DMZ MEDIA ARTS FESTIVAL DMZ MEDIA ARTS FESTIVAL
HOME

VENUE

TALKS

EXHIBITS

MEDIA

DMZ_WIKI

ABOUT US

REGISTER RUNDMZ
Welcome to the registration system for DMZ London
Please take a little time to describe yourself.
You'll be added to a 'network map' of DMZ participants, supporters and interested parties; people, groups, projects and places.
LEGEND
//////////////////////////////////////////
  ___!
Education
 <--->
Mapping
 ==|==
Music
 [^_^]
Net art
 :):(
Performance
 /````\
Platform/Organisation
 [==]
Publishing
 [___]
Physical space facility
 <<||>>
Video
 (((i)))
Wireless
DMZ ESSAY

LONDON.ZIP
Digital Media Art In London
mapped and compressed by Armin Medosch

In the 1960s the group Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT) brought the debris of scientific progress, the fall-out of nuclear deterrence and space exploration, into the museum and reclaimed it for art. The Korean artist Nam June Paik started to play with TV sets, this most iconic device of the emerging consumer society, and turned them into sculptures. Since then the field of media art has evolved into a multitude of branches and sub-disciplines. As DMZ celebrates this diversity of media art practice in London, this article maps out some of the main themes that inform the debate on media art in general and looks at some of the people, groups, events and discussions that we have had here in London in particular.

Even though media art now has its own festivals, publications and university courses, the title of an early show by EAT at Brooklyn Museum, Some More Beginnings, seems to describe the present situation just as well as it did the past. As a genre, media art stumbles as much as it innovates. Because it crosses over into areas of science and technology, it is considered a complex matter. By definition interdisciplinary, it has connections with the information and communication technology (ICT) industry, science, the art world and the creative industries, but it is not really a full member of any of these clubs. Rather than having a core identity, its connections with different parts of society give it a composite character. Hybrid identities, fuid realities and constant re-adjustment have become part of the routine.

Media art has both benefited and suffered from its proximity to ICT. Artists have to cope with the food of products from the industry, as well as the boom and bust cycles it goes through. The availability of cheap consumer technology is a precondition for media art. At the same time, skills gained in the use of machinery, of hard- and softwares, are of potential dual-use: commercial work and art work. During the boom of the late ‘90s many (but not all) media artists used to do part-time work in the industry, cross-financing their artistic activities. In addition, they often benefited from in-kind sponsorship – for example, being allowed to use high-end machinery during idle times. Occasionally the industry even provided direct sponsorship. But this support comes at a price. Sometimes the media art community seems like a creative village from which the ICT industry can suck in new ideas and innovative practices on the cheap. But this ambiguous relationship does not alter the fact that artists are intent on retaining their artistic autonomy and that their work follows a rationale very different from that of the industry.

Similarly complex is the relationship with the ‘operating system’ of arts. Some media artists come from a fine arts background, and on a personal level there are often strong relationships between media artists and visual artists. But the art world in general – it goes without saying that such generalisations always have a limited validity – was and is reluctant to accept media art. Harsh accusations have been fying from both sides. 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.’ (1) In turn, the art world is accused of being technologically ignorant and of clinging to archaic notions of individualism, originality and authorship. And whereas the work of some media artists now gets commissioned and collected by museums, others are intent on keeping themselves outside this system.

At the more ‘political’ end of the media art spectrum there is a perception that the art system is inherently corrupt, too corrupt to be bothered with at all. Others simply don’t care if what they do is art or not. There are less glamorous but perhaps equally important sides of media art. Examples include community media activism, where artists deploy media in specific situations as an activist tool, and skills transfer, in which educators use their artistic background to help others find their feet in creative work. As dissident voices in an uptight commercial landscape, community media activists refuse to be subsumed under the ‘creative industries’ label or to take their celebrated ‘creativity’ to market as ‘cultural entrepreneurs’. Many of these non-commercial projects run entirely on volunteer work and donated hardware, while some of the money is not from arts bodies at all but rather regional development funding.

While there are many ways in which media art lends itself to instrumentalisation or co-optation, it necessarily exists within a mesh of symbiotic relationships. Attempting to maintain a sense of autonomy, it insists on its special opt-out clause, resisting total absorption by any one of the host cultures with which it cross-breeds.

DIY Technologist

Taking this complexity into account one thing that seems to hold it together, that makes it meaningful to speak of media art at all, is a close, complex and often critical relationship with new media technologies and the market forces that drive their dissemination. Media artists work with both old and new media. A community radio station with a 10 Watt FM transmitter can be as valuable a tool as the latest wireless data networking technology. Sometimes old and new media are combined to surprising effects. Technologies that are considered redundant by the mainstream of society are given a second life. Recycling of redundant hardware, experimenting with free and open source software, and developing new technologies and new media with a DIY approach, feature strongly in current media art practice. A creative approach to the technology is often necessary because commercial products do not contain functions needed for a particular project. But such practicalities aside, the DIY approach contains also a political message: Everybody can jump over the consumer/producer barrier. The technologies that surround us, inform us and structure more and more aspects of our lives can be actively shaped by the people who use them. Far from being just something we have to accept as if they had fallen from the sky, we can mould technologies, invert and subvert them, explore unintended uses and so drive their development into more desirable directions.

This does not mean that media artists should be seen only as a tech-savvy avant-garde that ‘test drives the future’(2). Such a viewpoint would not sufficiently take into account the way media artists understand themselves as embedded in a socio-cultural context, pioneering not just new technologies but rooting them in communities and peer-based collaborations. The way technology is used by communities in specific situations and contexts can be far more important than its naked technical efficiency. This ‘other’ way of conceptualising the tools of modern communication often dictates that people come together and share skills and knowledge in order to achieve common goals. Whether as an explicit goal or as a side-effect of the project in question, knowledge transfer and (self)education are important notions in media art.

Working with technology is not an end in itself but a way of asserting and exercising basic freedoms such as communications freedom, media freedom and free association. By facilitating access and engagement, many media artists work to increase opportunities for everyone to participate in a more egalitarian, more democratic media society.

Histories

Problematic though it always is to locate a single moment as a starting point, it seems that a very important phase for media art in London began in the mid-1990s. Lisa Haskel organised a series of conferences at the ICA. The internet cafe and net art laboratory Backspace was founded in Clink Street, Southwark. The Islington based organisation Artec educated young misfits with few other options on the job market in the creative use of new technologies. Mute magazine opened a discourse on art and technology with a distinct London tone to it. At the Hypermedia Research Centre, Andy Cameron and Richard Barbrook wrote ‘The Californian Ideology’, a European critique of the commodification of the internet promoted by Wired magazine. I/O/D published a magazine, initially on foppy disk, that subsequently evolved into an art work. At the same time individual artists such as Thomson & Craighead, Pete Gomes, and others foated in and around those scenes developing their own practice.

Events

The series of events that Lisa Haskel organised at the ICA between 1993 and 1998 under various titles, from ‘Technophobia’ to ‘Terminal Futures’, were deliberately eclectic and broad. They happened at a time when the concepts of interactive and networked media were just being introduced into an arts context – as opposed to ‘systems’ in the domain of computer science. The events were put together on the premise that knowledge and insight about these 'new' technologies were coming from many places – established artists, scientists, science fiction writers, architects, people involved in ‘underground’ culture and politics. The format of the events included workshops and ‘hands-on’ opportunities to experience interactive and networked media. ‘Quite a few people will have seen the worldwide web for the first time at these events’. More bazaar than cathedral (3), they ‘let the audiences piece together all the things they were hearing and seeing and draw their own conclusions’ (4). These events set the tone for ‘Art Servers Unlimited’ (Backspace, 1998) and ‘Expo Destructo’ (Club Open, 1999), both of which brought actors in the field together within an open media art and activism fair rather than trying to place media art on a high-cultural plateau. Even though participants came from many different backgrounds, these events let them experience their particular concerns on the basis of a mutually shared interest. The DMZ attempts to reconnect with this 'tradition'.

Spaces

Backspace existed in close proximity to a number of new media companies. Internet bandwidth was then very expensive and only businesses could afford a permanent high-bandwidth connection through a leased dedicated line. James Stevens, founder of Backspace, convinced his former colleagues in commercial website construction to share their 512k connection. Through this shared connection, Backspace enabled young artists to create their own internet-based works and experiment with audio and video live streaming over the internet. Live streaming from home was unthinkable at the time, no one could afford it. Backspace was run as a shared resource. The users were responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of infrastructure. People could go there to learn new programming tricks and share ideas about net art. Backspace also hosted small conferences and presentations of artists’ work. Among the people who used Backspace for work, presentation and collaboration were Rachel Baker, Manu Luksch (later founder of ambientTV.NET), media art curator Ilze Black, Heath Bunting, Gio D'Angelo, Pete Gomes, Lisa Haskel and many more. The vibrancy of the place became well known across the networked scenes of Europe and further afield, while locally it soon became a focal point of the early net art scene.

Just across the road from Backspace’s home in Winchester Wharf, a few more artists and new media businesses located in Clink Street Studios also wanted to participate in the sharing of precious bandwidth. But the Telecommunications Act of 1984 prohibited it from throwing a cable across the narrow street to connect with Backspace’s local network. Julian Priest, then technical director of the company Mediumrare, suggested a wireless solution. The technology now known as Wi-Fi or Wavelan was used to establish a connection between the two buildings. About a hundred bandwidth-hungry users spread over two buildings shared the benefits of a high speed local network with a gateway to the internet. Creativity, art and new media business fourished in this little corner of Southwark. As we will see, it was this local experience of the power of wireless that would later encourage James Stevens and Julian Priest to launch the wireless community network project, Consume.

Softwares

Among the lucky few with a fast and (relatively) cheap internet connection in Clink Street were I/O/D. This group, which consisted of Matthew Fuller, Simon Pope and Colin Green, was particularly interested in the social construction of technology. With biting sarcasm they attacked the sell out of subcultural values in the emerging era of dotcom hype. (5) Their investigation into the way we understand and use the internet lead them to create Webstalker, a 'deconstructed' web-browser. Instead of displaying HTML pages as a sort of digitised advertising brochure, Webstalker strips conventional webpages of their images and backgrounds and displays the hyperlink connections between pages and sites. Rather than showing the web’s glossy surface, it lays bare the structural connections underneath. Webstalker won widespread international acclaim and inaugurated a new sub-discipline in net art, ‘browser art’, changing the way many people looked at and understood the internet.

Through Matthew Fuller, I/O/D was also connected to the group Mongrel. This group had formed around the artist Graham Harwood who had been teaching at Artec for a number of years. Besides Fuller and Harwood it also included Matsuko Yokokij, Richard Pierre Davis and mervin Jarmen. Applying the well proven culture jamming technique of turning a pejorative term –'mongrel'– into their own aggressive self-description, this multi-ethnic group paid particular attention to the construction of gender and race in cyberspace. Subverting well known software packages such as Photoshop and ubiquitous internet tools such as the search-engine, Mongrel showed that these supposedly neutral tools carried their own implicit value systems. Information technology is not just about 'information' –meaningful bits of data– but also about the 'formation' of ways of thinking and social structures. This critical approach to information tools was dubbed 'social software', a term which has subsequently been widely adopted, losing its original political edge. Mongrel continued to explore the possibilities of politicised technologies, creating software to enable the digital self-representation of socially marginalised groups, first with Linker, which then morphed into the mapping project Nine (9). Matthew Fuller later wrote a seminal essay on MS Word revealing how this hegemonic word-processing software processes not only words but also the mind of the writer.

Although neither I/O/D nor Mongrel are based in London any more, their work is relevant if one wants to understand what is specific about its media art scene. Their brand of 'social software' stands in refreshing opposition to other types of media art. When the discussion at leading international festivals like Ars Electronica was still dominated by old fashioned artificial intelligence and immersive goggle-wearing 'cyberspace' art, marred by an unquestioned proximity to the military industrial complex, artists like Mongrel and I/O/D created a socially aware thread in media art that destroys the white-boy-genius-in-ivory-tower paradigm. This was widely welcomed as a breath of fresh air and it created openings for an alternative view on technology that holds huge potential for the future.

Discourses

All these developments found critical accompaniment from Mute magazine throughout the second half of the ‘90s. Infuenced by international debates on mailing lists such as Nettime and Syndicate, Mute devoted more and more editorial attention to the political economy of the networked information sphere. Very conscious that a growing economic boom was under way, Mute's focus started to shift from art and technology to a more politically aware dissection of the 'new economy'. Mute did not itself ride the new economy wave, but it could not help but register the links between the more informal or even underground art sector and the bland, brash, money-spinning world of the dotcoms. When in 1997 Mute, Richard Barbrook and myself launched the monthly live discussion forum Cybersalon, many participants found themselves in a mixed economy. Early Cybersalon discussions revolved around this very issue: many people had one leg in the new economy and the other one in a largely commodity-free zone of art and/or community activism. While thousands of newly formed companies tried to convert 'eyeballs' into revenue streams, many of their employees were at the same time involved in a high-tech gift economy. The question of identity – not as an expression of subjectivity but in terms of the political economy one is inadvertently a part of – was brought to the foreground.

While mainstream society stared, fixated, at the glitterballs of breathtaking IPOs, the cohorts of the digital underground began to understand that it was their labour that fuelled the boom – a point brought home by Richard Barbrook's and Pit Schultz's 'Digital Artisan Manifesto.' (6) When the new economy crashed, many suddenly realised that their dream of working in ‘fat hierarchies’ – and dimly lit Shoreditch warehouses showered by intelligent drum’n’bass and fogged by marijuana smoke – had been effectively exploited by middle class Oxbridge types with the money and connections to set up those companies, sell out, and run with the money.

Re-orientations

When the new economy had finally collapsed there was no triumphant ‘I told you so.’ A reassessment was necessary to see which achievements of the past were worth salvaging from the wreckage. Important decisions were to be made. The half-commercial-half-free model was no longer applicable. Those who worked in surviving businesses were now firmly part of the commercial world. Artists who had worked themselves into the corporate sphere found that ‘the corporate blanket is warm.’ (7) The rest had to see how they could keep going. The search was on for sustainable models. Between the years 2000 and 2001 Lisa Haskel set up MAP and started the tech_2 series of events. Digital Guild set itself up as a new media training facility. Julian Priest and James Stevens launched Consume, a proposal for a free network built and maintained by its users. Mute relaunched itself as a Magazine Plus which included a gradual devolution of editorial control and network projects such as You Are Here and OpenMute.

It maybe a coincidence, but at about the time of the crash many started to take a more serious look at what the industry calls ‘intellectual property’ and what, from an artist’s personal point of view, has to do with ownership and control of the dissemination of work, but also of infrastructures and resources. The ‘90s rip off –of ideas, labour and hopes for a more equitable communication landscape– could not and should not go on.

Digital Commons

Throughout the ‘90s free software gained increasing recognition and more widespread use among computer workers. The programmer and developer communities understood the value of a licence system whereby code contributed by each would be shared freely. This was made possible by what some call ‘the greatest legal hack’ in history, the GNU General Public Licence (GPL), created by the Free Software Foundation. (8) Programs published under this licence allow everyone to inspect the source code, modify it, and redistribute it. The only condition is that the new code is also published under the GPL and that not only the executable binary files but also the source code are released. This allowed free software to grow without the danger of being ‘enclosed’ in a proprietary system. Throughout the last decade there has also been a dialogue between coders and media art practitioners, mostly on an individual level. Media artists saw the benefits of free software, especially those working on and with the net, where open standards guarantee a layer of freedom in an increasingly privatised infrastructure. By the end of the ‘90s it was recognised that the growing body of work published under the GPL or similar licences comprised a digital commons, a public sphere of shared knowledge. The existence of free software, open standards and the public information infrastructure that we call the internet guarantees access to tools and digital artworks for everybody and makes it easy to distribute work without intermediaries.

But the digital commons is under threat from the commercial forces which have taken over the internet. Under intense lobbying pressure from the multinationals, governments have introduced increasingly restrictive intellectual property provisions. Resistance against the corporate takeover began to appear around the millennium. Conferences such as Wizards of OS I+II (Berlin 1999, 2001) and Code (Cambridge, 2002) discussed issues around free software and intellectual property. At the same time, the open source development and licence model was being applied to other areas of cultural production. The Creative Commons website is one of many attempts to create licences for all types of work and so protect them from enclosure. Writers, graphic artists and musicians use it to place work in the public domain, protected by a Creative Commons Licence or similar schemes.

But the digital commons is not just about sharing code and files on the internet. What unites hackers and media artists is a particular relation to their work. They are seeking freedom and autonomy in self-defining their day-to-day activity. They don’t separate work and leisure time. They are not waiting for legitimisation from any external power. Instead of financial remuneration they mainly want the recognition of their peers. Out of this drive for a self-defined relation to work in peer-based collaborations a string of fascinating projects has emerged.

FREE Networks

In the summer of 2000 Julian Priest and James Stevens wrote a text that described their ideas for a free network, a network that would be built and maintained by its users. They suggested the use of wireless network technology based on the 802.11 family of standards developed by the Institute of Electric and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) to jump over the local loop and create neighborhood networks outside the commercial provider model. Local networks would wirelessly connect to each other and thereby create an ever growing free network cloud of data. Inside this cloud users would enjoy the benefits of a high-bandwidth connection without having to pay fees to owners of cables such as BT. File-sharing, gaming, audio-visual media and communications experiments of all kinds would blossom within the free network. At the same time the network would be connected at its borders to the worldwide internet. Those in posession of a broadband connection would share it with other users for the mutual benefit of all. Priest/Stevens gave their idea of a network co-operative the suggestive name, Consume (10). Without wasting any time Consume immediately started to build components of the proposed network and organise workshops, the Consume Clinics, where people interested in the ‘freenetwork’ idea would meet, discuss ways of developing the network, or actually build the hardware needed to process wireless internet traffic – antennas, routers and access points.

Consume got a phenomenal response from the press. While media accounts of the rise of wireless internet had been completely dominated by pieces on the practice of ‘war-driving’ – that is, the siphoning off of bandwidth from unprotected (and often corporate) wireless networks for personal use – Consume managed to transform that perception. From The Guardian to the BBC to The Wall Street Journal major media outlets reported the irresistable growth of wireless community networks in London, New York City and even Seattle. This in turn mobilised many more people to get involved with the growing movement. Consume built a database with a visualisation tool, the Consume NodeDB (node data base) where owners of wireless networks could register their nodes with their exact geographical location and access details. From a few nodes in the year 2000, this database has grown to more than 3000 entries in 2003.

The Consume idea had legs and the notion of the freenetwork was picked up by many people and carried into different directions. Meanwhile, Consume refused to become a legal entity for the official representation of community networks. They insisted that only decentralised uptake of the idea and self-organised network development could guarantee that it remained uncompromised by bureaucratisation or commercialisation. An official Consume organisation could become a target for legal action or takeover attempts. A decentralised network built on consensus between many independent owners of small network fragments was the favoured model. The network should grow in the same way that a tune is – collectively – invented and developed in musical free improvisation.

Localisations

Consume was very successful as a catalyst for ideas and in helping interested people to find each other. Since December 2000 a wireless free network called free2air.org had existed in Bethnal Green, East London. (11) Run by Adam Burns, a.k.a. vortex, free2air had been launched without knowledge of the existence of Consume but was based on a similar set of ideas. Free2air has the longest running open and freely accessible wireless node in London and possibly Europe.

Meanwhile, down the road in Brick Lane, in 2001 Mute Magazine started You Are Here (YAH), a wireless project inspired by Consume but taking the idea further into the realm of local networking. YAH wanted to use the wireless community networks to the benefit of their immediate area. In order to be able to connect to a node one needs to be physically close to it. There was an assumption that users of wireless nodes, in this case in East London, would also live and work in proximity to each other and possibly had other things to share as well as bandwidth. The YAH website, based on a Wiki – a web-based system for collaborative publishing – would enable people to put themselves on the (virtual) map and start a local barter economy of goods, skills and resources. (12)

Back in Bethnal Green, audio-visual content creators and net artists ambientTV.NET had been aware of the possibilities of wireless technology for a while. When they moved into the neighbourhood of free2air their ‘interest’ turned into activity. Two workshops at ambientTV.NET’s studio are well remembered because they brought many free networkers together – You Are Here, free2air and Consume – but also other individuals who officially belonged to neither of these groups but worked with them on a project basis. At these workshops some of the main components were created that would soon connect ambientTV.NET with free2air and a number of other studios who were (and still are) housed in the same building. This network, the nucleus of an East End Net, is one of the most active wireless communities so far and has provided the infrastructure for media art experiments such as ambientTV.NET’s series of ‘Telejams’ and Kaffe Matthews’ project ‘Radio Cycle’, part of the Interference public art program in summer 2003.

Self-Institutions

Shortly after the workshops at ambientTV.NET another Consume/You Are Here workshop happened at Limehouse Town Hall. This time a small crew, among them some of the free network diehards such as Alexei Blinow (Raylab) and Ian Morrison (darq.net), focused on building the local network structure at LTH. Earlier, with the help of Consume, the Twenteenthcentury webserver had been set up at LTH, enabling the groups that worked there not only to publish their content on the net but also to internally organise themselves more efficiently. With the addition of the wireless node, LTH became a much more valuable resource for the media art community. Soon it became venue of choice for a number of open Consume Clinics. LTH also hosts a weekly Unix workshop and is the virtual home of the University of Openness. (13)

The free network movement emphasised skills transfer and open workshops were a prefered way to further this goal. The University of Openness was intially started as an attempt to build a wireless node factory at the LTH. It was recognised that not everyone who wanted to participate in the free network movement had the skills to make a wireless access point and router. The UofO would assemble redundant computers and turn them into free network nodes. Once a method was established this task could be carried out by less skilled apprentices. Many wireless network nodes would be created for little or no money and they would do good service bouncing free bandwidth over the rooftops of East London.

As a first step a unix workshop was started. Almost every week for the last two years, Ian Morrison has run a free course teaching people how to use free versions of the unix operating system, how to install software, how to run an IRC channel and generally how to find their way around in the complex world of server administration. At some point during the early days of the UofO the idea of a ‘node factory’ was silently dropped and the notion of a ‘free university’ with different faculties became more important. Everyone can open a new faculty, find collaborators and document research on the UofO Wiki.

The UofO has a department for collaborative research, an education department and the faculty of cartography. The Cartographic Congress at LTH was organised under the auspices of the UofO in May and June 2003. The UofO emphasises the notion of the self- or extra-institution, an institution that is not built on bricks and mortar, money, or the rationale of state funders. Instead it institutes itself out of the collective social imagination of its constituency. (14) The UofO and its sister universities, the Copenhagen Free University and the Université Tangente in Paris, present a possible alternative to the crisis of the higher education system with its lack of imagination, lack of open-ended inter-disciplinary research, and ever-increasing tuition fees.

Learning

The Tech_2 series of events organised by MAP/Lisa Haskel ‘was much inspired by workshops/gatherings such as hybrid workspace, Makrolab and the Acoustic Space labs that offer an opportunity for real work to happen in a communal environment and with some public interface.’ (15) Tech_2 took this approach to three cities outside of London, Bristol, Lancaster and Leeds, creating new links between the capital and small regional culture centres. Topics of the Tech_2 workshops ranged from recycling of redundant hardware to sustainable energy. Digital Guild is a non-profit organisation committed to the creative application of digital technology. It helps young people of 20-years and older who have no previous computer skills to get an education in new media design. Located in Toynbee Hall, Tower Hamlets, it reaches out to people who would not otherwise consider themselves fit to enter the sphere new media. Post-training job placement helps to ensure that newly gained skills are applied in a real-life context.

Urban Generations

The importance of Backspace and LTH in the development of media art in London only highlights the fact that there is a paucity of places where work can be shown or people come together in an informal way to discuss projects, spontaneously propose and develop workshops or even a series of events. The fast evolving digital scene needs such spaces. The real estate situation in London makes it very hard to get them. It is widely recognised (not just) among media artists that space is a major problem and that this is connected to the problematic area of urban regeneration.

Many artists are now directly or indirectly involved in urban regeneration. It has become a source of income for less market-oriented artists. At the same time, art is being instrumentalised in gentrification projects. Often culture is the catalyst for the displacement of local people – including artists themselves. Ironically, the area just south of the river Thames where Backspace was located became too expensive for artists when the transformation of an old power station into Tate Modern triggered a property boom. It would be a bit strong to state that Tate Modern killed Backspace, but the opening of this one big institution and the closing down of the other very small one are not entirely unrelated events. Planting large, state-funded art institutions in derelict areas has become a recognized neo-Keynesian technique of ‘renewal’. It is hardly ever the local art scene or other local communities, apart from the few who can afford to shop or work in the new ‘cultural’ / tourist quarters, who benefit from these developments. (16)

Conclusions

The London media art scene has created something that is quite unique. Instead of looking at the big institutions, vying for their attention, or repeating the phase of ‘institutional critique’ that the fine arts scene went through in the late ‘80s - early ‘90s, the focus here has been on developing sustainable models of collaboration and exchange in a self-defined context. The media art practices that have emerged from this context tend to avoid the spectacle, are politically and socially aware and do not fetishise technology. By avoiding the high profile, glamour and ‘newness’ of new media, the London scene’s activities have somehow remained below the waterline, only occasionally surfacing in any mainstream context. However, it should be mentioned that media artists from London have been highly successful internationally and that the ideas and methods developed here have reverberated across Europe and overseas.

The level of funding on offer has been comparatively low, with the healthy side effect that people fight over the viability of ideas rather than the availability of big money. Open engagement was the prime concern, attracting people who would join the effort to create new structures outside the dominant state-corporate model. This does not mean to say that funding is not welcome or that economies of all sizes do not play an important role. As of now, media artists are seeking out an even more active role for their work, (self)instituting new threads in the social fabric. Media artists need not play the part of crash-test dummies for the new media industries, nor act as underpaid social workers in urban regeneration schemes.

What is required from funders is a more sophisticated response to the complex social and economic ecologies that have emerged. For a start, we can ask how existing initiatives, self-institutions and shifting networks of collaboration can be strengthened without destroying the core values which act as the glue holding it all together. While these developments have sometimes seemed slow, they have been steady. How can we maintain their lightness and openess while making them more robust? How can the fedgling alternatives discussed here gain wider significance and impact? How can these experiments not only in media technology but more importantly in social relations, inter-relationships and working methods be carried into the future?

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

1 Simon Pope, email to the author, 06/10/03.

2 Simon Pope, ‘Art Is Everything That Business Is Not’, in Ways of Working: Placing Artists In Business Contexts, CD ROM, Arts Council of England Collaborative Arts unit, 2002.

3 Eric Raymond, ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar’, First Monday, 1998. http://www.Firstmonday.dk/issues/issue3_3/raymond/

4 Lisa Haskel, email to the author, 07/19/03.

5 I/O/D, ‘This is London’, in The Futile Style of London, 1998.http://www.backspace.org/iod/texts.html

6 Richard Barbrook and Pit Schultz, ‘Digital Artisan Manifesto’, 1997. http://www.hrc.wmin.ac.uk/theory-digitalartisansmanifesto-print.html

7 Simon Pope, quoting the artist group Bank, ACE, above quote (2).

8 Free Software Foundation.http://www.fsf.org/

9 Creative Commons. http://www.creativecommons.org/

10 At that time Priest and Stevens were not aware that ‘Konsum’ was the name of the leading shoppers co-operative and grocery chain in Germany and Austria.

11 free2air. http://www.free2air.org

12 You Are Here. http://youarehere.metamute.com/

13 University of Openness. http://twenteenthcentury.com/uo/

14 The term self-institution refers to the writings of Cornelius Castoriadis. In a piece describing his own development called The Only Way To Find Out If You Can Swim Is To Get Into The Water’ he talks of self-institution as a more radical position than ‘self-management’ vis-a-vis the notion of an ‘autonomous society’. The later he describes as: ‘The permanent and explict self-institution of society; that is to say, a state in which the collectivity knows that its institutions are its own creation and has become capable of regarding them as such, of taking them up again and transforming them. If one accepts this idea, it defines a unity of the revolutionary project’.
In another essay, ‘Done And To Be Done’, he says, ‘I have defined the object of politics as follows: Create the institutions which, by being internalized by individuals, most facilitate their accession to their individual autonomy and their effective participation in all forms of explicit power existing in society.’ (This footnote is compiled from an email from John Barker).

15 From MAP self-description.

16 The London Particular, a self-defined ‘counter-regeneration agency’ have conducted extensive research into gentrification and regeneration in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. This engagement with the processes re-shaping the social and physical landscape of London’s East End has found a number of expressions — videos, gallery installations, maps and texts. The London Particular will be showing work at The DMZ festival.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++