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Introduction DiVersions

DiVersions experiments with the potential of digital archives of cultural institutions as a site for decolonial and intersectional practice. The project is inspired by the way 'versions' are inscribed in daily software-practice, and explores how 'versioning', parallel to their conventional narrative of streamlining collaboration and producing consensus, can be a way to foreground divergent histories. xxxxx because these techniques and technologies inherently pay attention to difference. The title of the project was a play on the Dutch di-versies which could refer to divergent or diverse versionings. Translated in English and French, this title evokes the term 'diversity', which especially in an institutional context has a tendency to be used to cover up issues of inequality and oppression with feel good variability. While the foundational intentions of the project as experimenting with archives as a location that could and should accept conflicts, expose normative curatorial processes, and make space for other narratives and collaborative work, was already opening up strong possibilities for political work. It is for this reason that we decided to explicitly articulate the project as a decolonial and intersectional practice to reflect the political direction the project is aiming.[1]

Framing DiVersions as a decolonial practice could appear as contradictory gesture if we consider that the practice of constructing an archive, digital or not, has been deeply entrenched in colonial efforts of sorting out and categorizing the world and anything on it, including humans. DiVersions is consciously making this paradoxical move because it seems more than necessary to imagine, without attempting to repair, archives that can become self-reflexive on and aware of the physical and epistemic violence that powers them and keeps them in place. Diversions sees potential. [which comes from...] Digital archies owes its potential to the fact that in the course of history, archiving has also become a tool of resistance for minorities against oppresion and annihilation. Starting from software processes making the muliplicity of versions visible in the workings of a work, the project links with an intersectional perspective as a framework which does not ignore the persistent complexities of humans-to-humans and humans-to-machine relationships and the underlaying tensions and conflicts resulting from it.

It is important to situate DiVersions within its Belgian context, and also in the specific period [?] it is being activated. Between the first phase of DiVersions in 2016 and the second phase we are launching now in 2019, the significant event of the re-opening of the Museum of Tervuren took place after several years of renovation.[2] The museum claimed this renovation as a pivotal moment for the decolonisation of the institution which is a fundamental symbol of the belgian colonial entreprise. The re-opening of the museum prompted a lot of debates on whether the museum did succeed its endeavour but also on whether such institution, considering its inherent links with coloniality, could ever claim such a process. Not that the decolonial discourse was totally absent in Belgium, but it didn't enjoy the same mainstream platforms it had during these debates. These discussions made clear to us us the various urgencies of the project and the needs to articulate them more clearly.

[bridge Belgium - federal/flemish identity] Governments regard cultural heritage sometimes as a category with economic benefits, but above all as a source of social and symbolic capital that contributes to a sense of belonging. This complex set of expectations projected on cultural heritage leaves little room for a critical approach to the colonial processes that gave rise to the museum's collections, or for telling untold stories. In addition, the physical vulnerability, material and historical value of heritage objects is often used as an argument for maintaining conventional arrangements. This inertia is at the expense of a lively decolonial discourse or the opening up/deconstruction of categories. DiVersions is experimenting with digitized and digital heritage so to bring opportunities of trying out divergent forms of historiography and opening wide the possibilities of conceptual deconstruction. Even if it does not definitively transform the symbolic order, it at least makes space for fantasies of it.

[extend a little -- violence in the tools/tech itself] At the same time, digital spaces themselves are permeated by seemingly neutral criteria, templates standards, and so on. For example, database technologies are used to affirm the authority of certain kind of experts and not others; algorithms corroborate gender clichés and Wikipedia leaves surprisingly (and unnecessarily?) little space for deviating world views. DiVersions therefore not only attends to the content of the e-collections, but also with the way metadata, software packages and web technologies prevent or provide space for Di-Version.

DiVersions asks questions such as: How can different orders coexist in digital collections? In what way do we make room for material and immaterial heritage of the future, for material that is felt to be beyond the scope of museums and archives, or for material that is consciously being ignored? Do these digital environments allow us to crack open a discussion on relations between categorisation, colonisation and heritage? How can online collections accommodate radically different, and sometimes opposing perspectives?

These questions have emerged from Constant's long interest in relations between archives, institutions and memory and our conviction that it is possible and important to develop feminist practices within technological and institutional spaces. It lead to multi-year projects and investigations such as Active Archives [LINK], Mondotheque [LINK] and Scandinavian Institute for Computational Vandalism [LINK]. These projects provided different constellations to try to come to terms with the power-relations, oppressions and projections at work in the (digital) archive. DiVersions could in some way be seen as a continuation of these threads, taking inspiration from the fact that such work is never finished and continues to invite reflection, critique and new work.

Another thread to point out is that our interest in 'versioning' is fuelled by the fact that it is one of the core operations in Free, Libre and Open Source software (FLOSS) and more widely Free Culture (through the mechanism of Open Content licensing). Constant has been committed to Free Culture because whe think it is a way to acknowledge that culture is a collective effort that deserves to be shared. When it comes to technology, we think Free Software can make a difference because we do not need to ask for permission if we want to consider, interrogate and discuss the technical details of software and hardware, or when we want to engage with its concepts, politics and histories. However, in the context of archive and cultural heritage, such a commitment to radical access is tragically lacking. This inaccesibility functions as a way to protect institutions's authority against [...]. But while Constant would like to see a more promiscuous approach to the often proprietary behaviour around cultural heritage, we also become increasingly aware of the need to rethink our relation to permission and access. As the selection of stills xxxx shows, there are many questions to be asked about the aliance of Free Culture and the Western privilege of assumption of full access/permission/properties.

[xxxx] DiVersions is centered around seven artist proposals that test out in practice how techniques and technologies of networked collaboration can support other imaginations of the digital archive. Their proposals are applied to several different e-collections such as Wikimedia, Museum for art and history and Werkplaats immaterieel erfgoed. The projects are collectively developed in dialogue with each other and with partner institutions, and presented twice. Each version will be accompanied by a version of a catalog, a workshop and a public discussion.

[conclusion ...] Versioning ... With two subsequent moments of making the research public, DiVersions itself becomes an environment for collective testing and trying, vulnerability xxxxx. On every level we try to resist simplification and homogenization, xxxxx that make the contradictions of digital collections visible.

DiVersions 1 -- how to talk about the long process, the worksession ... working within the museum ... sensitive: inability to make things move. persistance.

As a platform for reflections and speculations on how databased tools, infrastructures and protocols can work with and through difference,

  1. AHMED on being included
  2. There is a deeply interesting historicity just in the name of the museum which was originally called Palace of the colonies to pass by various names until today's “Africa Museum”. This evolution transpires as an attempt to further away the institution from its colonial roots and transform it into a museum of Africa, the land and its people. The succession of those names works as an meaningful archive of the museum’s slow evolution struggling to respond to its environment.