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 (, Rahel Puffert (Universtität Oldenburg), Marcell Mars (Memory of the World);
bottom row: Shusha Niederberger (CC research project), Olga Goriunova (University of London), Sebastian Lütgert(, Anna Calabrese (UdK, Berlin), Dusan Barok (, Tomislav Medak (Memory of the World), Sean Dockray (

Venue: Hek (House of electronic Arts, Basel)


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)


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

Olga Goriunova: Next few years of art and commons: on idiosyncratic learners and radical lurkers

Cultural theorist, philosopher, and curator Olga Goriunova focus in her talk on the radical differences between the first 15 years of the World Wide Web (1990 -2005) and the next 15. To speak about artist-run platforms (such as the hub for software art, and other experimental projects thriving in these first 15 years, I developed the term “organizational aesthetics”, which was concerned with specific forms of artistic and cultural movements within technological networks.

Typical for such projects was that they incorporate many different, flexible roles through which they are developed and maintained, and which provide models of contribution and use. These roles reflect a specific form of knowledge, and they coalesce around certain figures: learners and lurkers, to start with. (The term lurker comes from online forum culture and stands for a kind of participation, where the lurker is part of the forum, but not actively contributing to. The lurker is a reader who could but chooses not to, write.) With time, the classical knowledge of the learner gave way to the local knowledge of the lurker. 

Now, the question is, what kind of knowledge – and with it: what kind of technology – will be created and sustained in the next 15 years? Are projects of at the intersection of the art and commons (that is, freely available resources produced and maintained by a community) developing new figures and with them, new infrastructural aesthetics?

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.

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