Saturday, November 12, 2011

Embroidered Digital Commons: Nodes

The Women Writers’ Network (WWN) is a node at which vectors of knowledge about Womens’ writing cluster at different sites across Europe and through the newly built Women Writers database. At Belgrade University in March 2011, and Chawton House Library in November 2011, this network of women and men has read and stitched the term ‘Nodes’ as part of the Embroidered Digital Commons. This draft paper reflects on the nodal aspects of the WWN in relation to the Digital Commons.

Network topologies with their nodes and vectors can be used to map communication networks of people and knowledge, and their systems of production and distribution. In 1964 Paul Baran’s distributed network diagram was used to envisage the many:many communications network of the Internet. This distributed network is more robust than a centralized network, as communication can be re-routed through any nodes to reach its destination. In this way the distributed network is an egalitarian model of utopian freedom (for users to be producers), and a more efficient model for sustainable communications.

The definition of 'Nodes' describes a nodal structure of networked communication through located and virtual sites through which ideas travel and coalesce. This language of social networks is a paradigm shift in how we value, archive and communicate knowledge. Rethinking our network topologies provides the opportunity to map women’s knowledge and writing throughout a range of formats (letters, textiles, texts) through personal and informal networks as well as professional and academic structures. Analysis of the Internet provides new vocabularies and ways of visualizing and thinking about informal distribution and reception.

The ethos of the Digital Commons operates within the distributed digital network of the Internet, which enables all forms of texts to be made public, along with their html or encoded computer languages. This includes different rescensions of a text, letters, fragments, notational knowledge, and multiple translations, which together build an understanding of the scope of ideas in a text. Meaning is not fixed, but emerges through an understanding of the many contexts for production and reception. In the digital distributed network images and texts are freely circulated, changing the nature of the ownership and copyright, and challenging the notion of the ‘original’ or ‘true’ document.

The Digital Commons focuses on the potential of the distributed network to create new levels of access and availability for sharing and researching data (in this case literature). This ethos of open-access is a challenge to closed forms of knowledge such as JStor, and closed processes such as blind-peer review. Instead quality is ensured by open and frank discussion, and measured by the number of links and references or citations to a text. Economic recuperation is through unique printed format, and not ubiquitous online access. Instead of attempting to enforce copyright, perhaps accurate meta-data tagging is more essential for tracing the provenance of digital material. Only then can attribution and moral rights be respected and traced.

The Women Writers Network gathers at particular physical nodes to share their research. Through presentations and discussions new connections are made between ideas and influences in womens’ writing across geographies and over time. This intense social and intellectual activity informs the structure of the online database located on a server in the Netherlands, which can be accessed remotely throughout the world. The database is another node in the WWNetwork which traces connections of influence and reception between women writers throughout Europe; compiling a glimpse of the extent of women’s social networks through knowledge and literature over centuries.

In keeping with the spirit of the Digital Commons: the WWN Database is both an archive of existing knowledge, and a research tool to discover old knowledge with the potential to reveal new ways of thinking. Significantly the database is both physical and virtual as it has emerged from, and is maintained by, a robust social network of academics and researchers across Europe.

The networked web of communication is traditionally perceived to be 'female gendered', in contrast to the more linear hierarchies of patriarchal society. The distributed and decentralized networks are perhaps more akin to the way in which women have been able to circulate their written forms of knowledge through social circles excluded from centralized publishing structures.

Today the characteristics of women’s work form the backbone of the new flexible worker in the cultural industries and knowledge economy. Digital networks enable fast speed computer processing and communications fully exploited by global capital. At the heart of the crisis of outsourcing and deskilling is the changing nature of Intellectual Property. Whilst the distributed network of the Digital Commons supports collective and collaborative writing and making, whilst the old forms of copyright are rapidly becoming redundant.

In fact, copyright has often been a poor way of protecting the rights of women artists, crafters and writers. This is mostly due to the huge administrative infrastructure required to collect small amounts of money, which are heavily top-sliced before meager sums reach the final author or maker.

Ann Bartow, in her paper ‘Fair Use and the Fairer Sex’ (2006) examines the gendered aspects of copyright law. Historically women have not been recognized in property law, and so even if they owned the copyright of their work, they were unable to enter into contracts to be renumerated for the publishing of their work. Instead any financial gain was kept by the (male) publishers, or passed onto a husband or male relative (Bartow, 2006, p571). As Astrid Kulsdom outlined in her presentation, Ouida (Maria Louise Ramée, 1839-1908) suffered from the lack of synchronized international copyright law. But as a woman it is likely that she had no legal power to enforce her moral rights, or rights of attribution, let alone a ‘property right’ over the translation of her novels form English into Dutch.

Most interestingly, Bartow discusses the problems of copyright for computer software and quilting (p573) partly due to the forms of collective production. She states: “As a general rule, copyright does not easily accommodate collaborative, creative, online endeavours.” Where authorship is complex and shifting, and the work emerging and changing over time, without a fixed author and finished product, copyright has no meaning.

Bartow highlights blogging gender statistics which reveal that slightly more women than men create blogs, a form of writing easy to publish and difficult to copyright. Continuing her analogy of blogging and patchwork, she writes:

“In some respects, group blogs offer a text-based homology to quilting” (p573).

Both blogging and patchwork are decentralized networks for both amateur and professional knowledge sharing. The focused creative project provides a structure for collective making and discourse.

As a text, the Embroidered Digital Commons is a collective form of close-reading. Here embroidery is enacted as reading, not instead of reading. And the content is both metaphorical and technical. The poetic nature of the text requires close reading, re-reading, and discussion. This is not a diversion from public life, but a designation of public space both for making and critical dialogue.

Embroidery can also be an aid to close-listening. Where the hand and is occupied with aesthetics and spatial logistics, leaving the brain to concentrate on processing equally complex information and ideas.

Ann Bartow (2006). Fair Use and the Fairer Sex: Gender, Feminism, and Copyright Law. In: Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, Vol 14:3.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Multiple Formats for the Embroidered Digital Commons

Embroidered Digital Commons: Zone from Sophie McDonald on Vimeo.

The Embroidered Digital Commons is slowly taking shape, and we are working out how to collate or show each term in an appropriate format. After they are photographed, some people are keen to stitch the patches into a quilt. Other terms might form a string of bunting or a digital slide show. The fabric patches can also be pinned on a design board as a work in progress. In keeping with the spirit of the Digital Commons, it is important that the works are freely available online (although please note that this requires several hours of voluntary labour to co-ordinate and is a slow process). Although the main focus of the project is the experience of making and discussing the digital commons, and all the political contentions that this raises; it is also important for all the hundreds of individual contributions to come-together into a coherent whole.

Most importantly, the Embroidered Digital Commons examines the reproducibility of a text as an image. The project is transcribing the digital text file into textile, and then back into a digital image and digital film. This lengthy process of copying and reproducing the text is a form of close reading and close listening examining the nature of the digital commons in theory and practice. Whilst there are multiple reiterations of display, perhaps one of the most interesting is the flexibility and reproducibility of the digital format.

Sophie McDonald has been making beautiful films, which bring together the individual phrases into the complete definition of the  term. They can be viewed online, or projected in galleries. The projections can be life-size (25x25cm) or large scale. The term 'Zone' is shown above.

This Autumn people are stitching in Vienna, Chawton House Library, Sunderland, Sheffield, London and contributing to the term 'Web' through the Embroidered Digital Commons Face Book Group from as far afield as Texas!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Heterogeneous: All My Independent Women

The Embroidered Digital Commons term 'Heterogeneous' will be hosted by 'All My Independent Women' at the Austrian Association of Women Artists event, November 3rd - December 3rd, 2011. Information below:
What Can Words Do? / Oder vielmehr, was können Wörter tun?

Vereinigung bildender Künstlerinnen Österreichs – VBKÖ
Maysedergasse 2 (4 Floor), 1010 Vienna

The international network of feminist artists 'All My Independent Women' (AMIW) from Portugal will host an exhibition in Austria, invited by the Austrian Association of Women Artists (VBKÖ).

The exhibition will present artworks by: André Alves, Catarina Carneiro de Sousa and Sameiro Oliveira Martins, Laura García and Said Dokins, Alice Geirinhas, Risk Hazekamp, Roberta Lima, Ana Pérez-Quiroga, Suzanne van Rossenberg, Ângelo Ferreira de Sousa, Yan María Yaoyólotl, and performances by André Alves, Stefanie Seibold and the duo Projecto Gentileza. The video lounge will screen works by: Miguel Bonneville, Mónica Faria, Risk Hazekamp, Anna Jonsson, Cristina Mateus, João Manuel Oliveira, Rita Rainho, Flávio Rodrigues, Evelin Stermitz and Lenka Vráblíková.

The exhibitors take passion as an excuse for engaging the world. At the core of their works they question how the desire for visibility can be transmuted into a different experience of equality and accountability to evoke feminist practices that functions a a ‘counter-hegemonic intervention’ in the arts in particular and in society in general.

November 3

Performance “A READER” by Stefanie Seibold.
The very way in which “A READER” is constructed activates its performative energies. The pin-board becomes a poster made of images, which can be read like an image-atlas – a visual archive which not only stores and collects, but which also activates its elements and connects them.

“Biting Song” by the duo Projecto Gentileza“Biting Song” is a concert/performance “on the relation of perception and physicality, reflecting on suppression and existence in a state of permanence around abstract mental places.”

November 4

Collective activity 'The Embroidered Digital Commons'
A project by Ele Carpenter, moderated by Carla Cruz, is an internationally distributed embroidery of the text 'A Concise Lexicon of/for the Digital Commons' written by the Raqs Media Collective (2003).

November 5
How can AMIW be, simultaneously, an exhibition and a platform for relationality?
Presentation of the publication: AMIW: New Portuguese Letters with Carla Cruz and Filipa Alves

Performance “Deprived Meanings” by André Alves.
The performance is interested in the translation of the tension between the will to say/act and the capacity to do so.

How can the desire for visibility be transmuted into a different experience of equality and accountability?
A round table on the importance of the arts to convey feminist struggles and on strategies from a feminist and antiracist perspective, based on equality and responsibility, that intervene in the dominant discourses in the arts and society. With an editor of 'Migrationsskizzen' (2010), Stefanie Grünangerl (collaborator of and Lisa Bolyos (feminist and anti-racist activist and artist).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ada Lovelace Film Screening

Film Screening
To Dream Tomorrow: Ada Byron Lovelace

National Museum of Computing, Bletchley Park
Saturday 8th October  2.30pm
To celebrate Ada Lovelace Day 2011 the National Museum of Computing is proud to present Flare Productions film about Ada Lovelace, followed by a discussion with the Directors John Fuegi and Jo Francis.

‘To Dream Tomorrow’ is the story of Ada Byron Lovelace (1815-1852) and her contribution to computing, a hundred years before the start of the computer age. Daughter of a mathematically gifted mother and the 'mad, bad, and dangerous to know' poet Lord Byron, Ada was 17 when she began studying a prototype mechanical calculator designed by mathematician Charles Babbage. By the time she was 27, she had moved beyond her famous contemporaries and predecessors such as Leibniz & Pascal, to describe universal computing much as we understand it today. Alan Turing, who also worked at Bletchley Park, was familiar with Lovelace’s work.

The screening is kindly made possible by a grant from the School of Humanities, Kingston University, London. Curated by Ele Carpenter, Goldsmiths College, University of London.

The National Museum of Computing
Block H
Bletchley Park
Milton Keynes

On Saturday 8th October the Museum will be open 1-5pm.
Entrance £5 / £2.50 concessions.

To Dream Tomorrow: Ada Byron Lovelace, Color, 52 minutes.
Directed and Produced by John Füegi and Jo Francis, 2003.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Vector at the V&A

On Saturday 10th September I'll be hosting an Embroidered Digital Commons workshop in the Power of Making exhibition at the V&A Museum in London.

The workshop will be held around the Tinkerspace table in the middle of the exhibition, the show and the workshop are both free, and all materials are provided. Drop-in anytime between 1 - 4pm to get stitching!

The text we will be embroidering is by the Raqs Media Collective, and reads:

"Vector: The direction in which an object moves, factored by the velocity of its movement. An idea spins and speeds at the same time. The intensity of its movement is an attribute of the propensity it has to connect and touch other ideas. This gives rise to its vector functions. The vector of a meme is always towards other memes, in other words, the tendency of vectors of data is to be as ubiquitous as possible. This means that an image, code or an idea must attract others to enter into relationships that ensure its portability and rapid transfer through different sites and zones. The vectors of different memes, when taken together, form a spinning web of code." 

The term 'Vector' seems appropriate for an exhibition where the vectors of objects and ideas connect and touch, porting through different sites and zones. The Power of Making exhibition brings together digital, analogue and physical material making and crafting as both process and object.

The V&A Magazine will feature an article about skill and making, based on a round-table discussion between a number of the writers in the catalogue and artists in the exhibition. The most interesting part of the discussion, for me, was the controversy of drawing analogies between computer coding and physical making, a hang-over from the utopian/dystopian technology division so clearly articulated by Ensensberger, and expanded upon by Alex Galloway and Eugene Thacker in their book 'The Exploit' (2007). There seems to be a correlation between the demise of teaching woodwork and computer coding in schools. Where education focuses on end user products rather than the skills to make and mend, invent and innovate. It seems we have a lot of tools, but no-one knows how to use them. At least the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park recognizes this, and introduces kids (small and large) to the joys of programming.

If you're interested, I've also written a short text called 'Social Making' for the Power of Making Catalogue.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Embroidery Ensemble

Café Crema
306 New Cross Road. London SE14 6AF
Nearest tube/train: New Cross or New Cross Gate

Sunday 22nd May, 2-4pm
Sunday 29th May, 2-4pm
Sunday 5th June, 2-4pm

Calling all stitchers, hackers, programmers, embroiderers, patchworkers, coffee drinkers, steampunks, artists, crafters, makers and tinkerers….

You are warmly invited to gather at Café Crema to stitch the term 'ensemble' as part of the Embroidered Digital Commons.

We will be close reading and embroidering the following text from ‘A Concise Lexicon of / for the Digital Commons’:

"Ensemble: The conceit or delight in togetherness in an increasingly anomic, fragmented world. Playing or working together to create finished or unfinished works. Chamber musicians, criminals, code-hackers and documentarists form ensembles. Artists try to. Effective ensembles are high bandwidth assemblies that build into their own architecture portals for random access into themselves. They are, when they are at their best, open systems that place a premium on shared information within them. They can at times maintain high levels of secrecy while seemingly appearing to be transparent. Here, confidentiality is an index of practices in gestation. Mined data is, sometimes, restored to natural states of information entropy in data dissembling ensembles, which have been found to work best at night in media labs. The Raqs Media Collective is an ensemble and everything it does is an ensemble of existing or anticipated practices."
(Raqs Media Collective, 2003)

This project is supported by The Co operative Community Fund.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stitching Nodes in Belgrade

Last week I was invited to the Women Writers in History Conference in Belgrade. It was a brilliant opportunity to meet women academics from across Europe who are researching womens writing, and compiling an important archive. I gave a paper about Ada Lovelace and the significance of her Notes to the understanding of the Analytical Engine; as well as discussing the contemporary problems of craft and embroidery within feminist discourse. I retitled my rant on 'why I hate knitted cake' as 'Let them Knit Cake'.... (the paper will soon be online). I was only sorry that the one woman who left the conference in disgust at the embroidery, didn't stay to hear my talk. But her action reminded me that embroidery is a very sensitive and divisive political issue. But the subject of our embroidery is not just embroidery itself - but the concept of the digital commons.

Throughout the conference people started to embroider the text of the term 'Nodes' from the Raqs Media Collective's (RMC) 'A Concise Lexicon of/for the Digital Commons' 2003. This expanded definition of 'Nodes' allows for an interrogation of the relationship between identity and place, national territory and cultural identity, which was particularly pertinent to read whilst in Belgrade, a city which asserts its Serbian nationalism at every turn. However, every aspect of Serbain culture is a well-balanced fusion of the Ottomon and Austro-Hungarian Empires, including food, architecture, music, and language. For example a plate of cakes is offered with the explanation: these are the Austrian cakes, and these are the Turkish cakes. Language: this is cyrillic script, and this is from the latin script.

The designation of nodes in a network as people or places is problematic in terms of complex identities, where people are not singularly from, or representative of, one place. So the exploration of ‘no-des’ is a more useful concept in which identity exists between nodes, rather that at a specific node. In this instance we can think of nodes as ideas connected by vectors of thought.

Whilst RMC discuss no-des within an Indian-Hindi context, we can also use these ideas to reflect on the Serbian context on the cross-roads between east and west.

Aleksandra Vranes clearly argued in her Keynote that although there are nationalistic claims on high culture , popular, folk or 'common' culture evolves from a more complex multi-cultural identity. In my conversations with the conference participants, none of us seems to have a singularly located identity. So, ‘Des’ as “homeland or native place” is problematically claimed. ‘No’des’ is not simply a place of no designation, but a positive way of being in the world, where ideas circulate and culture evolves. As RMC write:

“No-des is that site or way of being, in ‘des’ or in ‘par-des’, where territory and anxieties about belonging, don’t go hand in hand. Nodes in a digital domain are No-des.”

The Women Writers Conference will continue to stitch and discuss 'No-des' at Chawton House in England, November 2011.

I was completely overwhelmed by the kindness and generousity of Dr Biljana Dojčinović and her team at the University of Belgrade. Everyone worked effortlessly to ensure that we had the best possible experience of Belgrade, and to make the embroidery a success. Biljana even donated her mother's embroidery threads to the project, and had the beautiful fabric cut by a professional tailor caled Jasmina Panic Samsara: . Thank you to all the student volunteers who helped run the embroidery table.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sad Day for Visual Art

It's a very sad day for the visual arts. I've been avoiding looking at the list of cuts to arts organisations due to take place in the next 12 months but here it is:

I want to write something profound - but I'm actually gobsmacked. Yorkshire and the North seem really badly hit - with a particular blow to media arts organisations which support specialist and highly innovative practices. It seems that the industry part of the culture industry has eaten itself until there is nothing left. Whilst some may argue that artists should join banking or advertising, a more likely scenario is that artists join the ever-growing movement of dissent.

Arts Against Cuts are about to gain several thousand artists, curators, and cultural workers who will be bereft of their tiny incomes which enable them to give their time (both paid and unpaid) for the creative development, critical thinking, and grass-roots innovation that even the hijacking of social language couldn't quite stamp out.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Talking about Code at Dorkbot 74

On Wednesday 23rd March I'll be presenting at Dorkbot74 - talking about the 'Embroidered Digital Commons: Code' workshops I've been running at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. I'll be joined by Lin Jones from the Museum. If you're interested - feel free to come along:

Wednesday 23rd March.
Dorkbot 74 will take place from 7-9pm at:
The Centre for Creative Collaboration,
16 Acton Street
London WC1X 9NG

See you there!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Scrmalbed Code

We had a great stitching day at the National Museum of Computing on Saturday. Marie brought along her computerized Swedish Husqvana sewing machine and quickly set to work designing a quirky typography with scrambled text:

"Like eggs, code is sometimes best had scrambled."

TNMOC event Embroided Digital Commons

Marie designs her own fonts, and uses Bernina software.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stitching Code at the National Museum of Computing 2011

Patchworkers, programmers, embroiderers, editors, steampunks, hackers, crafters and coders are warmly invited to stitch the term 'Code' as part of the Embroiderd Digital Commons project.

We will be meeting at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park between 1-4pm on:
Saturday 26th February, 2011
Saturday March 26th, 2011
Saturday April 9th, 2011

You don't need to have any previous sewing experience, and we'll provide all the materials, as well as the essential tea urn and biscuits.

The Bletchley Park Museum is open from 10.30am in the morning if you want to make a day of it. The National Museum of Computing is on the same site, and opens at 1pm. If you arrive at 1pm - just go to the main gate and ask for the embroidery workshop at the Museum.

Please note that Ada Lovelace Day has been moved to October 7th this year, so we'll be celebrating at Bletchley Park on Saturday October 8th with a film screening and discussion. Watch this blog for further information.

For further information see:

Friday, February 11, 2011

Embroidered Digital Commons at Access Space

The Embroidered Digital Commons at Access Space in Sheffield is well on its way.

They've set a fantastic blog documenting the process, with great photos of the embroidery in progress and notes about the conversations taking place whilst stitching. Here's the full text they are embroidering:

"Kernel: The core of a work or an idea. The central rescension, of a narrative, a code, a set of signs or any other structure that invites modification, extrapolation and interpretation, by its very presence. Here, the term core must not be confused with 'origin' or with any other attributions of originality, which mean little within an open access system. It is almost impossible to determine the origins of a code, because the deeper we go into the constitutive elements of a code, the more it branches out to a series of nodes within and outside a given system of signs. It is more meaningful to talk of the 'custody', rather than the 'origin' of any system of signs. A kernel is often the custodian of a line of ideas that represents within itself a momentarily unique configuration. Kernels embody materials in states of intense concentration. This is because they have to encapsulate a lot of information, or nourishment, or structure building materials, within very limited dimensions. The density of information within a kernel is a key to its own extensibility. The more the thread that is rolled into a tight ball, the more it can be unwound. Kernels, by their limitedness and compactness, are portable, not cumbersome. As in the kernels of certain fruits, they may be hard to crack, but once they have been opened, they yield delicious and nourishing stuff. Kernels lend themselves to easy reproduction, but are fragile and often in need of protection. This protection may also come in the form of an outer layer of interpretation, which states the purposes and nature of the kernel, so that it is not prised open to answer every basic query about itself."
(Raqs Media Collective, 2003)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Open Web Book

This book looks very interesting - an excellent example of integrating form and content in open publishing... I look forward to reading it. The publicity info reads:

The Web was meant to be Everything. As the Internet as a whole assumes an increasingly commanding role as the technology of global commerce and communication, the World Wide Web from its very inception was designed to be a free and open medium through which human knowledge is created, accessed and exchanged. But, that Web is in danger of coming to a close. This book shows what is happening and how you can play an important role in keeping the web open.

An Open Web was written in 5 days by 6 collaborators. Zero to book in 5 days. It was an intensive process and loads of fun. The collaborators met 9am Monday with no more text written than the title and 5 days later published the book. This process is known as a 'Book Sprint' is an intensive and innovative methodology for the rapid development of books saw five people locked in a room in Berlin’s CHB for five days to produce a book with the sole guiding meme being the title – An Open Web. They had to create the concept, write the book, and output it to print in 5 days.

An Open Web was written by Alejandra Perez Nuñez (Chile), Christopher Adams (USA), Bassel Safadi (Syria), Mick Fuzz (UK), Jon Phillips (USA), and Michelle Thorne (DE) with Sprint Facilitation by Adam Hyde (NZ).

The process opened up a new and networked discussion focusing on a new vocabulary about the Open Web. As the transmediale.11 publication the Book Sprint was based on an idea by Adam Hyde and Stephen Kovats to enact the festivals investigation of this theme.

This web is not only about the Open Web but it was made by the Open Web. Open Web publishing at its best - written in 100% free software and open for anyone to contribute - including YOU. You can improve the book and and keep it alive! All contributions are welcome!

You can also read the book online, download the free EPUB (for mobile devices and ereaders) and buy the beautiful paper book. All available from: