Skilling – Sleeping – Smoothening/Harmonising – T | Talking about your project – Thinking – Training – Translating – Travelling – Trying to reach someone (also: reaching out for someone) – U | Updating a CV/short bio – W | Watching videos – Writing – Writing Applications – Writing Emails – Writing a Ph.D.
Analysing rehearsals, performances, written text, your own daily performances etc.Almost the entire time spent walking, cycling or driving I try to analyse my own work, either related to the past or to the future. Figuring out how improvements could be made, what was (possibly) lacking, what was done in an inappropriate way and what functioned well. Analysis, we were told, is an integral part of the process of evaluation and a necessity for the improvement of one’s (daily) practice.
Anticipating (someone’s unspoken needs/desire)
As a host, producer, choreographer or programmer you are expected to be relaxed, unflappable and even cheery. You have to set the tone and expression in which you interact with each of the ”co-laborators“ or find a tone that suits the explicit or even implicit desires of an (educational) programme, application etc. In short, you have to figure out strategies to prove that you are graceful, sincere and refined.
Almost every day I store materials in a certain logic, in hard copies or electronically. By sorting data I build up a memory for next week, next month and next year. I store in arch files, boxes, Dropbox, on multiple USBs, MEGA and Google Drive. Through archiving I accumulate my professional “glory box”.
By archiving the unused, but worked out, I accumulate ”thoughts“, expressions, working methods, exercises, photos, … for the future.
Everyone has to be an ass-kisser at least sometimes. Not literally, of course, but metaphorically. This term names a possible strategy of investing in a forth-coming project (short-term ass-kissing) or in a better future (long-term ass-kissing). Ass-kissing can therefore be understood as a networking practice. Hence it often becomes an automatic and reflexive manner of (re)acting to expectations regarding one’s sociality and/or availability. This is why this term has a negative connotation. Ass-kissing can be practiced in different ways, depending on one’s moral stances. Seen in a positive light, ass-kissing could describe the will to return someone’s sympathy and the acting out of this will in an exaggerated manner.
Also: to trigger someone else’s most sensitive spots with seductive attention. Done in order to get attention, start a dialogue or get someone interested in you and/or your work. Ass-kissing can have the positive result of getting an invitation (to some festival or something), getting financial support (for you and/or your project), increasing your visibility and increasing your importance, among other things.
The ideal outcome of this activity would be to develop a shared vision, a fruitful dialogue and a productive collaboration with the person who’s ass one kisses. However, it is essential to be careful to keep your independent decision making in tact. At all costs, keep your integrity!
Refraining from announcing your opinion/ideas that you know will slow down and distract the group’s working process or decision-making.
is very important, since it makes the working process easier. It allows you to waste energy only on the necessary things. Trust enables people to directly confront each other, gives you the self-confidence to speak up for yourself and allows you to share your ideas and doubts. The fact that people are often circulating around the same groups of people, building a network of collaboration with certain actors in the field implies that trust among collaborators is essential and comforting. Moreover, if you are not well paid, you usually prefer to be surrounded by people with whom you enjoy the process of work (at least).
The time consuming exercise of searching for the right and “suitable” information includes among other things: checking application possibilities, festivals or conference open calls, new or needed magazines, journals, books (in the library, online book shops, pdfs available online), props for performances etc. Browsing around the web is exhausting, unpaid and represents one of the basic activities of a cultural worker.
Calculating the budget
Calculating the budget means also revisiting your budget according to the “real” circumstances. It is mainly related to cutting the budget (for the project, as well as your own existences), planning, reorganizing, adapting, deplaning, re-reorganizing, re-adapting, planning, re-re-reorganizing…
Can be considered as the most unpleasant and the most invisible activity (and is thus in concurrence with thinking). It is essential, by the way.
But it can also be the other way around: cleaning can be a means of procrastination, a way to avoid or postpone other work(s). (Un)luckily, there is always something to be cleaned.
Clubbing is a night dance activity related to professional life in terms of networking and finding inspiration. It provides you with the opportunity to relate and interact with people of different backgrounds and cultures by creating a common context. As an inspirational activity it offers an entrance to both pop- and subcultures and to different music scenes. One can get in touch with what is going on “now”. One can also observe tendencies, influences and alternative models of group organization. Clubbing can also be an activity of training and cleansing. It supports relaxation and can potentially lead to experiencing flow and entering a state of trance…
Commenting on written work
Usually I provide written or oral feedback to my friends as a favor (in return), or to colleagues’ written work for free. When I am too tired to comment, I try to sell it to myself as an activity that gives credit to my intellectual persona and strengthens social capital. One can also gain knowledge about various topics.
Compromising a vision
Too often, you have to compromise your (great) vision due to various reasons, including budget cuts, programmers’ visions, abilities of your collaborators, time possibilities or other.
Creating a common vocabulary
It includes spending time on finding out what are the common references among a group. It also includes getting used to each other’s ways of thinking and formulation of ideas. It produces a common understanding about the meaning of specific terms. An example of this practice would be to create a dictionary (like this one!).
A common vocabulary is needed when individuals attempt to work together in a group. It is meant to reduce the risk of misunderstanding and to smooth over the consequences of such misunderstandings. Every field requires its own jargon in order to define and assert itself as a recognizable area with its own body of specialized knowledge. Once initiated into a particular field, participants are subsequently able to cope with complex words or jargon such as “dialectical ontology” for example. While these words can be uttered quickly both in conversation and in writing, it is the defining, redefining and maintenance of the vocabulary´s circulation that requires extensive time and effort. An individual may persistently promote the use of a specific vocabulary through writing and speaking in professional contexts without even being conscious of it. However, it takes a long-term collective effort to use the words before the new vocabulary is accepted as natural within the group.
Designing a flyer
Developing a vision
When a vision suddenly comes to you or out of you and, following a strong urge to turn it into reality, you start defining it, circling it and adding to it. As a second step, you might start looking for people to share it with (see: “sharing a vision” and “compromising a vision”).
Wasting time brainstorming and sharing thoughts on the selected subject, negotiating, dis-agreeing. It is often enacted in a small group of people with whom you create, develop, test and share your ideas. A (good) discussion provides new insights and questions or supports your own position through/with additional arguments as well as training your capacity of speaking in public. In a discussion your thinking process can become visible (even if only to those engaged in the discussion).
The condition of being constantly preoccupied with whether or not you have made the right decisions in your life and have chosen the right job (also existential doubting). It is usually a consequence of the condition of extreme precarity and isolation, which become an integral part of your everyday life and work.
Existential doubting can also be a consequence of your (possible) lack of recognition in the (performance) art market, which means lack of visibility for your work and yourself. This lacking is not only a serious problem in regard to your self-esteem, but has also consequences for your material ability to continue working, since many of today’s funding bodies base their decisions very strongly on public visibility of the work and the artist.
Intense self-blaming and consequent “paralysis” are often the result of doubting, especially when you give those thoughts free reign. You can usually bring yourself back to relative “productivity” by just continuing to do what you do and ignoring those thoughts. In the meantime, reading and following the discourse on the subject of labor in the (performing) arts in today’s neoliberal societies can also be helpful—if you’re into this sort of thing. Then you can recognize yourself and your experiences in what is defined as today’s precarious class.
Exchanging and sharing experiences with others is key to relieve this pressure, at least of isolation. Being active politically is also very helpful in order for long-term solutions to be found/ implemented in the country where you live and work. And, if extreme financial precarity persists, in some cases the taking on of a badly paid and/or uninteresting job is something that cannot be avoided as a “solution” in the short-term.
Exploiting your sociality
The process of constantly opening up to other people and interacting with them. A happy, always accommodating and available persona of yourself, eloquent and witty, is produced as a result – and considered as the norm.
When in writing, following up is a practice best described by the exclamation mark. A forced “!“ is what it feels like to follow up: Enthusiastic rather than annoyed; excited and anxious rather than bored or angry. Never complain about a late reply. Best not even to mention that you have written before and were ignored, as it sounds bitter and preachy. Being ignored is nothing to you, it flies over you and leaves no trace or impact! You are always friendly and well meaning! Never give up! ”Hello!“, ”Hoping this e-mail finds you well!“ or ”Hoping you had a nice and restful weekend?!“, or ”Looking forward to hearing from you!“ are essential constituents of following up via email. Between the beginning and ending of a follow up e-mail, I can spend hours finding just the right formulation for reminding the reader that I exist. The results of following up are either immediate or none at all.
And then, from time to time, I get followed-up!
In order to be visible, one can easily spend hours on FB, counting “likes”, making “likes”, adding ”friends“, reading posts, book-marking articles, checking events, creating events, and so on.
I wonder whether it’s really true that being on FB makes you and your events become more visible. Facebook counts everything.
Last year I spent more than 1100 hours on FB…that’s almost 46 days.
Haunting, this invisible work is performed by the material that has been deleted/kicked out during the process of creation, aka your killed darlings, and reappears to you in your dreams.
Or: Putting material aside in the creative process. There are a lot of ideas and material that are not necessarily used for the output/product but as long as you are not sure whether you will use them or not, you don’t delete them but save them in several documents, or write them as a footnote. These ideas and material then roam around like “ghosts” – in your mind, body or materialized (on paper, as real objects) before the “final” selection. Then they can finally be buried (graveyarding) in regard to this concrete project, but without ever being completely forgotten. They continue ghosting around. Those ideas and material, even if buried, always have a possibility to be reincarnated.
A ghost is an invisible something. Hence ghosting is one of the main terms referring to invisible work. At the same time ghosting is a by-product of a selective activity, which is sometimes materialized but not really shared with others. For example, unused footage produced for a certain movie that one-day could be used for another movie can be understood as a ghost.
Ghosting also relates to “ghost-writing”. It can imply copying/mimicry, consciously or unconsciously.
Having a Skype conference
What always frustrates me with Skype is the impossibility of reaching you. The screen in which we show up in front of each other, creating an illusion of proximity, separates us. I can see you but cannot touch. We share the same time but not the same place. The promise of proximity, when there are hundred of kilometers between us, makes the distance even more tangible, almost unbearable. I could shut off the video function. But then I am even lonelier. Talking to my computer. If there are more of us, more people involved, the video function doesn’t work. We would need to buy it. But we don’t want to. It’s difficult to sense who will start talking next. So we’re constantly interrupting each other or speaking at the same time. Because of that, we developed a sign language to be used in the chat. ? = I don’t understand, ! = I want to say something, … = Get to the point.
On the other hand it is exactly Skype, that keeps me alive, proves that I am appreciated, close to those who are far. However deceptive it is, it gives me a feeling of being close to you. But in this case, it is usually not about work, is it?
It is an ideological must. A must of being informed more, better, all the time. An easy way to waste a day or days is just browsing, reading, …or just informing yourself with whatever.
Looking for (the cheapest) tickets
Includes comparing ticket prices for Trains, Flights, Buses, Airport Shuttle Services or even combining all the possible means of travel.
Advanced bookers do not simply compare the different means of transportation but also different companies in different languages.
It’s becoming a real thrill, bargain-hunting. After hours of suffering, confirmation feels like the highest award.
(Plan B: I could work as a producer.)
Making a phone call
Making a schedule
Chopping time in a way that all my activities fit together. There is nothing better than crossing over completed meetings/ tasks/events. My strategy includes ignoring at least one task per week and leaving it for the future.
Managing a dependence relationship
In the act of mis-documenting it is necessary that the ”mis“ remains invisible. Mis-documentation appears before and after a project, it’s the beginning and the end. It includes the translation from an artistic practice, vision, or idea into a promise or contract. The artist’s needs to prove that the project was realized and the money was spent according to the plan (budget calculation). Proofs should be materialized and/or collected: e.g. (wrong) receipts. The proof will later be verified. This act of verification is often violent and brutal.
How to get out of the vicious circle of verification of verification of verification of verification…? How does verification relate to the truth?
A manual of mis-documentation is urgently needed:
Consider the question: For whom do you mis-document? And what is the purpose of your mis-documentation?
When you know the rules, you can play with them!
The more advanced you are in mis-documentation the more it becomes a pleasurable activity.
Example: When you apply for EU funding, please consider that working with physically, psychologically, and socially handicapped people increases your chances to get money. How far are you willing to go?
For a consultant the act of encouraging the applicants to mention their collaborators’ physical, psychological and social handicaps raises questions on political correctness, ideology of work ethics, and categories. There is a discrepancy between the pleasure of playing the game and the perverseness of the game.
There is an obsession with documentation and making every single detail of your process visible. Transparency is mandatory. Mis-documenting tries to preserve the right to invisibility by making the wrong things visible and protecting the right things from exposure.
Documenting also relates to your own working process because you think you will need the documentation, for example when applying for funding. This creates a lot of additional work that can lead to potentially useless material. In a field where there are no common practices of archiving, collecting and writing of history, a lot of practices become invisible and forgotten.
Misspelling (and correcting a misspelling)
One of the most invisible activities. It is considered to be an “error” in written language, a breaking from the accepted language rules, and can occur in any kind of text, from SMS to email, to articles/essays. This error can either be accidental, during touch typing (i.e. “blind” typing) for example, or because of writing in a language in which the orthography (spelling) is not completely familiar to you. It can also be an error not of yourself, but of the “auto-correct” function of the writing program which you are using.
In a slightly didactic gesture, misspelled words are underlined by a red dotted line in most word processing programs. However, there is always the possibility that an error has slipped the program’s attention and can only be discovered by you rereading the text.
Unconsciously, I perceive misspelling as a “weakness”. I fear that it will make me look bad in the eyes of the person who reads my text. It is a source of shame when I misspell in my native language, proving that I have been living abroad for too many years. Reversely in a foreign language, it will make me appear as a “foreigner”, not yet fully mastering the language and therefore, my new self.
People say it is always good to engage in calculated and strategic interaction with key people in your field or people that are potentially useful to know. I am not sure about this. It takes me from a few hours up to three days to recover emotionally from such interactions.
Looking at something in order to understand, get inspired, judge, moneypullate, learn and reproduce it.
An intense activity that cannot be sustained during a long period of time -maximum 1h. Then you need a coffee break and can do it again. Observing can be trained.
The audience of a performance is attentively observing during the first 7 min. So, if you want to convey an important message, do it in the beginning.
Taking time to sit down and observe: your own thoughts, the architecture, people, contingent events, etc. In the frame of over-information and over-mediation, the trap of continuous occupation can lead to repetition of various activities that are not reflected/thought through or over, nor defined. In order to make a difference, one needs to take a break, to stop and breathe. Observation doesn’t mean to value everything in your environment, but to be aware of what surrounds you.
To make doubts productive, and even to exploit doubts with the aim of over-coming them.
The aim of over-doubting is to further define an artistic aim and re-e-value-ate the significance/relevance of (your) artistic contribution to the contemporary world.
Planning (of future activities)
Pretending to be identifying
Pretending to kiss asses
I cannot move towards synthesizing processes if I don`t have printed copies of drafts. First I print, then I create.
A constitutive part of many people’s work: reading emails, messages, posts, newspapers, articles, books. The multiple-reader browses, selects, skims, marks, tags readings and sometimes even shares them with others. Reading is mainly an important and continuous part of research and a strong tool for supporting your own visions and making ideas “more relevant” in the eyes of others.
If one wants to be an artist or cultural worker, s/he has to be familiar with some Deleuze quotes. Becoming Deleuze.
An activity or even a lack of activity in a state when you are not able to work on anything because of being in a bad emotional state as a consequence of stressful or disappointing experiences. Examples: after a rejection; after funding cuts; after a lot of work; because of being not satisfied with your own work; etc.
Constant activity that accompanies all of your work and everyday activities. Trying to sharpen senses, thoughts and arguments with the purpose of observing precisely, understanding “more”, and/or getting new ideas. Always be open for new impulses coming from what you see, hear, and experience.
Sharing a vision
In order to adjust to the same idea or aim within a group. Finding people with whom you share a vision is rather a lucky coincidence than the norm. Therefore, a shared vision is a good reason for building up a more stable collaboration. If you do not share a vision with your collaborators, it could easily lead to a disaster, ending in the interruption of the process, weak results, health problems, mental issues..
How to share a vision without imposing it? That’s double work.
One must constantly add new skills and knowledge in order to be more competitive. Almost everyday, I learn something new. I attend various courses about social media (performance), new computer programmes or reading groups, teaching and sharing procedures and methodologies, dance and performance trainings. And often, while attending the course, I figure out that the training is not of great value; that it does not fit my needs but maybe just proves that my ”performance“ is already sufficient.
As sleeping seems to be the opposite of being awake or not sleeping, it is also an integrative part of work and the working process. Sleeping is not only unavoidable but also a productive part of our 24h-rhythm. In the case of lacking sleep, one becomes less efficient, less productive, less creative and therefore needs more time for particular activities. What kind of work could be done if one is tired? Sleeping time should be paid as working time. See also recovering emotionally.
Encouraging people to open up, share their thoughts and ideas; to resolve conflicts within the group, among your collaborators.
Talking about your project
To have a clear idea of your individual and your company’s ongoing project so that you can talk about it to other people immediately when the opportunity arises.
The most invisible thing.
You can try to make it visible by saying “I’m thinking” or you can develop a range of facial expressions that potentially represent thinking.
Organizing a group discussion could also help.
To keep (a body/practice) in shape, to maintain a certain practice or to get better at doing it,
Also: to nourish and share a practice, develop a routine; training can be understood as preparation that includes repetition and learning.
Bridging something. It includes searching for words, making knowledge circulate,
helping one person to be better understood by others in a meeting when you’re the only one who seems to get what s/he says,
an attempt to adapt, to transpose a discourse to another context in order to build bridges and make communication possible.
Examples of translating:
– from one language to another one
– from one medium to another one
– a practice into a discourse
– a vision into a concrete disposition.
Covering a distance in order to arrive where the actual work is taking place. Thus, it’s a kind of pre-work or enabling/supportive work.
Sometimes, the time when you can finally do some real work, using the time on train, bus, plane to read, write, plan or just (re)think some (more).
The more I travel the more I hate it.
Trying to reach someone (also: reaching out for someone)
In the process of trying one can become completely unproductive. You get the feeling that you’re losing your precious time. This can lead to nervousness and ineffectiveness, while in the worse cases to a break down. While you are waiting, you think of time that could have been spent on something more productive or at least more pleasurable (i.e. leisure activities).
Updating a CV/short bio
A CV or short biography has to be updated regularly and revisited in order to suit a particular purpose. Writing a CV could appear as writing fiction, constantly speculating about how the Other would like to get to know you, or what kind of expectations s/he might have. In that sense, you are creating and recreating your own (in)visible appearance.
I now have three of them. Actually it’s the same in different lengths: short, medium, large.
Of rehearsals, of performances (your own or others)
Can make your thoughts move and help you progress with/in your thinking process. It can be understood as a dialogue with yourself or an internal monologue. In former times it was mostly done with a pencil in a notebook. Nowadays, typing on a computer (notebook) is more common than writing by hand.
What I mostly enjoy when writing is that I have time and space to develop (think through) an idea and to observe how this idea evolves. Writing is a way of making
things/ideas more concrete, not only by formulating them but also by placing them on a piece of paper, therefore by giving them a certain permanence or validity. Ideas then start to exist independently of the thinker and gain a certain autonomy. Writing opens up worlds. It is not just about explaining something to someone, it is not only functional in this sense. It can also be a companion and an enabler of thought and of imagination.
Whether writing itself is invisible is difficult to say, considering all the contemporary faces behind the screens of their notebooks (computer) that you can see in cafés, at train stations, in trains, at the airport or in other public spaces. At least their typing is visible but the process of writing seems to involve much more than making words appear on a page or on a screen.
Email is a form of written communication that is produced and transmitted electronically.
Email communication is almost immediate; a few seconds after pressing “send”, the receiver can read the email on her/his web browser. An email is often quite an informal and fast form of communication, the best emails being short and catchy, getting straight to the point and immediately being understood by the receiver.
To write an email, however, is more often than not a laborious invisible activity. Emails that are meant to convey an important message like the result of a research process or the content of what one is currently working on, and especially emails to people that you are depending on professionally, can take some hours if not days to write. The challenge is to include all necessary information in a short text – so that at best the receiver would not have to scroll down to read the end of your message – and to be eloquent nonetheless.
Despite the large amount of work put into writing a professional email, it can often remain unanswered. This then requires a follow up email that has to be formulated in such a way that will not offend the receiver, so that s/he will still be motivated to answer the email at some point in the future.
When used to simulate a conversation or an exchange between many participants, emails have the tendency to accumulate. This is also the case when writing a meta-email in order to check the functioning of the email communication (“have you received my email?”) or when one wants to clarify a misunderstanding that was created by means of an email, to repeat information that were already sent but that were not read carefully enough, etc.
Writing a Ph.D.
Investigating a specific topic or a guarantee for 3+ years of existence (if you get a fellowship or studentship). Implies spending more time doing invisible work with a strong belief that the Ph.D. will lead to more visibility (by making you a relevant author/scholar) – an investment in yourself and your better future. You think that people will suddenly start calling you, writing to you, offering you jobs and inviting you to give a lecture at their event.
On the other hand, writing a Ph.D. gives you opportunities for researching properly and studying in depth a topic of your own interest. It excites you and brings hope and satisfaction, but it can also cause frustration when you figure out that a Ph.D. is just one more project, additional work, that you barely can cope with. But we like to dream how one day we will sign a new signature, writing down “Ph.D.” with our names.
The Dictionary of Invisible Work is a project proposed and initiated by Heike Bröckerhoff, Milka Ivanovska Hadjievska, Marialena Marouda and Jasmina Založnik.
This edition of the dictionary was created in a workshop hosted by “Manifesto of Independent Work“, a working group initiated by ID Frankfurt / Independent Dance at Tanzplattform Deutschland 2016.
Florian Ackermann, Nika Arhar, Fanti Baum, Frederic De Carlo, Hannah Dewor, Rebecca Egeling, Yola Garbers, Sabine Glenz, Kai, Andrea Krohn, Marius Mike Miron, Karen Piewig, Christin Schmidt, Sasapin Siriwanij, Jörg Thums, Johannes Veit, Kristina Veit, Kathleen Witt, Ronit Ziv