Note On Recreational Labor / by Bryce Hidysmith

< The Isley Bros. - Shout & Pharmakon - Bestial Burden, the last of which I saw much of performed at Elbo Room back in June or July when a raw version of this was written. It is going to be one of those shows I remember for the rest of my life. > 

I attended Ephemerisle for the first time in four years this summer. This year was a bit different than the last few. The usual hutong of sail and houseboats was replaced by a massive surplus barge and several other hand-made platforms—among them the fabulously engineered Flatland, and the Wonderland Teahouse, which had, among other things, a patch of living grass to lay about on while staring at the stars, floating in the delta. The last time I went to Ephemerisle, 2014, I stayed for about 24 hours in total. I'd sailed up with a couple of old friends from SFØ in an old fiberglass Pearson and, once I was actually at the event, realized that there just wasn't really anything happening or anything that I felt a strong need to do, so I left, somehow in the process meeting Richard from Numerai for the first time while waiting for my ferry back to the mainland. Still, the clear thing that I felt while I was there that last time was that it wasn't for me, and I couldn't figure out why. It seemed like it was a place where people who had responsibilities they didn't care about off came to let off steam by engaging in recreational labor. It made more sense to solve complex anchoring puzzles than to start a Fight Club. The whole affair is a curious coping mechanism. The experience of the festival circuit is often not actually that extreme, it's often the prosaic and frankly unpleasant tasks of making sure the portable toilets don't fall into the water and there's a proper bumper on the dock, and that while you're doing that, you don't drop a borrowed impact driver into the water. It's recreational work on the water: a hostile environment that wants to consume all of your stuff and possibly drown you. Simultaneously to the work, there's the need to make sure that a bunch of lost party kids (of which I was one not too long ago) or insecure undergrads don't do anything stupid and instead can be integrated in a way that's symbiotically beneficial to everyone involved. 

The creation of a system like Ephemerisle creates a clear understanding just how much you're externalizing, whether its environmental or informational. The feedback loops are short enough that you can actually see if you made things better or fucked them up more. The thing that is critically important, however, is that while Ephemerisle participants are very conscious of their consumption of physical resources and can, generally speaking, let themselves off the hook for consuming a rather high amount of gas and foodstuffs—though likely less than they would in an urban environment—they can much less easily let themselves off the hook for informational pollution and overconsumption. If you borrow a tool and don't give it back, you might completely fuck someone over who need it to literally fix the land you're standing on. Hell, you don't even want to be macho about how tough or good at things you are. Myself, while only overextending slightly, dropped a wrench in the water at some point by mistake and felt quite bad about it, both because I'd destroyed someone's gear and also made everything genuinely more difficult to accomplish. Recreational labor is constrained by its need for enjoyment to take on the character of local socialism, typically either filtered through a military or a hippie aesthetic of coordination. It is a method for retraining that lost art of producing superorganisms, which seems to have been largely lost in American populations by the end of the 1970s except in the case of media-controlled subculture.