One unexpected “viral” consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is the somewhat forced digital education that many faced and the renewed inspiration to use technology in unprescribed ways. For those selected to participate in the Digital Economies Lab, there already was the invitation to consider alternative and future relations between technology, art and culture; however, it is within the context of the pandemic and mass social upheaval that there was a deafeningly loud question of sustainability for the current model of monetizing labour and a critical assessment of who it serves. Join us as DEL participant, artist, lawyer and foresight strategist Macy Siu discusses co-developing the prototype for the Offer Need Machine, a network of decentralized reciprocity for creatives. Resisting the monetization of networks in the ever growing gig economy, the team behind the Offer Need Machine is breaking down the mechanics of power, generosity, and care to imagine a digital and physical space where creatives could do more than just exchange hard skills. Instead, imagine a space where artists could participate in, as Siu suggests, hard discussions. With a challenge as great as eroding established attitudes around the value of cultural labour, it is no surprise the research required to build the Offer Need Machine demands the machine be broken in order to build a more resilient model. Listen closely, for you may just catch there is more than one machine that is in need of breaking.
Produced by the Artengine Stream Team:
Mikke Gordon aka Seiiizi https://twitter.com/s3iiizi
Kimberly Sunstrum https://www.kmbrlysnstrm.com/
Production Design Consultation
Leslie Marshall/MAVNetwork http://mavnetwork.com/
Post-Production Support: Chris Ikonomopoulos
DEL Theme Music by Mikki Gordon aka Seiiizi
Artengine’s Digital Economies Lab brought together a diverse group of artists, designers and other creatives to rethink the infrastructure of cultural production in the 21st century.
Funding for the Digital Economies Lab was received through the Canada Council for the Arts Digital Strategies Fund.
This discussion brings together artist, scholar and Director of Creating Knowing and Sharing: The Arts and Cultures of First Nations at the Canada Council for the Arts, Steven Loft; craft historian Sandra Alfoldy; architect Tom Bessai; and fashion designer, Valerie Lamontagne, to consider the way we talk about making.
Let’s start with the basics. Do you want to tell us a little bit about the ONM project? How is it now, cause I know it’s changed a lot. What is the project in its current state of prototyping?
Initially the project stemmed off of a little bit of an obsession with mushrooms and mycelium networks and how natural systems are able to detect and transfer resources amongst its networks. We were curious as to how we could maybe learn from these systems to think about ways that knowledge sharing and resources could be transferred among artist communities.
We know there is already a culture of generosity between artists and creators, mostly out of necessity, out of survival, and it exists in usually more local scales.
We were curious as to whether technology or digital platforms could enable a wider spread of this kind of resource, sensing as well as transfer.
So, the hypothesis going into our research or our study, our exploration, was whether there could be something that could function as this decentralized network of reciprocity and to really think about the value of artistic labor in a way that is not so much around market economics, but how can we help each other, support each other, and create collective collaboration and work together in a way that repurposes precariousness amongst artists.
If we can go back to the question of technology, because I think it’s something we’ve talked about with everyone in these conversations about the Digital Economies Lab. We proposed a lot of frameworks that were very tech-centred and a lot of the participants kind of pushed back against that.
What emerged, in some ways, was a sort of binary between the idea of human-centred design versus technology-centred design, or maybe solution-centred design, maybe that was some of the binary there.
Do you think that’s actually a useful and real binary?
Did you, yourself, feel that desire to make something human-centred, or was it kind of just a different way of thinking, that these things are actually quite entangled?
I mean, increasingly, I’m also just against the focus on “human-centred.” I’m more interested in what’s beyond that, cause I find being human-centred, you’re ignoring all the deeply entrenched ties that we have with our environment, with other beings, with spaces.
So, I mean, something that’s come up is like the idea of society-centred design, where you are acknowledging you’re designing for the collective. You’re designing for a broader context of systems that we know as humans we impact and in rethinking our social contract with each other, with spaces, with other living things.
Also, the notion of “more than human.”
With human-centred design, you are in a sense going from the ground up a little bit, in paying attention to needs that you observe in people or in interactions between people and, then, technology becomes a tool to think of what would meet those needs or what would help or support those needs.
I think, increasingly, we need to think beyond ‘just a human’ into our relationships with others…
So, here’s this question of trust, right? That’s one of the big challenges. I mean, any platform that is around exchange and sharing, its biggest challenge seems to be that idea of building trust. And some of those corporate platforms we’ve talked about, there’s sort of these legal structures, there’s also financial and penalization and all of this, but that’s seems quite antithetical to what you guys are doing. So how have you been considering trust? And I wonder too, in that last comment you were saying, do trust and scale have a sort of relationship? Is there a scale that certain types of ways of thinking about trust are more suited to?
Yeah, I mean, with those platforms the idea is that the people who are on it are essentially consumers, but how can we think of participants as like co-conspirators or just not put that user or consumer lens to it, but in thinking more about the relationship of people within a platform. Trust is a really powerful and, also, renewable human resource. I think at the core of it is really about feeling like you are able to make yourself vulnerable to another person or another entity and, I guess, feeling like whoever you’re interacting with is also being vulnerable to you. Obviously, there’s an element of risk in it, and I think sometimes in the other platforms that risk is like paired up against convenience or being able to do things quickly or, yeah.
I think one of the most interesting things and one of the most challenging things that the project has taken on is rethinking how we share and rethinking, in particular, value. How do you untangle monetary value from its sort of hold on our systems of exchange?
That’s like a really quite wicked problem.
Can you talk a bit about how you guys have faced that challenge and thought about that process?
Yeah. I mean it’s very hard and I feel like, more and more so, it’s an expectation of artists to be everything, to be the businessperson, the PR person and, also, to be ‘the creative’ and have your practice.
It’s a system that’s really hard to topple but I think that’s part of what we wanted to explore, whether an economy of care could become something–that not replaces but could be adjacent or to topple a little bit–like to become this anticapitalist alternative.
It’s interesting, though. You said something there about the idea of–maybe eroding more than topple or even just coexisting with–something that can shore up the care that is needed. Like we need multiple systems working at once in order for us to find a more fulfilled life, right? We can’t simply have one system, and then this is a way of maybe formalizing some of those elements.
I mean, these already exist among different communities within, especially within marginalized communities, racialized communities, because they have had to survive against institutions and systems of oppression.
So, how do we amplify those practices and how do we better recognize and acknowledge those values?
So, yeah. It’s almost like can it seep through and, like you were saying, “erode” these other expectations around always producing, around always being busy, always having to make and create and yet not being acknowledged for it and not being compensated properly and also constantly struggling to find resources to continue your practice.