Research Meeting 1: “Archives and Libraries”

19-22 October 2017

Participants (left to right):
top row: Cornelia Sollfrank & Felix Stalder (CC research project);
middle row: Annette Mächtel (UdK, Berlin), Annet Dekker (Universiteit van Amsterdam), Paul Keller (Kennisland, NL), Jan Gerber (0xdb.org), Rahel Puffert (Universtität Oldenburg), Marcell Mars (Memory of the World);
bottom row: Shusha Niederberger (CC research project), Olga Goriunova (University of London), Sebastian Lütgert(0xdb.org), Anna Calabrese (UdK, Berlin), Dusan Barok (Monoskop.org), Tomislav Medak (Memory of the World), Sean Dockray (aaaaarg.fail).

Venue: Hek (House of electronic Arts, Basel)

Report

The research meeting opened with a public talk by Olga Goriunova (Reader in Digital Culture,  University of London). She started by revisiting her concept of “organizational aesthetics”, that is, the relationship between the construction of the online platform (or any other production/exhibition space) and the kinds of processes and art works that are produced and made public through it. She then extended this perspective to the relationship between the commons and art practices, in particular the changing social roles and subject positions (beyond the classic triple of artists, curator and audience) that the commons creates. She focused on the audience which is transformed even when not actively participating, introducing the notion of the “lurker”, a figure from online culture, denoting people who are subscribed to a forum or a mailing list, but only read and never actively post something, even though the technical set-up would not only allow but invite to do so. Rather than seeing this a negative, passive aspect Goriunova focused on the active role of producing a context in which posting and debating comes meaningful to begin with. The horizon of the commons, then, is not the naïve vision that everybody becomes a producer, but an expanded notion of what production is in the networked context and of keeping the hurdles low to move between different subject position within a continuum.

The two-day workshop, a mix of discussion in the plenary and focused working groups, started with a review of the artistic projects. They were all concerned with how to deal with large numbers of cultural works in the context of three interrelated crises: commercialization, copyright and cultural production. Commercialization, so the widely shared view, has been leading to a flattening of the cultural landscape by over-promoting a small types of works and undervaluing the large majority of culture, to the point of removing it from circulation. Copyright, with its peculiar notions of authorship and ownership, and the burdensome process of “clearing” rights for reuse, makes it exceedingly difficult to experiment with new ways of using digital information, particularly for established cultural institutions. Hence the need for artist not only to think about it, but to develop actively new forms. This was also motivated by what was seen as  crisis of cultural production, which created a need to develop new ways of interacting with very large numbers of material (rather than a small number of canonical/auratic works) which many of these projects had worked with and, second, with the need to develop new narratives that express and make visible cultural relationship across and beyond the disciplinary and geographic categories that dominated cultural discourse after WII.

All projects tried to address these three interrelated crises in different ways, while common themes emerged during the meeting. Against the concept of ownership with its associated ideas of exclusivity and control, notions of care and custodianship were proposed developed, both theoretically and practically.

The need to navigate a broken copyright regime has been a pressing issue for many years for most of the projects; the approaches ranged from intensive, long-term lobbying at the European level on behalf of memory institutions, to dealing cooperatively with open-minded rights holders (mainly small press publishers) who increasingly understand the value of the open access archives to produces a cultural context in which their works find an audience, to approaches to more or less simply ignoring copyright. There was an understanding that copyright limits urgently needed experimentation to find the right form for archives and institutions in the digital context, where the differences between the catalogue and the work, between meta data and data increasingly blurs.

A second major theme was the transformation of what started often as individual (art) projects into infrastructures that many people ome to depend – some projects have more than 150’000 registered users. Different approaches were discussed, ranging from technical solutions (such distributed files systems (DAT)), to inter-generational (handing over the project to a new generation) and institutional approaches (decentralization and multiplication of archives).

The third major theme focused on the relationship between institutional forms, community and changing subjectivities. These projects show that archives and libraries in the digital context, when allowed to move beyond their historical institutional form, look very different. Production and preservation become mutually constitutive and the notion of care extends from the archivist/librarian to the user, which brings them into a new relationship (commoners) centring round the concern for a resource (commons) and a range practices (commoning) aimed at sustaining care. Not all participants were equally at ease with framing their activities as commoning, pointing towards a tendency in the commons discourse of glossing over differences and idealizing consensus harmony.

This third cluster of concerns in particular laid important groundwork for the next two research meetings.

Interviews conducted with participants

Producing Organizational Aesthetics, with Olga Goriunova

The Practice of Sharing Knowledge, with Sean Dockray

From Notepad to Cultural Resource. The Aesthetics of Crosslinking at Monoskop, with Dušan Barok

Expanding Cinema, with Sebatian Lütgert & Jan Gerber

Caring for the Public Library, with Marcell Mars & Tomislav Medak

Research Meeting 3: Tools and Infrastructures

13-16 September 2018

Participants (from left to right):
top row: Shusha Niederberger (CC research project), Urban Sand (openki.net), Femke Snelting (constant Brussels), Felix Stalder (CC research project), Mauricio O’Brian (goteo.org), Spideralex (feminist infrastructures), Panayotis Antoniadis (mazizone.eu / nethood.org)
front row: Eva Weinmayr (AND publishing), Michael Murtaugh (constant Brussels / Etherbox), Cornelia Sollfrank (CC research project), Daphne Dragona (Berlin), Lioudmila Voropaj (HFG Karlsruhe), Alessandro Ludovico (neural magazine)

Venue: Hek (House of electronic Arts, Basel)

Report

The evening before the workshop, the talk of cultural theorist and curator Daphne Dragona opened the topic of artistic practise and infrastructure in commoning processes. She discussed the term of the commons as a means of relationship (Virno, Negri/Hart, Harney/Moten), and referred to the concept of „affective infrastructures“, as proposed by Lauren Berlant. For her, the process of commoning of infrastructures both involves the network infrastructure as a commons, and the commons (affects, desires, habits) as conceptual infrastructures. This double side of infrastructural commons means that they help building communities, while in the same time are realising a common desire. Daphne Dragona introduced several artistic positions in the field along the lines of community networks, feminist / queer technologies, and technologies of kinship. She highlighted four aspects of commoning in artistic practise: first, the importance of commoning as a practise, which is often against the logic of the artwork in its involvement of other parties, and the relations being built across difference and constraints. Second: these practises always embrace communication of knowledges, in the form of exchange, shared learning situations, workshops, etc., paying attention to both the technological and affective dimension of commoning. Third: the role of care in commoning processes, the need to care critically, to care with and for each other, and also to care for the machinic and natural environment. The fourth aspect is the role of imagination: to common is always connected to imaginaries of a different world, of different infrastructures, and different relationships.

The next two days the research group was working in the plenary and smaller groups on topics of infrastructure. The introductions of the participants’ projects showed again a wide variety of practises of working with infrastructures: activist work with communities, artist run organisation developing their own infrastructure for their formats, alternative education initiatives, publishing, housing cooperatives and neighbourhood networks, and a fundraising organisation working directly with communal government. Important points in the discussions were questions of scale, closely related to problems of sustainability, care and temporality. Another topic was the need for translations between different publics, needs, interests, agencies and institutions, which was named “promiscuous API” during the discussion. These topics were further developed in three groups around the topics of 1) desires / imaginations and symbolic dimensions, 2) sustainability and resilience, 3) limitations and temporality – how to end things?

Two inputs followed the group discussions: the first from Alessandro Ludovico, who talked about networks as distribution infrastructure from the point-of-view of a publisher, highlighting the importance of infrastructure as a site of diverse practices (from circulation, hacking, pirating, infiltration, to cooperation). The second input from theorist Lioudmila Voropai explored the relational dimensions of artistic practice in regard to institutional logic, which is often shaped by strategic political and economic discourses, and has a strong influence on artistic practices and self-understandings. In her talk, she developed a notion of aesthetics with a focus on institutions’ roles in top-down formulations of a new aesthetic paradigm, on the example of so-called “Medienkunst” (new media art). Both inputs touched upon the topic of institutions and their role as infrastructures for practices, but also desires.

After the two very intense days, it became apparent that despite the many differences in fields of practice, backgrounds, and approaches of the projects, all share an understanding that infrastructure and practices are co-constituting each other, and that this entanglement is a place for activists and/or artistic practices. This resonates some of the themes introduced by Goriunova in the first meeting. The concept of the commons is not a central reference for all of them, but especially the aspect of commoning proved to be a very fruitful concept for cross-disciplinary reflection.

Interviews conducted with participants

Forms of Ongoingness, with Femke Snelting and spideralex

The Micropolitics of Publishing, with Eva Weinmayr

Hybrid Spaces, with Panayotis Antoniadis

Ecosystems of Writing, with Michael Murtaugh

Crowd Benefits, with Mauricio O’Brian

Publishing as Commons Practice, with Alessandro Ludovico


Feminist Hackspace. Interview with Patricia Reis and Stephanie Wuschitz

Patricia Reis and Stefanie Wuschitz are the founders and members of the trans*feminist hackspace Mz* Baltazars Laboratory, Vienna in Vienna. It is run by a collective and offers, on one hand, a hackspace with a workshop program for female, trans and non-binary people, and on the other hand, runs a gallery space with a feminist exhibition program.

The lab is conceived as a safer space for people who have traditionally been excluded from or have felt unsafe in spaces where science is taught and technology is developed. It invites those people to participate or give workshops that bring together technology, art, and have a critical understanding of social structures.

In this interview, Stephanie Wuschitz and Patricia Reis introduce feminist hacking as an artistic methodology. They discuss the relationship between gender and technology and explain how Mz* Baltazar’s Lab aims at developing other imaginations of technology by consciously developing a community. They discuss the role of the space in developing that community and the importance of creating a safer space – both fostering engagement within the community and for the space, but also for reaching out to a wider audience.

Interview conducted by Shusha Niederberger, HeK (House of Electronic Arts Basel), March 1, 2018.

 
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