Justice for Cleaners

I wanted to make work which related to our common subject - everyday life - while also encompassing larger themes relating to value and worth. Early in the research process, I was impressed by the work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles, through works such as Social Mirror and Manifesto for Maintenance Art, managing to creatively engage with the subject of cleaning, which is a boring and repetitive task.

 

I considered what form the work would take carefully. I contemplated leading people through a series of actions, then thought about using a more journalistic style, mindful that whatever I chose would require an ethical approach.

 

At this stage, early in the New Year, I was working out the territory I wanted to occupy this needed honing. I think it came down to what I wanted to reveal. I wanted to make someone more visible and their life more visible. I decided to film and interview over a period of time, showing someone’s external life from work.

 

I began looking into collaborating with people employed in the commercial cleaning sector and  wrote to several organisations, including Justice for Cleaners who were at that time gearing up their campaign to be brought in house at SOAS (School of Oriental and African studies).

As a result of the 'contracted out' cleaning culture, institutions such as SOAS, University of London have been reluctant to take responsibility for their cleaners. Poor treatment of workers within a university that theorises human rights is revealing about structural inequality.

 

Many cleaners said they felt both their employers and staff at the university did not treat them with dignity and respect. Many spoke of being "invisible" and "the lowest of the low", and of being spoken to rudely.They are par tof the 'prectariat 'a burgeoning global class living and struggling on low wages and increased job insecurity.

 

The cleaners are upbeat, however. They have been energised and empowered through the Justice for Cleaners campaign, which has amassed support across the University.While the campaign is around employment rights, there is also a social side, for example music nights held on the SOAS campus. This merging of the work and leisure space is positive; drawing people together, developing a real community, which in turn makes their employment campaign stronger.

 

I have been helping Justice for Cleaners in publicising their campaign by producing a series of fliers for meetings and demos. I created a unique template so that each flier would have the same clearly identifiable design to which could be added images and text details. This proved useful as the fliers often had to be turned around quickly.

 

I have filmed interviews several SOAS cleaners about their working lives. As they couldn't speak English well, I had a translator ask my questions, and they replied in their first language, (Spanish or Portuguese). I did this because I wanted the interviewees to express themselves freely; I didn't want to take their voice away.

 

I met a Columbian man, Efra, who is a singer, while also working as a cleaner in London. I also met Consuelo, a cleaner as well as a union rep, Consuelo’s night shift, which shows the early morning journey to work of one of the SOAS cleaners.

 

At one point, I considered making the difficulty in communication and misunderstandings part of the work. This may still happen in the editing process 

 

I want the work to act as a means of encouraging communication. Could dialogue be treated as process to be valued over and above the production of the final object?

 

When I first started the project, I thought a major theme would be women and work in the UK but as research developed, emergent themes included immigration, and the perceived creep of neoliberalism in education.  

 

The idea of value systems and how people are valued is redolent within the work. If people are invisible they're not seen as being valuable. You don't see what their contribution to a building or organisation actually is.

 

Also, the psyche is complex. The external look of somebody is not what they constitute internally.

People working in the commercial cleaning sector are dashing around on public transport between different jobs and different venues - they're almost always moving; the notion of flux.

 

The structure not firmed up enough – I need to be clearer about how it will ultimately look. I have to find the right kind of tension within the edit. Whether that's something going through an optical things which inverts it, make it clear that this image is being filtered.

 

There are several ideas which link into using time based as a medium. The rigidity of a 2D image fixes a person, and this piece is communicating ideas about life in the 21st century, which moving image lends itself to more easily.