Peer-to-Peer Cultural Production

From the “Net Behaviors” Mailing LIst hosted by Furtherfield, part of the NetArtizens Project

The concept of the open source studio finds its greatest potential in the collaborative practices among peer groups that share goals, methods, ideologies, and aspirations. When artists and other creative practitioners aggregate their work, it constitutes a form of cultural production that collective in nature, whether it be a work of art, creative dialogue, or social interaction with the public. The Internet and social media have catalyzed this capability by providing multiple distribution channels for discourse and shared production.  In this concluding section, I will provide a recent example from The NetArtizens Project, created in collaboration with Furtherfield, an alternative arts organization based in London co-directed by Marc Garrett & Ruth Catlow.

Furtherfield, like many contemporary arts organizations, embraces the social practice of peer-to-peer cultural production as fundamental to its programming and relationship with its audience. This constitutes an organizational approach to open source practice, which like the open source technology initiatives cited earlier, exist outside of the market-based system: an 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, the latter being an issue that plagues the artworld today with its emphasis on art as high value investment.

With Furtherfield, as well as other alternative arts organizations that include the Eyebeam Center for Art & Technology in Brooklyn and the V2_Institute for the Unstable Media in Rotterdam, just to name a few, programming often takes collaborative forms such as DIY (Do it Yourself) events, hackathons, maker-fairs, residencies, and other activities that involve artists and/or technologists facilitating workshops. These events are designed to engage the public in the creation of artworks, science projects, book-making, hardware, wearables, and social computing in acts of public participation.

As part of the Art of the Networked Practice | Online Symposium organized at Nanyang Technological University, I invited Furtherfield and its worldwide artist community to explore and discuss networked art practices. This resulted in The NetArtizens Project, a social experiment conducted across three network channels: Furtherfield’s NetBehaviours Mailing List, Twitter @NetArtizens, and the open database repository for media art. Over 200 artists participated in the project, a peer collaboration involving exchanges of wordplay, critical discourse, collective art, and a group organized show entitled: NetArtizens Open Online Exhibition.

The NetArtizens Project was not curated, there were no gatekeepers or filters, rather, it was an invitation for artists to collectively participate freely and openly to produce what the information pioneer Vannevar Bush referred to as the “cultural record.” The event produced a record or archive of discussion and artworks commenting on Internet related issues, concepts, behaviors, disagreements, and aspirations. The NetArtizens Project revealed artistically what open source practices produce in the form of tools: non-proprietary, non-hierarchical, collectively-driven contributions to the common good: in this case, a cultural record documenting and critiquing the art of the networked practice.

In reviewing the histories of artists and technologists engaged in open source ways of working and thinking in the digital age – despite the corporate influence of technology companies, social media and big data – it appears there is a compelling path towards open, non-hierarchical approaches to peer-to-peer cultural production. This is evident with the surge of independent journalists, bloggers, mailing list communities, and Internet broadcasters who tag, disseminate, and share their unfiltered communications throughout the network. Perhaps the idea of netizens (or NetArtizens) constitutes the greatest manifestation of the open source studio, in which we are all potentially participants and collaborators in the global information culture.

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