monoskop in Thylstrup 2019

the whole machinery,
of mass digitization assemblages. Indeed, as chapter 4 in this book charts, at
the margins of mass digitization another set of actors have been at work
building new digital cultural memory assemblages, including projects such as
Monoskop and These actors, referred to in this book as shadow library
projects (see chapter 4), at once both challenge and confirm the broader
infrapolitical dimensions of mass digitization, including its logics of
digital capitalism, network power, a

ng project. It is primarily run by individuals, but it has also received
public funding, which shows that what at first glance appears as a simple case
of piracy simultaneously serves as a much more complex infrapolitical
structure. The second case, Monoskop, distinguishes itself by its boutique
approach to digitization. Monoskop too is characterized by its territorial
trajectory, rooted in Bratislava’s digital scene as an attempt to establish an
intellectual platform for the study of avant-garde (digital) cultures that
could connect its Bratislava-based creators to a globa

entangled in territorial public-private governance practices that produce
their own late-sovereign infrapolitics, which, paradoxically, are embedded in
larger mass digitization problematics, both on their own territory and on the
global scene.

## Monoskop

In contrast to the broad and distributed infrastructure of, other
shadow libraries have emerged as specialized platforms that cater to a
specific community and encourage a specific practice. Monoskop is one such
shadow library. Like, Monoskop started as a one-man project and in many
respects still reflects its creator, Dušan Barok, who is an artist, writer,
and cultural activist involved in critical practices in the fields of
software, art, and theory. Prior to Monoskop, his activities were mainly
focused on the Bratislava cultural media scene, and Monoskop was among other
things set up as an infrastructural project, one that would not only offer
content but also function as a form of connectivity that could expand the
networked powers of the practices of which Barok was a part.34 In particular,
Barok w

nterested in researching the history of media art so that he could
frame the avant-garde media practices in which he engaged in Bratislava within
a wider historical context and thus lend them legitimacy.

### The Shadow Library as a Legal Stratagem

Monoskop was partly motivated by Barok’s own experiences of being barred from
works he deemed of significance to the field in which he was interested. As he
notes, the main impetus to start a blog “came from a friend who had access to
PDFs of books I wanted to read but could not afford go buy as they were not
available in public libraries.”35 Barok thus began to work on Monoskop with a
group of friends in Bratislava, initially hiding it from search engine bots to
create a form of invisibility that obfuscated its existence without, however,
preventing people from finding the Log and uploading new works. Information
about the

ent trackers, DC++ networks, extensive
repositories such as LibGen and Aaaaarg, cloud directories, document-sharing
platforms such as Issuu and Scribd, and digital libraries such as the Internet
Archive and Project Gutenberg.36 The shadow library of Monoskop thus slowly
began to emerge, partly through Barok’s own efforts at navigating email lists
and downloading material, and partly through people approaching Monoskop
directly, sending it links to online or scanned material and even offering it
entire e-book libraries. Rather than posting these “donated” libraries in
their entirety, however, Barok and his colleagues edited the received
collection and materials so that they would fit Monoskop’s scope, and they
also kept scanning material themselves.

Today Monoskop hosts thematically curated collections of downloadable books on
art, culture, media studies, and other topics, partly in order to stimulate
“collaborative studies of the arts, media, and humanities.”37 Indeed, Monoskop
operates with a _boutique_ approach, offering relatively small collections of
personally selected publications to a steady following of loyal patrons who
regularly return to the site to explore new works. Its focal points are
summarized by its conten

es.” Within these three broad focal points, hundreds of links
direct the user to avant-garde magazines, art exhibitions and events, art and
design schools, artistic and cultural themes, and cultural theorists.
Importantly, shadow libraries such as Monoskop do not just host works
unbeknownst to the authors—authors also leak their own works. Thus, some
authors publishing with brand name, for-profit, all-rights-reserving, print-
on-paper-only publishing houses will also circulate a copy of their work on a
free text-sharing network such as Monoskop. 38

How might we understand Monoskop’s legal situation and maneuverings in
infrapolitical terms? Shadow libraries such as Monoskop draw their
infrapolitical strength not only from the content they offer but also from
their mode of engagement with the gray zones of new information
infrastructures. Indeed, the infrapolitics of shadow libraries such as
Monoskop can perhaps best be characterized as a stratagematic form of
infrapolitics. Monoskop neither inhabits the passive perspective of the
digital spectator nor deploys a form of tactics that aims to be failure free.
Rather, it exists as a body of informal practices and knowledges, as cunning
and dexterous networks that actively embed themselves in today’s
sociotechnical infrastructures. It operates with high sociotechnical
sensibilities, living off of the social relations that bring it into being and
stabilize it. Most significantly, Monoskop skillfully exploits the cracks in
the infrastructures it inhabits, interchangeably operating, evading, and
accompanying them. As Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey point out in their
meditation on stratagems in digital media, they do “not cohere into

ficantly, then,
failures and errors not only represent negative occurrences in stratagematic
approaches but also appeal to willful dissidents as potentially beneficial
tools. Dušan Barok’s response to a question about the legal challenges against
Monoskop evidences this stratagematic approach, as he replies that shadow
libraries such as Monoskop operate in the “gray zone,” which to him is also
the zone of fair use.40 Barok thus highlights the ways in which Monoskop
engages with established media infrastructures, not only on the level of
discursive conventions but also through their formal logics, technical
protocols, and social proprieties.

Thus, whereas Google lights up gray zones through spectacle and legal power
plays, and Europeana shuns gray zones in favor of the law, Monoskop literally
embraces its shadowy existence in the gray zones of the law. By working in the
shadows, Monoskop and likeminded operations highlight the ways in which the
objects they circulate (including the digital artifacts, their knowledge
management, and their software) can be manipulated and experimented upon to
produce new forms of power dynamics.41 Thei

r ethics lie more in the ways in
which they operate as shadowy infrastructures than in intellectual reflections
upon the infrastructures they counter, without, however, creating an
opposition between thinking and doing. Indeed, as its history shows, Monoskop
grew out of a desire to create a space for critical reflection. The
infrapolitics of Monoskop is thus an infrapolitics of grayness that marks the
breakdown of clearly defined contrasts between legal and illegal, licit and
illicit, desire and control, instead providing a space for activities that are
ethically ambiguous and in which “everyone is sullied.”42

### Monoskop as a Territorializing Assemblage

While Monoskop’s stratagems play on the infrapolitics of the gray zones of
globalized digital networks, the shadow library also emerges as a late-
sovereign infrastructure. As already noted, Monoskop was from the outset
focused on surfacing and connecting art and media objects and theory from
Central and Eastern Europe. Often, this territorial dimension recedes into the
background, with discussions centering more on the site’s specialized catalog
and legal maneuvers. Yet Monoskop was initially launched partly as a response
to criticisms on new media scenes in the Slovak and Czech Republics as
“incomprehensible avant-garde.”43 It began as a simple invite-only instance of
wiki in August 2004, urging participants to collaboratively research the
history of media art. It was from the beginning conceived more as a
collaborative social practice and less as a material collection, and it
targeted noninstitutionalized researchers such as Barok himself.

As the nodes in Monoskop grew, its initial aim to research media art history
also expanded into looking at wider cultural practices. By 2010, it had grown
into a 100-gigabyte collection which was organized as a snowball research
collection, focusing in particular on “the w

art Institute,
he met the digital scholars Aymeric Mansoux and Marcell Mars, who were both
active in avant-garde media practices, and they convinced him to upload the
collection.45 Due to the fragmentary character of his collection, Barok found
that Monoskop corresponded well with the pre-existing wiki, to which he began
connecting and embedding videos, audio clips, image files, and works. An
important motivating factor was the publication of material that was otherwise
unavailable online. In 2009, Barok launched Monoskop Log, together with his
colleague Tomáš Kovács. This site was envisioned as an affiliated online
repository of publications for Monoskop, or, as Barok terms it, “a free access
living archive of writings on art, culture, and media technologies.”46

Seeking to create situated spaces of reflection and to shed light on the
practices of media artists in Eastern and Central Europe, Monoskop thus
launched several projects devoted to excavating media art from a situated
perspective that takes its local history into account. Today, Monoskop remains
a rich source of information about artistic practices in Central and Eastern
Europe, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, relating it not
only to the art histories of the region, but also to its history of
cybernetics and computing.

Another early motivation for Monoskop was to provide a situated nodal point in
the globalized information infrastructures that emphasized the geographical
trajectories that had given rise to it. As Dušan Barok notes in an interview,
“For a Central European it is mind-boggling to reali

ot only
talking in English, but also referring to things in the far West. Not that the
West should feel foreign, but it is against intuition that an East-East
geographical proximity does not translate into a cultural one.”47 From this
perspective, Monoskop appears not only as an infrapolitical project of global
knowledge, but also one of situated sovereignty. Yet, even this territorial
focus holds a strategic dimension. As Barok notes, Monoskop’s ambition was not
only to gain new knowledge about media art in the region, but also to cash in
on the cultural capital into which this knowledge could potentially be
converted. Thus, its territorial matrix first and foremost translates into

ing more complex spatial dynamics in
one’s analytical matrix of shadow libraries, if one wishes to understand them
as more than globalized breakers of code and arbiters of what Manuel Castells
once called the “space of flows.”48

## UbuWeb

If Monoskop is one of the most comprehensive shadow libraries to emerge from
critical-artistic practice, UbuWeb is one of the earliest ones and has served
as an inspirational example for Monoskop. UbuWeb is a website that offers an
encyclopedic scope of downloadable audio, video, and plain-text versions of
avant-garde art recordings, films, and books. Most of the books fall in the
category of small-edition artists’ books and are presented o

read Yurchak’s careful study in
_Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation_
(2006). 34. “Dušan Barok: Interview,” _Neural_ 44 (2010), 10. 35. Ibid. 36.
Ibid. 37. Monoskop,” last modified March 28, 2018, Monoskop.>.>. 38. “Dušan
Barok: Interview,” _Neural_ 44 (2010), 10. 39. Fuller and Goffey 2012, 21. 40.
“Dušan Barok: Interview,” _Neural_ 44 (2010), 11. 41. In an interview, Dušan

opy) php scripts for
any digital text”; see “Suhrkamp recalls walser.pdf, releases
42. Fuller and Goffey 2012, 11. 43. “MONOSKOP Project Finished,” COL-ME Co-
located Media Expedition, [](http://www.col- 44. “Dušan Barok: Interview,” _Neural_ 44 (2010), 10. 45.
Aymeric Mansoux is a senior lecturer at the Piet Zwart Institute

sense of this information. What does it mean to make sense of mass
digitization? How can we say or know that the past two hours we spent
rummaging about in the archives of Google Books, digging deeper in Europeana,
or following hyperlinks in Monoskop made sense, and by whose standards? And
what are the cultural implications of using the flaneur as a cultural
reference point for these ideals? We find few answers to these questions in
Dörk, Carpendale, and Williamson’s article, or in related art

deeper level, with its black-boxed governing and
ordering principles, hidden behind complex layers of code, corporate cultures,
and nondisclosure agreements.51 But even less-commercial mass digitization
projects such as, for instance, Europeana and Monoskop can produce a sense of
claustrophobia and alienation in the user. Think only of the frustration
encountered when reaching dead ends in the form of broken links or in lack of
access set down by European copyright regulations. Or even the alienation and
dissatisfaction that can well up when there are seemingly no other limits to
knowledge, such as in Monoskop, than one’s own cognitive shortcomings.

The figure of the labyrinth also serves as a reminder that informational
strolling is not only a leisurely experience, but also a laborious process.
Penelope Doob thus points out the common medieval spelling

The main question that resounds is: where should the paths lead if there is no
longer one truth, that is, if the labyrinth has no center? Some mass
digitization projects seem to revel in this new reality. As we have seen,
shadow libraries such as Monoskop and UbuWeb use the affordances of the
digital to create new cultural connections outside of the formal hierarchies
of cultural memory institutions. Yet, while embraced by some, predictably the
new distribution of authority generates anxiety in the cu

o enable them to make serendipitous discoveries and unexpected
connections between sources.”73 And indeed, this sentiment reverberates in all
mass digitization projects from Europeana and Google Books to smaller shadow
libraries such as UbuWeb and Monoskop. Some scholars even argue that
serendipity takes on new forms due to digitization.74

It seems only natural, then, that mass digitization projects, and their
actors, have actively adopted the discourse of serendipity, both as a selling
point and a st

rativism” to advance worker-based
cooperatives that would “design their own apps-based platforms, fostering
truly peer-to-peer ways of providing services and things, and speak truth to
the new platform capitalists.”111 Shadow libraries such as Monoskop appear as
perfect examples of such subversive platforms and evidence of Srnicek’s
reminder that not _all_ social interactions are co-opted into systems of
profit generation. 112 Yet, as the territorial, legal, and social
infrastructures of mass dig


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