open source

MadLab Manchester 15th May 2011

http://listeningtofirefox.eventbrite.com/

Wider Implications of Software Culture

The Event

  • What: Salon discussion and short presentations at Mad Lab in Manchester
  • When: Sunday 15th May – 2pm-4pm
  • Theme: “Open Source vs. The Big Society”

 

Listening to Firefox exists to create a space for open and engaged discussion across a spectrum of digital-art-technology practice with an emphasis on the social, cultural and political implications of this work.

 

Theme for this event: Open Source vs. The Big Society

 

Format: 5 practitioners are invited to present extremely short (<3mins) single-slide examples across a spectrum of digital-art-technology practice. From there, the emphasis moves to an open and critically aware roundtable discussion.

 

Rooted in practice, the event will facilitate greater peer awareness, cross-pollination and hopefully instigate conversations which need to be had!


Origins: Listening to Firefox emerged out of discussions held at the 2011 Metal/DEC Digital LAB held at Metal’s Chalkwell Hall in Southend on Sea. The LAB was facilitated by artists Graham Harwood and Simon Poulter and attended by 8 artists from a wide spectrum of disciplines.

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A Swan on the Thames

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Swan Dreams

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reference points

Some reference points:

The point I was making yesterday in discussion with Graham regarding a two-tiered understanding of the nature of law – part “natural” : part “technological” – is largely drawn from my reading of H. L. A. Hart’s late sixties text: “The Concept of Law“.  This very accessible book was completely at odds with existing legal orthodoxies at the time of publication (late 60′s) however, today it is widely regarded as a benchmark and primer for undergrad law students.  It went to print around the same time as McLuhan’s “Understanding Media” and this may give a clue as to why McLuhan never explicitely discusses law in terms of his conception of “media”, as this idea of law as technology would likely have been outside of his understanding of the term “law” (and indeed the contemporary understanding of the idea of law.)

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Regarding some of the pitfalls of operating institutions and projects without agreed structures I would refer to this 1970′s pamphlet “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” which maps the rising feminist movement and how its absolute resistance to replicating prior (male) hierarchies actually sowed the seeds of power for the development of hidden & unspoken elites which limited the movements development.

By the way, continuing the discussion on absolute positions, my thoughts regarding this debate in technological culture have formulated a little since yesterday: I would like simply to state that, from my perspective, it is wholly possible to “drill down” and engage at a deep level with cultures of software and technology without constantly beginning from base elements (silicon, electricity) and core principles (the Enlightenment, Linux OS) and that the constant “hammering” of these particular reference points is in danger of being interpreted as simply the same-old high-culture vs. low-culture snobbery-binarism in disguise.

To try and make this argument I would point to the resonant example of sampling culture in Hip-Hop / DJ music where often artists are not musicians in a traditional sense – they do not use (nor would they know how to use) traditional instruments or notation in constructing their music – instead they work from the available and existing musical culture within which they live, allowing this to “flow through them.”  In my experience a similar strategy can be taken to working with existing consumer technologies and that, if this is done with a level of critical awareness, then this approach can actually subvert, rather than replicate, “the system”.

I’m interested to know if other people find this analogy useful?

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My final reference to be shared (on a separate subject) was the text I referred to “The Construction of Social Reality” by American philosopher John Searle: In my reading convincing arguements are made here for the material (even biological) consideration of events and factors in the social realm as being objectively “real”. (I have this book in the car.)

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A little bit of history repeating itself…

We have been talking about the open source, proprietary debate within this lab. Harwood is very clear that we are surrounded by ‘technologies of power’. His recent work takes on a forensic quality asking questions that illuminate current technologies. Where does the energy come from to power our laptops? What is the human cost of the industrial revolution and now the post-industrial out-sourced production base? A framework that for him has manifested as a series of contraptions. Connected to this is the adoption of open source processes and ethical production models, so within this debate PERL runs before FLASH, LINUX before MacOS etc.

Tim Kindberg, also contributing, takes a different line. In essence the design processes and production models are directed towards a successful robust outcome. Still experimental in mode but utllising what works. Harwood’s assertion is of course that the very way in which these technologies are configured ends up directing the outcome.

John O’Shea has been experimenting with a Swan Pedolo as an open source form. This serves to break out of the orthodoxy of open source tropes (LINUX, PERL etc) leading off in a new direction. The vessel becomes a platform in its own right for creative expression and tension. Perhaps what comes out of this is the need for more debate around open source development, that leads us away from familiar territory located around software and hardware. (Simon Poulter)

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