<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN"> <html> <head> <title>PLENUM</title> </head> <body style="; background-color: #ffffff;" link="#ff0000" vlink="#ff0000" alink="#ff0000"> <font="ariel"><font size="2"><font color="#2B0E03"> <div id="Layer1" style="position:absolute; z-index:1; left:30%; top:10%; width:40%; height:20% overflow: auto;"> <table width="380" height="60" border="0" align="left" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"> <div align="left" class="style3"> <tr> "Shameful Life all on a Multiplied Plane": Peer Production and Entropy at PLENUM <br> Marina Vishmidt<br><br> <a href="http://kop.kein.org/plenum">PLENUM</a> (http://kop.kein.org/plenum) took place at the Limehouse Town Hall from 6pm 25 March to 6am 26 March 2006 as part of NODE.London's Season of Media Arts, although it could also be said that PLENUM was scheduled to coincide with the Season. Organised by KOP (Kingdom of Piracy, Shu Lea Cheang and Armin Medosch) in collaboration with xxxxx (1010.co.uk, Martin Howse and Jonathan Kemp) alongside a host of associates and Pure Data performers, the event was conceived as an experiment in the juxtaposition of games and theatre with practices of the commons, of rulebound behaviour as an entropic agent in the formulation of a commons, as well as a productive interplay and often clash between protocols/expression, inclusivity/exclusivity, discourse/action and the wholesale enervation of such binary models as participants deployed them in a bid to striate and re-appropriate what by turns seemed like an unmanageably flat or structured space. As NODE.London was premised on horizontality, self-mediation and the production of consensus in the staging of culture, PLENUM sought a return of the repressed in some ways, ferreting out the contradictions and faultlines of such an enterprise through its own mode of 'staging': a highly artificial construction composed of play-acts and familiar mechanisms of parliamentary democracy, soliciting the production of self-reflexive discourse within this maze and then forcing it to confront the merciless eruptions of Pure Data noise alchemy as its constitutive outside. <br><br> NODE.London was a platform for the de-centralised and un-curated enactment of media arts-related events throughout London over the month of March, but it was also an experiment in organisation and decision-making praxis, and one that inevitably solicited a strong element of self-reflexivity from its participants and the larger academic, institutional, social, critical and economic milieu in which they operated. NODE.London raised questions about the arts funding apparatus in the UK, power distribution in network forms, the debated existence of a media arts 'scene', its features and parameters, the relationship of media arts to markets and institutions, and much besides. In adopting an 'open' organisational model predicated on de-centralised methods of production through collaborative software tools, networks of 'weak' ties in the London media-arts nexus and consensus-based decision making, NODE.London was engaging with a paradigm of 'openness' that has recently been transplanted from longstanding activist practice, especially in the 'new' social movements that co-ordinate horizontally, to become nearly hegemonic as a 'best practice' in a wide variety of organisational fields, especially ones in the cultural and voluntary sector which are constantly under self- and externally-imposed pressure to innovate and develop access and diversity. The phenomenon has been observed internationally, with groups such as netznetz in Vienna, who apply for and distribute state arts funding through a consensus-based model. The uptake of 'openness' across the non-profit, voluntary, cultural and grassroots sectors has not occurred without discord and critique, both by participants and commentators in disciplines such as art theory, organisational studies, economists, technologists, political scientists and activists. While the principles of open organisations can be either implemented as catalysts to change or as platitudes to withstand the forces of change (particularly from below), the major criticism levelled at what has been seen as an unqualified embrace of 'openness' is a lack of sufficient attention to the structural imperatives that breed hierarchies within 'horizontality', the real and existing social and economic inequities that prevent universal 'participation' on equal terms, or a simple refusal to develop a more attuned comprehension of the contexts in which more and less striated modes of organising may be effective, and what the political stakes are. In this sense, it is primarily a 'hard' stance taken on open organisational models that tends towards abstraction and inflexibility that comes under scrutiny, but a 'soft' pragmatist stance may also stand to gain from the critiques as its ideological elements may become lost or disavowed by the functionalism of the commitment to 'openness.' <br><br> NODE.London could be seen as an instantiation of a mixture of these approaches, taking the 'hard' openness stance as its departure point, but downplaying the ideological side by focusing on the creativity and innovation-fostering potential of horizontal organisation in a media arts context already receptive to 'activist' production models: the self-image of the sector as intrinsically politicised due to its distance from the art market is interesting, problematic and, by all evidence, cherished. In this and many other ways, not least due to the scale of the event and the new collaborations it brokered, NODE.London arguably became a phenomenon that anyone in London remotely involved in media arts felt compelled to address or elaborate a relation to in some way, even if it was through distance, diffidence, or incomprehension as much as enthusiasm. Shu Lea and Armin, as artists and theoreticians long active in the London and international media arts cosmos, thus orchestrated the PLENUM event as a crucible for the quondam energies and doubts unleashed by the emergence of NODE.London; and also as a 'work-out' for the accumulated experiences of a decade or so of media arts activity sited in London - the audience/participants of PLENUM bridged at least two generations, and possibly three or more decades. In this sense, several of the participants in PLENUM wondered aloud whether PLENUM - if not officially a component of the NODE.London evaluation process - was taking on the function of a feedback device vis-a-vis the NODE.London 'system,' regulating systemic entropy through providing a controlled outlet for debate, disagreement and detours into chaos (well, shouting, dancing and drunkenness at any rate - as well as an onsite punching bag). <br><br> The structure of the event consisted of 5 acts that saw the introduction of more and more rules into an atmosphere that most participants initially encountered as convivial due to the late hour and the presence of food and drinks. The ceremonial gradation, through the Acts, of results and outcomes expected of PLENUM's participants, requested to engage in a series of variously structured discussion on the current state of network culture with especial reference to NODE.London, seemed to principally: a/de-familiarise this atmosphere of conviviality and meandering discussion as interlocutors came up against arbitrary constraints in the form of time limits, subject matter and the aural interference of the Pure Data performers b/mimic and invert the culture of targets and outcomes in a site of cultural production (media arts) that holds itself away from the 'market' only to gain ever greater intimacy with the imperatives of the government funding climate. Here the reflexive and critical process was enlisted as a delivery vehicle of a 'high-quality' debate that produced pre-determined outcomes e.g. 'come up with three points summarising the key issues of network culture today,' 'each group will nominate a spokesperson.' The invocation of such rules did aid in focusing the discussions, and it also dramatised the issues arising from the discussions in a novel way, inserting a layer of fractious behaviouralism into the by-now codified consensus-seeking modes of discussion that span the activist and the management workshop. Deploying antagonism as a social technology, a rogue code to disrupt proceedings as usual, was juxtaposed with the 'de-technization' of the Pure Data programmers who joined the conversation by other means - by capturing discussions in real time, manipulating them and playing them back, sometimes refracting speech as it was being spoken - in a complex, escalating field of noise slicing in and out of the discussion like rotary blades of cognitive dissonance. This sonic component intensified the tangle awaiting the unwary respondents to 'what is the state of network culture today.' It escalated the level of antagonism engendered through the introduction of formal rigour and arbitrary constraints into what at first came off as a party atmosphere. It seemed to produce an effect analogous to that of sonic warfare on speakers, exceeding their comfort zones and inducing them to either react aggressively, gamely or retreat into silence. Hence the double deployment of sonic and social ritualisation in the PLENUM experience ended up producing exodus from the ordinary mechanisms of interaction in such milieus (academic conference, cocktail party or workshop) and at the same time an immanent barrier for participants to negotiate politely or resist with whatever tactics they held to be appropriate at different times of the evening - energy lulls and retreats could be observed at times, and at times frontal assaults and creative re-structuring.<br><br> Antagonism fosters creativity: this was at one point enunciated as a debating point by one of the participants, but raising this point could not only have been alluding to the material fuel for antagonism as described above, but also to the development of positions and oppositionality in the various stages of the debate. The trajectory of the evening - one of narrowing down, selection, elimination (recalling sports, game shows, reality shows and marathons alike) - added an extra edge to the position-striking and multiplication of unqualified polarities that invariably accompanies self-reflexive discussions in the cultural domain. Binary relations between inclusion/exclusivity, collaboration/singularity, media arts/artworld, media arts/cultural industries all emerged from the approximately 12 hours of intermittent discussions, with the merging, erosion and oscillation between the concrete and the purely semantic that shadow the uses of such conceptual categories. There were some isolated breakthroughs when participants rejected the efficacy of such discussions and attempted to come up with new conceptual categories - one instance was the call to 'reinvent the lexicon'; another the point that an 'institutionalised' diction was becoming the norm, even in a highly reflexive context such as PLENUM, and that stronger attempts should be made to eschew the kind of standardised thinking that prompted closed circuits around terms such as 'inclusion/exclusion.' The consideration of 'openness' as a variable both in the parameters of the discussion scenario and as an organisational principle of NODE.London on the agenda of the PLENUM debate was boiled down into a constellation of topics: Inside/Outside Network Culture - the Real (relevance, presence and play) - Reclaim the Lexicon. These were subtended by a concern with infrastructures, social and technological, that promoted the circulation of praxis and critique, or served to impede it. There was also much comment on discourse, and the relative uses of transparency and opacity in the terminology employed by NODE.London and by certain projects, such as PLENUM - which was highlighted as deliberately making use of a 'difficult' syntax that had the potential of either repelling people or signalling its intention to problematise the virtues of transparency, as did the syntax of XXXXX, an affiliated project producing the Pure Data interface. <br><br> The anxiety about being circumscribed by PLENUM's terms of discourse and interaction led several participants to interrogate it, seeking clarification or justification. Conversely, the anxiety about being unmoored in a too fluid configuration signalled by the broad umbrella of 'what is the state of network culture today' drove many interlocutors to adhere to familiar discourses, accounts of their own practices and the instigation of hoary open-ended debates invoking (but not qualifying) red herrings such as 'authenticity' and 'participation' as a means to secure their own legitimacy in this context, and also as a goad to what was on the table as PLENUM's 'abstract' and 'impenetrable' discursive strategy as employed in publicity about the event.<br><br> It is interesting that the proceedings as detailed above did not come to illustrate the classical model of a rulebound environment eventually succumbing to entropy and chaos, as theorists of horizontal organisation (at their most simplistic) would like to assume. As part of the KOP [Kingdom Of Piracy] research platform into game-playing behaviour, rules and the sustainability of a commons, PLENUM unfolded along the lines of this programmatic statement from the KOP website:<br><br> The players get involved by mapping their own thinking onto the shared platform and expressing themselves through symbols, languages and suggestions of rules. The result of this process is expressed as programme code. The code creates a self-referential or self-reflective game structure that contains the seeds to break its own logics. In other words, we are constantly creating hypothesis that are formulated as code that gets tested by game-play and thereby changes and evolves. Whereas it is conventionally assumed that rules as well as programme code do not allow exceptions or mistakes, it is through disagreement, breakdown, contention, competition, failure and noise that the platform develops like a living game. <br><br> [Development Notes: the Evolution of an Idea at <br> <a href="http://kop.kein.org/commons/tales/?q=node/view/49%22">http://kop.kein.org/commons/tales/?q=node/view/49%22]</a><br><br> By deciding to pitch the investigation in this register, referring to the principles of game theory and certain organisational theories, but also, broadly, a number of touchstones in systems theory, the organisers of PLENUM were practicing a desire not limited to a utopian experimenting with the social, but to intervene directly in group communication as it actually takes place - noise, friction, manoeuvring for position, whimsicality and all. By striving to harness there 'side-effects' into a reflexive modelling, they were engaging in practical critique of more or less idealised and always already instrumentalised situations of reflexive communication such as public consultations, project evaluations, workshops and other uneasy overlaps between managerial and activist culture. They were instead looking at the possibility of producing autonomy from, or at least scepticism towards, such processes through the productive force of antagonism, the deliberate maximisation of 'noise' in the system, perhaps to optimise its functioning, perhaps to escalate its entropy. Such an enactment also implicitly addresses itself to the liberal discourse propagated by many theorists and activists of the 'commons' or any rhetoric that uses bromides like 'information wants to be free' without giving an account of the social, economic and political assumptions grounding that belief, or the situated nature of information production and circulation. By ignoring not just the political, but the biopolitical aspects of modes of governance in 'informational' capitalism, activists who emphasise 'access' and 'inclusion' in global communications network can end up unwittingly perpetuating the very processes they seek to challenge by not questioning the premises that paint information as an unqualified good or an object rather than a social relationship, an object that simply needs to be more widely available in an otherwise brutally stratified world. An assembly of media artists, professionals, academics and activists who are constantly negotiating these very parameters of communication and participation in their creative networks and funding imperatives seemed a good a place as any to reflect on these questions. <br><br> These questions were several, and took in the production of legitimacy through the rhetoric of inclusion, participatory projects as relaying on the free labour of 'engaged' members of the public to accrue symbolic capital, and the authenticity of media arts in a community context. To be scrupulously fair, the above would have constituted developments of the discussions that did take place, which, as described earlier, mainly stayed on much more initial polarising territory. However, binary language is the backbone of code, and it could be that code was simply being applied in a more sophisticated way by the Pure Data practitioners than by the members of the discussion groups - who of course had a lot of obstacles implanted in the way of their communication. Nonetheless, there were many attempts to extend or detourn this trajectory of reflection, and these attempts were most salient in the 1st half of PLENUM's duration, where the bulk of the discussion and concept formation took place. The second half, was, inevitably, more conditioned by duration and inertia, as the Pure Data interference and the natural momentum of heated discussion both took their toll. However, when examined again through the filter of 'entropy' this period was just as productive, engendering chaotic phenomena unknown in the 1st half, which could also be attributed to the dwindling numbers of participants and the remaining few finding more room to intervene, corporeally and vocally, in the proceedings. <br><br> From my viewpoint of a participant observer for the duration of the event, the discursive environment of PLENUM definitely helped many of those in attendance dislodge cherished assumptions  whether their own or others - and dramatised the great potential, as well as the salient contradictions, of NODE.London as an invitation not just for events to happen, but to take a can opener to the culture of openness and release the worms of 'why', 'how' and 'for whom' where all could see them. <br><br> References:<br> -Marina Vishmidt, ed. Media Mutandis: a NODE.London Reader, NODE.London, London, 2006. also see: <a href="http://publication.nodel.org">http://publication.nodel.org</a> <br> -Mute, vol. 2, no.1: Underneath the Knowledge Commons, 2005. also see: <a href="http://www.metamute.org/?q=en/Underneath-the-Knowledge-Commons"> http://www.metamute.org/?q=en/Underneath-the-Knowledge-Commons</a><br> -Open Organizations website: <a href="http://www.open-organizations.org/">http://www.open-organizations.org</a> <br> -The Tyranny of Structurelessness: <br> <a href="http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/hist_texts/structurelessness.html"> http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/hist_texts/structurelessness.html</a><br> -wikipedia on systems theory: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_theory">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_theory</a> <br> -XXXXX: <a href="http://www.1010.co.uk/">http://www.1010.co.uk/</a> <br> -PLENUM: <a href="http://kop.kein.org/plenum/">http://kop.kein.org/plenum/</a><br> -NODE.London: <a href="http://nodel.org"> http://nodel.org</a><br> </div> </body> </html> </html>