Unlike Us: Understanding Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives

18 07 2011

Have you ever stopped to think about what is beyond the current suite of proprietary driven social media tools? Would you pay to use Facebook or would you move your social networks somewhere else online? What else is out there? Unlike us is a project conceived by Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/HvA, Amsterdam) and Korinna Patelis (Cyprus University of Technology, Lemasol), which is designed to “analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms and to propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software.”

The agenda of Unlike us states that:

Going beyond the culture of complaint about our ignorance and loss of privacy, the proposed network of artists, scholars, activists and media folks will ask fundamental and overarching questions about how to tackle these fast-emerging monopoly powers.

As a Gov2.0 and open source supporter, I keep a keen eye on discussions in this space. The development of Web 2.0 tools that are open source and proprietary free are necessary elements in making the Internet the egalitarian space Berners-Lee envisaged. There are many risks in relying on software tools bartered for in the marketplace as they compete and potentially fail, losing millions of $$$, for example Myspace. I am also very interested in the critical engagement of artists and activists in this space, particularly in terms of tools development and cultural change. In my opinion, open source software also gets better and better (just think about Blender) – because many people who like to use the tool also customise the software.

That said, open source software is only one thread of discussion planned for Unlike us. Other topics of Investigation include:

  • Political Economy: Social Media Monopolies
  • The Private in the Public
  • Visiting the Belly of the Beast
  • Artistic Responses to Social Media
  • Designing culture: representation and software
  • Software Matters: Sociotechnical and Algorithmic Cultures
  • Genealogies of Social Networking Sites
  • Is Research Doomed?
  • Researching Unstable Ontologies
  • Making Sense of Data: Visualization and Critique
  • Pitfalls of Building Social Media Alternatives
  • Showcasing Alternatives in Social Media
  • Social Media Activism and the Critique of Liberation Technology
  • Social Media in the Middle East and Beyond
  • Data storage: social media and legal cultures

Unlike us aims to establish a research network of artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers who work on ‘alternatives in social media’.

If you want to join the Unlike Us network, start your own initiatives in this field or hook up what you have already been doing for ages, subscribe to the email list::http://listcultures.org/mailman/listinfo/unlike-us_listcultures.org

Unlike Us is a common initiative of the Institute of Network Cultures (Amsterdam University of Applied Science HvA) and the Cyprus University of Technology in Lemasol. This post was retrieved via Nettime mailing list 16 July 2011 and is also available in full on Furtherfield and a number of other online publications.

Discussion on -empyre- Biennials Plus and Minus

21 06 2011

The recent series of essays from long time collaborator and dear friend Linda Carroli on the -empyre- discussion list offers some very interesting perspectives on the social and cultural implications of the ‘Biennial’, or more broadly, arts and cultural festivals. For the full versions of the essays, see Linda’s blog placeblog.

Here is a copy of my response to her postings:

Hi Linda,

Thanks for your insightful views considering the role of the biennial.

Your three key themes of ‘Recovery and Regeneration’, ‘From Emergency to Emergence’, and ‘The Commons’ all have serious implications for artistic and cultural development in a world that needs a sustainable integration of issues related to arts, environment and humanity.  Cultural tourism may have economic benefits on a local level and on an organisational level but at what cost? I have certainly not felt all that comfortable attending festivals interstate and overseas because of my carbon footprint and I think this is a crucial issue to consider as part of designing the biennial/festival model.

The example of  the Prospect Biennial in New Orleans, is inspiring example for cultural regeneration and I think the dialogue between artists and community needs to flow not just through the spectacle of the ‘biennial’ but in a way that can inspire and invigorate culture on a day-to-day level.

Also agree about how the typical hieracrchical strucutre of the curated structure of festivals does not allow for much innovation and ‘risk’, which is why I prefer the ‘unconference’ model used by fo.am and THATcamp as it is more inclusive and representative as well as a great way of brainstorming ideas.

I look forward to following this discussion on -empyre- and seeing more of Linda’s writing.

@Trib’s Challenge

5 11 2010

After I posted a blog about my TEDxCanberra experience one of the organisers, Stephen Collins (better known in the twitterverse as @trib), set forth a challenge in the form of a comment posted on mediakult.

It read:

I’m so glad you found TEDxCanberra inspiring. Now, while we all still have that TED-ache, it’s time to get out there and do something, anything, that makes a little bit of difference.

Now I have been thinking a lot about his comment and how I might make a difference. Most of my ideas are linked to my interest in human rights, the environment, sustainability and social inclusion as well my passion for accessible, flexible and usable online environments. In particular, as I have been doing some research into the uptake of 3G mobile technology in remote Indigenous communities, I have been thinking about how I could make a difference to the access that young people have to the Internet via mobile devices. I am especially interested in how this form of communications could have a beneficial effect on literacy and education.

Another event I recently attended also further triggered my interest in collaborating with young people in remote communities. Earlier this week, I was very lucky to have attended the Iconic Songs book launch where Neil Murray and Shane Howard also performed. The Warumpi Band and Goanna both made a big impression on me as a teenager, as I had spent many formative years in Darwin. Through my love of the natural environment I learnt a lot about the connectedness of everything in Indigenous cultures. To understand that family, community, land, spirit, ancestors and ceremony were all linked as aspects of identity was a tranformative and awakening experience for me as a young person trying to understand the world from a bigger perspective.

Well, I guess my ideas at this point are a bit vague, but today I am making my first baby step – by registering to be an Indigenous Community Volunteer.

Anyway – I will keep you informed of my progress in this area -so watch this space 🙂

Review “In the balance: Art for a changing world” MCA, Sydney

1 11 2010

The recent exhibition, In the Balance: Art for a Changing World at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney focuses on artists and artworks that respond to ecological concerns. This exhibition features works that address a spectrum of issues including sustainability and recycling. There is also a focus on future solutions as well as addressing past events and changes over time.

Natalie King’s essay Accumulation: the aesthetics of waste and recycling opens with a quote from Douglas Huebler “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting: I do not wish to add any more.” As an artist I think this is an enormous challenge as still in many areas of fine art training, the emphasis is squarely on the production of objects, destined for a market based art economy. My concern about the consumption of art and the object economy was one of the reasons I moved towards the use online media as well as installations where I could reuse objects in different arrangements.

Aside from the above mentioned focus on reuse and recycling, issues of sustainability, preservation and social action are explored in this exhibition. There are so many works worth discussing, but I will focus on the works that had the most impact for me on a personal level.

It is an eerie experience to walk through Lauren Berkowitz’s installation Bags, which is composed of over 600 plastic shopping bags. As you walk through the two parallel walls of air filled bags, they gently move and rustle. In the catalogue essay by Rachel Kent, the walls are compared to a large set of lungs that “heave and sigh gently as people wander between them”. This recreation of a 1994 work is timely given the attention that plastic bags have been given as a waste issue in recent times.

Andrea Bowers work focuses on the activism that has taken place in Alaska, focusing on the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill at Prince William sound in Alaska. Banners, photos, drawings and posters appear in this installation that reflects the community sentiment of people whose lives have been affected by this catastrophe. I was impressed that such a work was included as part of the exhibition as there has often been distaste in contemporary art towards work that could be defined as didactic. In her artist statement Bowers comments that

In my project I investigate the complicated politics of dealing with the landscape genre in our contemporary moment. It reflects my struggle to make sense of the uncomfortable relationship of predominately Eurocentric environmentalists traveling the globe in attempts to collaborate with locals to fight against climate change. Almost without exception, the most endangered places are filled with poor people and people of colour. Human rights, corporate sponsorship and the green movement struggle with compatibility.

This quote is a succinct analysis of the complex issues at stake when addressing environmental concerns affecting local and global ecologies. But in simplistic terms, there needs to be an alignment and an equal representation of perspectives as the people impacted most are the same people who have the least economic power.

Truchanas children at Lake Pedder, Tasmania. Photo by Olegas Truchanas. © Melva Truchanas

Truchanas children at Lake Pedder, Tasmania. Photo by Olegas Truchanas.
© Melva Truchanas

The Tasmanian wilderness is a common theme in the work of Bob Connolly, Peter Dombrovskis and Olegas Truchanas. A large slide and sound installation titled Lake Pedder by bushwalker, photograppher and conservationist Olegas Truchanas was used to educate people and community groups about the natural beauty of Lake Pedder before it was flooded in 1972 by the Hydro Electric Commission. Peter Dombrovskis was mentored by Olegas Truchanas and his photographs of the Franklin River were used by Bob Brown and the Wilderness Society in the campaign to save the river in the early 1980s. Bob Connolly’s Franklin River Journey photographs are well known as works used a propaganda to conserve the wilderness area. Glenn Barkley considers how this work sits uncomfortably in the context of a contemporary art museum and comments that “They do however remind us of the redemptive power of images, and the cameras very singular potential as a device with which to change the world.”

Bonita Ely’s work has focused on the Murray river as a theme since the late 1970s. The documentation of a performance work titled Murray River Punch from 1980 highlighted the dire condition of the river. Ely acts as a cooking show host where she mixed a deadly concoction of sulphur, nitrates and faeces  – all of which are evident in the river. Her work is an indictment of the catastrophic impact that human settlement has had on the Murray River.

GhostNet Gear Project is a wonderful series of woven dilly bags, baskets and turtles made from found fishing line. By utilising traditional weaving techniques with found materials, as a viewer I am confronted with the changing ecology of this region. Rising sea levels, overfishing and plastic waste have all impacted on the people inhabiting the Torres Strait and their way of life. Whilst the work is colourful, and fun, there is a another message that tells a story about a way of life that has been greatly affected by ecological changes.

Janet Laurence’s works Cellular Gardens and Vanishing are both beautiful and evocative. In Cellular Gardens,  a series of glass vessels are housed on plinths made from steel and mirrors. From each of the containers is a medical tube, referencing life support systems and our own bodies vascular and respiratory systems. Inside the vessels is a juvenile rainforest plant in soil and water crystals, sprouting under the artificial light. The mirrors on the plinths create a myriad of reflected light patterns on the wall which are quite lovely. The message of this work is a warning, that we have created a world that can not sustain it’s own species without urther intervention. For some reason, I am reminded of Against Nature, of a novel I read whilst at university by Joris-Karl Huysmans, which challenged my ideas of society and the disconnention between nature and culture. The video work Vanishing creates a feeling of melancholy. The images are close ups of endangered animals, sometimes all you can see is the fur and the movement of breating. The colours are monochromatic, some sepia toned, which emphasised a feeling of loss and nostalgia. I feel sad, maybe it is too late.

Janet Laurence Cellular Gardens (where breathing begins)
© All rights reserved Janet Laurence. Image courtesy and © the artist 2005 Australia
stainless steel, mild steel, acrylic, blown glass, rainforest plants dimensions variable Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased 2005

David MacKenzie’s and Susan Norrie’s video work Korban Lumpur Project (2010) was heart rendering and a terse reminder of how broadcast media so often fails to present issues outside of the mainstream. In short, the work documented the continuing impact that the 2006 Lapindo Brantas oils and gas leak has had on the Sidoajo community in East Java, where boiling mud and poisonous gas still leak from the mine. What disturbed me most about this work was my ignorance of this terrible event and the aftermath. I vaguely remember the news report in 2006, but there has been nowhere near the amount of media attention that the Mexico Gulf oil spill has received. Why is one disaster more newsworthy? Is it because of the relative economic or global power? After all, Java is so much closer to us in geographic terms. For me, this work also underlined why it is so important that there are other communications channels – art, alternative media, viral media and social activism to raise awareness.

Writer and Curator Joni Taylor’s guided tour of the city, titled Wildlife of the City: Urban Wildlife Safari invites participants to re-imagine the the city from the perspective of the flora and fauna that inhabit the inner city of Sydney. A range of local experts including Professor-Emeritus Helen Armstrong, Diego Bonetto, Chris Lloyd, Dr. Peggy Eby and John Lennis shared their knowledge of the area.

Taylor’s blog states that:

The idea came about as a way to find the uncontrolled and untamed elements of urban nature, not the cultivated or the park variety. While these man-made spaces do all add to the greening of a city, it was more interesting to look for new urban ecologies that develop regardless and in spite of human intentions.

flying foxes

Taylor’s tour demonstrates that there is no neat line between the urban and wilderness as spaces or ecologies aside from what we create as a result of cultural understandings.

In conclusion, I walked out of the MCA feeling inspired, frustrated and challenged. As an artist, researcher, sometime activist and someone who works on a project focused on positive  and sustainable behaviour change (www.livinggreener.gov.au), I can see how necessary it is to join the dots. Nature and culture do not exist as separate entities – our culture and quality of life is totally dependant on the ecologies we are immersed in, every day. At LivingGreener our tagline is “It’s what I can do”, which is a sentiment we could act on.

Participating artists: Badger Bates, Lauren Berkowitz, Diego Bonetto, Andrea Bowers, Dadang Christanto, Bob Connolly, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Nici Cumpston, Peter Dombrovskis, Bonita Ely, Emily Floyd, Euraba Artists and Papermakers, Amy Franceschini and Futurefarmers, Jeanne Van Heeswijjk and Paul Sixta, Lucas Ihlein, Lyndal Jones, Yvonne Koolmatrie, Janet Laurence, Makeshift (Tessa Zettel and Karl Khoe), James Newitt, Mavis Ngallametta, Susan Norrie and David Mackenzie, Raquel Ormella, Cecilia Peter, Frank Petero, Catherine Rogers, David Stephenson, Joni Taylor, The Artist as Family (Patrick Jones, Meg Ulman and Zephyr Ogden Jones), theweathergroup_U, Angela Torenbeek and Olegas Truchanas.

Check out these blogs by artists in the exhibition about their works:
Environmental Audit by Lucas Ihlein
Food Forest by the Artist as Family
Weedbook and weedy connection by Diego Bonetto
Urban Wildlife Safari by Joni Taylor