Folded Space and Practice

Virtual Networks, Social Fabrics lends itself as a space of encounter and experimentation. It invites reflection on "the common" through the practices of three initiatives: the Department of Reading, New Models of Curating? and Plausible Artworlds. Virtual Networks, Social Fabrics manifested itself for the first time as a forum during the conference Networks of Design, in the form of an online reading of the Department of Reading, a potluck session organized by Basekamp as well as within the framework of the exhibition (IN)visible networks. We consider this article as another manifestation of Virtual Networks, Social Fabrics inasmuch as it takes the form of a textual encounter.

As mentioned, this manifestation (1) is meant to discuss the matter of community and the common in the context of these three initiatives. But at the same time, considering the common and the idea of commonality, we wonder how far this as any textual space can already be understood as an instance of "the common". Proximity then as a spatial term might make one think of the French "prochain" that could be literally translated as "the next" and means the neighbor – as in "love thy neighbour". Thus simply introducing a textual proximity between New Models of Curating?, Plausible Artworlds and the Department of Reading might first of all indicate the textual space of being next to each other – along with the blank spaces that do (and do not) belong at the same time – that above all allows something to appear as text by means of its own disappearance. But what to do about these blank spaces, and their force, which seem to be inscribed in any textual body?

As another matter of proximity, we were thinking of the specific modalities concerning curating, reading, and those which condition the construction of an "artworld". To promote new forms of reading, for instance, would that mean to introduce "new" models that might derive from intensifying certain modalities of existing ones? There is a relation between the three initiatives in the context of Virtual Networks, Social Fabrics with regard to virtuality, which as a plausibility seems to be always already actual within social fabrics – in the sense that a model is something that could be reproduced or more fully actualized – and thus might lead to other plausible practices and spaces.

But if one would design a new model through a process of intensifying specific modalities, that is by using them, what is exactly meant here? What are the modes of intensification like? An answer might relate to the question of child's habit - though immediately one has to avoid ascribing a certain creative potential to that habit – to the repetition, the "again and again". It would be interesting to think of these two different ways of playing with toys: dreaming upon models of things that have names (fireman truck) and constructing forms that hardly access the status of construction, but remain things that roll or walk. Could one therefore talk about toys as things that remain in abeyance, bound to disappear from the order of things as soon as they are not any longer in use, and thus returning to a status of mere element? How could this be translated towards practices and spaces?

(1) This introductory note refers to the online reading, which took place during the exhibition (IN)visible networks ( at the Poly in Falmouth in September 2008 and consists of edited excerpts from it. The session took place online at and in the physical space of the exhibition. Participants: Aharon, Basekamp, Ben Carver, Paul Gangloff, Sönke Hallmann, Magda Tyzlik-Carver and the Department of Reading internet system.

New Models of Curating? is a project which started with the following questions: ‘Are there new creative activities operating in the network society which is characterised by the structures of social web and its networked systems? Do the emergent protocols of Web 2.0 allow for new curatorial models? As the tactical media, net art and hacking were the result of activists', artists' and programmers' reactions prompted by the availability and distributional qualities of the new medium of Internet and World Wide Web, there should be examples of curatorial activity which follow this ethos of engagement.

Another question which has been intrinsic to the project and one which is symbolised by the question mark in the project's title asks if it is indeed possible to recognise and distinguish the 'newnes' of those models. In what way are they new? And this question is not just concentrating on new ways of exhibiting, archiving, selecting and commissioning. It is interested in ways technology influences the social aspect of the curatorial practices and their contexts, that is the ethos of those practices in the network cultures.

Here I would like to suggest the central proposition which results from the experimental part of the project, that the practice of curating in network cultures is always linked to some form of the common. The common is posed as the ethical organisation of the shared space realised in the form of the network project. With such a proposition we come across the possibility of understanding the practice in which the common is engaged, as one of "instituting", aiming "at instituting oneself, arranging oneself" through the form of "instituting event" understood as "collective insurrection" (Raunig, 2007). By bringing the notion of "instituent" and "constituent" practices, Raunig discusses examples of public art projects and the way they developed from early avant-garde practices at the beginning of the 20th century, through practices proposed by Situationists in 50s to public art projects/events which developed in the early nineties such as Park Fiction in Hamburg. It seems to me there is a relevance to bringing Raunig’s ideas to the network context and applying them to creative practices which have developed within (social?) networking milieus. Here, it is important to specify that the network environment is a hybrid. It is a combination of sociality and technology, human relations mediated by internet based tools which enhance communication, models of participation considered new, open and democratic, and wide distribution not only via telecommunication channels. What remains characteristic of this hybrid space is, at least for the moment, a particular unsettled arrangement of public/private spheres. This changing composition of the network space is visible not only as a contested field between Open Source, Free Software and similar movements on one hand, and private companies and copyright laws on the other. But it also exists as an issue of ownership of a content uploaded by the users to social networking sites such as Flickr, MySpace, YouTube, or Facebook, and as a question: What is a public sphere in the network based society and who owns it? Raunig considers Park Fiction as the project where "desires did actually escape the striated space that separates the private from the political" (2007). I would suggest that network still has the potential space where the private can become political at any time.

Alex Galloway and Eugene Thacker start their essay "On Misanthropy" (2006) with a question of how would one curate an exhibition of computer viruses. Later in the same paragraph they bring up the curatorial role in exhibiting a disease to suggest that perhaps the two would require two types of museums: a museum of the present and a museum of the past.
Galloway and Thacker further talk about curating in this way:
"The act of curating not only refers to the selection, exhibition, and storage of artefacts, but it also means doing so with care, with particular attention to their presentation in an exhibit or catalogue. Both 'curate' and 'curator' derive from the Latin curare (to care), a word, which is itself closely related to cura (cure). Curate, care, cure." (2006: 154).
Galloway and Thacker bring in the connection to the form of governing involved in such a practice which "had its complement in an ethics of care for one's self" (2006, 166-167) located by Foucault in classical Greek culture. The concept of "epimeleia heautou (care of oneself)", referred not only to "self, others and world” but also to “a constant practice of self-observation and self-examination" (2006, 167). Authors of "On Misanthropy" continue with the statement that "Here epimeleia heautou has as its aim not just the care of the self, but the transformation of the self; self transformation was the logical outcome of self-caring" (2006, 167).

Encouraged and inspired by way in which Galloway and Thacker link the understanding of "curate, care, cure" with(in) the context of exhibition of a virus I would like to follow with a problem of how one would exhibit a network. What is at stake here is the way we start to imagine curatorial practice in the network cultures and in network-based-society. In that sense what needs to be considered is the question: Where does the curatorial practice take place? Linking curating to the concept of caring creates the potentiality of thinking of curating as the practice of looking after the common (space) organised by network structure where the common is always temporary in its nature, arranged by its spatial configurations, distributional and dispersed qualities where participants and collaborators rotate and contribute at different stages and often in different roles.

Positioning curating within the network context creates a particular "spatial" condition of the role which is placed "inside" the network. This "spatial" relationship resulting from the network structure between the common and the curatorial role within it creates the potentiality of understanding what a curator does: that s/he makes the space, allows the space, or/and tends the space of the common. S/he looks after it. At the same time, when considering this 'spatial' association, we are immediately reminded of the institutional dimension of the curatorial role and the kind of relations that inherently are part of it. Here again the potential arises only when we think about curating outside of the model of "museum of the past". Without replacing it with another, let’s just imagine the potential of considering curating as a practice of self-transformation that participates in the common and in itself is a form of an instituent practice that is not done by one but by many.

Galloway, A. and Thacker, E. (2006) "On Misanthropy" in Krysa, J. (Ed) Curating Immateriality. (153 – 168), New York: Autonomedia

Raunig, G. (2007) Instituent Practices, No. 2. Institutional Critique, Constituent Power, and the Persistance of Instituting. Transversal retrieved October 1, 2007 from

Magda Tyżlik-Carver: Two things attracted me to Plausible Artworlds. Firstly, the project’s obvious interest in forms of “community” or “the common” especially in reference to the idea of how the community participates in, what Ranciere calls ‘distribution of the sensible’. And secondly, the project’s varying visibility: at one point, Plausible Artworlds was highly visible, both online and at events in Europe and North America. Then its visibility tapered off…

Stephen Wright: Plausible Artworlds is about rethinking the physical and conceptual spaces that sustain art practice. Scott and I have discussed at length how to foreground the project’s platform, which is a challenge since it draws its specific form from different “worlds” of value and meaning – though those often loose-knit structures don’t necessarily see themselves as artworlds. Plausible Artworlds finds itself inherently, albeit guardedly, in a regime of "visibilization,” though at the same time we are reluctant to assign visibility to initiatives that have in some cases deliberately sought to fly under the radar. These dynamics of visibilisation are linked to what Rancière calls the “distribution of the sensible”. As such, Plausible Artworlds is not so much about distributing as redistributing: the sensible at any point in time has a particular distribution, and we are seeking to examine how groups of artists or art-related practitioners are shifting the partition lines. According to Ranciere, art like the political is about making things visible, giving them self-evidence in the order of things. But we're living in a world now that's based on bio-control – permanent surveillance, a regime of visualisation – and it remains an open question as to whether politics needs to be done in that way or whether we need to reverse the steam, to keep (some) things off the radar. My observation is that more and more practitioners are not seeking visibilization within the reputational economy but are increasingly trying to stay off the screen. Plausible Artworlds has to deal with both of those sides of that equation.

Magda: Agreeing to participate in an exhibition is like shooting yourself in the foot if an artist wants to stay invisible! An exhibition is one of those means by which the artworld boosts visibility.

Stephen: The question is, how can the common establish itself in its own temporality and in an event? It is precisely because the common has become the object of almost insurmountable doubt that we have to ask it. Deleuze says "we need to believe in the world" – not in a naive way, but as something replete with potential, irreducible to the merely existent. There is a tendency – and I'm the first to yield to it – to talk about the artworld, singular. To pluralise that noun really means to take seriously their potential plurality, their irreducible heterogeneity.

Scott Rigby: The project's intention is to identify a plurality of artworlds attempting to offer something that the (idea of a singular) mainstream artworld doesn't offer. PAW wants to look seriously at them, the premise being that they are just as important as art objects or other practices that artists spend their attention on.

David Goldenberg: My question is whether it is possible to offer something different to an inherently hierarchical artworld – to an artworld inherently tied into domination? Any possibility that offers a solution to that is welcome – but I find it difficult to locate examples of that happening.

Stephen: It is fair to say that there are some embryonic attempts at it. Artworlds, and just plain worlds per se, have changed over time. Insofar as a domination-free, or domination-reduced world is possible or plausible, then the same should go for artworlds. The only advantage of talking about artworld plurality over world plurality in our thought-experiment, is that one-world realist arguments don't wash too well with art per se.

Aharon: Well there have been attempts at creating other artworlds...

Scott: They’re ongoing and some are more than embryonic – and those are the kinds of things that Plausible Artworlds is attempting, on one hand, to compile and help to identify, and on the other hand, to try to support in some way however the project can. We started by attempting to connect with people who have been doing similar things, mainly as a way to acknowledge that we're not trying to come up with something brand new – but we really have a desire to seek alternatives within a creative life-world, by working with other people. We can't just stand back and point, we have to be involved.

David: I obviously I have sympathy for what you're doing. In my own efforts, I find that it's phenomenally difficult to break through these inherent problems in Eurocentric tradition – and to come up with satisfactory solutions.

Scott: Ultimately our goal is to try to look at solutions that have some plausibility, because if they are “plausible” they already exist in some form, even as a kind of air-drawing or in embryonic form – and in some cases a much more developed form that hasn't achieved a level of cultural dominance, or isn't terribly widespread. So we are looking at those cases that do offer some way forward even though they may not shake down the walls of the dominant structures of the world, they may not be visible, but they do offer some solutions that can be shared, reproduced, tested, and need to be discussed.

Stephen: I said embryonic because I was making the minimalist argument... but one could make a much more strenuous argument that there are fully-fledged, differentiated plausible artworlds already out there. Despite temptations to make concessions to the mainstream institutional market, more and more people are prepared not to do that. The Plausible Artworlds project has specific conditions of historical possibility – I don't think it could have existed twenty years ago, because I'm not sure that there were heterogeneous, plausible artworlds.

Magda: Maybe there were, except that they were not visible – the fact that now we can all find about each other online (it's how we here found out about each other) changes everything.

Stephen: My remark that Plausible Artworlds couldn't have existed twenty years ago needs to be qualified in all sorts of ways. But the fact is that art as a whole within our society, within our economy anyway, has completely shifted in the span of a generation. And the integration of art within capitalism has completely shifted away from being an inherently contestatory system, not only into advertising and so on, but into management structures as well. My point is that we no longer have the utopia that pervaded even the mainstream art of a generation ago. Now the mainstream artworld is pure cynicism, and any potential for change is pure window-dressing in front of a very powerful market structure. And that has led a lot of people to become very disenchanted. And that certainly wasn't the case when artist-run spaces were being invented in the 60s and 70s…

David: In that respect, PAW has much more 'plausibility' in today’s situation than it would have had in any previous historical context.

Rancière, J. (2006) The Politics of Aesthetics. The Distribution of the Sensible. London Continuum

Department of Reading - Any work on and with a text implies an experience of the time that reading takes as well as the very place that the possibility of writing offers. In this regard the Department of Reading addresses an indeterminacy between reading and writing: a practice that is not simply reading and yet not writing. The textual place that comes to the fore with this experience can be called a space in abeyance - a notion that refers back to Giorgio Agamben's (2005) understanding of the emergence of dialectical images due to the suspension of meaning, thus due to a semantic emptiness. As such this space is always already inherent to any act of reading and writing and not located at the point of their indifference. To expose the communality of this indeterminate place as well as its modality is crucial to the practice of the Department of Reading.

As an online reading group the Department of Reading comes together since 2006. It combines wiki, skype and physical set-ups to meet in irregular intervals online in order to work on a given text. While the wiki contains the texts to be read, skype invites the readers to comment and discuss towards transforming the texture of the initial writings. Whereas each session is prepared by a host, its readers, which come from different practices such as fine-art, design and theory, are asked to enter the sessions without further preparation. Most significantly the space of the Department of Reading is used to continuously reflect on the modalities of reading itself. These are the temporal and spacial conditions of reading, the relations between the initial text and its comments as well as the practice, which assembles the different readers.

This mode of practicing reading has led to appliancations on the level of technology as well as it influenced the project conceptually. The Department of Reading encountered the question of its own archiving and publishing, as well as it commissioned a software interconnection between wiki and Skype, the Department of Reading internet system (DoRis). DoRis, programmed by Michael Murtaugh, listens to commands given in the skype discussions and affects the display of text on the wiki.

Just as the examination that the Department of Reading relates to the matter of selected texts, such as memory, digital archiving or performative settings, the figure of the child’s play has come to introduce that textual space as a space of abeyance. A mode, which is not directed at the production of discourse, but which remains as a form of intervention and encounter in particular with regard to modes of appropriation and expropriation. Since playing itself marks a threshold it can by no means be simply conceptualised as a practice to exercise rhythms of the social. Rather playing is always operative in any given use or habit as the possibility of their non-execution, that is their suspension. Thus to render a text inoperative, to sublate it in a semantic emptiness, brings reading into the realm of playing. The current series' of the Department of Reading are experiments concerning the determining temporality as well as emerging communality of this indeterminate practice.

Agamben, G. (2005) Nymphae, Berlin: Merve