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some critical views on art and culture today  

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notes for the design of a circular cultural organization
Version: 1.01

Aymeric Mansoux     print
 

the architecture of mobility

Since the end of the 20th century we have been increasingly defining
our location in terms of connectivity, network latency, and
bandwidth. These 3 parameters determine our amplified social
abilities, and define our well being just as much as would do the
amount of oxygen, the temperature and the pressure of the room we
stand in.

Living in a world of virtual artifacts, the machines, and especially
servers, provide a fantastic ground to grow all kinds of multi
dimensional platforms. They are today's humus and should be treated as
the fundamental element needed to base an organization on. As such
they represent a symbol of independence and provide a hub for all its
members/users. But above all, they are the true terrain on which
everything else can be built, from the most low level services that
allow the organization to function, to the more remote branches of
support for the communities resting in the shadow of the electronic
leaves of this tree of data.

But what kind of models for an organization would fit this environment
best?

Servers need a physical entry point. This is not the case for an
organization, which just needs words and symbols to start existing in
our world. But, technology being so attractive, we are already
transposing ourselves to another layer of abstraction while still
being attached to the ground of another century. We seek for a piece
of land to build a home, without noticing we can design our own
anywhere.

In an organization where its members are distributed according to a
non geographical topology, one should avoid taking roots in one single
place. Instead one should invest energy in creating symbolic links to
as many locations as possible, in the form of collaborations, hosted
public events and seeding of communities. Complexity and richness can
only be achieved by populating the cultural scene with small, simple,
and highly collaborative units with simple goals without unnecessary
bureaucratic constructs.

Some organizations who started to understand this need for a rich
multi cultural mesh of activities started to split and simulate the
topology of a multicellular organism but failed to trigger diversity.
One of the difficulties is that an organization cannot reach the
critical mass needed for the chemistry to happen, simply by dividing
itself into smaller self-referencing units.

Artificial and virtual collaborations are not enough. As long as
organizations need human attention to control and run them, it is
absolutely pointless to try to branch and fork them. This illusion can
only last for a while and the price to pay for spreading the initial
resources is the obvious loss of focus and energy that would lead to
emptiness and the death of the organization.

Said differently, you can only play with your imaginary friends for so
long.


circularity and recursivity

Maintaining energy and coherence in a cultural organization is
probably the most difficult thing to achieve.

Most of the current cultural organizations have been designed with a
top down approach often inspired by the late 20th century academic
decadence and most have failed to reach cross- and transdisciplinary
activities in those confined and over protected environments. Media
labs and art labs have grown in various shapes and sizes. A lot of
them ended up isolated in a world they designed for themselves,
ignorant of any alternative cultures and often locking down local
resources for fear of sharing with others. Designed with the mentality
and needs from another age they tend to disappear today.

Other cultural organizations followed a bottom-up approach either by
design choice or because of a grass-roots background. The obvious
advantage here is the potential never ending development. The side
effect, on the other hand, is that such an organization is following a
pattern inherited from the choices made during the early iterations of
the structure's development. The organization can grow in all kinds of
shapes and directions but can hardly evolve, it's a crystallization
effect. For example creative industries are just big mineral
constructs in which one can still see the initial pattern started
decades ago: the management of culture and creativity.

While those two models have been extensively researched and explored
in the cultural scene, few have put the focus on the social factor,
and more specifically on how non hierarchical collaboration inside an
organization can be a creative accelerator for the growth of
activities and projects. In a dematerialized online construction, the
only physical element that remains is the network of human beings and
this is on what the model of a circular cultural organization relies.

In a circular structure the energy invested gets amplified and
modified by positive feedback. Of course, this is a lengthy process
and a gamble to estimate the right amount of energy that needs to be
put into the structure, to be able to reach a sustainable level of
feedback.

During the creation of such a non-linear system, it only requires the
work of a few to gather the people who will form the organization in
the initial setup. This is an extremely time consuming effort but it
is necessary and essential in an environment where people are both
amplifiers and filters. Because circularity implies connectivity, one
of the earliest things to sort is the alignment of goals. Being tuned
to the same frequency and using a similar bandwidth to communicate
with each other is key to reach heterarchy and self governance. In
this form of sociocracy there are no hierarchy circles, but instead a
true self organizing mesh which spatial form will be shaped
recursively as the feedback goes on. This doesn't mean this setup
should seek for perfect alignment of goals between individuals. In
such a situation this would lead to a resonating effect or dead lock
and would eventually block the emergence of any patterns. In the
circular cultural organization the only thing to take care of is to
find the right threshold and tolerance level to respect and meet
everyone's expectations and wishes.

Once the structure is ready and the energy invested is not lost
anymore but amplified and filtered by everyone, the initiators do not
have any leading roles anymore and are just an equal individual of the
organization as all the others. Tasks can be assigned freely and some
specialization can find its natural place as long as they go with the
flow.


timescale and diffusion

Because of its chaotic and fragile nature, implementing circularity in
cultural organizations is a process that can take years and has
absolutely no guarantee of succeeding or being sustainable in the long
run. And even though it will be possible to define and understand
everyone's needs and expectations during the alignment of goals, human
nature will reveal itself only once the feedback is active. Nothing is
set in stone, and it is bound to generate surprises, good and bad.

Inviting new people to an already existing circular structure is also
great in consequences. It will increase the wealth and richness of the
structure but it might also increase risks of secession. That's why it
is important that the choice of inviting someone new is carefully
processed via consensus decision making and should be done by social
affiliation and never because of the need of certain skill or function
in the organization.

A cultural organization in which a circular function has been
implemented cannot plan too much in advance, such a setup is
particularly well suited to amplify creativity and spontaneous
activities but is not fitted to solely handle projects that require a
certain level of control and regulation. Cultural organizations should
seek for the production and support of creativity, but project
management should be outsourced. Once again the circular construct is
well suited for specialization, evolution and adaptation but should
not be used as yet another Matryoshka doll that re-creates or emulates
the same economic and social rules of the society it lives in.

Finally, because such organizations are playing with complex
processes, the effects of an action can take a while to emerge.
Working with a feedback is a chaotic and unstable process, minor
changes can have drastic consequences and the notion of time is
distorted as the majority of the actions taken have no immediate
consequences, or on the other hand, need an extra amount of energy to
start to be visible and effective.


people are not software

In recent debates on the future of cultural organizations, one
recurring mistake is to think that software can provide solutions for
problems related to management and communication. It is sad, yet
typical, to see that we still do not understand digital matter. Worse,
we think that both analog and digital multiverse can be regulated
under the same man-made laws.

Nowadays we are witnessing on many levels, the incompatibility between
the new digital media, and the analog structure that tries to control
it, we are still not learning from this mistake, and we fail to
respect the boundaries between the two. Most of us clearly understand
that we cannot approach the electronic world the same way that we deal
with the physical one, but at the same time we find it inspiring to
take as a model what grew from the electronic world and to apply it to
the physical world.

For example, growing a software community is not the same as
developing software targeted at a community. But a community can
develop software as a need or a reflection on itself, and a software
can lead to the development of a community contributing to it. It is
difficult to find a model that can explain this symbiosis. This quest
can only lead to a case of circular cause and consequence.

In the last decade, there has been a growing interest in the free
software, arts and politics cocktail. Indeed, it is very common to see
the FLOSS culture living in symbiosis with organizations that embrace
a certain form of political openness in their social and networking
habits. But once again it is not necessarily the software culture that
led to such organization models. This high level relationship might
have grown from something much more symbolic and atomic and it is
important to understand that although they can base their roots in
FLOSS culture, these groups often remain a very exotic breed and might
not be representative of the already dominant branches of the open
model tree. To some extend they might have already forked and belong
to a completely new cultural species. In fact, What people see as
FLOSS culture in such organizations is an emerging behavior, or simply
a pre-determined consequence that comes from the way they have
established and defined themselves in the digital era.


public gardens and no think tanks

In the case of a circular organization, the development of FLOSS is
obvious as its native oneness permits an unlimited bandwidth for
sharing information and knowledge. The information is available,
modifiable and can be appropriated as it is being produced. This
aspect of data production fits perfectly to circular systems which
heavily rely on the flow continuum. Next to this inner system
advantage, FLOSS is also an essential tool to disseminate knowledge.

In a circular cultural organization, although it is very hard to plan
anything, creation is happening all the time. Temporary projects and
experiments are spawned with a high frequency just like an infinite
number of different mayflies. Some of them might grow stronger in time
and need proper attention and care to evolve, but most are meant to be
ephemeral objects. It is virtually impossible to properly document,
take a snapshot of, or register such creations, ideas and thoughts as
this would endanger the flow that sustains and supports them. In such
a case releasing these ideas and electronic elements in the public
domain becomes necessary in order to outsource the organization's
unstable memory. What has been created and sketched can then be
accessed later without using the organization's resources. Another
advantage, which will set the circular organization as superrational
entities, is that on a higher level topology, their constant release
of information provides a network of public think gardens. These
places can be accessed randomly by any other organization to sample,
copy, find inspiration and develop ideas based on the embryos seeded
by others.


same but not the same

In practice circular cultural organizations might be difficult to
initiate and manage as they can hardly come up with a plan required
for structural funding and are not suitable for traditional project
management, which are important factors in the survival of cultural
organizations. It's still quite an experimental form of governance,
and might be very risky to start, not just because of the time
necessary to put things together but because of the non guarantee of
results that is inherent to the very limited number of successful
combinations compared to the virtually infinite possibilities offered
in the evolution of those adaptive circles.

In the end, circular cultural organizations can be implemented in many
different ways, each one leading to different patterns and richness
because of the inner nature of the feedback properties in those
models. These structures fit very well with distributed and
peer-to-peer practices who share compatible topology on which they can
interconnect. Together they form the real social mesh network needed
to move cultural organizations one step forward towards a more organic
development of art in the context of digital media production and a
more coherent panarchic design of digital culture.


bio stuff:

Aymeric Mansoux is an artist and member of the GOTO10 collective. His
current projects include the 0xA band (with Chun Lee), the Metabiosis
projects collection (with Marloes de Valk), the pure:dyne GNU/Linux
distribution for media artists (with many people), and an ongoing
theoretical research into software, online communities and digital
processes. He recently took part in the editorial process of Folly's
digital artists handbook, and GOTO10's FLOSS+Art book published by
MUTE (September 2008).





 

 


 

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