Emancipatory decentralised network practices in arts and technology
28th April 2018, Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett, Co-founders and directors of Furtherfield gave a lecture and workshop as part of the State Machines programme.
The lecture provided an introduction to the work of Furtherfield, an artist run organisation for critical questions in art and technology that curates exhibitions, labs and debates in London. Garrett shared his autoethnographic research into unlocking proprietorial art systems through the lens of Furtherfield’s programmes and communities of practice. Catlow wrapped up the lecture with an introduction to artist-led blockchain critique since 2014 which was followed by a workshop called Artists Organise (on the blockchain).
Since it published its first webpages in 1996 Furtherfield has worked with artists, technologists and activists around the world to build communities, platforms and art contexts, and has sought to promote emancipatory decentralised network practices in arts and technology. Catlow contrasted the profit driven platforms of current dominant social media provision with early net art and tactical media art practices, and those artistic platforms built in the late 90s and early 00s that were inspired by and built together with participants in the Free and Open Source Software development communities. Technologies take on the values and interests of those who build and use them and this understanding moved Furtherfield’s community of practice from the spirit of punk and DIY to a more collaborative approach that, in 2006, Furtherfield termed DIWO (Do It With Others) with an open call for the DIWO E-Mail Art project. People collaborating across difference and discipline created and co-curated works that critically engaged network technologies, as tools, media, metaphors and systems. They created new playful and conceptual artforms to be encountered, experienced and reflected upon in ways newly enabled by global digital communication infrastructures. Participants directly addressed social and political issues across geographic distance.
Garrett then introduced a historical perspective on systems of proprietorial control. Starting with an outline the differences between a proprietary and proprietorial Systems? Proprietary is defined as meaning that one possesses, owns, or holds the exclusive right to something, specifically an object, as a specific company or individual. Proprietorial has more biopolitical overtones eg “like an owner: He put a proprietorial arm around her.” Rudolf Kjellén’s original term biopolitics, was expanded upon by Michel Foucault, who argued that certain styles of government regulate their populations through biopower. Hardt and Negri extended this term further arguing that biopower is a form of power that regulates life from its interior, “following it, interpreting it, absorbing it, and rearticulating it” (Hardt and Negri, 2001).
Early forms of proprietary controls were resisted in the UK by The Diggers and The New Levellers in 1700s then the enclosures expropriated the peasantry from the communal land. Witch-hunts also expropriated women from ownership of their own bodies, with threats of the stake as formidable barriers around women’s bodies and fencing off of the communes. Garrett then presented various forms of proprietorial dominance happening in everyday, contemporary society. Examples included the infamous Martin Shkreli, founder, and head of Turing Pharmaceuticals who raised the price for Daraprim in September from $13.50 per pill to $750. Then in positive contrast, Dana Lewis provides a technological example of unlocking a proprietorial system as an act of solidarity with peer diabetes sufferers. She created the “Do-It-Yourself Pancreas System” (DIYPS), and founder of the open source artificial pancreas system movement (OpenAPS). Since then, a large online community has developed using DIYPS, and advocating free and open software as the way forward.
He finished his lecture with examples from tactical and media art ending with the project called, ‘Bank Job,’ where art activists have designed money, featuring images local community activists on the notes. The value of the currency is initially tethered to the British Pound. £50K of currency is printed at the artists’ temporary bank building and sold to the public as art. 50% of the profit is awarded to the local activist projects while the remaining 50% is used to pay off local payday loan debt. £25K has already been released to local people to free them from £500,000 of debt.
Finally Catlow described the work that Furtherfield has been doing to rethink how blockchains might be used to enable and promote a decentralised and sustainable commons for networked art practices. The blockchain is the decentralised ledger technology that underpins Bitcoin and other digital currencies and that since 2013 has developed to facilitate smart contracts that support new forms of decentralised governance. Inspired by the writing and art of Rob Myers, and since that time, in collaboration with many people around the world, Furtherfield has produced a series of films, exhibitions, texts, workshops and a book called Artists Re:thinking the Blockchain, published with Torque Editions to diversify the analyses and styles of blockchain critique and production, as well as the people and conversations involved as new blockchain infrastructures emerge worldwide. The lecture provided the grounding for a workshop called Artists Organise (on the blockchain) in which participants devised and then roleplayed a blockchain based platform for involving local audiences with the process of commissioning new artworks.
Event coordinator: Yiannis Colakides
Speakers: Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett
Photography and video: Sakari Laurila
State Machines: Art, Work and Identity in an Age of Planetary-Scale Computation
Focusing on how such technologies impact identity and citizenship, digital labour and finance, the project joins five experienced partners Aksioma (SI), Drugo More (HR), Furtherfield (UK), Institute of Network Cultures (NL), and NeMe (CY) together with a range of artists, curators, theorists and audiences. State Machines insists on the need for new forms of expression and new artistic practices to address the most urgent questions of our time, and seeks to educate and empower the digital subjects of today to become active, engaged, and effective digital citizens of tomorrow.
This project has been funded with the support from the European Commission. This communication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
NeMe Arts Centre, Limassol, Cyprus