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No Art Ecology without “P2P” Social Ecology

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
1st March 2013


I’m extremely happy that our p2p theoretical work has inspired actual art curators and artists such as Marc Garrett and Ruth Catlow of Furtherfield. In this essay, they describe their projects in the context of p2p developments and theorizing. In our second installment we will present the actual art projects.

* Article: DIWO: Do It With Others – No Ecology without Social Ecology. By Marc Garrett, Ruth Catlow – Furtherfield, 26/01/2013

(source: Remediating the Social 2012. Editor: Simon Biggs University of Edinburgh. Pages 69-74)

By Marc Garrett, Ruth Catlow:

“Many contemporary artists who take the networks of the digital information age as their medium, work directly with the hardware, algorithms and databases of digital networks themselves and the systems of power that engage them. Inspired by network metaphors and processes, they also craft new forms of intervention, collaboration, participation and interaction (between human and other living beings, systems and machines) in the development of the meaning and aesthetics of their work. This develops in them a sensitivity or alertness to the diverse, world-forming properties of the art-tech imaginary: material, social and political. By sharing their processes and tools with artists, and audiences alike they hack and reclaim the contexts in which culture is created.

This essay draws on programmes initiated by Furtherfield, an online community, co-founded by the authors in 1997. Furtherfield also runs a public gallery and social space in the heart of Finsbury Park, North London. The authors are both artists and curators who have worked with others in networks since the mid 90s, as the Internet developed as a public space you could publish to; a platform for creation, distribution, remix, critique and resistance.

Here we outline two Furtherfield programmes in order to reflect on the ways in which collaborative networked practices are especially suited to engage these questions. Firstly the DIWO (Do It With Others) series (since 2007) of Email Art and co-curation projects that explored how de-centralised, co-creation processes in digital networks could (at once) facilitate artistic collaboration and disrupt dominant and constricting art-world systems. Secondly the Media Art Ecologies programme (since 2009) which, in the context of economic and environmental collapse, sets out to contribute to the construction of alternative infrastructures and visions of prosperity. We aim to show how collaboration and the distribution of creative capital was modeled through DIWO and underpinned the development of a series of projects, exhibitions and interventions that explore what form an ecological art might take in the network age.

In common with many other network-aware artists the authors are both originators and participants in experimental platforms and infrastructures through processes of collaboration, participation, remix and context hacking. As artists working in network culture we work between individual, coordinated, collaborative and collective practices of expression, transmission and reception. These resonate with political and ethical questions about how people can best organise themselves now and in the future in the context of contemporary economic and environmental crisis.

Though this essay draws primarily on artistic and curatorial practices it also makes connections with the histories and theories that have informed its development: attending to the nature of co-evolving, interdependent entities (human and non-human) and conditions, for the healthy evolution and survival of our species (Bateson 1972); producing diverse (hierarchy dissolving) social ecologies that disarm systems of dominance (Bookchin 1991, 2004); and seeking new forms of prosperity, building social and community capital and resilience as an alternative to unsustainable economic growth. (Bauwens 2005) (Jackson 2009)” (http://www.furtherfield.org/features/articles/diwo-do-it-others-%E2%80%93-no-ecology-without-social-ecology)

P2P Theory as background to Furtherfield collaborative art projects

“Michel Bauwens, of the Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives, works with a network of theorists, activists, scientists and philosophers to develop ideas and processes to move beyond the pure logic of economic growth [19]. He observes that by transposing what has been learned by sharing the production and use of immaterial goods, such as software, with strategies for developing sharing in other productive modes, the community comes to own its own innovations, rather than corporations. This puts peer production at the core of civil society. The fabrication laboratory or ‘fab lab’ system, developed at MIT in collaboration with the Grassroots Invention Group and the Center for Bits and Atoms, offers an example; a small-scale workshop that facilitates personal fabrication of objects including technology-enabled products normally associated with mass production. The lab comprises a collection of computer controlled tools that can work at different scales with various materials. Early work on the Open Source car shows how open, distributed design and manufacturing points to a possible end of patenting and built in obsolescence; constituent principles of our unsustainable consumer-based society. (Bauwens 2012)

‘[Bauwens] recognises that peer to peer production is currently dependent on capitalism (companies such as IBM invest huge percentages of their budgets into the development of Free and Open Source Software) but observes that history suggests a process whereby it might be possible to break free from this embrace. He suggests that by breaking the Free Software orthodoxy it would be possible to build a system of guild communities to support the expansion of mission oriented, benefit-driven co-ops whose innovations are only shared freely with people contributing to the commons. In the transition to intrinsically motivated, mass production of the commons, for-profit companies would pay to benefit from these innovations.’ (Catlow 2011)

A peer to peer infrastructure requires the following set of political, practical, social, ethical and cultural qualities: distribution of governance and access to the productive tools that comprise the ‘fixed’ capital of the age (e.g. computing devices); information and communication systems which allow for autonomous communication in many media (text, image, sound) between cooperating agents; software for autonomous global cooperation (wikis, blogs etc); legal infrastructure that enables the creation and protection of use value and, crucially to Bauwens’s P2P alternatives project, protects it from private appropriation; and, finally, the mass diffusion of human intellect through interaction with different ways of feeling, being, knowing and exposure to different value constellations.” (Bauwens 2005)

Conclusion

“Social scientist Tim Jackson has shown that the establishment of ever more efficient and productive systems of control and growth, owned by fewer, more centralised agents, is both unjust and environmentally unsustainable (2009). The reverse also applies; that the distribution of freedoms and access to sustenance, knowledge, tools, diverse experience and values improves the resilience of both our social and environmental ecologies. (Bateson 1972) (Bookchin 1991) (Jackson 2009)

Ecological media artworks turn our attention as creators, viewers and participants to connectedness and free interplay between (human and non-human) entities and conditions. It builds on the DIWO ethos. On the one hand we resist the elitist values and infrastructures of the mainstream art world and develop our own art context, on our own terms, according to the priorities of a collaborating community of creative producers (which may include diverse participants and audiences). On the other, we deal critically with the monitored and centrally deployed and controlled interfaces of corporate owned social media; wherever possible working with Free and Open Source Software to privilege commons-based peer produced artworks, tools, media and infrastructure.

Humanity needs new strategies for social and material renewal and to develop more diverse and lively ecologies of ideas, occupations and values. For this to happen more of us need to be able to freely participate more deeply in diverse artistic or poetic and technical world-forming processes and to exchange what we create and learn.

‘Those who share our ‘analysis of the contemporary political moment may also perceive a possible role for themselves in the generation of mutual commons-based interfaces for engagement that go beyond solely textual formats to arrays of performance, narrative (fact and fiction), image, sound, database, algorithm, music, theory, sculpture – to explicitly re-conceive inalienable social relations’ (Catlow 2011)[23].”

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