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Sociable Machinists of Culture
While the modernist notion of art is still being defended in the bastions of 'gallerism', an increasing number of individuals and groups are practising art in the form of process-oriented communication and co-operation projects. This form of working has, throughout the 20th century, existed in the shadow of the dominant art discourses. As examples we can think of Futurism, Dadaism, Situationism, Mail Art or Fluxus, elements of which could always be objectified and assimilated by gallerists, but whose interdisciplinary and transient nature never really fit the modernist mould. What is currently taking shape is a new internationalist artistic practice that is centrally concerned with the diversity of local situations, the idiosyncracy of individual pursuits, and with the flows of connected, translocal actions.

This new practice takes on many disguises, but it frequently makes use of the new technological tools that facilitate translocal co-operations between creative people of all trades. The Internet is the most important of these tools. Unlike other media - telephone, radio, newspaper, audio-storage media -, the Internet is a multi-channel medium which encompasses communication, presentation and distribution of text, image, video, sounds, live performances, and other formats.

More generally, we can observe how the arts are increasingly opening up towards media practices, and how through this combination, the distinction between autonomous artistic practice and other, socially and culturally rooted practices, become inseparably mingled. From the perspective of 'gallerism', this constellation forms both a threat, in that it devalues many principles of an art that serves market requirements, and an opportunity, because 'gallerism' is ever hungry for the new and seeks to devour and assimilate such developments wherever it can. Only the prickly, the sour and the indigestibles are ignored.

The new practice is made possible by a technological development through which many people get access to media that offer an alternative to the regime of mass media. Howard Slater, a cultural critic from England, has defined these as 'post-media' practices or operations, a term that he borrows from Félix Guattari. While I fully agree with Slater's definition - which is paraphrased in the following paragraph - the term 'post-media' is problematic because it throws us back into the false teleological claims of the post-everything debates of the 1980s, which is why the term 'minor media' seems more appropriate. It is derived from the discussions of minority, of a minor literature and of becoming-minor as developed by Guattari and Deleuze: 'Whenever a marginality, a minority, becomes active, takes the word power (puissance de verbe), transforms itself into becoming, and not merely submitting to it, identical with its condition, but in active, processual becoming, it engenders a singular trajectory that is necessarily deterritorialising because, precisely, it's a minority that begins to subvert a majority, a consensus, a great aggregate. As long as a minority, a cloud, is on a border, a limit, an exteriority of a great whole, it's something that is, by definition, marginalised. But here, this point, this object, begins to proliferate [...], begins to amplify, to recompose something that is no longer a totality, but that makes a former totality shift, detotalises, deterritorialises an entity.' (Guattari 1985/1995)

Becoming minor is a strategy of turning major technologies into minor machines, of appropriating media, tools and discourses for the proliferation and articulation of heterogeneity. Minor media practices are characterised by small, diverse, distributed networks of operators who make use of the new, digital means of production and distribution. Minor media operations grow out of the networked activities of passionate individuals and groups working in local and translocal contexts and using such media as magazines, record labels, websites, club events, mailing lists, etc. Differences in these networks are not eliminated but relished. Minor media practice is characterised by a critical attitude towards the media in use, acting in lateral rather than vertical configurations, and an acceptance of the processuality and continuous transformation of context and practice.

If we look at the field of art production that makes use of media technologies today, we can see that some of the most exciting developments can be found in an area where there is not individual artists realising their singular projects, but groups of artists working together in open-ended creative and collaborative processes. An exemplary project in this respect is the Xchange network for audio experiments on the Internet that was initiated in late 1997 by the E-Lab in Riga. The participating groups in London, Ljubljana, Sidney, Berlin, and many other cities, use the Net for distributing their original sound programmes. Xchange is a distributed group, a connective, that builds creative cooperation in live-audio streaming on the communication channels that connect them. The people of Xchange and others are thus also exploring the Net as a sound-scape with particular qualities regarding data transmission, delay, feedback, and open, distributed collaborations. Moreover, they connect the network with a variety of other fields. Instead of defining an 'authentic' place of their artistic work, they play in the transversal zone of media labs, live-venues and networked personal computers. The mailing list of the Xchange network functions as an important communication medium between like-minded people who share ideas and information, announce events and contact potential project partners through the list.

Similarly, the Syndicate network and its mailing list can be described in the context of the emerging minor media practices. Though less oriented than Xchange at concrete artistic production, the Syndicate creates a social and communicative context in which artistic projects can develop and thrive. A crucial aspect of such community-building mailing lists is that a significant portion of the people on the list have opportunities to meet in the real world. In the case of the Syndicate, these meetings take place at exhibitions, art festivals, in workshops, etc., and at special Syndicate meetings which are organised about twice a year. In 1999, such meetings were held at the Next 5 Minutes conference in Amsterdam, and in the Oreste project space during the opening days of the Venice Biennial.

Many artists are currently discovering the Internet as a creative space for the experimentation with new forms of presentation and interaction between artist, artwork (project) and audience/ user. Although there are already some masters of this new genre, what is termed as is mostly still in its infancy and tied to the existing technologies and the dominant, commercial aesthetics of that media environment. Yet, what this net-based work is signalling is a paradigmatic shift away from an object-oriented art practice, engaged in representation, towards process-based work that turns communication into the very material of artistic practice. At the moment this claim is pretty much a matter of belief, but there are indications that the new media ecology is catalysing a radical transformation in the conception of what constitutes art, a shift away from representation towards communication.

The breeding sites, the incubators of these emergent practices are the temporary laboratories, the hybrid workshops and make-shift meeting places of minor media operators. The Next 5 Minutes conferences in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the Berlin Biennale's Hybrid WorkSpace at the documenta X in Kassel in 1997, the 1998 Revolting Media Lab in Manchester, the ongoing Polar Circuit residencies in Tornio - these and other events put the focus on what Geert Lovink, Dutch media activist and key organiser of some of these events, has called 'the most lively and attractive aspect of new media', i.e. 'communication, collaboration, and exchange. This is the essence of today's computer networks. [...] The best way to speed up the process of production is to meet in real space, to confront the loose, virtual connections, to engage in the complex and messy circumstances of real time-space, to and present the audience (and possible future participants) with actual outcomes. And then go back again, in scattered places, on-line.' (The Importance of Meetspace, Nettime mailing list, 8 Jan 2000)

The Oreste alla Biennale project played a particularly important and brave role in this context, because it brought many minor artistic and media practices to one of the key sites of the art market. It thus sought to infect different artistic and social practices with each other, and to bring them into a dialogue with each other. It offered a site of communication and exchange in the Italian pavilion and created a public space from where new forms of international cultural co-operation could arise.

We will have to see how this whole movement of sociable communication and artistic co-operation will evolve in the future. It needs more incubators, and innovative strategies for reaching beyond the communities of artists and media operators who are already 'online'. The historical importance of a playful, purposeful and effective development of the minor media environment will be clear to everybody who critically observes the pressure that convergence media, global financial markets and the deliberate depoliticisation of the public domain are exerting on the heterogeneous field of independent cultural practices.
Berlin/Rotterdam, February 2000
(written for the documentation of Oreste 1999)
Text: Andreas Broeckmann

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