Brussels, December 2016

Worksession: DiVersions

DiVersions was inspired by the way versions are inscribed in daily software-practice, and explored how parallel to their conventional narrative of collaboration and consensus, they can produce divergent histories through supporting difference. This one week session was organised by Constant and hosted by the Royal Museum of Art and History in Brussels.
By the end of 2016, the Museum was in the final stages of digitizing its very diverse collection: some 330,000 objects including clay tablets, tapestries, mummies, ancient jewellery, vases, coins had been inventoried. Our presence at this moment in time allowed us to put the concrete practices of art-history, cataloguing and digitisation technologies in relation with the reflections, prototypes and other types of experiments generated during the worksession.
Version-control systems, Wikis, Etherpads and other digital writing tools save log files and ’diffs’ routinely, potentially changing linear relations between original and copy, redefining questions of authorship and the archive through technological conditions. Meticulously logged workflows promise to make the process of shared editing a transparent process because any action can be reversed or repeated at any time, and errors or unwanted inputs can be later corrected. But what types of alternative collectivity do they make possible and impossible? How can we use these timelines, histories, traces not just in terms of safeguarding production, but for other ways of inscribing multiplicity and variety?
The worksession brought together collaborative practices, active archives and Free Software tools; each of them long time interests of Constant. By working through and with tools that operate on data along temporal and social dimensions, DiVersions explored the potential for divergence within technological infrastructures. We wanted to experiment with conditions for multiple authorship (including machines as author) and explicitly make space for ambiguity. We wanted to speculate on digital practices that do not erase conflict and variation, and can work with, not against, misunderstandings between people and machines, and among machines and people themselves. Worksessions are intensive transdisciplinary moments, organised twice a year by Constant. They aim to provide conditions for participants with different types of expertise to temporarily link their practice and to develop ideas, prototypes and research projects together. We primarily use Free, Libre and Open Source software and material that is available under Open Licenses.

Research visits and interviews

An afternoon in the museum about collaboration, divergence and the digital archive

Diversions started with an afternoon in the Royal Museum for Art and History. The program included two lectures and a performance exploring tools, processes and infrastructures that invite different and divergent histories.

Laurence Rassel

Laurence Rassel joined us to reflect on how digital archives can transform institutions. How to do things when we consider the institution as a space for encounters, creativity, possibility and risk? Laurence Rassel (Brussels) is a cultural worker who can act as a curator, teacher or organizer. She was recently appointed director of the école de recherche graphique (Brussels). As director of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona, Laurence initiated Arts combinatòries, a place for education, exhibition and research situated within the archive of the institution.

Geraldine Juárez

Organizing information is never innocent. This is the motto for Geraldine Juárez’ preemptive history of The Google Cultural Institute, an effort to "make the world’s culture accessible online". Viewing Google Art, Google Cultural Institute and Google Art & Culture through the lense of digital capitalism, she critically tracks the evolution of services that appears at a moment in time when public institutions are increasingly de-funded. Geraldine Juárez (México, Sweden) works with and across different media-technologies and its histories, stories, materials and contexts to understand how how information, knowledge and property is organized, regulated and exchanged under technological culture and within the market economy.

Christine De Smedt

Christine De Smedt performed a first sketch of a series of movements based on her work Untitled 4. 4 choreographic portraits. Her radical appropriations have now become historical material that could be archived in a museum context. These transformative gestures allow for new readings that are not only determined by the logic of the archive, but also by the context in which they are read. Christine De Smedt (Brussels) is a choreographer. As a way to come to a self-portrait she created choreographic portraits of four artists who have influenced present-day contemporary dance and still do: Jonathan Burrows, Alain Platel, Xavier Le Roy and Eszter Salamon. She assumed their words and stories based on interviews about their relationships between life and work.

Startingpoints

Four cases were brought to the table in the beginning of the worksession. They each provided food for thought, startingpoints for discussion and ideas to work with and from.

The Architecture of collective writing (Just For The Record)

Wikipedia is an interesting playground for future collective uses of the more 'pragmatic' archives that are developed today. If we look at Wikipedia as an enormous architecture and consider every page as an office space, with a history, discussions and a permanent stream of changes up to the most radical gesture of deleting content, we can easily get a sense of the working atmosphere of each room. Some are enjoyable spaces where respect, dialogue and negociation rule; others can be war spaces where the 'truth' is hold by bots correcting each other every fragment of a second; or the winning word is held by humans, amongst which the admin seems to have the most power, although it is never clear who exactly is sitting around the table, nor how the people around the table are perceived. Most women are still 'wifes of', or categorized as 'men' instead of 'humans'. 'Separatism' and 'tea house' are words used for 'feminist' parallel spaces on Wikipedia. JFTR is looking for new tools that allow for interference in the atmosphere of a space, by looking f.ex. for patterns in the use of language in the talking pages, visualisation of the bots operating and what they're made of, a thermometer to indicate atmospheres, ... http://justfortherecord.space

One commit doesn't make a story (Alex Leray)

Open Source Publishing is a collective of designers and programmers working with Free, Libre and Open Source tools. A few years ago, as part of their daily workflow, they started to use the versioning software tool 'git', and many other collaborative tools (etherpad, owncloud, ...). Each of these tools has its own way of keeping archives, logs and timestamps. The result is a treasure trove of very rich and at the same time fragmented traces that could potentially tell the story of their collective design practise, but always almost, or not yet. So far OSP made several attempts to knit together these fragments into stories, bridging gaps in temporality and materiality. There is a tension between capture and narration, between automatic logs and storytelling. What should be integrated in the story? How to account for the heterogeneity of processes and data? How can the context be made (in)visible? Maybe some visualisation might help? Or other generative tools? Alex presents us some of OSP experiments on rendering their practice legible and invites us to think together about how to tell stories between a collective of people, projects and tools. http://osp.kitchen/work/stories/

Histories of conflicts and confusions (Zeljko Blace)

Established museums and archives are currently considering to re-approach or re-label their sedimented and consolidated collections through incremental interventions (changing labels and interpretations of post-colonial artworks for example) or even they invite artists and activists for special projects (queering the van abbemuseum). Newly established initiatives are struggling with incoherence and gaps (Gay Museum in Berlin). How do we come to terms with all this? Zeljko is not only interested in how we could produce divergent histories (of minorities) through supporting different interpretations, but also in how to produce histories of conflicts and confusions and make spaces for future antagonisms and divergences. This is especially interesting when oral histories meet material ones and when artefacts (as 'evidence') meet artworks (as 'subjectivities'). Their juxtaposition asks us to take unexpected confusions into consideration or even confluences of methodologies and perspectives. We could think of developing discourses that could be extrapolated from ontologies and vocabularies. He is particularly interested in participatory systems that could foster not collaboration, but contestation and multiple contextualizations in coordinated and parallel ways.

Different orders coexist (Michael Murtaugh + Nicolas Maleve)

"Computational vandalism means working with this and other qualities of computing; the capacity for repetition, speed, interpretation by combination, the layering of operations and so on. In this sense, computational vandalism works with the aesthetic, social, material and imaginal forces that are gathered as compositional terms within computing." (Matthew Fuller in an interview with SICV, Vandalist Iconophilia http://editorialconcreta.org/Vandalist-Iconophilia) As the Scandinavian Institute for Computational Vandalism, Nicolas Malevé and Michael Murtaugh have developed a series of experiments in connection with the archives of the artists Erkki Kurenniemi, Asger Jorn and Guttom Guttorsgaard. Probing into large collections of digital and digitised collections, they employed Computer Vision algorithms as interlocutors, to explore alternative interpretations, different orderings and seeing through other eyes. The images started to masquerade as text, and texts start to behave as images. For DiVersions, Michael and Nicolas turned the SICV toolkit onto the actual files and databases of the Cinquantenaire museum itself. Working on the archive as a whole, SICV redrew relations and genealogies in the order(s) of art history. http://sicv.activearchives.org/logbook/

Terms of use: opening and closing the archive

For Constant worksessions, we developed etherbox, a custom local server infrastructure for collaborative situations. During DiVersions we tested a first iteration of a ritual for the opening and closing of this temporary collective space.

Prototypes

Ideas, concepts and prototypes developed during the worksession.

Woman, visibility and an essay on representing women on Wikipedia -- a call for action and images (Catherine Lenoble)

A reflection on possible new types of contributions on Wikipedia, filling the gap in the production of a visual culture specific to representing female personalities, and more generally, women on Wikipedia.

A Wikipedia template for conflicts and confusions (Zeljko Blace, Myriam Arsenault-Goulet)

A strategic proposal for a set of 'progressive' banner templates to be added to Wikipedia. One would for example allow logged-in users to call for additional voices and dynamic balancing, another to flag normativity.

DiyVersions (Lionel Broye)

A proposal to bring the collection outside the museum walls and to link the objects to different and external contexts in order to create new narratives with and around them.

Hexatic (workingtitle) (Alexandre Leray, Magnus Lawrie, Adva Zakai)

Exploring tools and processes related to software versioning such as 'git add note', a series of experiments with narration and editorial processes through conversation, disagreement and conflict.

Other orderings exist (Michael Murtaugh, Nicolas Maleve)

Background and forground, scraping and structured data. Computer Vision algorithms employed as interlocutors, to explore alternative interpretations, different orderings and seeing through other eyes of digital and digitised collections.

Stacks & volumes (Mia Melvaer, Phil Langley, Julie Boschat-Thorez, Michael Murtaugh, An Mertens)

Using 'volume' as an ordering device, Stacks & Volumes prototypes a different kind of inventory, 'cutting across' current categorisations and groupings.

Tracking dates / Plotting timescales (Phil Langley)

Plotting the multiple dates (acquisition, production, addition to the database) of objects in the Carmentis data base

Notation as a parasite (Cristina Cochior)

Following the description of a plugin for the image manipulation programme The Gimp as parasitic activity.

Objects made to speak / voorwerpen spreken / objets parlants I (Mia Melvaer, An Mertens)

Based on existing descriptions, this algoritm proposes new objects, to be added to the museum catalogue.

Objects made to speak / voorwerpen spreken / objets parlants II (An Mertens)

What do objects have to say, when we listen to them through the catalogue? An algorithmicly generated catalogue of "women" present in the museum catalogue.

Objects and stories in the Mesoamerican room

Could we imagine an audio-guide that whispers multiple voices into our ears? Could they tell a different story in each ear? Would they enter in conversation with each other?

Carmentis

From the past into the future and back again. Prototyping a decolonization of the museum collection through critical observations of its digital infrastructure, and how it changed in time.

Background, foreground: differences that matter (Cristina Cochior, Nicolas Maleve, Peter Westenberg)

Experiments with the distinction between foreground and background in the digital images scraped from the museum collection's website

A collection of incertitudes (peut-etre, maybe, sometimes, possibly, ...) (Marie Lecrivain, Martin Campilo)

A query into the online catalogue following the parameter of uncertainty. How do you find doubts in the database if the "question mark" (?) is not taken in account by the search engine of Carmentis?

Colophon

DiVersions worksession, 4-10 December 2016, organised by Constant in collaboration with The Museum for Art and History, Brussels.

With: Adva Zakai, Alexandre Leray, André Castro, An Mertens, Arianne Marcolini, Catherine Lenoble, Cristina Cochior, Donatella Portoghese, Laurence Rassel, Femke Snelting, Christine De Smedt, Gottfried Haider, Geraldine Juárez, Julie Boschat-Thorez, Kristien Van denbrande, Lionel Broye, Loraine Furter, Magnus Lawrie, Marie Lecrivain, Martin Campilo, Martino Monti, Mia Melvaer, Michael Murtaugh, Serge Lemaitre, Sophie Balace, Emile Van Binnebeke, Saskia Willaert, Chris Vastenhoudt, Myriam Arsenault-Goulet, Nicolas Maleve, Peter Westenberg, Phil Langley, Sam Muirhead, Sarah Magnan, Seda Guerses, Wendy Van Wynsberghe, Zeljko Blace, Zoumana Meite.Video- and soundrecordings: Stefan Piat, Peter Westenberg, Wendy Van WynsbergheFood: Joris Vermeir, Guillaume Bernier

License (unless otherwise noticed): FAL http://artlibre.org/licence/lal/en/