Friday, July 23, 2010

Embroidered Digital Commons: Zone

Throughout the summer the term ‘Zone’ is being stitched by craftspeople in the ArtYarn Network and participants of the MADLAB Manchester Media Lab for the exhibition ‘Analogue is the New Digital’ curated by Simon Blackmore and Andrea Zapp as part of the AND Festival, Manchester, October 2010. For updates see the ArtYarn blog.

The zone of the ‘Analogue is the New Digital’ exhibition is both spatial and conceptual. A series of interlinked sites throughout the city with satellites of decentralized participants contributing to the hub. Rethinking digital technologies in terms of analogue processes not only provides metaphors for understanding the digital and the commons, but enables hybrid practices to be realized and viewed in their entirety: the knitter blogs, the hacker stitches, the writer fixes a plug. Words are sometimes scribbled, sometimes typed. Life can go on unphotographed, undocumented, undigitized. Fabric pulls us back into the materiality of life: cables underfoot, servers hum, electricity burns off the fuel buried deep in our planet.

The embroidery of the text brings together many ideas and practices within the zone of the work. People can sew a few stitches or words, or simply look-on as others fumble with threads and text. Knitters put down their needles and bloggers look away from the screen to pick up a needle and thread, stitching in a shared zone of practice. Late into the night the 24/7 cultural workers clickety clack of machines and needles transmit connections between stories, concepts, and information, encoded through language and bits. Ideas transfer between computer code, cited text and fuzzy thread. The zone is a meditation of making, typing, and thinking; an “overlap of orbits” where questions are asked, terms clarified, and concepts problematised. Artists, crafters, coders unravel the threads of meaning that form the concept of the digital commons online and offline.

A site, within a location, or a work, that demands an attenuated awareness because of the porosity of the lines that demarcate its existence. A zone is differentiated from a grid that frames a site because its borders are fluid and accessible, or because they witness a lot of traffic. It is difficult to distinguish the centre from the liminal periphery of a zone. Alertness about where one stands is a prerequisite for entering any zone. A zone may also be described as the overlap between orbits in a work, where memes transfer material from one orbit to another, where logic likes to fuzz. The zone of a work extends to the outer circumference of the orbit of its ideas. Zones are places where serendipity might be commonplace, and the commonplace serendipitous. They are best entered and exited at twilight on shunting cars along abandoned railroads that connect different data stations. The timing of twilight may vary, depending on one's longitude, but twilight lingers longer in the zone of the web."
(Raqs Media Collective, 2003)

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