In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Still ExhaustedIntroduction
  • Catie Cuan (bio), Douglas Eacho (bio), and Sydney Skybetter (bio)

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Figure 1.

A NAO robot and its shadow as part of the Time to Compile choreorobotics installation in progress, December 2017. Created by Catie Cuan x RAD Lab from 2017–2018. Catie Cuan, Amy LaViers, and Ishaan Pakrasi, with additional contributions from Erin Berl, Wali Rizvi, and Novoneel Chakraborty. (Photo by Catie Cuan)

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As we were writing this introduction, the performers in SAG-AFTRA

were still on strike against Hollywood studios and Silicon Valley streamers, and considering expanding their fight to cover acting for video games (Parrish 2023). Like all workers, these actors demand more compensation for their effort and protected labor conditions. Like many workers, the actors fight against potential attempts to automate and discount the cost of their labor—in this case, through recent advancements in neural-network machine learning known to the public as artificial intelligence (AI). While these advancements have arrived with their share of hype and grift, there is no doubt computers will increase their capacity to generate convincing images and speech at a click. Always engines of simulation and doubling, our ever-theatrical computational systems have become expert mimics of human visual art and language. AI thus presents intriguing questions about our relationship to falsity, the semiotics of language, and the crumbling liberal fantasy of authentic subjectivity (Jucan 2023; Dixon-Román and Amaro 2021; Jarvis 2021). But the actors of SAG-AFTRA were not marching from existentialist commitment. They marched for their interests. They posed the duality of computers v. performance, like so many Hollywood stories of doppelgängers, as antagonistic. As SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher put it: “What is our business, our gestures, our likeness, our acting, our voices? That’s what we’re selling. That’s who we are” (in Robb 2023). [End Page 11]

Drescher’s philosophical concerns, long explored by performance studies, have become headline news as an issue of labor.1 Over our cumulative years watching what the world’s live artists have been making, this does not surprise us. Media artists like Anna Ridler and Sam Meech have emphasized the embodied efforts of their practices as they create over-laborious high-tech processes, as in Ridler’s hand-created mass dataset of tulips training an automatic tulip-classifier (Myriad [Tulips], 2018), or in Meech’s hacked knitting machine slowly weaving “8 Hours Labour” for its audience (8 Hours Labour—Limited Term Appointment, 2023). Just as dance artist Michelle Ellsworth has set herself to follow absurdly “efficient” routines of “outsourced” choreography generation (Clytigation: State of Exception, 2015), Mariel Pettee has trained an AI pose-detection model on her own movements in a melancholy solipsism, exploring what the work of just one body can produce (mememormee, 2023). Working too much or too little, creating effort where none was needed, cutting out effort that seems integral to an art practice: such have become the regular techniques of artists thinking with technology. And this focus on effort in turn orients artists to the field of performance.

Performance is work, indeed it “does its work while you watch,” and is often concerned with work (Ridout 2006:29). Contemporary employment often takes place at a computer, as does, increasingly, the work of performers: TikTok dancers, Twitch streamers, auditioning actors, and experimental artists alike. This truism may seem banal, but while it is discussed in venues ranging from newspapers to stages to galleries, it has largely escaped scholarship on digital performance. The field-defining writings of the 2000s, wrangling a vast array of art practices into some coherent framework, attended to transhistorical and rather geometric thematic categories: “Liveness,” “Space,” “The Body,” “Time,” and “Interactivity” are chapters in Steve Dixon’s Digital Performance (2007), while Chris Salter opts for “Sound,” “Bodies,” “Machines/Mechanicals,” and “Interaction” in his Entangled (2010).2 Even as writers turned to more explicitly political concerns over the 2010s, whether to surveillance (Morrison 2016; Harding 2018) or to questions of democratic communication (Felton-Dansky 2018; Bench 2020), the politics of labor were frequently unattended.3 In these prior works, one could think computers were only machines used for...