This text was written for the Maraya Exhibition at 221a Gallery in Vancouver. It appears on the 221a website: http://221a.ca/texts/maraya-this-mirror-or-that

Maraya: This Mirror or That? Urban Selves in Reflection

How do we see the city? How do we see ourselves reflected in the city? The conflation of subject (the one who looks) and object (the city s/he sees) is a central modernist concern. Defining the urban, understanding the impacts and advantages cities afford, remains crucial to informed debate about our political present and future. Given that the majority of artists, planners, architects, developers, entrepreneurs and academics choose to live and work in cities, it is less than surprising the discussion is sometimes heated. After all, seeing the city?—?taking up the task of representing urban space?—often boils down to defining home (as unwieldy, psychologically disorienting, or politically conflicted as that might be). Entering into this space of dialogue and conflict, Maraya takes up the trope of the mirror. Featured in this installation, the mirror functions as a framing device, to think about questions of technology or know-how. By what means does one see?—?comprehend and talk about?—?a city? What language or languages do we need to bring to the table? How does a given verbal or visual vocabulary add to the conversation?

On screen, in magazines, art books, postcards, advertising posters and brochures, viewers are encouraged to view the city as a skyline. Our visual impressions of a city are informed by the view from a strategic vantage point—across a river, from a ship in the harbor, down from a mountain or tower. Seen from afar, the city appears to float, magically or majestically. It shines or menaces: Jerusalem or Babylon. Linking technology and urban representation, geographer Edward Soja suggests that the invention of the hot air balloon provided a radical new means of seeing the city; suddenly, planners and architects could approximate the bird’s eye view. Seeing their work from above, they might approximate an omnipotent perspective to map the city. Michel de Certeau’s canonical “Walking in the City” uses the example of Manhattan seen from the top of World Trade Centre to trouble a dominant perspective, and he reminds us that from this distance, the experience of the people on the streets?—?the walkers whose everyday experiences comprise the city as living organism?—?are lost. Their movements?—our movements?—?are words on a page that are constantly written and rewritten, words beyond the grasp of a single set of eyes, beyond rational comprehension. 

Different ways of seeing the city suggest different forms of technology?—?different prosthetic devices. Historically, artists have appropriated the bridge, boat, mountain path, road to help us see. Cameras affixed to cars, trains, planes, elevators, helicopters or airplanes have ensured that certain, perhaps privileged, cityscapes have become iconic.  For example, visualize London across the Thames, Paris from Montmarte or the Eiffel Tower, New York City from the Brooklyn Bridge or Staten Island ferry, not to mention the Empire State Building or World Trade Centre, Hong Kong from the Victoria Harbour, or Rio de Janeiro from Corcovado mountain as seen over over the shoulder of Paul Landowski’s Christ the Redeemer. We might think also about how Vancouver’s False Creek, framed by the north shore mountains, or Dubai’s Burj Khaleefa, floating in the clouds above a sea of exploding developments that reach from the Persian Gulf back into an expanse of Arabian Desert, strive to function within this visual realm. The city framed against a picturesque backdrop keeps the photographer out of view, eliding the seer.

Maraya’s mirrored imagery asks viewers to see themselves reflected in a process of urban development. In so doing, Maraya has sought to examine citizenship in relation to everyday experiences of being out in the city, or more concretely along its urban waterfront walkways. Taking the problem of seeing the city as not only a question of power, culture, or finance but also access to technology, we are interested in how new networks and electronic devices connect people and places. How do the mirrors we sit in front of during the day or those we recreate in front of at night provide new ways of seeing the city? How do the mirrors we carry in our pocket produce and ameliorate twenty-first century fragmentations of urban life and experience? How do these mirrors provide access to the old mirrors of knowledge and power? How are hopes and fears encoded in the hard surfaces of our mobile devices?—?glass, steel, and aluminum? de Certeau’s urban walkers who are constantly revising the urban text?—?visible but unreadable?—now wander the sidewalks of every city armed with devices that add to a proliferation of urban images that over-saturate our outmoded imaginary.

Maraya began as a proposition, a research proposal in fact. The desire to collaborate and investigate questions of local urban culture brought together a team of investigators to look at questions organized around the specificity of urban growth. We were interested in how similar built forms were being developed and translated across a Vancouver-Dubai network. How might this example of global urbanism and mobility be seen in a mirror contorted by distance and the cultural differences separating these two cities? The cultural historians, geographers, theorists and other artists the project brought together have helped to consider how we see ourselves making work about the city or cities. As we have come to know the spaces around the urban waterfront in Vancouver and Dubai; we have to come to see how planned developments in these two cities fit within larger discussions of urban growth and twenty-first century geopolitics. Negotiating the literal and figurative distance between cities that are twelve time zones apart, with significant cultural difference, and a variety of other challenges, Maraya has come to see our own limitations as a crucial element in the project. This is the point at which you, the viewer, enters the frame.

The images?—?video and still?—?installed here at 221A tell the story of getting to know many other people, or having the rare opportunity to learn stories that make up the space between two cities: Dubai and Vancouver. The photographs and projections collected here are fragments of an expansive dialogue with these overlapping cities. They are documents of an unfolding process. This montage of images refract and reflect across a network of mirroring surfaces that continue to shape and reshape our urban environment. One need only step outside this gallery to see how energetically this transformation of steel, glass and concrete continues. Against these hard edges, Maraya has sought to stage social interactions and develop collective meaning.  Numerous individuals have lent their eyes and ears, hands and voices, have walked with us these past years. Each talk, classroom presentation, workshop, studio visit, meeting over coffee, dinner engagement, or casual conversation along the seawall or marina walk, has helped shape this work.

There are far too many individuals to thank here, However, we need to recognize the many groups of participants who are reflected in Maraya. The artists, curators, writers, scholars who form our professional network, or community, have been vital to the project’s inception and transformation. The residencies, studio visits, presentations, symposia, and publications that we have participated in have been crucial to conceptual development of the project. There are also our students. Maraya was initially funded as an academic enterprise, and as university professors, we have had the invaluable experience of working with students and colleagues at a number of universities in Canada, the UAE and elsewhere. The feedback we received from the course taught and from our many classroom visits, lectures and hands on workshops has informed how this project might work and how it could be taken up.  Maraya is also deeply indebted to the everyday users of the seawall and Marina walkways. Chance encounters, meetings and discussions have been vital to our understanding of what we do or could do. The initial confusion, bewilderment, and puzzlement that gave way to dialogue and led to engagement has helped us to refine and reflect on Maraya’s proof of concept: that people do have a lot to say about where they are and what it means. 

Whenever the Maraya: Sisyphean Cart is taken out on the seawall in Dubai and Vancouver, powerful experiences happen. We have come to know the cities we are working in very different ways and the participants, those who have contributed to the project by pulling the cart and passersby who have engaged with the mobile event, have provided the most consistent foil for our understanding of ourselves and the urban differences linking Dubai and Vancouver. In this spirit, I would like to mention one group of seawall users who we met late in the project. Both visible and invisible, Paul’s Club has helped us to think about our project in relation to a different form of urban access. Paul’s Club is a walking group for people with young onset dementia. The opportunity to collaborate with the group gave impetus to think about the role of city development as it relates to health and well-being. Coming to understand that Vancouver’s seawall is more than leisure space, more than a luxurious gesture of the beautiful city, we were invited to consider how urban space functions for those who face considerable physical and emotional challenges. How are the spaces documented here crucial to their ability to remain physically and socially engaged? Interacting with this group, we had to ask how access to a contemporary art platform?—?representation in the white cube?—?might help those for who language and memory are daily challenges. Would the members of Paul’s Club be interested in helping to pull the cart? How might respecting their embodied experiences open up the space of dialogue we’ve sought to develop. Looking at our imagery, the video and photographs they helped produce, would they see themselves reflected in our versions of this city? How might this artwork—the work of pulling the cart seeing reflections of themselves surrounded by the city they live in—help these individuals to maintain a sense of self and respect for their social identities?

As we thought about how this group of users, for whom health and wellness are matters of everyday concern?—?not an afterthought in a political stump speech or our public lecture?—?might come to interact with the project, we were confronted with questions about visibility (invisibility) and privilege, not simply who gets left off-screen or out of the picture, but how are those included read or seen.

The ideals Maraya worked with over the past seven years, based as they are in a desire to activate social engagement by providing a platform for democratic discussions of city building, raise difficult questions of inclusion. They also provide a vital opportunity for critical self-reflection, to see ourselves reflected in the mirror of urban development and the neo-liberal aspirations of a new urbanism captured here: call it, Vancouverism; call it, the Dubai phenomenon. Looking at these images, we are encouraged to reflect on questions of language and culture, expertise and knowledge, but also memory, ability and embodiment. Who else or what else do you see reflected in our urban mirrors? What role does memory play in these reflections? How does language enter the frame? Thinking about access to mirrors, the right to urban representations, what patterns of neighbourliness do we need to build to ensure that our cities preserve accessible blue spaces (water) and green spaces (parks)? What small gestures of recognition and acceptance do we need to perform daily to ensure that the Right to the City (Lefebvre) is not monopolized by the young and able-bodied: the hyper-kinect cyclists, dog walkers, roller bladers, school kids, and joggers? Standing alongside the many people represented here, can we ask again by what differences is one marked artist, curator, researcher, teacher critic, or friend?

Treaty Card

Posted by Glen Lowry | Social Media

treaty card small

This is my Treaty Card. I’m very proud of it, and want have it laminated.

In the meantime, I strongly encourage everyone to visit Cheryl l’Hirondelle’s website / art project http://www.treatycard.ca/  Get a Treaty Card of your very own.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to request Treaty Cards for friends, family members (and loved ones), Members of Parliament, Senators (active, inactive, in favour or out), judges, officers of the court, letter carriers, traffic cops, school teachers, medical practitioners, artists, designers, critical theorists, curators, border guards, archivists, librarians. Get a Treaty Card for anyone who might benefit from the honour of carrying it. Get one for anyone who could use a reminder of our fiduciary rights and responsibilities as Canadians.

Farr's postscript detail

Roger Farr  / Hic Rhodus. Hic Salta.

As some will recognize, hic rhodus. hic salta is a Latin phrase taken up by both Hegel and Marx. The phrase is used in reference to discussion of the revolutionary moment: the end of history, also the end of progress.

I’m borrowing the phrase from a beautiful postscript to Roger Farr’s newest book of poems Means. “Hic rhodus. Hic salta” is the title of one of Farr’s poetic sequences in the text, and it becomes the focus of his “Postscript.”

Farr tells us that hic rhodus. hic salta is the punch-line to a Latin fable about an athlete who boasts about winning of a jumping competition (presumably) in Rhodes. A bystander takes the athelete’s boast, and says something along the lines of if you’re so good show us: “here the rod, now jump.” Alternative, “Here is Rhodes, now jump.”

Hic rhodus. Hic Salta. As Farr points, out this phrase is also at the heart of Marx’s thinking about the revolutionary “end of history.” It is idea Marx borrows from Hegel to describe “that point in history where the proletariat is compelled to leap” (83).

What is remarkable for Farr, and many others, is that this moment has not been seized: “The problem, however, is that the logic of necessity ticking away inside this utterance—a logic captured syntactically in form of the conditional sentence “(‘If the conditions are correct, then the people will revolt’)—is either inherently flawed, or has been hijacked by some other spook, perhaps that other, better known maxim, cogita ante salis” (look before you leap) (83).

Farr’s essay goes on to discuss a systematic evacuation of political agency, which he connects with that moment forewarned in the work of Debord or Camatte, when “capital reaches a stage where it emancipates itself from human agency… a ‘mechanistic utopia’ where human beings become simple accessories of an automated system’” (84). Dark days indeed. Farr writes that “communication, like the economy it animates, also becomes something alien and autonomous, an abstract force—a ghost, a virus, a code—that harnesses ‘users’ to execute its commands” (86).

We are back at Chun’s notion of sourcery mentioned above, the all powerful code only needs us to click on the options, to like this one or that one.

However, what is remarkable about Farr’s essay is the way it forks a popular script—about the futility of resistance—by proposing a radical poetic turn. He argues for “a documentarian poetics that acknowledges its deep entanglement with exchange by replicating that particular transaction which every capitalist seeks to avoid: the return of used, damaged, or stolen, goods (words) for full refund.” He calls this a “dis-utopian un-writing—that avoids the old traps of ‘moral commitment, beautiful soul, ideological militancy, etc.,” and favours instead a “constructive punk realism” (87).

As a poet, Farr is talking about poetry, but for our purposes I’d like to open it up a bit include all manner of creative act—visual, performative, conceptual, musical. And I’d like to end the essay portion of my program with his contention that

our task should not be “political,” anti-political. Poets are not legislators. Writing does no have to concern itself with distribution of epiphanies and sensibilities, nor with the re-programming of an imagined citizenry in time for the next Federal election. It does not need to solve the problems that capital needs solved …. doesn’t have to help anyone ‘come to terms’ with this world.”

In the end, poetry’s role and I am including all manner of creative act here is “affective: to joyfully render the present even more intolerable than it already is.” Farr goes on to say this type of creative practice should gesture “toward new forms of affinity, agency, and association” (86)

At this point, in the spirit of joyfully rendering the present even more intolerable I’d like to open to a discussion about how we and I am using the term lightly might works with and across platforms. I’m hoping that we might use the basic Reworks site (1.0) as a spring board into a variety of other things.

But that’s where I/we need you.

<<Part 1   <<Part 2  <<Part 3  <<Part 4  |

forking-nonplace

“Forking”

With idea of what’s possible or desirable in mind, I want to shift gears to give you a sense of how this connects, or not, to some of the bigger issues at stake here. I feel I need to say something about my title.

Preparing this talk, I was reading about computational processes as metaphors for social organization, and I came across a Nathaniel Tkacz fascinating essay on “The Politics of Forking Paths.” As Tkacz describes it, forking “originally referred to an operating system process where the output of the process is a functional duplication of the process itself, thereby creating two separate but virtually identical processes” (96). He suggests that this idea of software splitting (forking) into identical copies is a key idea in the FOSS/FLOSS (Free (Libre) and Open Source Software) movement.

Focusing on the example of the Spanish Wikipedia group’s split from the larger Wikipedia movement into EL, Tkacz looks at how “this event is framed within a newly politicized discourse of ‘forking,’ the splitting a project to create two separate entities” (96). This wikipedia fork provides away to think through the slippage from software and political processes. And as Tkacz writes,

Forking represents a unique opportunity to make visible the messiness and modalities of force in these projects. It is a rare moment when the fundamental organizing principles of a project are put to the test and when possibly irreconcilable differences are foregrounded over values held in common.

In foregrounding of questions of irreconcilability—which seems to me be at the crux of a host of political emergencies around Truth and Reconciliation, ecological disaster, economic devastation that are exacerbated by local neoliberalisms and the dehumanizing “Harper government”—forking troubles (and is toubled by) the idea a perfect copy.

For Tkacz, forking is in direct contradiction of capitalist notions of scarcity, because, in theory, forking creates two identical entities out the exact same amount of resources—each entity might now exist with half the resources of the original. Forking, at least in principle, functions outside of the Hegelian dialectic of winners and losers. Tkacz talks of a politics of exit, in which the leaving party simply takes the code/process and sets up in a different space / time.

Eventually the two identical iterations morph into new projects and take on separate content. Pointing out the fact that, beyond a formal equivalence, the two forked entities were never really the same to begin with, Tkacz suggest that both are subject two different materialities. In the context of wikipedia and the FLOSS movement, he takes issue with the ideological use of “forking,” a computational term, to describe what are in essence social processes:

A consideration of forking also brings into view a series of questions about the ontological boundaries of open projects, questions that problematize the very possibility of forking and reveal the ‘making invisible’ of certain features of open projects necessary for the political discourse of forking to be preserved.

Making visible the social / material aspects underlying the wikipedia fork, he argues that even in its purest digital form that two forks are spatially and temporally distinct, existing on different hard drives or servers the are subject to significant material differences.  Tkacz wonders,

Is it possible to fork? From a formal perspective, the answer is ‘possibly yes’ but only by keeping forensic difference at bay and only if a shared understanding of source code or content preexists as the political essence of a project. It requires, that is, a kind of sourcery that might nonetheless create a sense of political satisfaction (if it is shared by all). From a forensic perspective, however, the answer is a definite ‘no’. Not only is the source itself not forkable, but it also cannot be seen as the essence of a project. The contributors are part of the project, as is the unique logo, but so too is the domain, the hosting, and the servers. It gets more difficult: What about the rules that underpin a project, its discussion pages, its users, or the people who donate money to it? Its material infrastructure? (p 100)

This theoretical argument points toward the confluence of new forms of social production, an ever growing complexity of computer code and the difficulty of disentangling it from everyday materiality, that helps me to consider my own disappointments with web development.

Turning Tkacz argument upside, shifting away from the focus of on the open source software movement to look at real political process, it seems to me that this notion of forking might help us thinking about how to break with political process or organization that attempt to circumscribe difference. If as Jeff Derksen argue neoliberal political process function as a kind of software for the continued concentration of capital and social stratification, how might aspect of this process be forked to create different outcomes and most importantly different social groupings.

For me the idea of forking goes some way to understanding how we might work with the web to shift it to function in ways that are central to our needs or wants. Seeing the code as a material entity (e.g. the website as a thing or space of assembly to borrow from Latour) requires consideration of the who, the where and the what. It also provides a means of think about how to recycle or reformulate of earlier ventures—codes or social processes.

So am I saying, find a great FOSS website or application and break with the original users and make our own version? Sure why not. Seems a little ambitious and perhaps unnecessarily spiteful, but sure why not?

What is perhaps more useful, timely is to think about how this organizational principle might be brought to bear on our collective interests. To “fork” a national agenda—to make a vital and viable alternative to the original script—how might we think about parallel groups working toward entirely different aims? And with what means?

When the nature and function of the means of production—and I’m including mass communication and mediation here—are beyond the kenning of government and pundit, it seems to be a good time to think again about how we might “think different” differently—to hijack Steve Job’s sloganeering (and to clean up his grammar).

Organized around an set of ideals—not to mention deep social and material concerns—that governments want to will away with an apology, I think that groups like this one have a great opportunities to make change. Change that for me gets to the heart of the disciplines we work with and around.

We have some of the elements, a basic structure, a shared interest in developing a discourse and sharing imagery, finding ways of working together that are not entirely circumscribed by the existing code / networks. With this in mind, I’m hoping we will start small and begin today to float some trial balloons. Or at least replace the photobombs with something more interesting. I’ll say more about what these might look like in the a few minutes, before I do I want to turn back to my title.

The key issue with forking has less to do with the reproducibility of code or our apparent ability to copy ad infinitum. Instead, it provides a way of  looking at how the shifting means of cultural production / communication raise irreconcilable differences within user groups and how these differences are embedded in the material means of breaking, decoupling, disconnecting from a dominant user group.

Forking also suggests that in the act of disconnecting, reconnecting is assumed. The members of an exit group take with them core values, shared concerns, and projected outcomes that are fundamentally at odds with the initial iteration, but shared nevertheless—at least for the moment.

<<Part 1   <<Part 2  <<Part 3 | >> Part 5>>

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Selected Projects / Looking Back

So where do we go from here. I’m not entirely sure.

All I can offer is a sense of where I’m coming from and the idea that by themselves a website or app is not particularly interesting. The success or failure of a given project rests in its affordances and the potential for social connection or engagement. The tech is only as good as the capacity to engage or excite users around a specific context or content assemblage.

Let me give you 3 examples of projects I was/am involved with:

http://marayaprojects.com
http://current.ecuad.ca
http://speakingmytruth.ca

Maraya

The least satisfying of these three projects is probably the most powerful and technologically sophisticated: Maraya. The resources—time, money, energy—that went into it versus its impact are nowhere near where I (or any of the key stakeholders, including my collaborating partners M. Simon Levin and Henry Tsang) anticipated or imagined should be.

Without getting too technical, I should point a few aspects of this site:

  1. It has a custom designed (Flash) visualization tool capable of allowing for on the fly layering, filtering, resizing, spinning of at least six videos.
  2. This site was built in Drupal 7.0 and allows for intergration with Facebook, Flickr,
  3. It is designed for user generated content and seeding with thousands of images and video generated in five years of researching relationships between Vancouver and Dubai.
  4. It is also driven by public programming in two gallery / museum spaces: namely Centre A and Museum of Vancouver (MOV).

As far as websites go, marayaprojects.com is a pretty good one or at least should be. The problem is that the complexity of the software and scope of the project are somewhat baffling to users. While we’ve had some success using the site in workshops and as teaching tool, it falters in terms of the good old fashion usability.

Nevertheless, we are continuing to build it out. And there is still the hope that it will be taken up. Given the strength of imagery and ideas generated by students, I am optimistic about its future.

Current 2.0

The next project, Current 2.0, is an Emily Carr University-based multiplatform design journal that I had the privilege of working as an faculty/editorial advisor.This journal is part of the upper level design curriculum and driven by faculty-student collaborations and labour.

The end product is exemplary. The functionality and the integration of the different components—print journal, blog, iPad app—provide an excellent model for thinking about to cross-platform publishing.

In terms of visual impact, it looks great. From an editorial point of view, however, Current needs to evolve. The strength of its form has significant potential in terms of content. From my point of view,Current will flourish if and when it begins to reach larger audiences

I would like to see it driven by the interests and dialogues that are beyond the purview of the institution or class. I really want to see what happens as the content begins to really push the form, to disrupt the smooth transitions between platforms, to disconnect it from the original design brief in a way that gives it a life of its own.

Speaking My Truth

The final example is speakingmytruth.ca This is an online platform for Speaking My Truth: Reflections on Residential School and Reconciliation. A collection of texts taken from the Aboriginal Healing Foundations Truth and Reconciliation 3 volume research series, with texts edited by Marlene Brant Castellano, Linda Archibald Mike DeGagné, Jonathan Dewar, Gregory Younging, and Ashok Mathur.

Speaking My Truth was selected and fronted by Shelagh Rogers, and it has been pitched at reading groups across the country.

In many ways, this is the least ambitious of the three sites and possibly the most successful. I’m not saying that because I played a larger role in its design, build, and implementation. Given the strength of the AHF material, vision of the editors, and talent of my collaborators (web developer Karen de Luna and designer Anja Braun), the success of the site seems inevitable. (I might even be the weak link.)

Nevertheless, this basic static site has been effective. In less than 6 months, it has enabled the distribution of nearly 11 thousand books. Given that 5 000 is a best seller in Canada this is no minor feat. It has also helped to kick start a discourse discussion of Residential Schools across a wide cross-section of Canada’s reading public—in book clubs and church groups, but also among health care workers, advocates and educators.

Granted the success of the site has something to do with the fact that the books are available free of charge, and that the AHF has been able to support their production and distribution. Yet there is more at stake here than free books.

I’ve come to think about this site as a component or platform in an open source publishing venture, which unlike other examples from the open or free software movement,  is grounded in bricks and mortar, or print and paper. Based on the success of this site we are now working to put all 3 volumes on line in various forms.

From these, and other examples, I’ve begun to think about the need to stop over emphasizing the digital realm, to stop thinking in terms of new code and new software program as providing the fix. It seems that we need to give up on a blind faith in what Wendy Hui Kyong Chun calls ‘the logic of “sourcery”’ (qtd in Tkacz 99) or a reductive belief in the power and ubiquity of software.

The crux of my dilemma, how do we manage to work in this new context. I don’t have any clear answers and I’m hoping that as we come out the other end of this workshop/incubation process we might have a glimmer of how things might work. What might someday be possible? Or even better, what we might want.

<<Part 1   <<Part 2 | Part 4>> Part 5>>

Hic Rhodus, Hic Salta! / Where Fork, Where Jump

The following essay is more descriptive of some of the terrain I’ve been traveling through than it is prescriptive. I’m hoping that some of the ideas that I float might help to generate discussion and move toward something dynamic—on and off line.

Not a Website

When I met with the organizers (Ashok, Jonathan, Sophie and Steve) in the fall to talk about my contribution to this project, I said I wasn’t interested in building a website. Fresh off mildly disappointing projects and more than a few brainstorming sessions on mobile devices, cross-platform content creation, and e-publishing, I was sick of the hype–sick of the promise that websites, social media, iPad/iPhone apps and ebooks were the answer to our communication needs.

When I said I didn’t want to build a website, only a website, I remember Sophie looking a little bemused. After all, I’d been brought in as a web dude, responsible for the project website. So I offered an alternative—”I like the idea of interlocking platforms,” I said. I’d like to help build “interlocking platforms.” Sounded good. It was agreed that’s what I/we’d do. Ever since, however, i’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out what it means to create interlocking platforms. As this event got closer, I started becoming panicky. What’s a platform? How are they going to interlock? What’s any of this have to do with truth & reconciliation?

What’s wrong with a website? Nothing really. A good website, like a a good map, good library, good encyclopedia, good movie channel, good photo album, good catalogue etc. is a good thing. I like websites, use them in my teaching and research all the time.

  • INC: Institute of Network Cultures: http://networkcultures.org
  • Bruno Latour’s site: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/
  • AAAAARG.ORG
  • birmingham complaints choir:


The problem is that many websites are not interesting, especially when they are linked to serious scholarly events. For years, every conference/symposium has had a website. But these sites seem to die with the event. The majority disappear or become repositories for bios and abstracts, a few pictures. The more ambitious will have video clips. Very few publish papers or proceedings.

This is not to criticize committed, well-meaning conference organizers who believe in the importance of their topic and of esteemed colleagues ideas. It’s more an indictment of persistent hold of moribund systems of print culture/capital over new media productions. Like the 20 minute conference paper, the conference website it lost in translation from print to digital media. And we don’t really know how to break out of this.

There are sites that resist this kind of closure and I will get to these later in my talk; but if you can think of positive examples please write them down or share them back channel.

How do we reconcile the conference website with more popular and populist forms of web culture. As an antidote, I’d like to speculate on something wildly different: animal photobombs

For me an amazingly powerful example of this is the animal photobombers. http://www.buzzfeed.com/expresident/greatest-animal-photobombers-of-all-time

While I’m not going to theorize animal photobombs, I want to point to a few instructive elements that help me to understand how the web works, or how the interlocking platforms of digital cameras, facebook/flickr photos, and google work:

  • folks like strange, entertaining stuff, almost as much as the instructive and heavy—play is better than work, or at least these unscheduled, unprogrammed interruptions seem to be more engaging the regularly scheduled, weekly broadcast.
  • users are not yet / not really in control of the camera’s auto-focus or self-timer functions
  • untamed tech is metaphorically connected to unruly animal subjects—both demonstrate a preoccupation with the limits of human agency, the frontiers of representation.
  • amazing numbers of people are willing to do the labour, be that a little or a lot, to make sure the stuff they likes gets seen
  • our mistakes are often more interested than our successes
  • the web is a visual medium
  • social media is responding to a vacuum—we like examples like the revolution in Egypt or resistance in Iran because they valorize the dross and help drive up the value of shares in Facebook, Twitter, Youtube.

There’s a lot more to say here and I don’t want to get sucked into a vortex of web-centralization conspiracy. Others have put a lot more systematic thought into this than I have. My point is rather simple: photobomb trumps conference website.

< < Part 1   |   Part 3 >>

gerhard-richter-detail

This very long and rambling essay was initially written for a presentation at the Reconciliation Works in Progress at the Shingwauk Centre, Algoma University, Sault Ste Marie.

It has been reworked since and I have posted it here in series of linked posts.

Preamble

Thank you to Reworks organizers Sophie McCall, Jonathan Dewar, Ashok Mathur, Steve Loft and Trina Cooper Bolam; to our hosts the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA) and Algoma University; and to my friends and colleagues—new and old.

It is an honour to be invited to this inspired / inspiring gathering. Among so many acclaimed artists, writers, and thinkers, in the context of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, I am humbled by the opportunity to reflect on my engagement with digital platforms and how I see them relating to the daunting challenges of re/conciliation, “progress” and the legacies of the Residential School System.

Coming here, I have been thinking about home and family, and the journeys that frame my speaking and knowing. I struggle to get my head around what it means to return from Vancouver, where I live as an unsettled settler on unceded Coast Salish land, to Toronto, where I grew up and where my family lives on and among the territories of the Neutral, Seneca, Cayuga, and Mohawk nations, and then traveling on to Sault Ste. Marie, to be hosted by CSAA on the ancestral land of the Anishnaabeg.

As I try to come to terms with these complex geographies and the web of historical treaties and land claims they describe, I am struck by the landscape—the trees, rivers and great lakes—and how I am relatively comfortable moving through it. This identification with the local is  integral to my self and my work, but I am also troubled by it, particularly in the context of this meeting on the grounds of the Shingwauk Residential School.

Flying in, I tracked the St. Marys River. I imagined a line reaching back along the shore of Lake Huron, down to Lake Ontario, back the east end of Toronto. The first 20 years of my life were spent in a home overlooking the lake, tuned to its sounds, sights, smells—each day walking to and from school, away from and back to the lake.

I feel the need to rehearse a litany of lakes and rivers:

Great, great grandparents traveling north on the Trail of the Conestoga, settling by the Speed River outside of Guelph, or North of Toronto around Musselman’s lake. Great grandparents who left Ireland early in the 20th century to settle in Toronto east of the Don River. A great grandmother who came to Canada with the name of the Protestant Minister who took her in. Her son (my grandfather) fondly reminiscing about the Orangemen’s parade each July, celebrating King William crossing the Boyne.

These are deep colonial investments—and I have barely scratched the surface of my own settler geography. These snippets of remembered history are but a taste of a larger programmatic violence that is absorbed over many years, passed down among families, friends and neighbors. In the rush to produce a Canadian identity, they become sweetened and are consumed alongside polite confections and pots of tea and coffee.

I turn west, imagining the miles of shoreline arcing around Lake Superior—all the rivers and lakes that remain unknown to me, unnamed and unclaimed in my family’s lore. The thought of all stories and history that are shared by or around these waters gives me hope. I am buoyed by thinking about the various economies of knowledge that are shaped by the First Nations who have lived on and around them.

Coming here, I have crossed so many territories, those protected by treaty as well as those unceded to any crown or colonial nation. As I think of the narratives of class, religion, race and nation that underwrite my upbringing and education, I am struck by my tenuous grasp on the histories of resistance and healing shared by Aboriginal, Inuit and Métis survivors of the Residential school system. I am angry about how ill prepared I feel to participate in these larger conversations. At the invitation of the elders who welcomed up, however, I am compelled to take up the challenge and to enter in.

As a point of beginning, I try to imagine all the different economies of light I have known. Years ago when I wrote my dissertation, I borrowed an epigraph from painter, sculptor, poet, photographer Roy Kiyooka:

the light that obtains in any given place permeates what is made there.

And at different times, I have thought or felt I know what this means. Looking at artworks, reading certain texts, I have sensed a strong connection to particular places and times. I have tried to let this guide my work.

As a way of concluding this rambling preface, I may say that my forays into online platform building come from a curiosity and how “the light that obtains in any given place” travels across the world—at the speed of light. I’m fascinated by how the traces of reflected light—lakes, trees, clouds—continues to underwrite the new spatial practices afforded us by the internet and emerging digital workflows.

|   Part 2>>  Part 3>>  Part 4>>  Part 5>>

2012-10-02 14.39.03

This very long and rambling essay was initially written for a presentation at the Reconciliation Works in Progress at the Shingwauk Centre, Algoma University, Sault Ste Marie. It has been reworked since.

Thank you to Reworks organizers Sophie McCall, Jonathan Dewar, Ashok Mathur, Steve Loft and Trina Cooper Bolam; to our hosts the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA) and Algoma University; and to my friends and colleagues—new and old.

Preamble

It is an honour to be invited to this inspired / inspiring gathering. Among so many acclaimed artists, writers, and thinkers, in the context of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, I am humbled by the opportunity to reflect on my engagement with digital platforms and how I see them relating to the daunting challenges of re/conciliation, “progress” and the legacies of the Residential School System.

Coming here, I have been thinking about home and family, and the journeys that frame my speaking and knowing. I struggle to get my head around what it means to return from Vancouver, where I live as an unsettled settler on unceded Coast Salish land, to Toronto, where I grew up and where my family lives on and among the territories of the Neutral, Seneca, Cayuga, and Mohawk nations, and then traveling on to Sault Ste. Marie, to be hosted by CSAA on the ancestral land of the Anishnaabeg.

As I try to come to terms with these complex geographies and the web of historical treaties and land claims they describe, I am struck by the landscape—the trees, rivers and great lakes—and how I am relatively comfortable moving through it. This identification with the local is  integral to my self and my work, but I am also troubled by it, particularly in the context of this meeting on the grounds of the Shingwauk Residential School.

Flying in, I tracked the St. Marys River. I imagined a line reaching back along the shore of Lake Huron, down to Lake Ontario, back the east end of Toronto. The first 20 years of my life were spent in a home overlooking the lake, tuned to its sounds, sights, smells—each day walking to and from school, away from and back to the lake.

I feel the need to rehearse a litany of lakes and rivers:

Great, great grandparents traveling north on the Trail of the Conestoga, settling by the Speed River outside of Guelph, or North of Toronto around Musselman’s lake. Great grandparents who left Ireland early in the 20th century to settle in Toronto east of the Don River. A great grandmother who came to Canada with the name of the Protestant Minister who took her in. Her son (my grandfather) fondly reminiscing about the Orangemen’s parade each July, celebrating King William crossing the Boyne.

These are deep colonial investments—and I have barely scratched the surface of my own settler geography. These snippets of remembered history are but a taste of a larger programmatic violence that is absorbed over many years, passed down among families, friends and neighbors. In the rush to produce a Canadian identity, they become sweetened and are consumed alongside polite confections and pots of tea and coffee.

I turn west, imagining the miles of shoreline arcing around Lake Superior—all the rivers and lakes that remain unknown to me, unnamed and unclaimed in my family’s lore. The thought of all stories and history that are shared by or around these waters gives me hope. I am buoyed by thinking about the various economies of knowledge that are shaped by the First Nations who have lived on and around them.

Coming here, I have crossed so many territories, those protected by treaty as well as those unceded to any crown or colonial nation. As I think of the narratives of class, religion, race and nation that underwrite my upbringing and education, I am struck by my tenuous grasp on the histories of resistance and healing shared by Aboriginal, Inuit and Métis survivors of the Residential school system. I am angry about how ill prepared I feel to participate in these larger conversations. At the invitation of the elders who welcomed up, however, I am compelled to take up the challenge and to enter in.

As a point of beginning, I try to imagine all the different economies of light I have known. Years ago when I wrote my dissertation, I borrowed an epigraph from painter, sculptor, poet, photographer Roy Kiyooka:

the light that obtains in any given place permeates what is made there.

And at different times, I have thought or felt I know what this means. Looking at artworks, reading certain texts, I have sensed a strong connection to particular places and times. I have tried to let this guide my work.

As a way of concluding this rambling preface, I may say that my forays into online platform building come from a curiosity and how “the light that obtains in any given place” travels across the world—at the speed of light. I’m fascinated by how the traces of reflected light—lakes, trees, clouds—continues to underwrite the new spatial practices afforded us by the internet and emerging digital workflows.

Hic Rhodus, Hic Salta! / Where Fork, Where Jump

The following essay is more descriptive of some of the terrain I’ve been traveling through than it is prescriptive. I’m hoping that some of the ideas that I float might help to generate discussion and move toward something dynamic—on and off line.

Not a Website

When I met with the organizers (Ashok, Jonathan, Sophie and Steve) in the fall to talk about my contribution to this project, I said I wasn’t interested in building a website. Fresh off mildly disappointing projects and more than a few brainstorming sessions on mobile devices, cross-platform content creation, and e-publishing, I was sick of the hype–sick of the promise that websites, social media, iPad/iPhone apps and ebooks were the answer to our communication needs.

When I said I didn’t want to build a website, only a website, I remember Sophie looking a little bemused. After all, I’d been brought in as a web dude, responsible for the project website. So I offered an alternative—”I like the idea of interlocking platforms,” I said. I’d like to help build “interlocking platforms.” Sounded good. It was agreed that’s what I/we’d do. Ever since, however, i’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out what it means to create interlocking platforms. As this event got closer, I started becoming panicky. What’s a platform? How are they going to interlock? What’s any of this have to do with truth & reconciliation?

What’s wrong with a website? Nothing really. A good website, like a a good map, good library, good encyclopedia, good movie channel, good photo album, good catalogue etc. is a good thing. I like websites, use them in my teaching and research all the time.

  • INC: Institute of Network Cultures: http://networkcultures.org
  • Bruno Latour’s site: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/
  • AAAAARG.ORG
  • birmingham complaints choir:


The problem is that many websites are not interesting, especially when they are linked to serious scholarly events. For years, every conference/symposium has had a website. But these sites seem to die with the event. The majority disappear or become repositories for bios and abstracts, a few pictures. The more ambitious will have video clips. Very few publish papers or proceedings.

This is not to criticize committed, well-meaning conference organizers who believe in the importance of their topic and of esteemed colleagues ideas. It’s more an indictment of persistent hold of moribund systems of print culture/capital over new media productions. Like the 20 minute conference paper, the conference website it lost in translation from print to digital media. And we don’t really know how to break out of this.

There are sites that resist this kind of closure and I will get to these later in my talk; but if you can think of positive examples please write them down or share them back channel.

How do we reconcile the conference website with more popular and populist forms of web culture. As an antidote, I’d like to speculate on something wildly different: animal photobombs

For me an amazingly powerful example of this is the animal photobombers. http://www.buzzfeed.com/expresident/greatest-animal-photobombers-of-all-time

While I’m not going to theorize animal photobombs, I want to point to a few instructive elements that help me to understand how the web works, or how the interlocking platforms of digital cameras, facebook/flickr photos, and google work:

  • folks like strange, entertaining stuff, almost as much as the instructive and heavy—play is better than work, or at least these unscheduled, unprogrammed interruptions seem to be more engaging the regularly scheduled, weekly broadcast.
  • users are not yet / not really in control of the camera’s auto-focus or self-timer functions
  • untamed tech is metaphorically connected to unruly animal subjects—both demonstrate a preoccupation with the limits of human agency, the frontiers of representation.
  • amazing numbers of people are willing to do the labour, be that a little or a lot, to make sure the stuff they likes gets seen
  • our mistakes are often more interested than our successes
  • the web is a visual medium
  • social media is responding to a vacuum—we like examples like the revolution in Egypt or resistance in Iran because they valorize the dross and help drive up the value of shares in Facebook, Twitter, Youtube.

There’s a lot more to say here and I don’t want to get sucked into a vortex of web-centralization conspiracy. Others have put a lot more systematic thought into this than I have. My point is rather simple: photobomb trumps conference website.

Selected Projects / Looking Back

So where do we go from here. I’m not entirely sure.

All I can offer is a sense of where I’m coming from and the idea that by themselves a website or app is not particularly interesting. The success or failure of a given project rests in its affordances and the potential for social connection or engagement. The tech is only as good as the capacity to engage or excite users around a specific context or content assemblage.

Let me give you 3 examples of projects I was/am involved with:

http://marayaprojects.com
http://current.ecuad.ca
http://speakingmytruth.ca

The least satisfying of these three projects is probably the most powerful and technologically sophisticated: Maraya. The resources—time, money, energy—that went into it versus its impact are no where near where I (or any of the key stakeholders, including my collaborating partners M. Simon Levin and Henry Tsang) anticipated or imagined.

Without getting too technical I should point a few aspects of this site: 1/ it has a state of the art, custom designed (Flash) visualization tool capable of allowing for on the fly layering, filtering, resizing, spinning of at least six videos. 2/ this site was built in Drupal 7.0 and allows for intergration with Facebook, Flickr, 3/ it is designed for user generated content and seeding with thousands of images and video generated in five years of researching relationships between Vancouver and Dubai. 4/ It is also driven by public programming in two gallery / museum spaces: namely Centre A and MOV.

So a far as websites go marayaprojects.ccom is a pretty good one or at least should be. The problem is that the complexity of the software and scope of the project are somewhat baffling to users. While we’ve had some success in workshops and teaching and we are continuing to build it out, it falters in terms of the good old fashion usability.

The next project, current, is an Emily Carr University-based multiplatform design journal I had the privilege of working as an advisor. This journal is part of the upper level design curriculum and driven by faculty-student collaborationx and labour. The end product is exemplary. The functionality and the integration of the different components—print journal, blog, iPad app—provide an excellent approach to cross-platform publishing. It also looks great.

From an editorial point of view, however, I think Current needs to evolve. The strength of its form has significant potential in terms of content. From my point of view, current needs to reach larger audiences; it needs to be driven by the interests and dialogues that are beyond the purview of the institution or class. I really want to see the content push the form, to disrupt the smooth transitions between platforms. To disconnect from the original design brief, in a way that gives it a life of its own.

The final example is speakingmytruth.ca An online platform for Speaking My Truth: Reflections on Residential School and Reconciliation. A collection of texts taken from the Aboriginal Healing Foundations Truth and Reconciliation research series edited by Marlene Brant Castellano, Linda Archibald Mike DeGagné, Jonathan Dewar, Gregory Younging, and Ashok Mathur that was selected and fronted by Shelagh Rogers.

In many ways, this is the least ambitious of the three sites and possibly the most successful. I’m not saying that because I played a larger role in its design, build, and implementation. Given the strength of the AHF material, vision of the editors, and talent of my collaborators (web developer Karen de Luna and designer Anja Braun), the success of the site seems inevitable I might be the weak link.

Nevertheless, this basically static site has been effective. In less than 6 months, it has enabled the distribution of nearly 11 thousand books. Given that 5 000 is a best seller in Canada this is no minor feat.

Granted the books are available free of charge and the AHF has been able to support their production and distribution. I’ve come to think about this site as a component or platform in an open source publishing venture, which is unlike open or free software movements is grounded in bricks and mortar, or print and paper. Based on the success of this site we are now working to put all 3 volumes on line in various forms.

From these, and other examples, I’ve begun to think about the need to stop over emphasizing the digital realm, to stop thinking in terms of new code and new software program as providing the fix. It seems that we need to give up on a blind faith in what Wendy Hui Kyong Chun calls ‘the logic of “sourcery”’ (qtd in Tkacz 99) or a reductive belief in the power and ubiquity of software.

The crux of my dilemma, how do we manage to work in this new context. I don’t have any clear answers and I’m hoping that as we come out the other end of this workshop/incubation process we might have a glimmer of how things might work. What might someday be possible? Or even better, what we might want.

“Forking”

With idea of what’s possible or desirable in mind, I want to shift gears to give you a sense of how this connects, or not, to some of the bigger issues at stake here. I feel I need to say something about my title.

Preparing this talk, I was reading about computational processes as metaphors for social organization, and I came across a Nathaniel Tkacz fascinating essay on “The Politics of Forking Paths.” As Tkacz describes it, forking “originally referred to an operating system process where the output of the process is a functional duplication of the process itself, thereby creating two separate but virtually identical processes” (96). He suggests that this idea of software spliting (forking) into identical copies is a key idea in the FOSS/FLOSS (Free (Libre) and Open Source Software) movement.

Focusing on the example of the Spanish Wikipedia group’s split from the larger Wikipedia movement into EL, Tkacz looks at how “this event is framed within a newly politicized discourse of ‘forking, the splitting a project to create two separate entities” (96). This wikipedia fork provides away to think through the slippage from software and political processes. And as Tkacz writes,

Forking represents a unique opportunity to make visible the messiness and modalities of force in these projects. It is a rare moment when the fundamental organizing principles of a project are put to the test and when possibly irreconcilable differences are foregrounded over values held in common.

The foregrounding of irreconcilability—which seems to me be at the crux of a host of political emergencies around Truth and Reconciliation, ecological disaster, economic devastation that are exacerbated by local neoliberalisms and the dehumanizing “Harper government”—is underwritten and infected by the idea a perfect copy. For Tkacz, forking is in direct contradiction of capitalist notions of scarcity, because, in theory, forking creates two identical entities out the exact same amount of resources—each entity might now exist with half the resources of the original. Forking, at least in principle, functions outside of the Hegelian dialectic of winners and losers. Tkacz talks of a politics of exit, in which the leaving party simply takes the code/process and sets up in a different space / time.

Eventually the two identical iterations morph into new projects and take on separate content. Pointing out the fact that, beyond a formal equivalence, the two forked entities were never really the same to begin with, Tkacz suggest that both are subject two different materialities. In the context of wikipedia and the FLOSS movement, he takes issue with the ideological use of “forking,” a computational term, to describe what are in essence social processes:

A consideration of forking also brings into view a series of questions about the ontological boundaries of open projects, questions that problematize the very possibility of forking and reveal the ‘making invisible’ of certain features of open projects necessary for the political discourse of forking to be preserved.

Making visible the social / material aspects underlying the wikipedia fork, he argues that even in its purest digital form that two forks are spatially and temporally distinct, existing on different hard drives or servers the are subject to significant material differences.  Tkacz wonders,

Is it possible to fork? From a formal perspective, the answer is ‘possibly yes’ but only by keeping forensic difference at bay and only if a shared understanding of source code or content preexists as the political essence of a project. It requires, that is, a kind of sourcery that might nonetheless create a sense of political satisfaction (if it is shared by all). From a forensic perspective, however, the answer is a definite ‘no’. Not only is the source itself not forkable, but it also cannot be seen as the essence of a project. The contributors are part of the project, as is the unique logo, but so too is the domain, the hosting, and the servers. It gets more difficult: What about the rules that underpin a project, its discussion pages, its users, or the people who donate money to it? Its material infrastructure? (p 100)

This theoretical argument points toward the confluence of new forms of social production, an ever growing complexification of computer code and the difficulty of disentangling it from everyday materialities, that helps me to consider my own disappointments with web development.

Turning Tkacz argument upside, shifting away from the focus of on the open source software movement to look at real political process, it seems to me that this notion of forking might help us thinking about how to break with political process or organization that attempt to circumscribe difference. If as Jeff Derksen argue neoliberal political process function as a kind of software for the continued concentration of capital and social stratification, how might aspect of this process be forked to create different outcomes and most importantly different social groupings.

For me the idea of forking goes some way to understanding how we might work with the web to shift it to function in ways that are central to our needs or wants. Seeing the code as a material entity (e.g. the website as a thing or space of assembly to borrow from Latour) requires consideration of the who, the where and the what. It also provides a means of think about how to recycle or reformulate of earlier ventures—codes or social processes.

So am I saying, find a great FOSS website or application and break with the original users and make our own version? Sure why not. Seems a little ambitious and perhaps unnecessarily spiteful, but sure why not?

What seems to me to be more useful and timely is to think about how this organizational principle might be brought to bear on our collective or divergent interests. To “fork” a national agenda—to make a vital and viable alternative to the original script—we might think about parallel groups working toward entirely different aims.

At this point in history, when the means of production—and I’m including mass communication and mediation here—are beyond the kenning of government and pundit, it seems to me to be a great time to think about how we might “think different” differently—to hijack Steve Job’s sloganeering (and to clean up his grammar).

Understanding that it takes a significant investment of creative/innovative people, ideas, and expertise, as well as as vital institutional support— to generate a discourse—gives me hope. To use a words I don’t often use.

Organized around an set of ideals—not to mention deep social and material concerns—that governments want to will away with an apology, I think this group has a great opportunity to make change. Change that for me gets to the heart of the disciplines we work with. We have some of the elements, a basic structure, a shared interest in developing a discourse and sharing imagery, finding ways of working together that are not entirely circumscribed by the existing code / networks.

With this in mind, I’m hoping we will start small and begin today to float some trial balloons. Or at least replace the photobombs with something more interesting. I’ll say more about what these might look like in the a few minutes, before I do I want to turn back to my title.

The key issue with forking for me has less to do with the reproducibility of code or our apparent ability to copy ad infinitum but to look at how the shifting means of cultural production / communication raise irreconcilable differences within user groups and the linked question of the material means to break, decouple, disconnect from the dominant. In the act of disconnecting, reconnecting is assumed. The members of an exit group must return to core values, concerns outcomes. There is also a knowledge that the new is potentially better—more just or just more interesting.

Hic Rhodus. Hic Salta.

As some of you may recognize this is a somewhat famous Latin phrase used by Hegel and Marx to refer to the revolutionary moment, the end of history, also the end of progress. I’m borrowing the phrase from a beautiful postscript to Roger Farr’s newest book of poems, Means. Hic rhodus. Hic salta is the title of one of Farr’s poetic sequences in the text and the focus of his postscript.

Farr tells us that the phrase is from a punch-line to a Latin fable able an athlete who boast about being a good jumper and winning a competition (presumably in Rhodes). The athelete’s boast is taken up by a bystander who says something along the lines of if you’re so good show us: “here the rod, now jump.” Alternative, there is a geographic aspect to the taunt: “Here is Rhodes, now jump.”

Hic rhodus. Hic Salta. As Farr points, out this phrase is also at the heart of Marx’s thinking about the revolutionary “end of history.” It is idea Marx borrows from Hegel to describe “that point in history where the proletariat is compelled to leap” (83).

What is remarkable for Farr, and many others, is that this moment has not been seized: “The problem, however, is that the logic of necessity ticking away inside this utterance—a logic captured syntactically in form of the conditional sentence “(‘If the conditions are correct, then the people will revolt’)—is either inherently flawed, or has been hijacked by some other spook, perhaps that other, better known maxim, cogita ante salis” (look before you leap) (83).

Farr’s essay goes on to discuss a systematic evacuation of political agency, which he connects with that moment forewarned in the work of Debord or Camatte, when “capital reaches a stage where it emancipates itself from human agency… a ‘mechanistic utopia’ where human beings become simple accessories of an automated system’” (84). Dark days indeed. Farr writes that “communication, like the economy it animates, also becomes something alien and autonomous, an abstract force—a ghost, a virus, a code—that harnesses ‘users’ to execute its commands” (86).

We are back at Chun’s notion of sourcery mentioned above, the all powerful code only needs us to click on the options, to like this one or that one.

However, what is remarkable about Farr’s essay is the way it forks a popular script—about the futility of resistance—by proposing a radical poetic turn. He argues for “a documentarian poetics that acknowledges its deep entanglement with exchange by replicating that particular transaction which every capitalist seeks to avoid: the return of used, damaged, or stolen, goods (words) for full refund.” He calls this a “dis-utopian un-writing—that avoids the old traps of ‘moral commitment, beautiful soul, ideological militancy, etc.,” and favours instead a “constructive punk realism” (87).

As a poet, Farr is talking about poetry, but for our purposes I’d like to open it up a bit include all manner of creative act—visual, performative, conceptual, musical. And I’d like to end the essay portion of my program with his contention that

our task should not be “political,” anti-political. Poets are not legislators. Writing does no have to concern itself with distribution of epiphanies and sensibilities, nor with the re-programming of an imagined citizenry in time for the next Federal election. It does not need to solve the problems that capital needs solved …. doesn’t have to help anyone ‘come to terms’ with this world.”

In the end, poetry’s role and I am including all manner of creative act here is “affective: to joyfully render the present even more intolerable than it already is.” Farr goes on to say this type of creative practice should gesture “toward new forms of affinity, agency, and association” (86)

At this point, in the spirit of joyfully rendering the present even more intolerable I’d like to open to a discussion about how we and I am using the term lightly might works with and across platforms. I’m hoping that we might use the basic Reworks site (1.0) as a spring board into a variety of other things.

But that’s where I/we need you.

remaking-research

Remaking Research, the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) 2012 Symposium on Research, took place at Emily Carr University of Art and Design from Nov. 1-3. The event was billed as

a “working symposium” centred on the pragmatics and possibilities of creative practice as research, both within art and design institutions and in the context of interdisciplinary, inter–institutional, and partnered relations.

This symposium brought together practitioners, educators, administrators and theorists from across North America, Europe and as far away as Israel for a dialogue on the state of research in academic art and design (A & D) institutions.

Live stream by Ustream

With Remaking Research behind us, I though I’d share a few observations, comments and themes the came up during the event. The following five points are offered in the spirit of a continuing dialogue. [1]

Disclosure: I am on sabbatical from Emily Carr and had nothing to do with organizing event or day-to-day lead up. Nevertheless, as a member of the local research community, I am deeply engaged in the production of creative practice research and theorizing its impacts on cultural and institutional transformations. With Ashok Mathur, Canada Research Chair in Artistic Inquiry at Thompson Rivers University, I co-facilitated one of the break out session on Research Funding.

1. Research has arrived

Remaking Research demonstrated that research is a serious venture for A & D faculty and institutions. The symposium displayed a wealth of research projects, collaborations, and institutional developments. From their energy and enthusiasm, it was apparent that participants are hungry for opportunities to confer and share in an emergent meta-dialogue: research on research.

As the opening plenary by Graeme Sullivan and keynote by Carol Strohecker made abundantly clear, creative practice research has a relatively long history, and for more than decade, it has been at the core of significant institutional transformations, across international contexts.

The symposium was orchestrated to showcase exemplary projects and to provide opportunities for panel discussions and dialogue that might help situate the work in relation to a variety initiatives—centres, labs, networks, etc. The overall scope of events was impressive, making it clear that A & D research has moved beyond its difficult start-up phase.

While there is still work to be done, the initial stages of remaking research (taken as a noun phrase) have irrevocably changed (remade) the institutional contexts of post-secondary A & D education / academic practice.  “Art School,” its seems, has made it to university (or college as our US American colleagues might say).

2. Art & Design Research is not a single entity

The broad spectrum of presented research demonstrated the breadth of research practices that can be collected under the umbrella of creative practice research. Participants shared project descriptions and insights related to topics as varied as product design, digital arts, experimental forms, sustainability, institutional development, engaged pedagogy, data visualization, and collaborative methodologies.

In reflecting on the presentations and sifting through the project descriptions is difficult to find an overarching thematic, beyond the notion of creative practice research. While collaboration is at the heart of much of the work discussed, the nature of these collaborations and their goals/outcomes make it difficult to assert a shared concern or approach.

How does one categorize projects as diverse and provocative as the following (to offer a few samples from the larger gathering)?

3. From Objects to Episteme

Despite differences in approach and expressed goals, there was a prevalent interest in the fabrication and use of things. Technology—not so much in the sense of techné or know how, but machine or tool—seemed to be crucial to the questions asked, including those dealing with (environmental) sustainability or social engagement.

From “Making Things Public” | Curators Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, ZKM

Given the historical grounding of art & design in material practice, this focus on objects and object fabrication makes sense. However, the implications are important to bear in mind as we talk about creative practice research as a field of study.

As long as this materialism respects the work of the many pioneering artists / designers/ researchers who have helped us understand the link between things and the social relations they engender, this can be a strength. In particular, I’m thinking about an understanding of things, as it was investigated by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel’s massive ZKM exhibition Making Things Public.

The danger arises when we become mesmerized by the cool stuff we make, rather remaining vigilant to the implication of the making. Investments in expensive technologies and subsequent desire for industry partnerships can easily hijack the research agenda. As a number of panelists noted there is an important distinction between  “directed” and “non-directed” research that needs to be more fully understood—by practitioners, administers, and community partners.

I would have liked to see this concern taken up by more of the artists and designers who presented on their work. Arguably, the current focus of creative practice research (demonstrated at this symposium) tends to privilege a cluster of creative methods (re: making research) rather than fully engaging with the transformation academic practice  (remaking research). Some presenters situated their work in relation to historical or art historical trajectories and, in the case of design research, it was clear that many projects responded to research questions. There was, however, as one participant commented, a glaring absence of literature review: the hallmark of most forms of research in the Social Sciences and Humanities.

To generalize, I might say that creative practice research seems to be more about methodology than epistemology. With time, I expect there will be more cross-talk between front-line researchers and those in organizational, administrative roles—many of whom have strong research practices.

4. Articulation & Reporting Matter:

The continued growth and development of creative practice research requires attention to the problem of discourse—articulating the nature of the work and reporting on it. To keep the research making / doing vital requires the development of systematic methods of describing, theorizing, criticizing our emergent discipline (or disciplines).

Writing about the research—along with venues for that writing—is necessary to ensure that artists and designers continue to participate in the larger transformation of post-secondary education. We need to ensure that government officials and university administrators have the knowledge they need to demonstrate the important contributions art and design research and to secure the resources. Internally, we need this type of information for hiring, tenure, and promotion, as well as for curriculum development

As creative practice researchers become more articulate about their disciplines, making equivalences between the different types knowledge mobilization that characterize art and design research—i.e., between public talks, exhibitions, screenings, charrettes, trade publications, catalogue essays, etc. and peer reviewed publication—we will be in a better position to challenge dominant assumptions about the nature of academic practice, particularly in relation to its roles viz. various constituents or stakeholder communities.

One way of moving in this direction might be the formation of national and international associations. As OCAD University President Sara Diamond pointed out in a “dialogue” with Pamela Jennings, Director of the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Centers for Research and Collaboration at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), academic associations help feed the machinery of bibliometrics, which in turn are used by the research councils and funding bodies. Artists and designers need to make sure that their work is available and accounted for.

(For discussion of the lack of data on art and design research, read Canadian Council of Academies report The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 p23-25.)

Situating creative practice research in relation to the larger networks of research discourse will also help clarify and challenge the way we approach the work.

5. Research, Making and Pedagogy

As part of the  symposium wrap up, participants gathered to hear, see, and feel students responses to the three days of presentation. Billed as an act of listening, student recordings (video, photographic, textual) and performances presented participants with a unique feedback loop or mirror. [2]

To a large extent, the student translation or re/presentation—their listening—tended to focus on issues of terminology. The tendency to mashup and playback elements of the presentations and social gatherings highlighted the opacity of our discursive practices. The layering and repetition of text and image, sound and video, drew attention to the materiality of the language of research, as it was developed and presented over the course of the three days.

Thinking through this media rich, polysemic presentation allowed me to question my own thinking about A & D pedagogy, or more precisely the flow between making and knowing. It struck me that there is still significant work to be done in demystifying and translating creative practice research for student practitioners. It also occurred to me that we need to remain vigilant to why research matters and to the disciplinary practices that help to give our research force.

A point of departure, particularly in relation to pedagogy, might be to continue examining the ways that research is always already making. To reverse the lens of remaking research, I want to think about how, like pure research, there is no such thing as pure making. When we undertake creative practice research, as well as when we write about and critique it, we are already entangled in the complex machinations of states and institutions. To  come to terms with the shifting nature of this complicity, we still have a lot to learn from the generations of artists and designers who have come before us and to the scholars and philosophers who have engaged their work.

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1^  This post is part of a process of attempt to incorporate a practice of thinking out loud or writing out in the open. It’s an experiment in moving toward a digital workflow capable of building readers and feedback into the publication process.

2^ I apologize for not properly citing this project. I have looked for the names of students and faculty involved, but I can’t find anything on the website. Will update when get more info.

Shingwauk Gatherin

post-incubation?

Posted by Reworks | REWORKS
' We’re still vibrating with ideas, new and old friendships, possibilities; even though the symposium / incubation is complete and everyone has left, returning home, the buzz continues. I keep hearing from folks in Vancouver who’ve been following the dialogue across Facebook, Twitter, art and poetry circles. Stay tuned for more images, discourse and dialogue. The organizers are working to build out phase 2 in order to share more of the amazing work / thinking going into and coming out of the gathering. The post post-incubation? appeared first on REWORKS.