[-empyre-] SenseLab - new forms of collaboration

Erin Manning erintango at gmail.com
Tue May 7 07:57:33 EST 2013

Carol-Ann, Tim,
great to be taking up such interesting issues! I like the focus Carol-Ann places on "tailoring technologies." I love your description about how the work is still-born on some occasions, and then suddenly finds an enthusiastic wave and then changes, opens to something different, generates a different outlook. That's been my experience as well. Tim, you ask about the role of digital technologies in our process. My suspicion is that there is no collective work today that doesn't to some degree engage with technology, which have become very instrumental to all our processes. Some activists' work is directly tied into technology and others use technology simply as a means. The SenseLab falls somewhere in between. We have over 200 active members on several continents, so we rely on different communications technologies: an internet-based password-protected hub where we use writeboards and post to several simultaneous projects, connect about reading groups and local events, discuss workshops etc. This is pretty straight-forward and has proved very useful in the lead-up to events, where we tend to use the writeboards quite intensively to plan activities. We also have group skypes regularly and use them for reading groups (all our Montreal-based events can be skyped into except the movement experimentation - haven't figured that out yet!). And we work with the limits of the web quite intensively in our online journal Inflexions: A Journal for Research-Creation, where we attempt to explore what a practice of "web-reading" might be that diverges from a print-based experience, as well as in events such as Into the Midst where we were engaged with designing visual and sound platforms. 

But there are also real limitations to the digital tools we use. We find, for instance, that they are unable to prolong, affectively, the force of an event. In and of themselves (without punctual events staged face to face) blogs and writeboards tend to lose their urgency and people post less and less. Websites work the same way (and I am terrible at updating). So what we do is come up with techniques for each event that we hope are best able to connect in both at the digital level and with the intensities that come of the localized encounter. We find we have to meet face to face at least every 2 years as a large (and always changing) group and that the local meetings must be at least once a month (and it is best that these local meetings happen all over the world). 

The best example of the fashioning of techniques of this kind are the ones we invented for the 2009 distributed event, Society of Molecules, which took place in 17 cities across 15 countries for one week in May. The event was based on molecules (3-10 people) creating an event in their local constituencies that touched on institutional questions in an artful way. The local interventions were all different (you can see an account of them in issue 3 of Inflexions). Our concern was not necessarily to connect in at the level of the content of the interventions. Our concern was to explore how to make felt the affective resonances between local interventions toward a distributed notion of an aesthetico-politics. We also wanted to see how it might be possible for a distributed event to maintain the intensity that a face to face event can have. We knew that if we relied on the internet alone, we would only get "reportage," and that the reporting wouldn't be able to communicate the importance, or the intensity, or the urgency, or the unease of the endeavours. We also knew that, not being in the diverse locales, we wouldn't necessarily have a strong sense, across the wider network, of why this or that local intervention was necessary (for instance, we had a "lack of information booth" in Montreal that came out of a frustrated attempt to find our more about a site that was facing gentrification, a very local issue that might not have resonated with people in another locality). So we worked to develop techniques that would to some degree affect each molecules across the distributed network without reducing the effect to the actual content of the interventions. Of course, in the end, we did want to know what the other people had done, but we wanted to know it in a different way, a way that could affect how we proceeded.

Three techniques were invented:
1. Each molecule sent us a movement profile that traced the habitual daily movements of their host. Over a 5 month period previous to the event, an emissary was sent from another molecule to locate the host. They could appear anytime, so if the host was away, they would have to make sure someone else moved in their movements. Once the emissary found the host, 
2. the whole molecule had to be gathered, and a relational soup had to be made. The soup could take any form. A recipe had to be provided, after the fact, to the emissary for him/her to bring back to their own molecule.
3. The emissary left a seed, brought from his or her home molecule, to the host molecule, who had to care for it after the May event.

The visits could be virtual, though this option was only taken up in 1 case (we tried to make sure the hosts and emissaries weren't too far apart so that actual visits would be possible). What we found was that these techniques stimulated the events on all sides - they brought excitement and made palpable, across the wider network, the urgency of local interventions. They also activated online discussions.

For us, techniques have to be invented anew for each event, and it is the techniques that create the conditions that make the event do its work. For our 2013 event, while we of course continue to use online tools, we are working to seed local groupings in ways that get our preparations going in more than one environment. One key question is how you seed collectivities at a distance. That way when we meet on skype or online, we are gathering from the work of the project underway. We find that brings a precision to our work and allows us to develop collectively.


On 2013-05-05, at 9:41 AM, Carol-Ann *Braun <carolannbraun at free.fr> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Erin,
> Several aspects of your last post elicit a « hurrah » on my part :
>    •    things go slow;
>    •    valuing need not be tied to value-added or prestige value;
>    •    the pragmatics of the useless…;
>    •    the dangers of « making the product the goal ».
> These ideas are linked.  "Slow" is the price of working through and with an
> existing social framework. The "valuing criteria" change along the way (and
> reframe the notion of usefulness).
> It’s not just a question of “therapeutic value” replacing  “economic value”.
> It’s a question of the scale of the desired impact, over time: working with
> a small, local group of citizens; extending participation; sharing and
> recognizing what has been “given” by participants; including decision makers
> in the loop; tailoring technologies to the attention spans of those
> involved; integrating the notion of “accountability” for actions taken…I
> fully agree, it is an iterative process and the associated technology may
> vary at each step. 
> This much said, it is important that the associated digital tools be sturdy
> enough to withstand the slow tempo of real change.
> Question : Does this turn experimental tools into "products"?
> I cannot share the numerous steps involved in creating debating and polling
> platforms…so here are some collaborative highlights, minus the solitary
> moments of discouragement and rejection:
>    1.    One of our debating platforms, dring13.org, was imagined in 2006-7
> by a group of art-student-apprentices at the CFA-Com of Bagnolet, a poor
> Paris suburb. Their first prototype was shown at Bagnolet’s “Spring Fest”
> and students scouted about with mobile phones to garner testimonials and
> send them to an interactive “mosaic” projected in the local library.
>    2.    A sturdier version was programmed a year later by an apprentice,
> hired by us with grant money from La Region Ile de France. A student
> start-up (unflux.com) designed the interface and accompanying posters and
> flyers. I scavenged about for content. The site was shown at a rally during
> “La Semaine de l’Egalite 2008.” Then..zero…a big “so what”…
>    3.    Several months later, Dring13 was “picked up” by an “Espace Public
> Numerique” in the city of Ivry, another poor Paris suburb. Workshops were
> organized by the social workers for kids, then for senior citizens, who used
> mobile phones to film each other. They uploaded their stories, discussed
> them and then cast their “votes” on each others' videos.
>    4.    Dring13.org then got used by an Antenne Jeunesse in the 13th
> arrondissement of Paris, accompanied by professional actors who used the web
> site on-stage. A year later, another association, called Les Jardins
> Numeriques, helped a Junior High School History teacher in the 14th
> arrondissement to organize one of her classes around the website, with kids
> who talked about their social origins…and never used the website.
>    5.    In the meantime, one of our developers, Mathieu Desve, decided
> that he’d like to do a mobile version of our back office and media center.
> No budget, just enthusiasm. He took the equivalent of a month full time to
> come up with the application. A gift.
>    6.    At the same time, the FING (http://fing.org, thank you Fabienne
> Guibe!) invited us to “Les Midi de la Democratie Participative”, power
> lunches for functionaries in the Val de Marne (to the south-east of Paris).
>    7.    We were asked to set up a web-site for citizens with mental
> disabilities, encouraged to talk about how to improve their daily life.
>    8.    The disabled public and staff co-designed the site (“Menu not
> clear!” “We don’t understand anything!”  “Redo it!”) They tested the
> prototypes. The administration validated the site. We are now in the process
> of planning official ateliers and the site will soon be open to the public
> at large. The elected officials associated with the project plan on using
> the platform to respond.
> To get back to your points:
> •  our technology evolved from a process including the participation of
> teachers, students, artists, businesses, functionaries, social workers,
> academics, associations...and ordinary citizens.
> •  no one at Concert-Urbain earns a living from this;
> •  the prestige factor has been…nothing any self respecting media-artist
> would settle for;  
> •  the usefulness of these endeavors has yet to be proven…
> This collaborative “art stop-and-start-up” has yielded theoretical riches
> however: an understanding of the pragmatic dynamic between people,
> organizations and technology…in France.
> One sure thing : the “value” of this understanding can be maintained and
> increased only to the extent that it is shared.
> More on “enabling constraints”…soon.  And on the artistic rewards, which are
> surprising. 
> Carol-Ann BRAUN 
> Association Concert-Urbain
> http://concerturbain.wordpress.com/
> PS Thank you for the Boston Design Studio for Social Intervention link,
> which I have forwarded to my Paris network.
> le  04/05/13 18:34  Erin Manning  erintango at gmail.com wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Thank you
>> Carol-Ann, for your descripton of Concert-Urbain - sounds really wonderful.
>> Before we start speaking across projects, let me say a few words about the
>> SenseLab. For those of you who were part of the discussion last month,
>> consider this a continuation of the discussion!
> I started the SenseLab in
>> 2003 with the idea that we might collectively find ways to stage encounters
>> that provoked new forms of collaboration. With Brian Massumi, who joined very
>> early on, and a lively set of collaborators, our first gesture was to ask
>> ourselves whether there would be interest in meeting in settings that
>> privileged neither the conference paper nor the art exhibition. What, we
>> wondered, would it mean to meet across our "techniques" rather than our
>> finished projects?
> This spawned the first series of events, Technologies of
>> Lived Abstraction, which lasted until 2012. During this period, we worked to
>> collectively develop what we call "enabling" constraints to better be able to
>> come together and create lasting collaborations. We discussed some of these in
>> last month's empyre list.
> While the events, as I mentioned last month, are
>> very important to what we do, what we are most interested in is creating
>> modalities of engagement that exceed them. We count on the myriad collectives
>> who work across art, activism, philosophy and social change to connect in with
>> us, and to assist us in coming up with ways of extending the work we do in our
>> events beyond them. One example of such a group is Boston's Design Studio for
>> Social Intervention, which continues to be a real inspiration to us, and with
>> whom we work to develop new techniques.
> We are just beginning a second stage,
>> which we are calling Immediations. This will likely take us through the next
>> decade, as the work we do takes time (and we are slow!). For Immediations, the
>> emphasis is on opening out the idea of "emergent collectivities" to sites that
>> are not our own. How, in relation to other collectives, can we work to seed
>> collaborations offsite? What kinds of collaborative effects can a group like
>> the SenseLab seed? People often tell me that they wish they were in a city
>> like Montreal that is so full of activism and lively in its collaborations.
>> Our hope for this next phase is to connect in with other groups to see how to
>> network existing collectives to create more of these enclaves of
>> collaboration. 
> The first event of the new series will take place at Arakawa
>> + Gins' Bioscleave House (NY) and will take the form of an infestation. As the
>> discussion progresses, I'll be happy to discuss it further. Until then, a few
>> thoughts:
> 1. A technique is something that is created in the process itself,
>> and cannot necessarily be subsumed to the next process.
> 2. An enabling
>> constraint is a constraint that opens the process to its potential without
>> leaving it to pure chaos, a kind of structured improvisation.
> 3. Collaboration
>> as we understand it is not about creating "the newest new" in the capitalist
>> sense. We are interested in forms of valuing that are not directly tied in to
>> value-added or prestige-value - the forms of value most prized within
>> capitalism. For this reason, we speak of a "pragmatics of the useless,"
>> foregrounding a speculative pragmatism that opens the way for new kinds of
>> approaches to valueing the "useless." We place art and philosophy squarely
>> within the realm of the "useless" and value them highly.
> 4. Our process for
>> each event dictates what forms of technology we will use - we are extremely
>> open in this regard. Our tools of course involve a lot of online communication
>> (a Basecamp group hub) as we have members from all over the world.
> 5. While we
>> have received government funding for this second phase of the SenseLab, we are
>> extremely aware of the dangers of institutionalization and the ways it makes
>> products its goal. The third phase of the SenseLab will be to take it out of
>> the institution and ask what kind of site would best co-compose (in Montreal)
>> with the current culture of artist-run centres and community activism
>> organizations. We would like to envision the SenseLab's future as an
>> unaccredited teaching/learning site that feeds into and composes with
>> alter-economies across art, philosophy and activism. 
> Looking forward to the
>> conversation!
> Erin
> Erin Manning
> Research Chair, Philosophy and Relational
>> Art
> Concordia 
>> University
> http://www.erinmovement.com
> http://www.senselab.ca
> http://www.infl
>> exions.com
> On 2013-05-04, at 3:55 AM, Carol-Ann *Braun
>> <carolannbraun at free.fr> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned
>> space----------------------
>> Hello to all - nice to participate this first
>> week of May in a discussion on
>> the balancing act between artistic activism
>> and "real time alliances"Šor, as
>> I understand it: the ³wicked problem of
>> designing for social change" ?
>> (Ritter, early 70¹s!)
>> The projects of
>> our association, Concert-Urbain, based in Paris, are at the
>> frontier between
>> design and social work. Our software development,
>> prototypes, ateliers,
>> shows, conferences, have been enabled by the French
>> government.
>> Exceptionally motivated functionaries have helped us with
>> budgets, ateliers,
>> reports from the field. They have been our business
>> angels in the launching
>> of an ³art-start-up².
>> In France, government policies contribute
>> extensively to innovation in the
>> arts. The policies reflect the programs of
>> thousands of citizen's
>> associations, some run by activists in what is called
>> here ³l¹education
>> populaire², ie, schooling for the people by the people
>> (the movement is
>> vast, at the heart of France¹s social fabric).
>> Our
>> design challenge includes interlocutors at every level of society. This
>> entails a special kind of salesmanship: choosing modest words to describe>
>> what you want to do as an artist;  adapting technology to existing
>> educational methodologies; answering questions others have asked; getting>
>> elected officials to define and then accept the risks digital technologies
>> might represent for them; saving face when no one answers the call to
>> participate... The negotiation process is long-term, with changing
>> interlocutors as time goes by. It is painstakingŠand sometimes just a royal
>> pain. It also brings esthetic breakthroughs of particular significance to an
>> artist working with digital technologies.
>> I have several examples of
>> collaborations and collective initiatives that I
>> can share with you. Each
>> raises different issues:
>> 1. A collective fiction, with a chat space at
>> its core: carried by officials
>> in the city of Troyes who wanted to bring
>> city employees and citizens
>> together around a shared ³multimedia² project.
>> 2. Measuring utopia: an art project on the subject of happiness, with
>> a
>> methodology that involves an alternative approach to data-base design.
>> Our
>> main partner: the CIRASTI, a federation of associations to engage kids
>> in
>> scientific projects.
>> 3. An urban renewal initiative by the
>> Conseil general du Val de Marne, that
>> includes an on-line debating platform
>> designed to include those who suffer
>> from intellectual disabilities. It is
>> linked to the "participatory design"
>> of neighborhoods by including
>> inhabitants
>> (see http://www.maitrisedusage.eu/).
>> More on its way
>> throughout the coming week,
>> Carol-Ann BRAUN
>> Association
>> Concert-Urbain
>> http://concerturbain.wordpress.com/
>> le  04/05/13 06:37
>> Renate Ferro  rtf9 at cornell.edu wrote:
>>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned
>> space----------------------
>>> We are most grateful to Ana Valdes for agreeing
>> to guest moderate the
>>> May discussion with Tim Murray and myself and welcome
>> her back to
>>> -empyre- as a guest moderator.  We also wish to thank Erin
>> Manning who
>>> has agreed to make the transition from last month's discussion
>> to this
>>> month highlighting The Sense Lab.  Erin will be making a few
>> posts
>>> specifically about her own experiences with collaboration.  She
>> will
>>> be joined by Carol-Ann Braun.  Biographies for Week One guests are
>> below.  We look forward to the month with you.
>>> Tim Murray and
>> Renate Ferro
>>> Week 1:
>>> Erin Manning (CA) is a philosopher,
>> visual artist and dancer, and is
>>> currently a University Research Chair at
>> the Faculty of Fine Arts,
>>> Concordia University, Montreal. She is also a
>> founder and director of
>>> The Sense Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory on
>> research, creation
>>> and an international network focusing on intersections
>> between
>>> philosophy and art through the sensing body in motion. Erin
>> Manning
>>> received her Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of
>> Hawaii
>>> (2001) and has been teaching philosophy, political theory, visual
>> studies, cultural studies, and film theory. She is a member of the
>> editorial board for the online journal Inflexions and the author of
>>> works
>> on movement and ephemerality, for which she frequently
>>> collaborates with
>> Brian Massumi.
>>> Carol-Ann BRAUN (US/FR) is a Paris-based American artist
>> who has been
>>> working with digital technologies since 1985. Her work ranges
>> from
>>> still images to animations to interactive immersive text-based
>> environments (inner-media.org). Closely affiliated with the Atelier du
>>> CUBE
>> (lecube.com ), she has extended her artistic practice beyond
>>> esthetics to
>> include ³social media². The first prototypes involved
>>> chat spaces as a
>> search engine.  This led to the design of polling
>>> technology
>> (http://cie.acm.org/articles/braun-phones-kids/). Last
>>> month Concert-Urbain
>> launched a poetic polling platform on the subject
>>> of happiness:
>> lebonheurbrutcollectif.org. The project¹s intention is
>>> to find contribute
>> to defining new criteria for measuring the
>>> ineffable nature of
>> happiness...It will be gathering momentum over the
>>> next three years. The
>> Ministry of Culture and the Region Ile de France
>>> have taken a particular
>> interest in ³Le Bonheur Brut Collectif, ²
>>> which is also being followed by a
>> research team at the CNAM
>>> (Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers),
>> Paris.
>>> --
>>> Renate Ferro
>>> Visiting Assistant Professor of
>> Art
>>> Cornell University
>>> Department of Art, Tjaden Hall Office #420
>> Ithaca, NY  14853
>>> Email:   <rtf9 at cornell.edu>
>>> URL:
>> http://www.renateferro.net
>>>     http://www.privatesecretspubliclies.net
>> Lab:  http://www.tinkerfactory.net
>>> Managing Co-moderator of -empyre-
>> soft skinned space
>>> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu/
>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empyre
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Erin Manning 
Concordia Research Chair 
Faculty of Fine Arts
Concordia University
1455 de Maisonneuve W.
Montreal QC H3G1M8


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