Furtherfield Screening Room

 

Curated by Ruth Catlow, co-founder and co-director of Furtherfield Gallery, this installation will screen works that speak to the origins of the P2P movement, a time in which communities began to form around new modes of networked interaction.

 

 

The mid noughties saw the great centralization of the Web, the result of network effects, well theorised but little understood, that predicted the flow of power and resources across the global internet to a few hubs. Before this, collaborative DIWO (Do It With Others) practices and methods developed by those artists that grew up with the web, had led to an explosion of platform and interface building, remix and free exchange across distance and difference, often inspired and enabled by the work of Free and Open Source Software developers.

These 15 years of experimental community platform-building by artists, activists and technologists that preceded it were quickly forgotten. The “big five” private companies terraformed global consciousnesses with social utilities and media platforms that became synonymous with the web. Profit-motive continues to dominate but its mechanisms are largely disguised by sleek interfaces and mobile prostheses, created with little regard for the subjectivities or social relations they produce, nor for the well-being of their individual users and their communities.

Decentralization is re-emerging as a sign of intrinsic social value. Decentralization is associated with more empowered and diverse voices; unlocked black-boxes; local access, participation and provision; people in charge of their own circumstances and knowledge exchange, creating the conditions for their own life opportunities. Grass-roots projects are now springing up to create, distribute, and share cultural contents via the p2p web- a jointly owned and managed infrastructure. Critics of techno-determinism insist (correctly in my view) that technology will not save us. Arguing against the solutionist logic of business, life scientist and activist Nora Bateson warns us not to mistake the shape of systems and structures for the relations, behaviours or patterns that they enable.

But still the logic, tools and systems of decentralization hold some hope. They continue to fascinate and inspire new imaginaries at a time when everyone agrees that the superpower that humans need to acquire to avert extinction is planetary-scale cooperation.

 

 

Michael Szpakowski, House and Garden (2009)

Annie Abrahams, The Big Kiss (2008)

Annie Abrahams, Angry Women (2012)

 

These 3 artworks exemplify an attitude to artmaking particular to the Web before the great centralization.

House and Garden (2009) by Michael Szpakowski is a series of animated GIFs with an original soundtrack. Using a digital camera, the  artist captures subtle changes in domestic scenes: light playing on a textured wall, cherry blossom quivering against a blue sky. Displayed in a browser, javascripts call the image sequences in a random order so that no two visitors ever experience exactly the same film. Similarly the soundtrack is generated from a database of simple looped sounds in combinations that, like a sequence of tiny events in a normal morning at home, will never repeat for all eternity.

Annie Abrahams’s network performances develop what she calls an aesthetics of attention and trust, in which machine mediated human behaviour is the main material. The Big Kiss (2008), created with Mark Rivers of the artist collective MTAA, shows them collaborating to create a live, image of a kiss, without touching. Angry Women is an ongoing series of performance in which Abrahams invites women of different nationalities to meet on their computer screens to communicate their anger in front of their webcams until there is no anger left. In these behavioural experiments across simplified interfaces Abrahams extends the expressive range of the Internet as a network of feeling, desire and communication. By doing so she reveals the logic of hidden command and control manipulations at work in interfaces to our digital cultures.

 


 

Annie Abrahams is a Dutch artist living in France. In her work she questions the possibilities and limits of communication, specifically investigating its modes under networked conditions. Abrahams is known worldwide for her netart and is an internationally regarded pioneer of networked performance art and collective writing.

Michael Szpakowski is an artist, composer & writer living in the UK.
His music has been performed all over the UK, in Russia & the USA.
He has exhibited work in galleries in the UK, mainland Europe & the USA.
His short films have been shown throughout the world.

Ruth Catlow is an artist,‚Äč and curator working with emancipatory network cultures, practices and poetics. She is co-director (with Marc Garrett) the UK’s first dedicated digital arts organisation, Furtherfield producing public art programmes and research projects with an international reach, that investigate the politics of participation and exclusion in network cultures. Catlow has become a leader in blockchain critique and development for the cultural sector including Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain (Torque Editions, 2017).