Openhere is underway at the Science Gallery, a festival organised by Rachel O’Dwyer, Linda Doyle and Nora O’Mhurchú. I’m only partially aware of the world of online peer-2-peer, sharing and open source practices, though I know that these resonate very strongly with my own practice and ethos as an artist, and with the research I’ve been developing through CTVR.
Over the past number of years, I’ve been responding to a question that Linda Doyle put to me. Now, I don’t know that she really thought I’d respond to it with such a sense of obligation. But I did. I am. Still. The question was: How do we Communicate Communications? Seems simple enough. But as Shakespeare would write ‘Seems? I know not seems!’. There was definitely ‘a rub’ in this question. Not quite rhetorical, not entirely playful, in fact quite serious, a little bit panicky even… the more I turned it around the less I knew what to do with it. So I tried out a lot of things. I’ve called them experiments.
You could say that my research methodology involves MOOC’s… only my acronym would read like: Minor Offline Open Conversations. And it’s kind of nice to bring acronyms into this reflection, because it was during the first Openhere festival in 2012 that I was given the opportunity to first really experiment with my own practice in the context of CTVR.
I hold open conversation and writing spaces. Phatic Spaces. But they have constraints built into them, time being one. (I’ve been adapting and evolving this form since my work with The Writing Workshop.) So for Openhere 2012 I created a framework for one of these spaces. I called it ‘Hackronym’ and the fuzzy focus of the space was basically to hack acronyms; creatures that hang around and breed in technology sectors very promiscuously. That iteration of my practice gave me the courage to further adapt this form and to ‘deploy it’ (to turn a phrase of the telecommunications researchers I work with) in CTVR. I called it Engineering Fictions. And I’m still trying to figure out how many meanings this phrase has. It eludes me constantly. Its meaning is all hidden right in front of my eyes, under my nose, and I can’t put my finger on it at all. I think this is just what it’s like when you work with dialogics and when you work directly with people and you work with difference. Everything feels hidden in plain sight. And the best thing to do is just get on with it. Thankfully, many of the people who have come to work with me over time, the CTVRians, are all quite tuned to this dilemma too. And so we just get on with it.
And I’ve just kept going on with them; responding to calls, responding to the environment, responding to the people around me, hosting and having and tripping over and through conversations. Wondering. What is this place, this world of telecommunications about at all? What are these people up to? How are they changing and shaping the world as they are without even really seeming to notice the power they work with, work under and channel. The things they make happen. The way they write the world… it just sort of baffled me that this power was so taken for granted… so little talked about, so little felt.
And, though this all no doubt sounds utterly naive, I didn’t want to just come out and say ‘Why don’t you see how powerful you are!’, I thought I’d better just hang around a while and see what the deal was. Try to get a sense of why there wasn’t this awareness. And that’s what my thesis is about. It’s about picking out or pointing to some things (power relations, injustices, oppressions and joys, doubts, jokes) that are hidden in plain sight. And making a few suggestions for how we can all get a bit better at doing this everyday, wherever we are and whoever we are.
And I suppose my point is, that Openhere had an important part to play in all of this. It acted as a platform for experiment. And it permitted me to engage gently and critically with my own doubts, with the people around me; attendees of the festival, some of whom were the people who work in CTVR, and who came to work with me more closely since.
Further to this, then, I would like to acknowledge how valuable such platforms are, and to stress that despite the fact that we live in a world where branding and marketing and neo-liberal/smokescreen politics has us all desensitised (disillusioned, cynical, bored, thoughtless, careless) to language and gestures of friendship and openness, we must remain committed and vigilant to an underlying principle: We are human, we are social creatures. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re any good at being ourselves. We have to practice. We have to remind ourselves of what we’re doing and how we’re doing and why... We have to remind each other. And there’s never only one way to do this.
Platforms like Openhere, supported by organisations like CTVR and DATA, and institutions like Universities, permit this reminding. Even while they might play into certain agendas and give fuel to certain regimes of rhetoric and a what not. Yes, it is all very ambivalent at the moment. Yes, it’s all very ambiguous. But we must still practice. We must still play. We must still teach.