Femke Snelting is an artist and designer living in Brussels. She develops projects at the intersection of design, feminism and free software thus investigating the intimate relationship between form, content and technology, or more specifically the interrelations between digital tools and artistic practice.
Femke is involved in various contexts that make her part of different configurations of WE. There is the association Constant based in Brussels, which is an interdisciplinary arts-lab and active since 1997. The artistic practice of Constant is inspired by the way that technological infrastructures, data-exchange and software determine our daily life. Free software, copyright alternatives and (cyber)feminism are important threads running through the activities of Constant. Constant organizes work sessions, meetings, publications and other events for participants that are into experiments, discussions and all kinds of exchanges.
Another WE constitutes Open Source Publishing, a group of graphic designers that uses only Free Software tools. OSP is serious about testing the possibilities and limitations of Open Source software in a professional design environment, and is prepared to make new and unexpected experiences. Femke is an associated member of this group.
Libre Graphics is the larger context that Femke takes part in. This ecosystem consists of graphic designers, programmers, free software tools, open document formats and practices of sharing and reflecting which applies the thinking and philosophy of free software to graphic design practice.
The title of this interview, ‘Performing Graphic Design Practice,’ indicates that adopting free software tools and philosophy for the design context may turn out to be a rather artistic endeavour. Getting into direct contact with the developers of the software used and working together with them, getting to know one’s tools inside out, ensuring an unimpeded circulation of cultural artefacts by the use of free and libre licenses, freeing the alphabet from proprietary enclosures, and using open document formats means producing artefacts that contain within themselves the layered reality of digital materiality and, at the same time, are nothing but a point of connection in a net of shared practices. Art, here, comes into play as a references system for integrating practice and discourse beyond the usability paradigm.
Nenad Romić (aka Marcell Mars), born in Kroatia, is a free software advocate, cultural explorer, social instigator and calls him self an ‘advanced Internet user.’
Marcell is one of the founders of Multimedia Institute - mi2 and net.culture club ‘mama’ in Zagreb. He initiated the GNU GPL publishing label EGOBOO.bits, started Skill sharing regular informal meetings of enthusiasts in mama + Skill sharing's satellitesg33koskop, 'Nothing will happen' and 'The Fair of Mean Equipment'.
Marcell participated in curating or producing mi2 yearly exhibitions I Am Still Alive (2001) and re:Con (2002), free culture, science and technology festival Freedom to creativity! (2005) and in conceptual exhibition System.hack() (2006). He is a member of Creative Commons Team Croatia.
Marcell participated in collaborative artistic projects where he was a tech developer. He regulary runs workshops like 'Programming for non-programmers', 'Social software and semantic web in practice', 'Command line audio on GNU/Linux'... He gives talks on topics like hacking, free software philosophy, gathering communities around good causes, slacking, doing nothing, stupid/smart business models of music industries, social software & semantic web.
In this interview he focuses on sharing ebooks. Based on the idea that everybody should become a librarian he develops software that enables people to share their private libraries thus creating one large public library that consists of an ecosystem of small private libraries. The project has to be seen against the backdrop of an increasing enclosure of knowledge while millions of ebooks exist ready to be shared. To defend this act of civil disobedience, Marcell tactically adopts the role of being an artist.
Kenneth Goldsmith is a New York-based poet, writer, editor and founder of Ubu Web, an online repository of avant-garde art.
His artistic practice is based on the idea that nothing new needs to be created. The gathering and appropriation of pre-existing material – which is the mode of archiving – has become the new mode of creating. As a writer, Goldsmith has published a number of books of poetry, notably Sports (2008), Traffic (2007), The Weather (2005), Day (2003), and Fidget (2000), which are transcriptions of newspapers or radio and television broadcasts. His book of essays Uncreative Writing (2011) challenges the romantic notion of individual expression as the basis of creativity and suggests that the new creativity is not making but pointing/selecting. By discussing techniques such as rearranging, remixing, recombining, quoting, plagiarising, etc. he unfolds the creative potential inherent in the ‘already written.’ As a professor of English literature, Goldsmith teaches the art of ‘uncreative’ writing as a way of managing language by investigating current digital-based changes of the reading and writing culture and of developing – inadvertently – new and probably rather creative ways of creating. He celebrates the plasticity of the ‘word’ which gained new heights through digital networked technology.
His belief in the Internet as the ultimate way of distribution also led him to create UbuWeb. UbuWeb is a massive collection of what Goldsmith calls avant-garde art, comprising thousands of works of concrete poetry, sound poetry, sound art, experimental film, multimedia archives, video, dance, and a variety of other genres and formats. All works can be viewed online and downloaded. The collection has been put together by Goldsmith purely on the basis of his personal appreciation and is accessible for everyone for free. What characterises UbuWeb is that most of its content is hard to find elsewhere, being out of print, or simply never been made available for wide dissemination. Therefore, the archive has an important function not only in contextualising ephemeral works but also in preserving them. UbuWeb owes its existence and with it its success to a consequential abnegation of copyright. As the archive is running on zero budget, there are simply no resources for copyright clearance procedures. Thus, UbuWeb is as much about the legal and social ramifications of its self-created distribution and archiving system as it is about the content hosted on the site.
The Piracy Project is an international publishing and exhibition project run by Peruvian artist Andrea Francke and German artist Eva Weinmayr who are both based in London. It started in 2010 as part of the research programme AND Publishing [http://andpublishing.org], hosted at Central Saint Martins College of Arts, as a response to the closure of the art school’s Byam Shaw Library.
At the heart of the The Piracy Project is a physical collection of more than 150 pirated books that has been built involving various interactive formats. While the collection is catalogued online [http://andpublishing.org/PublicCatalogue/PCat_thumbs.php], the books themselves are only available when the project is touring. Presented in a reading room situation and accompanied by discursive formats such as workshops and lectures, the modified, appropriated and copied books from all over the world can be explored.
The Piracy Project functions as a knowledge platform that gives centre stage to the concept of piracy as a specific way of handling and using books. Piracy is conceived as a methodological tool to explore the philosophical, legal, and practical ramifications of creative modes of reproduction thus questioning traditional notions of authorship and originality and with that the idea of intellectual property altogether. Furthermore, the project triggers questions that concern any reader: how do we use books? What are books to us? How do we assign monetary, intellectual and emotional value to them? And – it inspires new ways of dealing with books.
The interview was conducted at The Piracy Project reading room at Grand Union in Birmingham in December 2013.
Sean Dockray is an artist whose work expands the notion of artistic production from discrete artifacts towards the creation of open structures and unstable situations.
Originally from the US, he has travelled and lived in different continents in the last few years, always continuing to work on his online projects. On the basis of his professional background in architecture – and a broad understanding of what architecture involves– Sean explores how form and content mutually influence each other. In the projects he initiates he provides a framework and basic rules that only come to life through the contributions of other people, and which often yield unpredictable social relationships and dynamics. Although the focus within Giving What You Don’t Have is on the project aaaaarg.org, an open source platform for freely sharing books and texts, Sean’s primary interest lies in the appropriation of systems and structures – such as gallery, library, or school – rather than simply content.
In this interview, Sean explains how aaaaarg.org naturally evolved as a part of the self-organized educational project known as ‘The Public School’. Aaaaaarg.org, while being a central tool for the creation and sharing of knowledge within Public School, also produces project-related communities around specific texts and books. Sean points out how centralized business interests in general have changed the whole life cycle of a book, including production, distribution and consumption, which all is now happening through Internet based platforms, and where aaaaarg.org sits in relation to that development.
Dmytri Kleiner is a Russian-Canadian artist and software developer working with the art collective Telekommunisten, based in Berlin. The largely conceptual works of the collective – such as deadSwap (2009), Thimbl (2010) and R15N (2012) and other ‘miscommunication technologies’ – investigate the political economy of the internet as well as the social relations embedded in communication technologies.
In this interview, Dmytri explains these art works and the theory behind the collective, as it is also elaborated in the Telekommunist Manifesto (2010). He derives his critique of intellectual property – and related to that of Free Culture and Creative Commons – from Marxist theory. It is based on a critique of the commodification of labour in general. Radical forms of anti-copyright have to be seen in this context. Based on Marx’ distinction between producers’ goods and consumer goods, Dmytri also expounds why the concept of copyleft, which has become a wide-spread and powerful licensing model for software, cannot work for cultural products; from there, he develops his critique of Creative Commons as a system that, based on what he calls ‘liberal criticism,’ first of all, serves capitalist interests instead of allowing to practice culture as a truly dialogical process. Consequently, Dmytri introduces an alternative license, which he calls ‘copy far-left’.
Dmytri’s radical take offers a challenging theoretical framework from which to think through the enclosure the digital commons by commercialised and proprietorial networks, towards a more radical politics of platforms. Such a politics conceives labour not as a source of exploitation for capital, either directly or through the creative commons, but as directed towards what he calls ‘venture communism’.