November

I’ve been on a bit of a personal creative development bent for most of this last year, and this week I start talking publicly about some of the ideas I’ve been playing with. If you’ve been following my ‘lateral drift‘ ramblings, you won’t be surprised to hear that “it’s all about The Commons” :)

Nov 18-25th – Memefest Symposium: Melbourne

GRAFIKA_keepthefireburning_04.550

The two-day symposium at Swinburne University from Tuesday 18 November to Wednesday 19 November explores this year’s Memefest theme Radical Intimacies: Dialogue in our Times. We will relate it to issues that affect social movements generally and, in particular, dialogues between Aboriginal activists nationally and the broader community. We all have a lot to learn from each other.

My talk is on Tues 18th Nov at 5.40pm: “A Return to Commons Sense”:
Contrary to the shameful displays of our so-called ‘leaders’, humans are by default generous spirits. Communities have an innate ability to support each other during bushfires, contribute to the dreams of their peers via crowdfunding, stand on the shoulders of giants due to knowledge sharing, work side by side in co-working spaces and grow collective meals through permaculture. All these elements have a basic footing in historical culture: The Commons. Nomadic geek artist, Fee Plumley, invites you to return to a philosophy of common sense through a renewed and contemporary sense of The Commons.

Read the schedule and speaker bios then head on over and register!

Nov 20th: Restructure2014

A one-day conference to discuss the current re-structuring in the arts, culture, creative sector in Australia, organised by Hugh Davies & Jan Hendrik Brueggemeier at La Trobe University. 

This conference looks at the current state of the arts, and considers alternative modes of culture and knowledge production within times of shrinking public expenditures. Featuring participants from performance, fashion, creative arts, gaming, media and community intervention, the event explores both broader sustainable strategies as well as “clever partial solutions” to cultural and knowledge production in a post-public sector environment.

I’ll be talking on a panel at 1.45pm about Internet / Cultural platforms with Trent Kusters and Rick Chen and then summarising the day’s discussions on a panel with Stephen Healy and Maria Miranda from 5.45pm.

Read more and book via http://restructure2014.net.

On Nomadicy

homeJames_Ganguddy

It’s not often someone creates an opportunity which literally has your name on it. When I saw the call for “Time_Place_Space: Nomad” my heart leapt to my throat.

I’ve been living in homeJames, my bus, for nearly two years now. Before that I was couchsurfing for around 18months and before that, well let’s just say that I went to eight primary schools and two secondary schools. The longest I’ve lived in one house was eight years, and I only managed that thanks to spending at least three months a year on international travel over that time. Nomadicy was a way of life for me before I even knew it was a thing. Only now, I’m doing it properly.

The original nomads were everywhere, whether travelling merchants or minstrels, religious pilgrims or migrant tribes moving between sites for hunting or agricultural seasons. These people were multicultural by lifestyle, open to exploration and discovery. They were our first long-distance knowledge networks, taking stories, culture and produce from one settlement to the next; the original ‘internet of things’, if you will. These nomads connected communities across vast geographic distances, cared for and educated about the land and introduced an awareness of a broader society than ones own geographic locality.

Gradually, over time, things changed. Settlements turned in to domains (‘enclosures‘ or privatised areas), where the powers-that-be gave land rights to peers of the realm who exchanged protection for taxes (typically in the form of livestock or farmed produce). This was done, of course, without first consulting those who had already built homes, families and had cultivated what had, up until then, been barren Common Land. The Commons (something we see little of in contemporary society) meant anyone could use the land or rivers in any way, providing their use didn’t restrict anyone else from having the same right. Makes sense, huh?

Fast-forward to 2014 and Nomadicy seems to be on the increase again. Contemporary nomads are surprisingly diverse, not just ‘Carnies’ or the shamefully persecuted Romany communities. Collectively we consist of increasing older-age populations (aka ‘grey nomads’), serial tourists (backpackers and the more lavish destination-hoppers), regular conference/festivallers (‘knowmads’), climate refugees (something many of us might soon become ourselves) or just old hippies (like me) trying to get off-grid and remove ourselves from a sociopolitical system we can no longer accept. For some it’s a luxury lifestyle choice perceived as living the dream. For me it’s an act of protest, an chance to explore and connect with people and place across Australia, and an opportunity to reinvent my own creative practice.

Last year I spent two weeks turning an empty block of land into a temporary Nomadic Village with a bunch of artists who all had some kind of mobility as a creative focus. I didn’t expect to be the only 100% Nomad there, but since they all had somewhere else to call home, I was. Here at TPS I was convinced I’d be the only nomad, but I was wrong. Fellow-TPS-meanderer Greg Pritchard lives out of his car as he drives around regional NSW largely due to his role with Regional Arts Australia. My bus is considerably more comfortable, but even he gets to call in to his mum’s place to do a load of washing as we pass through Canberra. My equivalent, travelling back to North Wales, would be one expensive laundrette.

It’s the night before our last day after almost three (delicious) weeks and I’m taking a quiet reflective moment in the bus, watching the hot day’s sun set while awaiting a rare, decadent, pizza delivery. Typically with residencies or labs you’re expected to produce ‘outcome’, but the real result of these experiences isn’t immediate, and Performance Space has not made this demand of us. But of course with 30 artists, we’ve ended up with a mini festival regardless. It’ll be fascinating to see what Narrandera’s locals make of us.

This Time_Place_Space is a reincarnation of a previous series from several years ago with the Nomadic thrust being a new direction (fortunately for me!). Every time I’ve spoken with previous participants their eyes do that dreamy-gaze thing; the depth and duration of meaning, still active from their experience, is visceral. The name of the program is no mistake; they talk about the privilege of being given time, place and space to just be, to learn, reflect, share and grow, without pressure or fear of looking or feeling silly when they explore realms outside of their normal comfort zone. I was hoping to develop a similar glaze from my own time here. I wasn’t wrong.

I came with a single project in mind that I wanted to develop having started it at Nomadic Village, but I’ll tell you more about that another time. Suffice to say, I am looking to tomorrow knowing not only that it has taken new shape, but that I have. I’ve shared buslife in one of the most idyllic locations I’ve ever visited in this country with some of the most astonishingly genuine, passionate, inventive, generous and funny individuals I’ve had the pleasure to meet. I’ve eaten the best camp food ever – including roadkill in a found food feast! And I’ve learned new things about place, people, culture and, above all, myself. Who says art can’t be transformative?

Kudos to everyone who put this thing together, from TPS v.1 to all the producers, facilitators and artists who have made this, this. And extra special hugs to Sophie who had to leave us a little too early.

This post was originally written for the Time_Place_Space:Nomad tumblr blog. Go check it out, there are heaps of amazing threads there.

Time_Place_Space: Nomad is a national travelling laboratory that aims to challenge, invigorate and strengthen interdisciplinary and experimental arts practice in Australia, with an emphasis on collaborative performance making, site-specificity and artistic resilience. Time_Place_Space is a co-production between Performance Space and ArtsHouse Melbourne.

OpenSourceHome

OpenSourceHome

sexy nerd-mechanic aesthetic postcard/brochure design for #OpenSourceHome by Simon Loffler <3

OpenSourceHome is an arts event exploring the practical, creative and philosophical challenges of living in a bus, by geek nomadic artist Fee Plumley. Part Symposium, part installation and part live artwork featuring special guests Dario Vacirca, Emma Beech, Lubi Thomas, Jennifer Mills, Sean Williams, Thom Buchanan, Elliott Bledsoe, Sayraphim Lothian and Vicki Sowry.

ABOUT OPENSOURCEHOME

In 2011 Fee Plumley sidelined her increasingly respectable career as a creative digital consultant to take up a new life as a bus-loving nomadic geek artist.

This winter Fee, and her beautiful big red bus #homeJames, will settle down to make temporary home in Adelaide CBD.

You are invited to join them and their special guests in a series of days and nights with a Nomad as they provide an insight into the practical, creative and philosophical challenges of reinventing both yourself and your home in a contemporary climate.

SCHEDULE

Date: 22-24th July 2014.
Time: 9am-midnight.
Location: Queens Theatre, Adelaide.
Price: FREE.

TUESDAY 22 JULY.
9-10.30am – reallybigbreakfast and morning constitutional, with Emma Beech.
12noon – Tug of War: Life vs Art.
2-3pm – A creative roadtrip through life as we know it, in conversation with Lubi Thomas.
4-5pm – Live Psychology Session.
7pm-late – Open Space Launch Party.

WEDNESDAY 23 JULY.
9-10.30am – reallybigbreakfast and morning constitutional, with Emma Beech.
12noon – Tug of War: Public vs Private.
2-3pm – Invitation-only party to thank crowdfunding campaign supporters.
4-5pm – #buslove working bee: mirror-tinting homeJames’ windows.
7pm-late – Thom Buchanan, Sean Williams and Jennifer Mills: The Subjects, escaped.

THURSDAY 24 JULY.
9-10.30am – reallybigbreakfast and morning constitutional, with Emma Beech.
12noon – Tug of War: Past vs Future.
2-3pm – Sayraphim Lothian: Slow activism workshop; the visible mending project.
4-5pm – Elliott Bledsoe: Demonising the Different; a presentation on the laws affecting Nomads.
7pm-late – Closing event: honouring homeJames’ namesake, James Mellor and screening of “The Internet’s Own Boy”, a documentary about hacktivist Aaron Swartz.

ALL DAY, EVERY DAY.
Random conversations with strangers; Contribute to the ‘where can I sleep tonight?’ wall; Drop in and record an interview with the Open Space Beach Truck; Screenings of Nomadic Village artists and the slow movement.

FULL BROCHURE

For announcements and updates follow along using #OpenSourceHome, visit the Facebook event or chat via http://facebook.com/reallybigroadtrip and http://twitter.com/feesable.

// OpenSourceHome is presented in partnership with Open Space. It has been supported via Arts SA‘s Unexpected City program and Adelaide City Council’s Splash Adelaide 2014 Winter season, both designed to create vibrancy in Adelaide’s city centre outside of the festival period. 

It should not go unsaid that none of this adventure would have been possible without the astonishing kindness of my Pozible crowdfunding campaign supportersOff-grid Energy, Jimmy and Craig at Roundabout CharterBridge8, the loving memory of James Mellor (my bus’ namesake) and all the friends, colleagues and random strangers who have offered me their hearts, minds, homes and, of course, cash. //

I love you guys x

ArtsSA logo

OpenSpace

Splash Adelaide

This is [not] for everyone – forewarning the end of a free and open web

Photograph Credit: Blaise Alleyne. Description: “The Internet was open in Brisbane, fortunately.” Creative Commons License: CC BY 2.0.

Photograph Credit: Blaise Alleyne. “The Internet was open in Brisbane, fortunately.” Creative Commons License: CC BY 2.0.

Having been involved with (and some would say, partially responsible for) encouraging Australian artists and organisations to maximise their online and social media presence and engagement, I feel that it is important for me to now voice some of the increasing doubts and concerns I have been professionally – and personally – struggling with in this area.

My journey with online media is a long one. I have been building and maintaining online communities since I first started working in media arts in 1996 – long before the social media platforms we now depend on existed. All ‘free’ tools need to make money somewhere, which they do largely through advertising and data-mining (turning your data into “the product” – as Douglas Rushkoff points out in his book “Program or be Programmed” – that they on-sell to commercial partners).

Having spent a decade hand-building my online community spaces, I felt Facebook and Twitter’s entry into the scene offered an acceptable exchange. In return for giving them my data (which I didn’t deem terribly valuable or important) I gained a set of tools that enabled me to communicate effectively with the community I needed to reach, quickly, openly and at no commercial price. I knew full well that in using these ‘free’ tools I was accepting a contract which made me “the product”, but I was OK with that. These days, I’m not so sure.

Paying to promote the popular

You might have noticed that Facebook isn’t the same as it used to be. Don’t worry, this isn’t some whinge about how the layout is different, again. I’m not complaining about change-in-general, I’m voicing concerns about the reasons behind the changes that are taking place and what this reflects about current trends in online and digital culture more broadly.

Your Facebook News Feed used to consist of a chronological list, where any post (whether a personal message, photo, meme or link from another website, regardless of whether that was from a personal profile, group or page) would appear in the order they were published. Of course the more friends you have, or the more groups or pages you follow, the more hectic and noisy your feed would be. Since August last year new changes mean that any post with a lot of likes or comments is bumped back up to the top of the list again, prioritising the ‘popular’.

From a personal perspective, you’re probably not seeing quite the same number of updates from as many of your Facebook friends as you used to (with the same applying to groups and pages that you follow). Where have they gone, you might ask?

From a professional perspective (if you run a Facebook page for your business), you’re probably finding that each post is receiving less views than they used to. As well as being able to buy advertising for your page as a whole, you now (coincidentally) are invited to ‘promote’ each post – paying for a boost, essentially advertising each post you make – to increase your potential audience.

Technically both of these shifts are due to last year’s changes in Facebook’s algorithm which (in their words) are intended to “deliver the right content to the right people at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important to them”. Let’s look at the changes they outline:

The News Feed algorithm responds to signals from you, including, for example:

  • How often you interact with the friend, Page, or public figure (like an actor or journalist) who posted

  • The number of likes, shares and comments a post receives from the world at large and from your friends in particular

  • How much you have interacted with this type of post in the past

  • Whether or not you and other people across Facebook are hiding or reporting a given post

What’s happening here is essentially the creation of a feedback loop, preventing you from seeing posts from people you don’t normally see (and here’s the catch22-clincher) because you don’t normally see them. You could try to counter that by actively going to the profiles/pages of people you want to hear more from, thereby setting the agenda for the way the new algorithm works with your preferences. But instead of making that easy for you or offering you that choice, they define it on your behalf. Even the least cynical amongst us should be concerned about how – and why – those pre-selections are made.

In this list we can also see the return of the old upvote ‘popularity contest’ so favoured by commercial channels. This assumes that if your friends like a post then obviously you will too, thereby further shrinking the visibility of any post which is more niche or hasn’t been commercially ‘promoted’.

My concerns with this are twofold:

  1. When you only see posts from the same people – and when everyone only sees the same few posts – you end up existing in an echo chamber, or “the digital flock” as MIT’s Ethan Zuckerman describes it. I love the diversity of conversations I have online as much as the random conversations with strangers I have on the street. What I feel I used to gain from social media was the added benefit of sometimes choosing to have those conversations within a more curated crowd. I don’t want to only have access to homogenised information streams – in fact I stopped watching television, reading newspapers and listening to radio a very long time ago for exactly that reason.
  2. If only ‘promoted’ posts reach your target audience, then eventually only those with marketing budgets will be heard.

Facebook aren’t the only ones moving in this direction; Twitter also went for IPO last year and accordingly are pushing a much greater prominence of sponsored posts. But in some ways these two were always expected to go down the revenue generation route; in internet terms they are but meagre children (ten and eight years old, respectively). What I find more disconcerting is the strategic shift taking place internationally across the internet as a whole.

The end of the open web

Photograph Credit: Nick J Webb. “This is for everyone” Tim Berners-Lee tweet displayed on LCD screens at the London Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony July 2012. Creative Commons License: CC BY 2.0.

Photograph Credit: Nick J Webb. “This is for everyone” Tim Berners-Lee tweet displayed on LCD screens at the London Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony July 2012. Creative Commons License: CC BY 2.0.

In an article posted by Scientific American in 2010 entitled “Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality” (ironically published behind a paywall), World Wide Web [WWW] inventor Tim Berners-Lee outlines the simple yet profound intention of his 1989 creation: “that any person could share information with anyone else, anywhere”. Reflecting on these early egalitarian principles and the thousands of people who contributed their time and efforts to this vast knowledge-bank infrastructure, Berners-Lee outlines contemporary threats posed by key players within the upper echelons of the corporate digital world.

Whether visibly or not, we will all have experienced these control mechanisms. Internet Service Providers [ISPs] have commonly set traffic speeds according to whether or not a commercial deal is in place between themselves and the destination site, under the guise of maintaining ‘quality bandwidth provision’ to their paying customers. Paywalls have become the familiar toll-gate to mainstream journalism and (often publicly funded) academic research. Walled gardens such as Facebook use the facade of ‘privacy’ to assert the ‘value’ of closed-networks – after all sharing is relative, right? But how much power should these commercial players be allowed to wield in preference to anyone else’s right to share their information with anyone else, anywhere?

This corporate desire to control ownership of the digital landscape is not a new story. We have all heard of the ‘dreadful losses’ incurred by the all-powerful (and largely US-based) music, film and TV behemoths. Many (including myself) believe that, instead of adapting their business models to take advantage of the multiple global market opportunities the internet provides, these players have instead chosen to bury their heads in the sand, mounting various forms of legislative attack in order to protect their own corporate interests. Since the Stop Online Piracy Act [SOPA] and Protect Intellectual Property Act [PIPA] failed to gain legislative approval following enormous public outcry, it’s hardly surprising that current Trans Pacific Partnership [TPP] negotiations – which cover far more than pure copyright concerns – are taking place behind closed-doors. It is not in the best interests of gatekeepers to let the general public become involved in such weighty decisions, after all.

The TPP is an international trade agreement which seeks to “enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries, promote innovation, economic growth and development, and support the creation and retention of jobs”. This all sounds pretty commendable, until you realise that its primary focus is to enhance the opportunities of the corporate American market through control over existing laws in member countries. A draft text of the Intellectual Property Rights Chapter released by WikiLeaks revealed that member Governments (including Australia) could be sued for foreign corporations’ loss of future profits when making laws in the public interest; be prevented from offering generic-brand medicines in protection of profits from (largely US-based) patent-holding corporations; bring in a ban on parallel imports (increasing the cost of imported products from overseas and adding geoblocks to downloadable material) and force ISPs to release the names of suspected copyright infringers without evidence (if you have ever watched an episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ through nefarious sources in Australia, that could mean you).

“If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.” [WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange]

I must say that I am doubtful the current government will be justly serving the nation’s best interests when negotiating the TPP. Certainly when looking at the Liberal’s decision to “demolish” the National Broadband Network [NBN], you might wonder if there is any point us even attempting to keep up with online innovations at all. Their decision to delay the inevitable (applying a sticking-plaster approach by ‘repairing’ an outdated copper network and installing occasional fibre-to-the-node [FTTN] exchanges instead of continuing the rollout of fibre-to-the-premises [FTTP]) will be a frustrating and expensive mistake for all Australians to endure. Our patience will additionally be required twice; once while they make these repairs and a second time when they eventually recognise their error and start with the fibre plan all over again.

So yes, I am concerned with Facebook’s new algorithm and how it will affect the ability of artists and arts organisations to share freely (and for free) within our chosen personal and professional networks. And yes I am appalled by the Australian Government’s decision to restrict who has affordable access to high-speed internet. But far more, I fear deeply for the future of digital culture, net neutrality and the open web as a whole. Despite Tim Berners-Lee’s original altruistic intentions, it would appear that the web is increasingly not for everyone.

A version of this article was first published in Artlink March 2014 (ironically, behind a paywall…). Full article republished with permission on this the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. Sign up to “web we want” a campaign to protect a free and open web including an Internet Users Bill of Rights for every country.

Nomads in Residence

Since things are starting to hot-up around here it seems to be time to post a bit about what I mean by “Nomads in Residence”.

These nomads are basically my guests in the bus. They must be from the creative digital culture space but I’m really broad about that. By “digital culture” I mean artists, makers, hackers, coders, practitioners, researchers, games developers, animators, filmmakers, policy folk, arts workers, cultural practitioners… ummmmmmm…. other people who play creatively with technology. The point is to be INclusive, not EXclusive, so if you’re not included by title here but feel you should be included by practice then message me regardless.

I have a list of people I have already personally invited. I also have a bundle of folk I have just loved working with/around over the years and will be contacting in due course. But there’s also folk I stumble on/am introduced to who just spark something and need to be invited. For example, I just contacted my first total stranger because her work suits my thinking perfectly, and there might be the perfect match event coming up next year.

And then there’s the unknown-yet-by-me. Of which there are many!

I do not know everyone (or everything). Obviously. This whole project is about getting out there and seeing who/what I don’t know, as well as sharing who/what I do.

So.

The ‘challenge’

  • Location: You don’t need to be from another country; plenty of you gorgeous Australians are on my list. I need to see this country through your eyes and be introduced to your networks too.
  • Your mission: I ask all my “Nomads in Residence” to define where you want to go, who you want to meet and what you want to achieve from your trip.
  • Networking: Once I know your intentions I can help make connections with people you could meet both with me and outside of your time with me. I really encourage you to spend extra time in this amazing country if you can. I can also follow up on people you tell me I should know about in case we can meet them together.
  • Duration: I would love you to stay with me as long as you can, but I understand time is a valuable commodity and you are probably travelling a fair distance. When I started visiting Australia from the UK our costs were often split across a few organisations and that worked a treat, but affects timing/demands, etc.
  • Monies: As you can see from my crowdfunding campaign, this is all very DIY. I would love to offer you travel/accommodation, a nice fat artists fee and a luxurious ‘maker’ budget, but that’s not something I can promise. Especially right now. But I can fundraise (either through crowdfunding targeted to both our communities or through traditional arts funding) and co-productions/shared visits are pretty straightforward to coordinate. You will at least get standard return flights, acommodation/food in the bus and some kind of artist fee.
  • Accommodation: The bus will have a ‘bedroom’ space, a sofa-bed in the ‘lounge’ space, a swag (traditional aussie sleeping bag/tent), and an extra tent. You can choose which you’d like, even on a daily basis.

The Bigger Picture

This often freaks people out when I talk about it; “Your plans are too big, Fee. Calm down and take one step at a time”… Um, no. I think big missions help you better achieve baby steps… but that’s just me.

The big picture plan is to start the model in Australia but then take the concept all over the world. I’ve already been talking to a University in Canada who likes the concept as a research methodology. At some point we’ll run a co-production together to raise funds for a bus and the same process over there. That bus would of course drive across Canada, down to America and then South America, scooping more locals and international en route. I’m also British, so at some stage I’ll be setting up another bus in the UK, which would go to Europe… and so on.

The really-big-picture is that eventually I would like to have a bus in (or within access of) every continent. While I’m not using it the bus would be available for other digital culture practitioners. If they maintain the bus and continue to support the concept (capturing/sharing data, etc) they can have it for free when it’s not being used. If they want to do their own thing then they can hire it and any proceeds will go back in to the project.

National / International

This really isn’t just an Australian project, it’s a digital one. Like the internet it’s inspired by community, collaboration, creativity and connection. The potential is huge but the baby steps are really manageable and realistic. It just takes a little bit of conversation and we can make amazing things happen together.

So if you’re interested, message me with some responses to the above ‘challenge’ and we’ll take it from there.

UPDATE: Get a flavour of some of the Nomads.