The idea of artists aggregating their work in social settings constitutes what might have been called in earlier times a “collective” or perhaps even a “commune,” but together the Internet has catalyzed many different forms of peer-to-peer activity among artists and their audiences. And it is important to clarify that the distinction between artist and audience has blurred considerably, as it did in the Happenings and other inclusive works we have looked at.
Today, institutions are embracing the social practice of peer-to-peer cultural production, essential to the collaborative spirit of open source, which again, exists outside of the market-based system, as an often radical alternative to prevailing commodity-driven models found in the art world. What is most essential about peer production is the way it exploits human capital as opposed to monetary capital, which is typically available to more elite audiences.
Peer-to-peer cultural production, while practiced by many cultural institutions, museums, art schools, and universities, finds it’s most progressive form in alternative arts organization that are fully dedicated to an art of the social practice. With such organizations as Eyebeam Center for Art & Technology in Brooklyn, Furtherfield in London, and V2_Institute for the Unstable Media in Rotterdam, just to name a few, the suggestion of an open source studio within the institution, perhaps finds its most advanced realization.
Each of these organizations resituates the artist as the facilitator of a collaborative process that often takes shape in workshops, performances, residencies, and other peer-to-peer activities with the public. Eyebeam in its large, industrial space engages artists who oversee workshops in hardware building, book-making, hacker constructions, wearables, fashion, social computing, etc., generally using open source technologies in a highly intensive social environment. Furtherfield, founded by Marc Garrett & Ruth Catlow, is well know for online and offline activities that instigate social change, which they refer to as DIWO (Do it With Others), might take form as a mailing list discussion, “maker” exhibitions in their gallery in Finsbury Park London, open readings, DIY workshops in circuit building, and a broad array of game-oriented drawing, building, and hacking sessions. V2_Institute for the Unstable Media, has taken on large scale collaborative projects tackling social issues guided by artists that look at such compelling topics as the design and livability of future cities to using open source strategies for cleaning up oil spills.
For the cultural producers who are committed to open source thinking, it is a way of life, a dedication to the social dynamic of group activity with a focus on process rather than the finished work as an object for exhibition. Typically open source activity is concerned with looking at issues to catalyze social and political change. We see again the distinction between open source and proprietary, the social benefit of artists and audiences working together towards the common good, as opposed to the need to produce a marketable “artwork” to be sold. Open source is an idealistic and ideological position that individuals and institutions take as a radical alternative to the political economies we live in.