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)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Embroidered Digital Commons: Rescension

This week we are at the Digital Humanities Conference at Kings College London, close reading and stitching the term 'Rescension' as part of the Embroidered Digital Commons. Here's the term -

“Rescension: A re-telling, a word taken to signify the simultaneous existence of different versions of a narrative within oral, and from now onwards, digital cultures. Thus one can speak of a 'southern' or a 'northern' rescension of a myth, or of a 'female' or 'male' rescension of a story, or the possibility (to begin with) of Delhi/Berlin/Tehran 'rescensions' of a digital work. The concept of rescension is contraindicative of the notion of hierarchy. A rescension cannot be an improvement, nor can it connote a diminishing of value. A rescension is that version which does not act as a replacement for any other configuration of its constitutive materials. The existence of multiple rescensions is a guarantor of an idea or a work's ubiquity. This ensures that the constellation of narrative, signs and images that a work embodies is present, and waiting for iteration at more than one site at any given time. Rescensions are portable and are carried within orbiting kernels within a space. Rescensions, taken together constitute ensembles that may form an interconnected web of ideas, images and signs.” (Raqs Media Collective, 2003)

The Digital Humanities is a large net woven by many scholars from many fields, each with their own perspectives on the concept of how the digital can be a form of commons, and how it is restricted. Many of the conference delegates are working with digitising texts, and have very specific understandings of the term 'rescension' within their work. Whether computer programmers, textual scholars, researchers or practitioners within literature, history, geography, computing, cultural studies or cultural theory - they are also keen embroiderers.

Barbara Boralejo has been working on different versions of the Canterbury Tales. As she stitched she explained that a conservative definition of rescension involves searching for the original authentic text; whilst a more open understanding of the term brings together many rescensions of a text to help understand the whole.

Dacos Marin from THAT Camp embroidered a patch and brought along a 'Manifesto for the Digital Humanities'. Article 12 of the manifesto introduces the problematic notion of a common vocabulary which is highly complex for such a diverse group of people from a range of disciplines: "12. We commit to building a collective expertise based upon a common vocabulary, a collective expertise proceeding from the work of all the actors involved."

Perhaps the Lexicon of/for the Digital Commons can be a step towards exploring the complexities of metaphor and translation in our understanding of the commons within the humanities and how that might exist as a digital space? There are so many questions of language here I can't even begin.

This morning Bethany Nowviskie from Virginia USA is embroidering her patch. Bethany is Director of the Scholars' Lab at the University of Virginia Library, and has been following the Open Source Embroidery project for some time. It's great to meet people from the OSE list in person and find out more about their projects. Bethany told us about the Hacking Wearables workshop she ran at The Humanities and Technology Camp (THAT Camp) at the Great Lakes.

Sophie McDonald is helping out with the Embroidered Digital Commons and is making short films of each embroidered term. Her MzTEK workshops also include developing wearable technologies among other things. After a quick chat with Geoffrey Rockwell about the Dictionary of Words in the Wild we discovered that there are no images for the word embroidery. So Sophie is now embroidering the word for the Dictionary, which we will photograph and add to their website. I rather like this way of interlinking online artworks exploring the relationship between text and image, or text and material.

Charlene Lam is also helping out in between assisting Craft Central in their efforts to support emerging designer-makers. Charlene has been a long-time member of the Open Source Embroidery project, and contributed her beautiful embroidered idioms to the exhibition at BildMuseet and MOCFA in San Francisco last year.