Disclosures seeks to scrutinise the notion of openness across fields of cultural production at large. A first reading of openness refers to situations in which the viewer, reader, listener or internet user becomes emancipated through egalitarian participation, collaborative authorship and/or the breaking down of hierarchical and social boundaries. Such scenarios have recurred in the writing and practice of numerous avant-gardists throughout the 20th Century whose legacy, perhaps more so now than ever before, largely informs contemporary practitioners: from Bertolt Brecht’s early claims over media as a two-way communication apparatus (1932) (1), to Walter Benjamin’s The Author as Producer (1934); from Roland Barthes’ The Death of The Author (1967), to the Italian Autonomists’ use of the airwaves as a space for self-organisation and vehicle for popular participation (Radio Alice, 1976-1977 being one example); or from Peter Watkins’ participatory film-documentary La Commune (Paris, 1871) (2000) to the televised re-enactment of the Battle of Orgreave orchestrated by Jeremy Deller (2001), to cite but a few.
If the production of non-hierarchical social models, as approach and ethos, is neither new nor uncommon, and is observable from one cultural field to another, it has to be noted that it matches certain systems and economies (internet-based or media practices) better than others (the artworld or the film and music industries). Issues around Intellectual Property and copyright – and the question of whether or not diffuse authorship and unrestrictive distribution are financially viable – come immediately to mind. Likewise, the notions of innovation and authorship – two concepts resolutely attached to old art forms – also crop up when the possibility of openness as a more widespread working method is raised. Meanwhile, media art more frequently takes its cues from discussions that re-cast modes of borrowing, inheriting, influence and archiving as more accurate descriptors for the history of cultural production. These factors have contributed to the separation between media art and visual art.
From a generalist point of view, visual art practice is often perceived as a predominantly bourgeois activity while media art practice has a contrasting association with real life applications, an economy of means, and self-sufficiency as its dominant economic model. Within the broad areas of media art and visual art, the practices that are of specific interest to Disclosures are those working critically, thus acting in response to – or securing a place outside of – the market economy and the main socio-cultural circuits.
Despite often sharing similar drives, critical media practice and socially-collaborative work in the visual art field remain divided by their divergent history, literature, discourses, circuits of production, diffusion and representation; they also seek separate sources of funding and have disconnected curricula. The consistent ignorance and lack of acknowledgement of each other’s aspirations, achievements and debates is evidenced in the recent publication Art & Social Change (2), which includes hardly any reference to critical media practice.
The mutual suspicion already described in 2003 by writer, artist and curator Armin Medosch (3) lingers: "Media artists are ‘considered to have no awareness of their relation to art history or theory – they are perceived as being concerned only with the ‘newness’ of technology.’ (4) In turn, the art world is accused of being technologically ignorant and of clinging to archaic notions of individualism, originality and authorship."
Phase 1 – Common Language: The View from Here
Taking up from discussions developed in such initiatives as NODE.London (2006) and Open Congress (2005), the first phase of Disclosures endeavours to investigate and compare the approaches, methodologies and ends of these two interrelated areas of practice. Attempts will be made to find, in retrospect, references and strategies that have been common to the two fields since Media Art was recognised as a genre in the 1960s. Contributions will address subjects such as the implications ensuing from the choice of working within visual art circuits, increasingly dependent on the market economy and corporate structures, and less able – some will say less willing – to be self-organised. Another topic to be approached in the discussion is the position and function of the curator when working with network-based initiatives governed by open contribution and consensual decision-making.
Phase 2 – Captain Pouch (5): History and Disclosure Alternative Histories | Participatory History Making and Documenting
After openness as an organisational principle, a second reading of openness revealing equally strong links to the public sphere revolves around the idea of transparency and of availability of information. Of relevance here are practices which address censorship and are committed to releasing public information and resources that have been out of civic reach for political, economic or bureaucratic reasons. For instance, the re-unification and expansion of Europe, globalisation and the Internet have played a significant role in the de-centralisation of research and in the shifting of foci onto production that was, until very recently, ignored and neglected by Western history. The participants to this part of the seminar will address histories and genealogies that inscribe themselves outside of the rigid bonds of ‘monopolistic’ versus ‘alternative’ social and cultural activity.
Phase 3 – Blue Skies, Grey Skies
The third phase is, on the one hand, concerned with the socio-economic, political and cultural conditions for the technological underpinning of openness – Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) – to exist and become widespread. FLOSS is considered here for its engagement with the gift economy and for its support of peer-based collaborations. The facet of FLOSS we are further interested with concerns its commitment to developing sustainable modes of cooperation and exchange outside of the dominant state-corporate model of capitalism.
Blue Skies, Grey Skies aims to address the limitations of FLOSS as a tool and model. There is arguably a mismatch between the universalising and egalitarian ideals prevalent in the advocation of FLOSS, and the highly uneven global contexts in which they are played out. In fact, going back to the sources, electricity and money are the prerequisite for open source technologies to be at all implemented in the first place. Besides, money and one’s forced adherence to capitalist modes of consumption – in other words the quasi-impossibility of reconciling free culture and action within capitalist economic survival, are topics that remain largely under-addressed. On a specialist level, knowledge and languages (6) are laborious to obtain and distribution of content and media with mass potential can remain limited to a small circle of privileged enthusiasts.
The ideologies that inform more radicalised new media circuits (e.g. anarchism, anti-statism, anti-regulation, anti-IP) would imply a relation with other social fields of discourse such as feminism, race and class issues, particularly those which tend towards the left. While global class issues are a regular part of new media discourse, directly active and discursive links to such ‘isms’ appear limited beyond organisations confronting more tertiary issues of access. This section aims to identify mutual inheritances between such areas of interest.
Phase 4 – From Pierre Menard to The Sluts (7)
The final chapter looks at experiments with the blurring of authorship and with cross-referencing in the field of literature. By referring to Jorge Luis Borges’ Pierre Menard: Author of the Quixote (1939), the opportunity arises to take a look at the state of Intellectual Property laws in the early part of the 20th century and to compare it with the current licensing system. Some of the contributions to this concluding part of Disclosures will also examine instances of horizontal collaborations through which the relationship between the fan, the author and the author’s creations are reconfigured.
(1) “The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication”, 1932. (2) Co-published by Afterall and Tate Publishing in 2007. (3) In "LONDON.ZIP, Digital Media Art In London mapped and compressed by Armin Medosch", 2003. (4) Simon Pope, email to the author, 06/10/03. (5) "17th century English rebel John Reynolds, who led one of the most successful revolts against the enclosure movement and one of the last physical conflicts between the peasantry and the gentry in England. He was nick-named Captain Pouch, “because of a great leather pouch which he wore by his side, in which purse he affirmed to his company there was sufficient matter to defend them against all comers, but afterwards when he was apprehended, his Pouch was searched, and therein was only a peece of greene cheese”. http://www.bilderberg.org/land/tenure.htm (6) Before considering programming languages, the issue of English language is also at stake. See Eric S. Raymond’s “How To Become A Hacker” which unapologetically emphasises the necessity of English fluency in hacker culture. http://catb.org/~esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html 2001 (7) "Written between 1994 and 2002, The Sluts is a black sheep cousin to Dennis Cooper's internationally acclaimed George Miles Cycle. Set largely on the pages of a website where gay male escorts are reviewed by their clients, and told through the postings, emails, and conversations of several dozen unreliable narrators, The Sluts chronicles the evolution of one young escort's date with a satisfied client into a metafiction of pornography, lies, half-truths, and myth." (www.denniscooper.net)