Monday, July 23, 2012

Tidying up and keeping track...

Archiving and capturing information when you're so highly reliant on an ever-changing swarm/web infrastructure can be a challenge. There's something satisfying and tactile about a physical book or artefact, and fires, plagues or floods permitting, they are reasonably secure stores of information. Not the case with the web, where resources and infrastructures which were once heavily trafficked can vanish into nothing overnight as corporations, governments or skint organisations switch the servers off.

There are several tasks I need to accomplish over the next few months. One is to digitise and store analogue material from my archive of projects and outputs from the last 20 years: not too many are worth salvaging but those that are, I intend to put online and back up to hard drive; and also I need to check back through the various blogs I've built, download and archive the important bits, and try to make sure the links are current.

This relates to another project I'm just beginning to compile on the various histories of what have been called, at different times, community and participatory, and more recently "socially-engaged" arts (as if art could ever not be social...although some practitioners and connoisseurs would prefer to keep the arts liberal-individual). More about that at another point, although it clearly links to the work that we're doing on the Remaking Society project, as the same thing seems to come up again and again - the point I've repeatedly made about the need to be a bit clearer about the genealogies, histories and typologies of the various strands of participatory arts practice.  In one sense it could be argued that we are moving towards a much more participatory culture, in which the tools and resources to produce and communicate are cheap and almost ubiquitous, but the problem remains that there's no way it is possible to describe the world as democratically organised, not least when the symbolic violence of giant corporate spectacles so dominates public discourse, and wealth of all kinds is so unevenly distributed. So deconstructing and reconstructing terms like 'participation', 'community' and 'collaboration' becomes incredibly important, especially if we want to reclaim them as valid tactical approaches to cultural production. There are some good recent bits of work that have done just this -  for example in some of the scoping studies for the AHRC's Connected Communities programme, and of course the Kester vs Bishop barney about 'socially engaged' art is worth a look too.

Anyway, it might just be worth re-capping where the various bits of information about my various obsessions are to be found. This blog chronicles a fair bit of my work over the last five years, and to go earlier you'd need to read the Creative College book, which captures what we were up to in East London before that, and then fled the scene before the Olympic tsunami hit. The UWS blogs have information about my current workplace and the research and development agendas being pursued there. The 'museum of..." series is a repository for what I think is interesting ephemera from the 1970s, '80s and '90s. I guess I should also start a 'museum of the 00s' but in some ways I'm more interested in thinking about how we got here than doing lots of recent digging through the dirty world of neoliberal fast capitalism. I've also been thinking a lot about 'network pedagogies' and how digital/distributed learning combined with face-to-face might open up possibilities for much more porous forms of learning organisation and learning architectures.

I guess the other thing to consider is that in the liquid, digital world approaches and strategies constantly melt and change. But this just makes it even more important to be aware of how and why we do what we do...