In Australia, there is a dynamic landscape of forums, symposia and seminars – not just those organised to meet the requirements of academic institutions, but gatherings of cultural practitioners from a cross-section of practices. Organisations with broad cultural engagements, like d/Lux Media Arts, contemporary artspaces and cultural festivals, have a strong track record in hosting events that reflect on the urban context, drawing out contestations and collaborations. In a country like Australia, with such a dispersed population, such gatherings present opportunities for swarming, sharing ideas and building networks: the talk is incessant. In 2007, Sydney based d/Lux Media Arts presented Coding Cultures, a program of international residencies, concept development labs and a symposium at Campbelltown Arts Centre in Sydney’s south-western suburbs. Another aspect of the project was a regional tour of artists from Coding Cultures to Broken Hill, a mining city in rural New South Wales.
The Coding Cultures project also resulted in a publication, A Handbook of Coding Cultures, edited by artist and researcher Francesa da Rimini as “a framework for understanding the interrelations between free software and free culture, open code and open knowledge, co-operative research and production, nodes and networks, and the dynamic conjunctions between art and activism.” Events like Coding Cultures are necessary precursors to more recent explorations and ideas about DIY urbanism, open source cities and user-generated cities. As da Rimini noted “innovation requires access to existing bodies of human knowledge. All knowledges are cumulative, built by processes of accretion, not exclusion. Knowledge is formed by branching generative processes; the action of knowledge upon knowledge creates new knowledge.”
The event provided a platform to share experiences and know-how exploring how new media technologies enable communities to express and share their stories and experiences in innovative and imaginative ways. While such cultural engagements play an obvious role in community and cultural development, there should be more prevalent in community planning and urban design processes to draw on the experience, networks and knowledge of local people in the development, planning and life of places. Coding Cultures featured presentations from Australian and international artists who are actively experimenting with integrated approaches to community, technology and culture. This included Giles Lane and Alice Angus from Proboscis (UK) and Mervin Jarman and Camille Turner from Container (Jamaica). The Australians in the line up were David Vadiveloo who produced UsMob, Chris Saunders from Big hART, Jennifer Lyons-Reid and Carl Kuddell from tallstoreez productionz and Lena Nahlous from Information and Culture Exchange (ICE).
Many of the projects discussed during the symposium and in the handbook referred back to ideas of connecting, place and mapping, with a drift between international networks and place-based engagement. For example, the Container project in Jamaica is a temporary and mobile media access and production facility in a shipping container linked to the UK group mongrel. In addressing ‘digital divide’ issues since 2003, Container provides access to rural communities where education, opportunities and employment levels are low as well as provides a space for creativity through music, video and multimedia production. Proboscis is an artist-led studio which combines artistic practice with commissioning, curatorial projects, design and consultancy. One of their foundational practices is ‘public authoring’ – the everyday mapping and sharing of knowledge and experience by people about the places and spaces where they live, work and play. Proboscis develops tools, games and publications in both analogue and digital formats. Their work includes wearables, GPS and electronics. Their work emphasises narrative and storytelling as “a living, everyday process that underpins how people co-create and inhabit culture and society”. With a concern for appropriate technologies, one of their more recent methodologies ‘scavenging’ entails “free online mapping and sharing technologies as forms of guerilla public authoring”. This means accessing and using existing tools and social media in order to develop their projects and work within the broader frame of ‘user-generated content’, social networking and content sharing. In Australia, ICE works across the Greater Western Sydney region with community groups, governments and local infrastructures such as libraries on innovative programs. They aim to broaden community access and capacity in information and communications technology (ICT) in order to bridge the digital divide. Parramappa—an online photo-map of Parramatta created by young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds—went online in November 2005. Young digital content creators visited places of interest around Granville and Harris Park, shot photographs and wrote about their connection to those places. This kind of social mapping alerts us to difference in experiencing space and place. In Parramappa, the ‘subaltern’ finds or creates a language to express their sense of place and belonging.
The value of these practices as cultural and localised engagements with place and community should be of interest in planning and design methodologies for enhanced, generative and creative conversations. David Cranswick, then Director of d/Lux, refers to “an attitudinal resistance or unwillingness to seriously engage with, and think about, the implications and opportunities that new forms of technologies and their applications enable, especially in a community or cultural context”. He contends that this is a type of ‘digital divide’. Such attitudes seemed to prevail for an unnecessarily long time among professional, government and corporate entities in regard to matters that warranted greater engagement with community. What is at risk, proposed Cranswick, is the power those entities wield: an anxiety that the digital “destabilises established positions and debases traditional forms of practice and ways doing things”. New technologies – not just as platforms for engagement or citizenship – are integral to the new governance landscapes as well as increasingly implicated in the processes of knowing places, imagining places and making places, beyond the sometimes constrained methodologies of community consultation. Media culture is complicit in participatory and resistant modalities and in the making of cities and places. Interactivity, in this context, makes for a more textured engagement that embraces cultural and symbolic capital. Fundamentally, it is an opening up of who tells the stories of places, how those stories are shared and for what ends. Where once communities campaigned using photocopiers and posters, now resident action groups have become adept at campaigning using electronic media – from Facebook to Twitter to YouTube etc – communities are able to assert themselves against unwelcome or untempered urban development. In her introduction to A Handbook for Coding Cultures, da Rimini writes of the significance and intersection of open culture, open knowledge and open society. There’s other dimensions of these processes of networking, cooperation and freedom – open conversations and open cities.
d/Lux Media Arts
A Handbook for Coding Cultures