[-empyre-] welcome and initial ruminations

rbuiani rbuiani at gmail.com
Wed Nov 6 12:39:57 EST 2013

hi all from the crack-smoking-mayor city,
I couldn't help responding to this thread. I was attracted by the topic of documenting activism in the age of networks and by the fact that this post comes quite explicitly from toronto but  doesn't mention, nor it indicates the interest for any local practice in Toronto involved in dealing with this very issue. This combination got me a bit puzzled and at the same time intrigued. I have these two preliminary questions: Does the global nature of networks prevent us from addressing (digitally) events and movements happening literally across the street in our cities? does the explosive noise of famous (Ai Weiwei), well-organized and already well-documented events make them more worth of attention than other minor, messier, less organized and poorly documented local and grassroots movements? 

In response to documenting art activism and having to deal with --quite typical-- objections: I have been working on an itinerant project (the Sandbox Project) that examines and experiments with different ways to bring together art and different forms of activism (in the context of social justice, labor activism and in the sciences) both at the grassroots and local levels, as well as in an online environment (here in Toronto). I found that when dealing with a number of people coming from different experiences and contexts, it is difficult to find one definition of activism. you can engage in activist practice and consider yourself just a concerned citizen, or a scientist who does his/her job ethically. A labor activist has very specific ideas of what activism means, and so the artist. needless to say, the circumstances change the way we approach anything "activism". But do we really have to qualify the people involved as artist, activist, scientist etc...? shoudln't we rather focus on strengthening collaborative and coordinated efforts? I found it useful (sometimes) to approach this diversity by focusing on the process of doing things together (I think Marc Garrett and Ruth Catlow have written about this). again, here in Toronto, there has been quite some discussion about this. I am thinking of No One is Illegal and the group behind Mass Arrivals (put together by Farrah Miranda, Graciela Flores, Tings Chak, Vino Shanmuganathan, and Nadia Saad) http://changeasart.org/?p=287 . Depending on your perspective, you can see it as public art or as political intervention. 

This brings me to the issue of documenting this sort of work online. The website showing Mass Arrivals reports a video. unless you were there at the time it happened, you would  not be able to seize the surprise, the tense and emotional atmosphere that this intervention created. Last year, I followed and briefly participated in the massive students demonstrations in Montreal. Back in Toronto, I tried to do my part and disseminate the wonderful videos these passionate young militants were producing. However, many people who didn't know what was happening in Quebec could not decipher those videos. all they saw were...well, pretty videos (note, they did not consider themselves artists, yet they used art quite often).  how do you document such work without turning it into a mere sequence of pictures or a simple video? how do you reproduce affect and mobilize a vivid response or genuine solidarity across the world for instance? How do you eventually extend an event as intense and emotional as Mass Arrivals, or so dense of significance as the Carrés Rouges', encouraging dialogue with other groups not necessarily located in your city, and promoting community/alliance building? this is where I think that talking about documentation might not be sufficient. Also, quite often, the online tools we have available tend to limit this lively dialogue.

I think this is probably the right place to ask all these questions. I am sure writing about it like any good academic, but in this context I am more concerned about possible tactics, actions, experiments, even solutions.   

intriguing topic, indeed

PhD in communication and culture, 
Department of Communication Studies, York University
programmer ArtSci Salon http://artscisalon.wordpress.com/
program advisor Subtle Technologies Festival http://subtletechnologies.com

On Nov 5, 2013, at 11:04 AM, Selmin Kara wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hello everyone from Toronto,
> "Documenting digital artivism" is perhaps a loaded topic, as it points to an intersection among four different areas of research and practice: documentary practices and documentation, digital practices and new media, art, and activism. In my own experience, discussing these four things under the same framework poses a challenge as people often ask for clarification especially in relation to what artivism implies or how it can be distinguished from other modes of activism that entail documentation and mediation (which are themselves perceived as artistic activities). 
> The resistance comes from 3 main objections.
> How to approach documentation, art, and activism in the age of networks, then? Instead of responding to that question with a clear definition, I suggest opening it up to discussion here. Hopefully, our responses (criticisms and resistances) will be diverse.
> Sincerely,
> Selmin 
> Selmin Kara
> Assistant Professor of Documentary and New Media
> OCAD University
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> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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