Framed by her long-standing research on collaborative practices, geographer and ethnographer Penny Travlou introduces two projects she has been involved lately: Platohedro, a space, a platform and community based in Medellín, Colombia, and the Feminist Autonomous Research Center in Athens (FAC). Platohedro refers to the indigenous concepts of Buen Vivir and Buen Conocer and works on adapting them to the contemporary living conditions in urban societies, while FAC puts an emphasis on commnity-based autonomous knowledge production. Both are concerned with forms of thinking and working together that allow for creating alternatives to extractivist, colonial, racist and anti-feminist modes of (knowledge)production.
The exhibition OPEN SCORES brought together a series of practices through which artists articulate their specific forms of digital commons. From online archives to digital tools/ infrastructure and educational formats, the projects envision a (post-)digital culture in which notions of collaboration, free access to knowledge, sustainable use of shared resources, and data privacy are central. For the exhibition, each of the projects created a unique score to present their practice.
Participants: Dušan Barok (monoskop.org), Marcell Mars & Tomislav Medak (memoryoftheworld.org), Sebastian Lütgert & Jan Gerber (0xdb.org), Kenneth Goldsmith (ubu.com), Sean Dockray (AAAAARG), Zeljko Blace (#QUEERingNETWORKing), Ruth Catlow & Marc Garrett (furtherfield.org), Laurence Rassel (erg.be), Marek Tuszynski (Tactical Tech), Michael Murtaugh, Femke Snelting & Peter Westenberg (Constant), Stefanie Wuschitz (Mz* Baltazar’s Lab), Panayotis Antoniadis (nethood.org), Alessandro Ludovico (neural.it), Eva Weinmayr (andpublishing.org), spideralex, Sakrowski (curatingyoutube.net), Creating Commons. Curated by Creating Commons (Shusha Niederberger, Cornelia Sollfrank, Felix Stalder)
Participants: (from left to right): top row: Stefanie Wuschitz (Mz Baltazars Laboratory Vienna), Laurence Rassel (erg Brussels, constant Brussels) 2nd row: Ruth Catlow (furtherfield London), Rahel Puffert (University Oldenburg), Patricia Reis (Mz Baltazars Laboratory Vienna), Marc Garrett (furtherfield London) 3rd row (middle to left): Cornelia Sollfrank (CC research project), Mario Purkathofer (Dock18 Zürich), Zeljko Blace (MaMa/ccSPORT) bottom row: Marek Tuszinsky (tactical tech Berlin), Shusha Niederberger (CC research project), Peter Westenberg (constant Brussels), Felix Stalder (CC research project). Not in picture: Penny Travlou, University of Edinburgh
Venue: Hek (House of electronic Arts, Basel)
The two-day research meeting was preceded by an evening lecture by Laurence Rassel, the director of e.r.g. (École de Recherche Graphique, Brussels). In her lecture, she elaborated on her way of managing the art school for which she has conceived a method that combines elements from open source software, feminism, and institutional psychotherapy. Rassel also took part in the next two days’ meetings in which her model served as a reference for reforming the institution from within, while all the other invited projects are self-organized institutions.
In a first-round all the participants introduced their organizations which clearly demonstrated a huge variety not just in scale, but also in terms of objectives and forms of organization reaching from non-profit businesses with 30+ employees to associations without any employees that are largely based on volunteer work.
The introductions were followed by two theoretical inputs, one by Penny Travlou (remotely), and one by Rahel Puffert. As an ethnographer Travlou, for many years, has conducted research on collaborative practices, collaborative economies and networks, everyday commoning practices related to questions of self-organization, alternative and circular economies, de-growth, and sharing practices (rhizomic ethnographies), investigating local projects (e.g. in Athens and Medellin), but also considering the transglobal scale via distant platforms. She works with the term commons, engaging in a critical discourse on commons, updating it to accommodate concepts such as the “other” and the “stranger” (as a member of the community e.g. in refugee projects), to decolonize knowledge practices (e.g. peer-to-peer-learning with indigenous), to establish concepts of collaboration based on time, i.e. to build trust over time by slowing down as activist and academic practice, to create shared cultural values via commoning. Stewardship and care are core elements of cultural commoning in her understanding, also considering feminist discourses on reproduction, which underline some of the ideas articulated in the first workshop. Her notion of the commons also combines informational/digital commons and urban/educational commons and reflects social practices that unleash peoples’ capacity to create things together and take their lives and livelihood in their own hands. Her research is aligned along the concepts of culture and creativity in particular. The second input by Rahel Puffert introduced various concepts and aspects of the “institution” that could serve as a basis for the following discussion. With her personal background in pedagogy, Puffert chooses the “school” to be one example of “institution,” transferring the earlier introduced categories –affirmative/descriptive, critical/deconstructive, and mediating between the two – to this basic institutional format. Following theoreticians such as Parsons, Illich, Foucault, or Bourdieu, she elaborated on how schools are conceptualized as either supporting society as it is (integration, adjustment, achieving of goals, preservation of norms ) OR enabling learning and critical thought. In this context, she suggested distinguishing between “school” and “learning” and pointed out the advantages of both, institutionalized and self-organized learning environments.
Triggered by the theory inputs, the rest of the meeting consisted of moderated work sessions between all participants along prepared questions. The questions included e.g. how experiences in self-organized contexts are different from experiences with and within institutions, what the particular institution produces and holds in common (e.g. space, publications, knowledge, services (hosting), skills (campaigning), tools, libraries, methods, code, films, manuals, reading lists, situations, redistribution of money, etc.), what the organizing principles and agreements are for the various projects are (e.g. association, foundation, company, etc.), if and how they define roles and functions within their structures (questions of leadership, power, and decision-making), if and how self-critical modes of working and rules for rotation e.g. are in place, if ways of working are being reflected and made transparent (internally and externally) e.g. through documentation as in open source, what the funding models are (public, private, self-funded, etc.) and aspects of sustainability and transition. Another considerable part of the discussion was circling around the question of how aesthetics could be understood and defined in the context of organisational practice. It was suggested that the act of (consciously) giving form to a material, an action, a relationship to the world, technology, an institution and thus making something perceivable, visible, transferable, and “beautiful” can be understood as aesthetic practice.
Almost all the projects embody different approaches and values, but what all of them hold in common, was an understanding that they are more or less embedded in the current capitalist/neoliberal system while using their organization/space to create, live and promote their own social imaginations for which DIWO (doing it with others), collectivity and collaboration are important features as well as the provision and care for shared resources. This outcome suggests a proximity to the commons discourse that the projects share.
Educational formats and projects in the art field have become part of everyday practice – at least since the “educational turn”. Art institutions offer workshops or provide resources for diverse formats: Colleges, academies, free schools. In this way, they create learning situations in which speculation, reflection, updating, and production can take place – independent of prescribed necessities and according to self-determined exigencies. Extensively theorized and problematized as part of curatorial practice, these activities stand for a “shift from exhibition-making to the production of knowledge” and have snatched the formerly rather neglected questions of education as a (partial) task of art from the realm of classical mediation and endowed them with the symbolic power of new discursive power. Art mediation reacted to this with its own shift, an “educational turn in education” that consists of adopting and further developing increasingly radical and critical approaches to education – and shaping them into a critical practice of mediation.
Questions that accompany these developments both in the curatorial field and in the field of mediation are questions about one’s own relationship to the institution for which one works or within which one works. It is not uncommon for direct relations with institutional power to produce contradictions with one’s declared critical practice – and such contradictions cannot always be made positive or productive through reflection alone. This may be one of the reasons why artists* and cultural producers* are working to create their own places and spaces for dealing with knowledge. The creation of self-determined situations for learning – and unlearning – promises to escape institutionally established boundaries and thus not only to be able to act more freely in terms of content but also to test new methods of producing and imparting knowledge in practice by fundamentally questioning traditional knowledge practices.
our work in the research project Creating Commons, in which aesthetic practices
committed to the production or preservation of digital commons are investigated,
as a starting point, I would like to reflect here on a few selected projects in
which educational aspects also play an important role. These are different
formats, most of which are located outside of traditional institutions. In these
projects, what Philip Agre has called “Critical Technical Practice” is
intertwined with self-organization in an expanded artistic environment using
emancipatory pedagogical approaches.
Meanwhile, The Public School has become a classic. Founded in 2008 in L.A. by the US-American artist Sean Dockray, it evolved from reading together in Reading Groups, with the self-organized art space in which these groups met also being an important element. It is a school without a curriculum, composed of a group of interested people, a space where they can meet, and a website where the seminars are coordinated. The principle is that individuals offer what they can teach or what they would like to work for, and others make specific wishes. This means that the contents of the seminars are not curated, but develop exclusively according to the needs and competencies of the participants. The process of negotiation takes place online on the project’s website, which not only allows all decision-making to be followed transparently but is also open to all interested parties. This makes it the organizational heart of the project. For the programmers* of the website, the political claim of the project is most strongly reflected in the software: “Every programming decision influences what the users* see and how they can act.” In order to realize the claim of greatest possible inclusiveness, the website is continually adapted and further developed in consultation with its users*. This means that the tool that enables new knowledge-production situations is itself part of the “commoning” process. Not only do form and content meet to open up a new space of possibilities; digitally networked infrastructure also meets with a local community. Due to its universal structure, the project was able to spread to about a dozen other cities.
One project that, in contrast to AAAARG, for example, is gaining considerable momentum through its local positioning and the formation of a community is the Vienna-based Mz* Baltazar’s Lab – a hacklab, in existence since 2008, which is run by a trans*feminist collective. The core of this project is the space in which workshops, meetings, lectures, and exhibitions take place. According to Stefanie Wuschitz, one of the co-founders, the physical space as a common resource represents an important moment to bring together diverse users* and to create collective practices. Collectivity means common knowledge production, but also care and solidarity. The ethnologist Sophie Toupin locates Mz* Baltazar’s Lab in the worldwide scene of feminist hackspaces, which by creating their own spaces promote feminist resistance practices and expand the conventional understanding of hacking with gender-related and feminist aspects. Intersectionality is another important working principle, and the associated preoccupation with inequality, oppression, and violence brings entirely new dynamics to the strongly masculine and white field of technology. Accordingly, the activities of the hackspace develop along the principles of feminist hacking, whose basic assumption is that both technology and gender are coded and thus also codable – i.e., changeable – systems. Feminist hackspaces are places where a coexistence is cultivated that clearly differs from the traditional hacker scene and its merciless meritocracy, so that as many people as possible can train themselves in an emancipatory engagement with technology.
de recherche graphique (e.r.g.)
The projects mentioned above could be supplemented by a number of other examples since almost all of the projects examined by Creating Commons also have educational aspects. These range from workshops within the framework of public institutions to the creation of one’s own infrastructure and self-organized schools. The example of the École de recherche graphique (e.r.g.) in Brussels shows how a radically critical pedagogical approach within an institution can sound out and even expand its boundaries. The publicly funded school, which follows the tradition of experimental universities of the 1970s, has been undergoing an institutional transformation since 2016 under its current director Laurence Rassel. The principles of free software are combined in Rassel’s management concept with feminism and the “institutional psychotherapy” developed in France in connection with reform psychiatry. For Rassel, the focus here is on setting in motion what is stuck in an institution – the instituted – through a process of re-establishment. Here, the central concern is not the construction of non-institutional contexts, but the transformation of an existing structure with the aim of involving all participants in the process of transformation and thus practicing a form of collectivization.
For all educational approaches in the field of digital commons, the principles of free software are an essential inspiration. They not only configure the collaborative and open-source creation of software but also stand in their social dimension for a reorientation of power relations in relation to the creation, dissemination, and authorization of knowledge in the age of the Internet. With values such as collectivity, transparency, new forms of self-organization and radical free access, they provide essential impulses for emancipatory knowledge practice in general.
However, these values are not simply present, but are the subject of an ongoing process of negotiation, reflection, and development, i.e., “commoning.” Educational formats in this context are nothing other than the creation of situations in which this process can take place. Not only is given knowledge imparted, but it is also shown how knowledge is recognized and legitimized and how a diverse set of knowledge can be created or disseminated. Joint learning – and unlearning – is thus one of the essential resources of digital commons.
 See Irit Rogoff, “Turning,” in Curating
and the Educational
Turn, Paul O’Neill & Mick Wilson (Eds.) (Amsterdam:
Open Editions, de Appel, 2010).
 Some examples: Community College,
Nachbarschaftsakademie, metroZones Schule für städtisches Handeln,
A.C.A.D.E.M.Y, Free University, etc.
 Jaschke and Sternfeld, p. 14.
 Ibid., p. 17.
 Philip Agre, “Toward a Critical Technical
Practice: Lessons Learned in Trying to Reform AI,” in Social Science, Technical Systems, and Cooperative Work: Beyond the
Great Divide, ed. Geoffrey Bowker et al. (London: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1997).
 See also spideralex, “Creating New
Worlds – with cyberfeminist Ideas and Practices,” in The beautiful warriors: Technofeminist Praxis in
the 21st Century, ed. Cornelia Sollfrank (minor compositions, 2019).
 See Sophie Toupin, “Hackerspaces: The Synthesis of Feminist and HackerCultures,” Journal of Peer Production 5 (2014).
 See Sophie Toupin, “Feminist
Hacking: Resistance through Spaciality,” in The beautiful warriors, ed. Sollfrank.
BAYERN 2, Zündfunk Generator. Diese Sendung zum Nachhören unter: www.bayern2.de/zuendfunk Als Podcast und in der Bayern 2 App verfügbar
Früher versprach das Internet, allen Menschen Zugang
zum kollektiven Weltwissen zu verschaffen. Heute verdient Google
Milliarden mit der Internetsuche – was nicht google-bar ist, existiert
nicht – und mit YouTube als audiovisuellem Netzarchiv. Und die
EU-Urheberrechtsreform droht, die Macht der Netzoligopole noch zu
vergrößern. Wider diese fortschreitende digitale Privatisierung und
Einhegung arbeiten Künstler und Aktivisten daran, Zugang zu kulturellen
Gütern zu schaffen bzw. zu bewahren, indem sie Web-Archive und
Netz-Plattformen betreiben: Beispielsweise das Kunst-Wiki Monoskop, die
Online-Bibliothek Aaaaarg, das Archiv für Avantgarde UbuWeb oder die
experimentelle Filmdatenbank 0xDB. Sie schaffen die technischen
Infrastrukturen, bilden Communities und handeln gemeinsam die
Nutzungsbedingungen aus. Autonom, kollaborativ und kostenlos stellen die
Projekte kulturelles Gedächtnis her und bieten der Allgemeinheit einen
Zugang: ein Netz von file sharing-Technologien und Schattenbibliotheken
jenseits von Social Media-Plattformen und Kulturindustrie. An der
Züricher Hochschule der Künste untersuchen der Kultur- und
Medienwissenschaftler Felix Stalder und die Künstlerin und
Netzforscherin Cornelia Sollfrank im Rahmen des Forschungsprojekts
“Creating Commons” die Web-Archive als ästhetische Commons-Praxis:
Welche Aufgaben und Verantwortlichkeiten ergeben sich für Archive wie
für Archiv-Remixer? Wie wird Archivarbeit im Spannungsfeld von
Zugänglichkeit und Urheberrecht zur Gemeingut bildenden Praxis?
Femke Snelting develops projects at the intersection of design, feminisms and free software. In various constellations, she has been exploring how digital tools and practices might co-construct each other. She is a member of Constant, a non-profit, artist-run association for art and media based in Brussels.
Spideralex is a sociologist and holds a doctorate in social economy. She is the founder of the catalan cyberfeminist collective Donestech that explores the relation between gender and technologies developing action research, documentaries, and training. She was the coordinator of a four-year international program with the title “Gender and Technology Institute”, working with human rights defenders and women’s rights activists around the world on topics of privacy and security online, but also in the physical and psycho-social domain. She has edited two volumes on technical sovereignty initiatives.
In this interview, Femke and Spideralex talk about their shared practice of engaging with what they call feminist technologies. They discuss their understanding of technology as an embodied practice, that bears desired relations as well as terrible connections. How can we live in ungracious times? They explore, how digital infrastructure could work differently with the help of the feminist server, which is both a real server, a need, and at the same time a thinking tool. Within this discussion, they also address questions of autonomy versus ongoingness, the role of language as a tool of investigation, and the cultural dimensions of technology like expectations of servitude behind functionality.
Interview conducted by Cornelia Sollfrank, 16 September 2018, HeK (House of Electronic Arts Basel).
Talk with Isabel de Sena FRIDAY 11 October 2019 19:00
This talk examines several feminist concepts that are relevant for envisioning the (digital) commons. What they share is an understanding of knowledge as that which occurs by sustaining relational webs and ongoing relays, rather than as the endpoint of linear progressions.
I discuss firstly Ursula Le Guin’s The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction (1986), in which she urges that the first piece of technology was not a weapon but a bag for carrying seeds, asserting that the function of technology is not resolution but continuing process. Donna Haraway’s concept of “string figures” builds further on Le Guin by proposing how distributed forms of access to and dissemination of knowledge can give rise to collective agency, while Karen Barad’s diffractive methodology contributes to envisioning the commons as something that necessarily involves a constant transformation of knowledge – regarding both the objects of inquiry and the apparatus (resources, discourses) through which they are viewed. This is relevant for addressing how the commons can produce situated knowledges (Haraway) and understanding how its collective nature only seemingly suggests that it conflicts with the partial positionings of individuals within a collective.
Workshop. THIS WORKSHOP WILL NOT TAKE PLACE IN THE GALLERY. Pls. register to get the venue! SATURDAY 12 October 2019 12:00 – 18:00
Think-in with Andrea Hubin (Kunsthalle Wien/Community College), Shusha Niederberger (Haus für elektronische Künste, Basel), Peggy Pierrot (e.r.g Brussels), Daphne Dragona (transmediale), Safa Ghnaim (tactical tech), Stefanie Wuschitz (Mz* Baltazar’s Laboratory, Vienna) and others.
(Internal) workshop in Berlin to discuss
technofeminist educational strategies for female/feminist/queer (open to all
genders) based on critical pedagogy as well as feminist pedagogy, framed by the
larger techno-political context, our starting points are own experiences in the
field as practitioners, users and teachers.
Participation possible on request: Please write to workshop [at] netzkunst [dot] berlin
Guided by questions such as:
„What concepts of KNOWLEDGE inform our technofeminist thinking and practice?“, „How much do we have to KNOW in order to be able to take an emancipated position?“, „What is the role of AFFECT in our daily handling of technology?“ „To what extent can the principles of open source culture be an inspiration for educational projects?” „What do we need in order to build communality in and for the technofeminist struggle? (local/global)?“ “What are methods to transform what has been learned into collective agency and empowering strategies for desired change?”
We are planning to spend one day together in Berlin at panke.gallery (Saturday, 12th of October 2019, 12:00am-6.00pm)
to exchange experiences, compare methodologies, develop strategies, inspire each other, and think about taking the next steps together… … maybe in form of a manifesto, a curriculum, a book, a conference, a research project… We will see what is most suitable and also feasible.
This event score, which was executed at the opening night of the exhibition by Creating Commons, is an homage to famous Fluxis artist Alison Knowles. Premiered in 1962 at a Fluxus concert held at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, it proposed the obvious: to make a salad, by the artist, for the audience. The idea was to connect high art with daily life. “Everybody can enter into it by eating it,” explained Knowles. Since then it has been re-enacted by the artist herself on many occasions, amongst them at Tate Modern in 2008 where she had to make a “Giant Salad” to serve the many visitors. The work—equal parts musical arrangement and participatory performance—entails prepping and tossing vegetables in dressing and serving it to attendees. John Cage, who co-edited the famous book Notations with Alison Knowles, a first collection of experimental scores, declared the salad score to be “New Music.”
im Archipelago Lab der Leuphana Universität, Lüneburg. Mit Felix Stalder, Cornelia Sollfrank und Shusha Niderberger.
Künstlerische und aktivistische Strategien des Commonign gehen über den Unterhalt und die Zugänglichmachung von Ressourcen hianus. Fragen von autonomer Infrastruktur, alternativen Wissensformen und ein erweitertes Verständnis ästhetischer Praxis werden nicht nur diskursiv aufgeworfen, sondern auch experimentell umgesetzt.
Anhand von Beispielen aus ihrem aktuellen Forshcungsporjekt “Creating Commons” entwicklen Felix Stalder, Cornelia Sollfrank und Shusha Niederberger anhand von drei konkretene künstlerisch-aktivistischen Projekten aus dem Bereich der Digital Commons die zugrunde liegenden Fragestellungen und Strategien.
Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett are the co-founders of furtherfield, an artist-led organisation and community platform located in Finsbury Park, North London. Furtherfield asks critical questions about art and technology, and addresses today’s important questions through exhibitions, labs and debates across many platforms and spaces.
In this interview, Ruth and Marc look back on how they started from an online community and grew into a multidimensional space for different practices in and through technologies and art culture. They highlight the importance of communities and public space, and how they reflect their concerns in their curatorial practice in today’s techno-political situation. They explain how furtherfield is working as a community-driven institution, how formats and subjects are developed, how they position themselves in the cultural landscape, and how they manage to get funding. Alongside these insights into the inner life of furtherfield they provide a detailed discussion about the importance of data as a commons, how this discussion is related to historical events, and what an informed, critical mindset could achieve for the future of us all.
In this interview, Marek Tuszynski, one of the two co-founders of Tactical Tech, explains what the goals of their non-profit organization are, how it is structured, how it aims to reach a wide audience through a variety of public engagements, and what its basic assumptions are. Originally dedicated to train human rights defenders and social justice activists in safe handling of technology, the organization has expanded over time and now also provides easily accessible information about critical use of technology for the average user. This is mainly done through exhibitions, workshops and freely accessible training materials on its website. Working with the paradoxes of technology means for TT to present technology, information and data in all their ambiguity, raising awareness of the political aspects of technology, including both empowerment and disenfranchisement.
Alessandro Ludovico is the co-founder of neural, a printed magazine established in 1993 dealing with new media art, electronic music, and hacktivism.
This interview focusses on two things. First, Alessandro reflects on his experience of how print publications changed over the last 25 years and their potential in a fully digital universe. They are now less about providing access, but more about providing a filter and stability against the very dynamic overflow of information. The second major theme of the interview is the “temporary library”, a collaborative practice to create short-term specialized libraries in the context of cultural events (festivals, exhibitions, etc.). After the event, they are donated to established libraries, thus contributing to making underrepresented aspects of (digital) culture available in the long-term.
Dr. Olga Goriunova (1977, Ulan-Ude, UdSSR) is a cultural theorist, philosopher, and curator with a focus on digital art and culture. She is Reader and Director of Graduate Research at Royal Holloway University London.
Interview with Olga Goriunova, conducted by Cornelia Sollfrank, 19 October 2017, HeK (House of Electronic Arts Basel).
Workshop “Archives – Find the File”, contribution by Cornelia Sollfrank. Beirut, Nov 28th – 29th 2018. Venue: Goethe Institut Libanon, organised by House of the Cultures of the World Berlin in collaboration with at the AMAR Foundation for Arab Music.
This text is a commission by the research project “original copy,” based at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and has been published on their website.
Digital artworks tend to have a problematic relationship with the white cube—in particular, when they are intended and optimized for online distribution. While curators and exhibition-makers usually try to avoid showing such works altogether, or at least aim at enhancing their sculptural qualities to make them more presentable, the exhibition Top Tens featured an abundance of web quality digital artworks, thus placing emphasis on the very media condition of such digital artifacts. The exhibition took place at the Onassis Cultural Center in Athens in March 2018 and was part of the larger festival Shadow Libraries: UbuWeb in Athens,1 an event to introduce the online archive UbuWeb2 to the Greek audience and discuss related cultural, ethical, technical, and legal issues. This text takes the event—and the exhibition in particular—as a starting point for a closer look at UbuWeb and the role an artistic approach can play in building cultural memory within the neoliberal knowledge economy.
Samstag, 28. Juli 2018 um 16.00 UhrVorträge von der Künstlerin und Forscherin Cornelia Sollfrank und dem Kunsthistorikerin und Kunsttheoretikerin Kerstin Stakemeier im Rahmen der Ausstellung Pirating Presence – Eine Aneignung der Aneignung
Cornelia Sollfrank wird, ausgehend von ihrer eigenen Praxis und Forschung, eine Bewegung der Aneignung von individueller ästhetischer Praxis zu „aesthetics of the commons“ an Beispielen und konkreten Fragen vorstellen, was vor allem zur Diskussion anregen soll; während Kerstin Stakemeier ausgehend vom Empiriomonismus Alexander Bogdanovs über eine Form der Aneignung sprechen wird, die das moderne Paradigma der Produktion radikal unterläuft, indem sie die Rezeption selbst zum Zentrum materialistischer Praxis macht.
Laurence Rassel is a cultural worker who can act as a curator, teacher, organizer. She is currently based in Brussels. From 2008 to 2015 she was Director of Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, an institution created in 1984 by the artist Antoni Tàpies to promote the study and knowledge of modern and contemporary art (http://www.fundaciotapies). From 1997 to 2008, Rassel was a founding member of Constant, a non-profit association and interdisciplinary arts-lab based and active in Brussels in the fields of art, media and technology. Currently, she is Director of erg (école de recherche graphique – école supérieure des arts) in Brussels.
In this interview, Laurence Rassel talks about her work with and inside institutions as emerging through continuous communal practice. She discusses the importance of feminist thinking, open-source technology culture, and Institutional Psychotherapy for her work of making an institution a practice of all of those involved, or in her words: instituting.
Interview conducted by Cornelia Sollfrank, 4 March 2018, HeK (House of Electronic Arts Basel).
The traditional order of culture – with clear positions for artists/authors, works and audiences, mediated by producers, publishers, gallery owners, and so on – has finally come into crisis as a result of digitization. The new order, however, is still unclear and highly controversial. The first round of the dispute focused on the field of copyright law and thus on the control of circulation. In the current round, everything revolves around central platforms and their structures of order, access and value creation. As producers of culture, artists are at the heart of these upheavals. While many are busy supporting the content industries in enforcing stricter laws – supposedly in their own best interests – a few others see themselves as engineers of a new order and experiment with the development of their own forms of social production and circulation.
Creative Commons and the Utopia of the Free License
On June 1,1999, U.S. student Shawn Fanning released the Napster software, which allowed users to connect with others to share music. The network was mediated by a central server, which provided an up-to-date directory for searching the offered files and finding a certain piece anywhere in the network. Barely six months later, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) launched a lawsuit for copyright infringement that further increased the publicity of the service. Within 18 months, the number of users grew to over 25 million, an overwhelmingly large number at the time. Shortly afterwards, the service was closed, but the knowledge of how easily the digital genie could escape from the bottle of property had entered mainstream.
Of course, Napster wasn’t the only leak in that bottle. At the turn of the millennium, a complex digital culture had emerged. It relied heavily on the appropriation, modification and dissemination of existing works in both amateur and professional fields – a development against which the established cultural industries proceeded with increasingly aggressive technical (digital rights management) and legal means (cease-and-desist letters and lawsuits).
Against this backdrop, a group of liberal copyright specialists, mainly from US universities, assembled to found Creative Commons. In its core, CC is a set of licenses that make it easier for artists to make their works available to users in a way that allows actions that are part of digital everyday life. Its aim was to modernize copyright practice and adapt it to the new conditions of easy copying and distribution. Accordingly, non-commercial distribution has always been permitted for CC licensed works, and every author is free to allow commercial use and modification of her work. The hope was that through the use of the licenses a pool of freely available resources would emerge – a commons, which would form the basis for new creative works.
However, the success of this initiative calls for a differentiated consideration. Creative Commons licenses have undoubtedly become the global standard in the field of free licensing of cultural works. Not only are they used by default by major projects such as Wikipedia and other Web 2.0 platforms; they also form the basis of Open Access in the academic sector. At the same time, the project can be considered a failure because it has done little to change the basis on which the free licenses are building, namely copyright law. All newly created works are still automatically protected by copyright, which usually applies until 70 years after the author’s death. The long period of validity is one of the main points of criticisms, because many works for which there is no longer a commercial interest after a few years, can still not be made accessible and instead end up in archives, where they often disappear for reasons of unresolvable legal issues. For artists, however, the more relevant critique concerns the restrictions regarding reworking. Every artist still runs the risk of coming into conflict with the law if she collages, remixes or samples protected material. The reasons for the cumbersome nature of copyright reform are not least the great perseverance of those who bind their existence to the dwindling copyright market. On the one hand, these are the big cultural-industrial content providers, such as the film and music industry, but also representatives of the artists themselves, such as the collecting societies. They have been engaged in many countries in fierce, backward-looking battles for a long time such as the empty media levy that positions artists against users.
But mistakes were also made on the supposedly progressive side, as can be seen in retrospect. Artists who have understood that control over use is increasingly becoming a control over their production, demanded exceptions for artistic practice. If, for example, they are dependent on protected material as “raw material” that is to be processed by collage and remix techniques, there is always a potential copyright conflict present. One of the preferred defence strategies, artists’ claim for freedom of art, however, does little to accomodate new forms of networked creativity and digital authorship; instead, it conjures up precisely that exceptional autonomous subject from which many artists were trying to turn away. And all those creators who have not reached the threshold of “professional art” – which is true for most producers of digitally processed content – are not helped in any way by the invocation of artistic freedom.
Meanwhile, the structures of the digital cultural economy have shifted radically. With Web 2.0, the social mass media, powerful players have emerged whose economy is no longer based on restricting access to content by means of copyright, but on creating access to an immense pool of cultural products. In doing so, they design the conditions of access in such a way that their own profit interests are at the centre of attention, in which, for example, extensive collection and evaluation of data is central. The American political scientist Shoshana Zuboff speaks with regards to these developments of a new “surveillance capitalism.” Copyright disputes which may arise from this practice are resolved through years of litigation and the court rulings have subtly changed copyright pracitce (e. g. in the dispute between Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google, Inc. (2005-2015) on the question of whether Google is allowed to scan books and then make them accessible in extracts), or the rights holders are bought off with relatively modest sums of money (e. g. on Youtube or Spotify). In these all-dominant conflicts between the old and the new cultural industries, many artists are threatened to perish.
Creating Commons and the Utopia of Free Society
What is becoming ever more clear from the increasingly popular discussion of commons is that Creative Commons as a project has been based on a too narrow idea of what commons are. Creative Commons has equated commons with a pool of freely available resources. What has been overlooked, however, is that commons are primarily social institutions formed around such a pool of resources. Collective action is an essential characteristic of commons and contributes to a reorganisation of the social. Creative Commons, on the other hand, considers commons – in a typically neo-liberal way – exclusively as aggregated individual actions.
In a network of file sharing technologies and shadow libraries that has developed over a long period of time, a gigantic pool of works has emerged parallel to the events on the surface that has completely escaped the control of the rights owners and commercial platform providers. Some groundbreaking artistic projects are based on this, such as UbuWeb, the avant-garde archive, aaarg, a collection of texts on the subject of architecture, art, philosophy and media theory, or 0xdb, an experimental film database – to name just three.
UbuWeb, aaarg and 0xdb each designs different models of what artistic practice and cultural institutions could look like under post-copyright conditions. UbuWeb offers a fully accessible web archive that provides direct access to digitized artistic works. The collection contains thousands of works of art from the fields of fine arts, dance, performance, sound, concrete poetry, film and video. Ubu contextualizes them within curated sections and also contains accompanying academic essays. Although the project is run without any budget, it has become one of the most important reference points for 20th century avant-garde art; it is famous for being able to find everything that you won’t find anywhere else on Ubu. The face of the project is New York writer and artist Kenneth Goldsmith, who is also a key figure in determining the content. He does not feel obliged to any art historical categories, but combines personal preferences with pure pragmatism. In an interview he explains his artistic concept, which consists of applying archival activities as they form the basis of the collection, to his literary activities. Consequently,”Uncreative Writing” is the title of his book, in which he explains that intelligent re-contextualization is more relevant than the creation of what is supposedly new.
aaarg.org has a distinctly different orientation. The collection of largely theoretical and academic texts on the clearly defined subject areas of architecture, art, philosophy and media theory has evolved from a self-organised school, the Public School. The first collections consisted of the working materials of the various working groups and reading groups, and it was only gradually that the database, accessible only to invited users, developed a dynamic beyond the immediate educational environment. Nevertheless, important aspects of aaarg have emerged from its early use. It is the users themselves who compile and upload the content. They comment and discuss the texts and create personal collections. The aspect of interaction and community-building has always been a key feature of the project. The project is publicly represented by American artist Sean Dockray. Coming from a background in architecture, he is interested in experimenting with developing technical platforms on which people can meet, discuss texts and theories, and relevant content can be sensibly organized.
While UbuWeb and aaarg are based on relatively simple but well thought-out technological platforms, the 0xdb is a technologically much more demanding project. Based on the question of how to deal with large amounts of film material, Sebastian Luetgert and Jan Gerber have developed a complex platform to combine texts (subtitles, annotations) and film and to use an automatically generated timeline and visual fingerprints to enable a different approaches to film as material.
All three projects create complex installations of artistic vision, technological infrastructure and collective cultural practices, which can be described as new forms of cultural commons. They not only give an idea of what could be possible if we circumvent both the old and the new cultural industries, but also provide practical examples of what the potential of artistic practice under current material conditions could be. Here, a practice is designed in which artistic practice can be seen as a laboratory for a future society in which the categories of the classical cultural order no longer play a central role.
Cornelia Sollfrank and Felix Stalder, November 2017
German version published in: Blickpunkt. Zeitschrift der IG Bildende Kunst, Wien, Herbst 2017, Nr. 44, S.22-25
Ubu is a web repository for avant-garde art, founded by poet Kenneth Goldsmith in 1996. It is making available cultural resources, which are out of print, or “absurdly priced or insanely hard to procure“. It is „a distribution center for hard-to-find, out-of-print and obscure materials, transferred digitally to the web.“
Ubu has been starting from a repository of visual and concrete poetry, later sound poetry, growing in diverse directions, and it is constantly evolving. Its understanding of what counts as avant-garde art and therefore can be included in Ubu is very open and apparently based on a broad interest and on opportunities.
It is difficult, and maybe inappropriate, to find a precise terminology of the nature of Ubu. It has aspects of a collection (its curated nature), but also hosts complete archives (Aspen Multimedia Magazine (1965-1971), provides space for projects (365 days project with obscure findings in aural recordings), and sections to other otherwise overlooked aspects (electronic music resources, featuring documents about methods and techniques of electronic and experimental sound – not aesthetics).
It also features curated sections by scholars and researchers in the field (ubu /editions), and offers anthological perspectives.
The content is not presented in a consistent taxonomy model, and cross-section links are offered or not.
In its diversity, it is like a negative space of traditional institution’s work. What is gone missing by public and private archives and libraries (whatever the cause) – can be found here.
Monoskop is a wiki for collaborative studies of the arts, media and humanities.
Monoskop is a wiki, blog and a repository aggregating, documenting and mapping works, artists and intiatives related to the avant-gardes, media arts and theory and activism. Initially it focused on Eastern and Central Europe.
Built on a Wiki that everyone can contribute to and scrupulously curated by its spiritus movens Dušan Barok, it provides both an exhaustive, indexical overview of those fields and provides digital access to rare historic finds.
In parallel to the wiki, Monoskop maintains a blog repository featuring daily releases of books, journals or other printed archival material, some freshly digitized by Monoskop and some contributed by the users, authors and publishers.
Memory of the World is a network of interconnected shadow libraries, each maintained locally and independently from the others. They are integrated through a custom-made extension (named “let’s share books“) for “Calibre” an open source software for managing e-books. Calibre has a large and stable user base.
It’s intended to work both a practical resource, but also use the model of the public library was a way to frame a discussion about a post-IP cultural order.
The public library is: – free access to books for every member of society – library catalog – librarian
With books ready to be shared, meticulously cataloged, everyone is a librarian. When everyone is librarian, library is everywhere.
0xDB is an experimental – and to some degree imaginary – movie database. It is intended to help us rethink the future of cinema on the Internet, just as it tries to push the boundaries of what we understand as “web applications”. What 0xDB proposes is an entirely new approach to visualizing and navigating moving images, and we hope that it can serve as a point of reference for individuals and institutions who are dealing with large collections of films.
0xDB uses a variety of publicly accessible resources, like search engines and peer-to-peer networks, to automatically collect information about, and actual images and sound from, a steadily growing number of movies. At its core, it provides full text search within subtitled films and instant video previews of search results, while “timelines” – visual fingerprints of moving images – allow for spatial orientation and travel.”
Content management platform specialized in texts/books in the fields of architecture, art, philosophy, media theory; project-based sharing of reading material; part of the informal education project The Public School.
AAAARG is a conversation platform – at different times it performs as a school, or a reading group, or a journal.
AAAARG was created with the intention of developing critical discourse outside of an institutional framework. But rather than thinking of it like a new building, imagine scaffolding that attaches onto existing buildings and creates new architectures between them.
An Architektur: The term “commons” occurs in a variety of historical contexts. First of all, the term came up in relation to land enclosures during pre- or early capitalism in England; second, in relation to the Italian autonomia movement of the 1960s; and third, today, in the context of file-sharing networks, but also increasingly in the alter-globalization movement. Could you tell us more about your interest in the commons?
In addition to Felix’ research note on a misleading critique of the digital commons, I would like to add my interview here with media theoretician and philosopher Wolfgang Suetzl. In the context of a larger research project on the notion of “Excess” as elaborated by Georges Bataille, we talk about how excess and sharing are related and why none of this has anything to do with the sharing economy.
Art Platforms and Cultural Production on the Internet, Olga Goriunova, Routledge, 2012
Departing from an organizational phenomenon, namely online ‘art platforms,’ Olga Goriunova – with the help of a variety of contemporary thinkers – reflects about a number of exemplary projects. In my understanding, her main objective is to discuss the selected projects in the framework of aesthetics (mainly), while, at the same time, trying not to narrow them down to conventional paradigms in order to keep their “aesthetic complexity” alive. Within this endeavour, it is of particular relevance that the platforms themselves as well as the production they are focussing on, are intrinsically related to both the materiality as well the ecology of networked media technology. Both the organizational structure and the techno-cultural objects it brings together would not exist without such technology. Furthermore, the platform and the type of practice that is being organized through it, mutually depend on each other. In this sense, an art platform does not just organize an existing field, but plays an important role in the emergence of the respective practice while remaining itself variable. The concept Goriunova is suggesting for her investigation, she calls “organizational aesthetics.” Continue reading “Organizational Aesthetics: Art Platforms and Cultural Production on the Internet by Olga Goriunova”
What does building an online archive have to do with writing poetry? For Kenneth Goldsmith it is the same thing. Goldsmith is a New York-based poet, writer, editor and founder of UbuWeb,1 an online repository of avant-garde art. His claim is that his way of writing poetry is exactly the same thing as he does when he is gathering, selecting, arranging and publishing material at the archive he has been building over the last seventeen years. Goldsmith’s artistic credo is that nothing new needs to be created: “In fact, it is the archiving and gathering and the appropriation of pre-existing materials that is the new mode of both writing and archiving.”
In her lecture, German artist Cornelia Sollfrank will give an introduction to the concept of the commons, however, putting an emphasis on digital commons. In the center of her investigations is the question of what artists can contribute to digital commons. The lecture will introduce Sollfrank’s ongoing research on art and commons and discuss specific artworks as examples. Each of the works addresses specific questions and embodies experimental and fragmentary solutions to the questions posed by neoliberal enclosures. Art here functions as a speculative tool; it thrives on imagination and aims to create spaces for discussion and debate about alternative ways of being, and to inspire and encourage people’s imaginations.