From Cloud to Crowd: A residency in the Keiller Center
The Institute for Technology in the Public Interest
This summer, NEoN hosted a small but significant gathering of cultural organisers wanting to shift their dependency on commercial cloud services. A previously unused market unit at The Kieller centre, a 1970s indoor shopping mall in the middle of Dundee, familiar to those who live and work in the city, formed the colourful décor for a few days of exchanging dreams, desires and tactics. Reminiscent of trans-local shopping centres of the era, many of which have now disappeared. The Kieller centre however remains – almost in a preserved state – and whilst many of the booths remain empty, it still provides an important space. As multiple cultural actors are moving into the space, we came together with Varia 1 from Rotterdam, In-grid 2 from London and the transnational Institute for Technology in the Public Interest 3 (TITiPI) for a discussion on the shifts and transformations underway as NEoN changes from a festival-based organisation to an organisation capable of taking up the continuous demands of caring for audiences and workers of the current technological, environmental, economic and social conditions.
Care and reciprocity might almost be said to be at odds with Festival programming in its intensive and interventionist mode, which demands long hours of curators, audiences and volunteers – in exchange for a few days of affective intensity. Digital art festival programming became popular during the rise of media art in the 00s, when digital art had to be experienced as a once-a-year spectacular event. In 2022, many lives are already deeply intertwined with digital infrastructures, from schools to social security systems, and digital media organisations face other challenges. Competitive and centred around a single moment, the festival mode of doing “new” media has lost its relevance as it plays into the extractive modes of digital power and depletes producers, artists and communities in a neverending cycle which is always in search of the new.
As NEoN is changing its course to become an organisation for research and encounter, a trans*feminist space for exploring how to live with digital technology otherwise, we joined them to share stories, experiences and dreams. The plan is to reimagine NEoN’s tangled computational infrastructure to better support programming, and care more about all its digital interactions. This means for NEoN to learn about slow feminist and queer server practices, including storage, videoconferencing, collaborative working, low-power graphics, and related practices within the field of (digital) art practices and community organising.
Re-orienting both its programming and networks, NEoN is using its presence in The Kieller centre to prototype an affective infrastructure that can support collective work, community research and imaginative digital practices tailored to the contemporary context of Dundee. Shifting out of the combative mode of 00 media organisations means to develop into an infrastructure, rather than grow as a singular actor. Therefore, as part of our ongoing collaboration with NEoN on The Trans*Feminist Counter Cloud Action Plan4 , TITiPI brought some future colleague organisations to the Kieller centre to think together what such an affective infrastructure would entail, and to feel out what it would mean for NEoN to inhabit Counter Cloud Action on a daily basis.
We invited Cristina Cochior and Manetta Berends, two members of Varia, a space in Rotterdam that develops collective approaches to everyday technology. They work with free software, organise events and collaborate in different constellations on other ways of being with infrastructure. Batool Desouky joined us from In-Grid, a web-based gallery space, archive and actually an artwork in themself. In-grid is a process-led programme of interventions which “unsnarls what collaborative making might be, and what disruptive methods of artistic production can offer in terms of physical and online outputs”. Together with us – TITiPI (Helen V. Pritchard and Femke Snelting) – we spent three intensive days with NEoN’s director Donna, and development officer Sabrina. Cristina and Manetta hosted a workshop which started off with a mapping of their daily practice. They showed how the managing of their infrastructure, from emails to server management, external communication, and funding was tied in with their decision to avoid commercial platforms. Batool proposed an activity where we read together into the proposal we had made for the trans*feminist sys-admin residency, using fragments of the provocative job description that we had proposed earlier, as a prompt to think and care with. The two activities generated a thicker idea of what the residents and NEoN might develop together. We ended our stay in Dundee with making plans for an ongoing collaboration towards March 8 2023, using the moment of the international feminist strike to call attention to the depletion of community resources by Big Tech infrastructure, and to imagine different possibilities for organising across scales for collective life after the cloud.
During the short residency in the Kieller centre, we built mutual confidence through collective consultation, and developed a shared attachment to the pleasure of partying together in the ruins of Big Tech depletion. Our stay in the surprisingly lively environment of the nearly deserted shopping centre became a way for all participants to imagine the many possibilities NEoN has at their disposal to become another kind of digital arts organisation; a transformation that is already underway.
TITiPI – Femke Snelting and Helen V. Pritchard