General Intellect

  • Aktionsart | Morningside Academy 201 Westlake Avenue North Seattle, WA, 98109 United States


18 SEPT - 3 OCT 2015
THURS - SAT, 12 - 5 PM

CURATOR: Julia Fryett

South Lake Union Artwalk

THURS 1 OCT, 5 - 8 PM

Aktionsart is pleased to present General Intellect, an exhibition of new work from James Coupe. Featuring a generative database of 3,000 videos produced by workers hired through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (mTurk) service, this exhibition displays single and multi-channel video installations throughout an entire decaying school building in South Lake Union. Coupe makes the individuals behind mTurk visible by instructing workers to record a one minute video each hour from 9AM and 5PM, thus creating an archive of their regular daily routine. General Intellect questions the value of digital and cultural labor, the shifting conditions of exploitation and the new forms of social alienation that we face today, alone and together.

Mechanical Turk is an online labor market that was inspired by the vision of humans helping machines to perform tasks. Comprised of over 500,000 workers around the world, mTurk distributes human intelligence tasks (HITs) which computers are not yet capable of completing, such as image recognition and filling out surveys. The tasks typically contain little information about who generated them or how they will be used. This marketplace is named after an 18th century life-sized, mechanical figure - “The Turk” - who travelled the world playing and winning chess matches against notables such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. It was later revealed that the machine was an illusion and The Turk was controlled by a human chess master hidden inside a concealed box.

Coupe: “In a society where machines have largely replaced human workers, there are few skills or forms of knowledge that remain exclusively human. Marx anticipated this situation when he coined the term “general intellect” to describe the collective, social intelligence that arises from abstract human knowledge. In a data-driven society, our individuated responses to particular lived situations and contexts have in themselves become a form of capital. With the rise of social media, the conflict between human knowledge and algorithmic knowledge has been drawn into sharp relief. Every time we post our thoughts, ideas, preferences, and comments online, we contribute to a mechanized version of Marx’s general intellect.”

General Intellect is presented as a series of single and multi-channel videos, each automatically generated from a set of unique queries to the database of videos uploaded by mTurk workers. Designed by the artist, queries are based upon demographic information and other metadata provided by the workers. Each query is available for purchase and is accompanied with an annual subscription that funds the cost of workers to complete further HITs based on the properties of that query. As the workers produce more content, the results from the queries change and the videos continually update. The database expands and generates new content through the act of collecting, positioning the collector within a specific socioeconomic relationship with the workers that their query employs.

A portion of the sales proceeds benefit Aktionsart, a new art and technology nonprofit based in Seattle that experiments with new models of new media art production, exhibition and distribution.

Hashtag: #generalintellect

Amazon Art

GENERAL INTELLECT is the first project on Aktionsart's film, video and new media art gallery on Amazon Art. 


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Artist Bio

James Coupe is an artist who works with installation, video, internet and public art. Born in Blackpool, UK, he is now based in Seattle, where he is an Associate Professor at the Center for Digital Art and Experimental Media (DXARTS), University of Washington. Recent commissions include the Toronto International Film Festival, the Henry Art Gallery, and the Abandon Normal Devices Festival. He has received grants and awards from Creative Capital, the Prix Ars Electronica and New Contemporaries. His work has been exhibited worldwide, including venues such as Camden Arts Centre, ZKM and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. Further information about his work can be found at

Program Partner