‘Neither Public nor Private: Information in Common?’ took place in January 2012 and again thanks are due to the comrade-participants who entered into an orientation-discussion concerning MayDay Rooms’ wish to disseminate archival material more widely. Of the many issues discussed over the two days the notion of a ‘distributed archive’ took hold as well as matters of copyright and combatting the ongoing digital-ownership trend. The meeting was recorded and we hope at some stage to make extracts of the weekend’s presentations and debates available here.
MayDay Rooms Bulletin 004
Neither Public nor Private: Information in Common?
A MayDay Rooms discussion
Saturday 28th January 2012
Noon – 11pm
63 Penfold Street, London NW8
All enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
We would like to invite you to take part in MayDay Rooms’ upcoming event, which builds on the inaugural MayDay forum in London last May entitled ‘Archiving from Below’. In the same spirit of exchange, we are bringing together a group of associates and friends from across three continents to explore – face-to-face and via skype – a range of issues thrown up by the information enclosures and urgent related questions of copyright, digital content, labour, infrastructure and surveillance.
The sense in which we all now use the ubiquitous keyterm ‘information’ – the sense developed in the Bell Telephone Company labs – is already deeply compromised, since it posits an abstract commodifiable equivalence, ripped away from channel and medium, time and context, bodies and history. But that is of course its power and attraction, and nothing could demonstrate this better than the impoverished terms with which debate is presently being conducted over America’s SOPA-PIPA bills (Stop Oline Piracy Act and Protect IP Act). As ever, the discourse of opposition is fatally disempowered in its submission to dominant conceptions of property, legality, and productive activity. The all-pervasive surveillance capabilities now lending force to these – all too many of which we embrace – would suggest that resistance really is futile.
In developing the principles that will animate MayDay’s praxis, we find inspiration in the efforts of this gathering’s special guests who are all in imaginative ways actively challenging and pushing back against the tide of data-capture, commodification and dispossession on a global scale.
Under the rubric ‘Neither Private nor Public: Information in Common?’, we have invited the following contributors, who will be joining us over the course of the event, either face to face or on Skype, live and recorded, and at times to be confirmed:
Shinjoung Yeo and James Jacobs, reference and government documents librarians living in the San Francisco Bay Area (http://radicalreference.info)
Shaina Anand, Ashok Sukumaran and other members of CAMP, Mumbai (http://camputer.org/)
Lawrence Liang and Namita Malhotra of the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore (http://www.altlawforum.org)
Jan Gerber and Sebastian Luetgert of 0×2620, Berlin (http://0×2620.org)
Rick Prelinger and Megan Shaw Prelinger, of the Prelinger Archive and Library, San Francisco (http://www.prelinger.org)
Jaya Klara Brekke and other members of London’s tech and media collective ‘hatelab’
Jamie King of Vodo.net and Steal This Film 1 & 2, Bristol (http://www.vodo.net)
Lee Worden, author of WorkingWiki, San Francisco (http://www.leeworden.net)
Sean Dockray, The Public School, Los Angeles (http://www.thepublicschool.org)
To provide further context, we are appending three ‘docs populi’: (1) our first MayDay communiqué, (2) excerpts from ‘Ten Theses on the Archive’, a piece co-authored by members of CAMP and congruent in many respects with MayDay’s developing principles, and (3) an outline of the Yeo & Jacobs presentation.
Updates will follow, including biographies, project descriptions and a schedule.
We look forward to seeing you.
The MayDay Rooms crew
• MayDay Manifesto, Spring 2011
• Ten Theses on the Archive (excerpts)
• Shinjoung Yeo & James Jacobs (presentation outline)
Future. Front. Novum
‘In every epoch, the attempt must be made to deliver tradition anew’
The surviving documents of our collective past have come down to us in shards and fragments, mostly by chance. This is especially true for the material traces of ‘history from below’. It is very rare that conscious, systematic efforts are initiated to protect the ‘archives of dissent’ from loss and erasure. The International Institute of Social History is a shining exception, founded in Amsterdam during the general crisis of the 1930s, to preserve the ‘cultural heritage of the labour movement and other emancipatory groups and currents’, against destruction in the tide of fascism.
The future of our collective past now faces an emergency from a different direction. The crisis has four linked facets: (i) the exacerbated privatization and enclosure of the cultural commons, (ii) the loss of autonomous social spaces which are containers of communal memory and incubators of radical expression, (iii) the imminent threat to individual artists and groups facing eviction and displacement, along with their history, (iv) the attack on places of learning and knowledge production, in particular the shrinking and closing (under renewed neo-liberal insult) of those municipal and university libraries which in the past would have acted as repositories.
A new institution
In the light of this emergency, we propose the founding of a new institution, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and enabling access to archives of dissent and radical expression, especially those now under threat of loss or destruction, focused initially on the British Isles but respecting no borders.
We are calling this new initiative the MayDay Rooms in honour of the lost commons of popular memory, in acknowledgement of the current emergency facing the radical heritage, and in anticipation of future festivities in a better world of our own making. M’aidez.
The MayDay Rooms will cater to archives in a broad range of media and formats: manuscript and printed documents, correspondence, pamphlets, newspapers, zines, ephemera, broadsides, posters and graphics, photographs, film, audio and video, and the expanding online world. It will respect no disciplinary boundaries and attempt to be ‘meta-categorical’.
The care of the collections will be overseen by a senior professional in the field of book and paper conservation.
While intended as a haven of ‘history from below’ and a home for orphaned collections, we envisage the MayDay Rooms above all as a ‘living archive’. Living, in two senses:
First, we are aware of the ethical imperative of gathering material, and recording the memories, of the generation now passing – that is, the individuals, and the groups formed by them, constituting the great explosion of antinomian energy maligned as “the sixties”. This will entail a positive programme of oral history, as well as the preserving of documents, to honour and retrieve the residue of lives and committed efforts ignored.
Secondly, we intend through open access, digitization, and educational/pedagogical work to put the archive in the hands of living actors and citizen-archivists, for present and future purposes, both on site and in the virtual realm.
In this sense MayDay Rooms aims to act as both lifeboat and lighthouse. The ambition of the undertaking is simply a realistic recognition of the unprecedented and historic assault on the social democratic institutions which have given partial shelter to, and allowed some space for its artists and cultural producers.
Specifically, we commit ourselves:
§ to push back against the enclosure of the public domain (Google, Corbis, Getty, etc.), and to foster the creation of new commons.
§ to make the collections appropriation-friendly and browsable.
§ to offer anonymity to donors where necessary, to undertake to digitize where possible, and to return original documents where appropriate.
§ to support the unmediated presentation of materials and ‘singular’ modes of logging and classifying the material in collaboration with donors.
§ to treat and conserve the archives as appropriate in a professionally run laboratory, respecting the public nature or not of certain documents.
§ to ‘teach’ but to be mindful that the ‘educators need educating’ and that manifold perspectives can be brought to bear in activating the ‘generative themes’ of the material.
§ to continually process and present material as it passes through the institute…with film screenings, events, exhibitions, etc.
§ to work towards developing forms and creating conditions that encourage participation at every level.
MayDay will be run on syndicalist principles of co-operation, mutual respect, and openness to the pitfalls and fruitful dissensus of collective work.
§ will remain an “institute-in-formation” that is intended to be adaptable to the ethos and thematics that present themselves through the archival material and the work of the institute.
§ will seek a non-competitive relationship with other initiatives as and when they present themselves, in order to ‘ventilate’ the institute and ward off ‘auto-enclosure’.
§ will keep in mind the spirit of the experimental practice of utopian-leaning anti-institutional initiatives of the past – be these social, educational or revolutionary.
We find inspiration in, and seek comradely relations with, inter alia:
¶ The International Institute of Social History (IISH), Amsterdam (http://www.iisg.nl/index.php)
¶ Prelinger Archive and Library, San Francisco (http://www.archive.org/details/prelinger)
¶ Labadie Social Protest Collection, University of Michigan Library, (http://www.lib.umich.edu/labadie-collection)
¶ Working Class Movement Library, Salford (http://www.wcml.org.uk)
¶ Archivio Primo Moroni, Milan (http://www. gomberato-cox-18-l a-libreria-calusca-e-larchivio-primo-moroni)
A home for MayDay
There is widespread lack of trust in the archival care and practices of contemporary institutions, as well as suspicion of their motives and interests. We are aware, for example, that the Cinema Action archive was sold off following eviction from their premises in the early 1990s. Part of the Despite TV archive was lost when the archiving institution mistakenly threw away VHS tapes thought to be copies. We know of an artist who, having deposited his personal archive from St. Martins in the 1990s with the Tate, has recently ‘retrieved’ it in order to find a home where it would ‘be put to work’. We are also conscious of the deliberate destruction of archival material linked to struggle and resistance, and that much archiving is the work of states for purposes of surveillance and control.
In the light of this history, we cannot in conscience offer a haven for archives under threat of eviction unless we ourselves are not in a similarly precarious position. Accordingly we must plan the MayDay Rooms as a long-term, stable project.
GCB, IB, AD, AJ, NN, AS, HS, PvMB
10 Theses on the Archive (excerpts)
1. Don’t Wait for the Archive
To not wait for the archive is often a practical response to the absence of archives or organized collections in many parts of the world. It also suggests that to wait for the state archive, or to otherwise wait to be archived, may not be a healthy option.
This need not imply that every collection or assembly be named an archive, or that all of art’s mnemonic practices be, once again, cast into an archival mould. It suggests instead that the archive can be deployed: as a set of shared curiosities, a local politics, or epistemological adventure. Where the archival impulse could be recast, for example, as the possibility of creating alliances: between text and image, between major and minor institutions, between filmmakers, photographers, writers and computers, between online and offline practices, between the remnant and what lies in reserve, between time and the untimely. These are alliances against dissipation and loss, but also against the enclosure, privatization and thematisation of archives, which are issues of global, and immediate, concern.
The archive that results may not have common terms of measurement or value. It will include and reveal conflicts, and it will exacerbate the crises around property and authorship. It will remain radically incomplete, both in content and form. But it is nevertheless something that an interested observer will be able to traverse: riding on the linking ability of the sentence, the disruptive leaps of images, and the distributive capacity that is native to technology.
To not wait for the archive is to enter the river of time sideways, unannounced, just as the digital itself did, not so long ago.
2. Archives are not reducible to the particular forms that they take
Archival initiatives are often a response to the monopolization of public memory by the state, and the political effects that flow from such mnemonic power. But attempts at creating an archive are not necessarily supplementing the memory machine of the state. The state archive is only one instance of the archive, they are not the definition of archives, but merely a form. As a particular form, state archives do not exhaust the concept of the archive. The task of creating an archive is neither to replicate nor to mimic state archives but to creatively produce a concept of the archive.
An archive actively creates new ways of thinking about how we access our individual and collective experiences. An archive does not just supplement what is missing in state archives, it also renders what is present unstable.
3. The Direction of Archiving will be Outward, not Inward
We tend to think of archiving as the inward movement of collecting things: finding bits and pieces, bringing them together, guarding them in a safe and stable place. The model of this type of archiving is the fortress, or the burning library. This model already provides a clear sense of the limits, or ends, of the archive: fire, flooding, data loss.
Can we think of the archive differently? When Henri Langlois, founder of the Cinémathèque Française, stated that “the best way to preserve film is to project it”, he hinted at the very opposite philosophy of archiving: to actually use and consume things, to keep them in, or bring them into, circulation, and to literally throw them forth (Latin: proicere), into a shared and distributed process that operates based on diffusion, not consolidation, through imagination, not memory, and towards creation, not conservation.
Most of today’s digital archives seem to still adhere to the model of the fortress, even though, by definition, they no longer preserve precious and unique originals, but provide cheap and reproducible copies. These copies can be “thrown forth” on a much larger scale, and with much greater efficiency, than Henri Langlois — or Walter Benjamin, theorist of analog reproduction, advocate of its technological potential and critic of its practical political use — would have ever imagined. To archive, and to be archived, can become massively popular.
The astonishingly resilient archiving practices around Napster or the Pirate Bay, and the even more virulent promise of actual or imaginary archives far beneath or beyond them — if, for one moment, we could step outside the age of copyright we all inhabit, and fully embrace the means of digital reproduction most of us have at our disposal — not just directly follow the trajectory traced by Benjamin and Langlois, but extend it to a point in the not-so-distant future where we will think of archiving primarily as the outward movement of distributing things: to create ad-hoc networks with mobile cores and dense peripheries, to trade our master copies for a myriad of offsite backups, and to practically abandon the technically obsolete dichotomy of providers and consumers.
The model of this type of archive, its philosophical concept, would be the virus, or the parasite. And again, this model also allows us to make a tentative assessment of the risks and dangers of outward archiving: failure to infect (attention deficit), slowdown of mutation (institutionalization), spread of antibiotics (rights management), death of the host (collapse of capitalism).
5. The Archive deals not only with the Remnant but also with the Reserve
Capitalistic production proceeds by isolating the extract from raw materials, producing the remnant, that which is left behind. And the archive, resisting obsolescence, is constituted through these remnants. This is one common view. But there is another place in the contemporary where the role and responsibility of the archive may lie. That is, in addressing the reserve, that which is not yet deployed. And that which, like residue, is cast in shadow.
In surveillance systems for example, we are forced to rethink the idea of “waste”. Those millions of hours a day of CCTV images, are not just the leftovers of the surveillance machine, they are its constitutive accumulation. They are the mass which waits for the event, and it is this mass that produces the threat.
Following Michel Serres we could describe this mass as having “abuse value”, something that precedes use-value or exchange value. Ofcourse, abuse-value and exchange-value can change hands. The line between residue and reserve can be unstable. Suddenly, the nuclear arsenal is rendered waste, and is sold as junk. Our accumulated ideas expire. But to look to the reserve has a strategic value for the archive. It is a way of addressing capital not only as the production of profit from labour and commodities, but as the accumulation that can be used for speculation, and to extract rent.
The archive in this sense is sympathetic to those practices which sabotage capitalistic accumulation, and those which have an interest in the future, and in the “unrealised”.
6. Historians have merely interpreted the Archive. The Point however is to Feel it.
Archives have traditionally been the dwelling places of historians, and the epistemic conceit of history has always been housed in the dust of the archives. But in the last decade we have also seen an explosion of interest in archives from software engineers, artists, philosophers, media practitioners, filmmakers and performers.
Historians have responded by resorting to a disciplinary defensiveness that relies on a language of ‘the authority of knowledge’ and ‘rigor’ while artists retreat to a zone of blissful aesthetic transcendence. There is something incredibly comfortable about this zone where history continues to produce ‘social facts’ and art produces ‘affect’. Claims of incommensurability provide a ‘euphoric security’ and to think of the affective potential of the archive is to disturb the ‘euphoric security’ which denies conditions of knowing and possibilities of acting beyond that which is already known.
Rather than collapsing into a reinforcement of disciplinary fortresses that preclude outsiders and jealously guard the authenticity of knowledge and experience by historians, or resorting to a language of hostile takings by activists and artists, how do we think of the encroachments into the archives as an expansion of our sensibilities and the sensibilities of the archive. Archives are not threats, they are invitations.
9. Archives are governed by the Laws of Intellectual Propriety as opposed to Property
As the monetary value of the global information economy gains more importance, the abstract value of images get articulated within the language of property and rights. The language of intellectual property normativizes our relationship to knowledge and culture by naturalizing and universalizing narrow ideas of authorship, ownership and property. This language has extended from the world of software databases to traditional archives where copyright serves as Kafka’s gatekeeper and the use of the archive becomes a question of rights management.
Beyond the status of the archive as property lies the properties of the archive which can destabilize and complicate received notions of rights.
They establish their own code of conduct, frame their own rules of access, and develop an ethics of the archive which are beyond the scope of legal imagination. If the archive is a scene of invention then what norms do they develop for themselves which do not take for granted a pre determined language of rights. How do practices of archiving destabilize ideas of property while at the same time remaining stubbornly insistent on questions of ‘propriety’.
Intellectual propriety does not establish any universal rule of how archives collect and make available their artifacts. It recognizes that the archivist play a dual role: They act as the trustees of the memories of other people, and as the transmitters of public knowledge. This schizophrenic impulse prevents any easy settling into a single norm.
Propriety does not name a set of legislated principles of proper etiquette, instead it builds on the care and responsibility that archivists display in their preservation of cultural and historical objects. The digital archive translates this ethic of care into an understanding of the ecology of knowledge, and the modes through which such an ecology is sustained through a logic of distribution, rather than mere accumulation.
It remembers the history of archivists being described as pirates, and scans its own records, files and database to produce an account of itself. In declaring its autonomy, archives seek to produce norms beyond normativity, and ethical claims beyond the law.
Shinjoung Yeo & James Jacobs
“As the information sector has moved to the center of the capitalist economic system (the so-called ‘information economy’), capital has been colonizing information spaces that were once outside the market economy, such as libraries, government information, education, culture, etc. For the last 40 years, there has been a massive assault on libraries and culture under the guise of ‘democratization’ of knowledge or ‘universal’ access to information on a global level. Despite the democratic potential of digital technologies, the digitization of information under capitalist development has facilitated the enclosure and commercialization of library collections and public information, and exacerbated the collapse of libraries around the globe.
Our presentation will consist of three parts, focusing on: (1) the tactics used by transnational capital and states to capture information and cultural spaces; (2) some counter-tactics currently deployed by various communities of opposition (radical reference, Occupy Libraries etc.), as well as potential strategies for popular control over the processes of production, collection and distribution of information; and (3) the starting point for the building of MayDay Rooms’ archives – the principles of collection, and the tensions/contradictions between access and preservation of cultural materials.”