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 2: Commoning the Institution

 1-4 April 2018

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)

Report

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.

Interviews conducted with participants

Institutional Practice with Peter Westenberg

Networking Institutions with Z. Blace

Negotiating Space in Culture and Technology with Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett.

Working with the Paradoxes of Technology with Marek Tuszynski

Feminist Hackspace with Patricia Reis and Stephanie Wuschitz

Experimenting with Institutional Formats with Laurence Rassel

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


furtherfield, London

Furtherfield is an artist run space founded in 1996 by Ruth Catlow and Marc Garret in London. It features a broad range of activites about art, technology and media, both in its space and online. Its program includes exhibitions, workshops and a variety of events, different communication channels and distributing content in diverse forms – from online posts, interviews to books.

At the heart of Furtherfield is a concern for exchange and community and they are incorporation this concern in everything they do.

Self-description:

“Furtherfield connects people to new ideas, critical thinking and imaginative possibilities for art, technology and the world around us. Through artworks, labs and debate people from all walks of life explore today’s important questions”

Sources:

Ruth Catlow: Situating the Digital Commons, http://ruthcatlow.net/?works=situating-the-digital-commons

Penny Travlou: Ethnographies of Co-Creation and Collaboration as Models of Creativity, https://elmcip.net/critical-writing/ethnographies-co-creation-and-collaboration-models-creativity

furtherfield: “Do It With Others (DIWO). Participatory Media in the Furtherfield Neighbourhood”. Di Rimini, Francesca (Eds.): A Handbook of Coding Cultures. Sidney: d/Lux/MediaArts and Campbelltown Arts Centre, 2007, p. 21–28.

www.furtherfield.org

Interview

Negotiating Space in Culture and Technology. Interview with Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett
Conducted by Cornelia Sollfrank, 15 September 2018

Laurence Rassel: Rethinking the Art School

Institution, instituted, instituting, common, commoning.

Talk by Laurence Rassel
Thursday, 1 March 2018, 18.30, HeK (House of Electronic Arts Basel)

A school of art is a zone of convergence studded with a multiplicity of individuals, things and flows, stories, fictions, and stagings, with social, cultural, material, singular and interacting asperities. And it is also a common territory by default: if we choose to come there to work or to study, we do not choose those with whom we will share this ephemeral biotope.

Taking her current position as head of the Brussels-based art school e.r.g (Ecole de Recherche Graphique) as a starting point, Laurence Rassel reflects in her talk about how the art school as an institution can be conceived as an environment for developing a sense of collectivity. Assuming the double definition of the word “institution” as a potential to be developed as well as an established form, Rassel identifies alienation where the “instituted” takes precedence over the “instituting.”

In her work, the common is thought and will be constructed as the result of an action composed of the differences in presence. The common will not erase these differences, and it will not only be composed by them. The common is always the result of a “common doing” rather than a fixed group and or an “institution.” The paradoxical task then is to sustain the collective, the common, while preserving heterogeneity and the singularities in place.

For the participants, workers, collaborators related to the institution, however, it is a real instituting movement that is at stake. The inspirations for Rassel’s models for work processes come from open source/free software culture, but also from institutional psychotherapy. The school is a place full of hierarchies, governed by texts, decrees but also by consciences that reveal themselves there as brutal, feverish, urgent, generating a desire to reach a “whole” and a desire to question “the whole,” and nevertheless build a common. By opening up this layer from “read-only” to “read, write and execute,” the very structure of the school can be turned inside out – to serve new purposes. People can get involved and affect the structure by their history to be made. The process is the collective development of the “how.”

Laurence Rassel is a cultural worker who can act as 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.

 
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