conference on ABC of collaboration

Buffalo, NY, April 24-25 2004

Social Network Architectures
Collaborative Models for Cultural Resistance

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When: April 24-25 2004, SUNY at Buffalo

Concept : Trebor Scholz (artist and professor, State University of New York at Buffalo, Department of Media Study) and Geert Lovink (Ph.D, media theorist and Internet critic, Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, University of Queensland, Australia)

In a high-energy context this conference will bring together artists, designers, social scientists, engineers, and scientists in formats such as workshops, lectures, open mike, parties, screenings, interviews, brain storm sessions, presentations of artwork, and an open space (the coffee break/water-cooler model)—all aiming at ongoing collaborations and exchange of knowledge, the creation of prototype projects. This collision of ideas and technologies seeks to transcend mere catharsis, going beyond the self-satisfying protest mode to direct action. The aim of the event will be to get a deeper understanding of the dynamics of collaboration, models of critical web-based art, and the role media technologies play in the making of social networks.

The event will seek ways to go beyond the outmoded top-down conference format and intends to experiment with alternative forms of interactive presentations and debate. Dance, discuss, eat, argue, laugh, learn, celebrate dissent, make new friends, and meet future collaborators.


Over the past years Internet activism has seen a spectacular rise. From Seattle (December 99) to 911 responses, protests for a democratic globalization process and the rise of the biggest anti-war movement since the Vietnam war, global social movements have never done better. There is talk of a ‘transnational civil society’ in the making. Numerous models for global governance are circulating. Worldwide anti-war demonstrations showed that resistance in the streets is not obsolete as a form of productive dissent and accelerated their mobilizations through the use of a variety of ‘tactical media’.

However, despite recession and growing discontent, the structure of mainstream media has not changed. Quite the opposite. The concentration of media power in fewer and fewer hands seems unstoppable. Is the world of alternative ‘tactical media’ growing into its own small parallel world? Web logging seems to suggest so. Never before has there been so much (interactive) commentary about what news media report about—with so little effect on the structures that fabricate ‘public opinion.’

What are the long-term goals of artists, activists and critics? What is the use of critical discourses if they, in the end, do not reach wider audience? Can activists address fundamental political issues or will their protests be limited to riot carnival during summits? How affective is the wide spectrum of possible critical interventions for cultural producers online– from facilitating online initiatives to web-based artwork to tech support for what is often called the movement?

For cultural workers the Internet offers the potential for an entirely new mode of real-world engagement, communication and collaboration. On the one hand, we have a virtual community of practitioners aiming for direct social engagement and, on the other, people who jump right into the golden cage of the commercial art world.

Today, web-based art with political intent is abundantly available on the Internet. Initially hopes were widespread that this is a non-capitalizable art form using alternative structures of dissemination. Techno-formalism and the institutionalization of web-based art with its racial undertones has, over the past years taken away from countless of these hopes. For many artists disenchanted with the gallery as primary site, the Internet remains the most promising locale for real-world engagement. Analogies and metaphors have become tactical devices forming counter-ideologies. What are useful models of radical cultural production online that have real potential for communication? What is the relationship of this work to concrete policy making, and the history of art?

As a general framework we haven chosen to look into the inner workings of collaboration. With or without technology, what dominates all cultural forms these days are intense forms of what the German theorist Christoph Spehr calls ‘free cooperation.’

What do the ‘smart mobs’ experience when they interact? It is important here to state that collaboration has a tendency beyond good and evil and is almost unavoidably a product of increased network density, may it be in organizations, movements or cities. There is no way back to the 19th century individual-as-genius. Yet, in the same way we can see the end of the division of labor. Specializations exist, and remain a necessicity, but can only work if there is sufficient cross-cultural, inter-professional exchange.

Slaves let what happens happen, they have the freedom to obey. But how about today’s artists ? People are free and equal in the context of free cooperation; the rules don’t give anyone more rights. It is important to realize the collective capital of the cooperation.

Who has the power? Those who contribute the most cultural capital or those with the right technical skills? How is this power relationship re-negotiated, Spehr asks. How do we figure out the spaces in which conflicts are secure and protected? Respect is based on conflict and working through things, not on bleak consensus. In a forced collaboration we are nobody, we are traumatized. Are the rules fair or self-serving and convenient for certain members of the cooperation? Some rules can be bent, others broken. It needs to be a fair exchange. “There are no rules but the ‘old rules.’”(Gayatri Spivak) In a free cooperation the political person is not separated from the everyday person.

We expect that somebody in the group says what we have to do and then that. Without personal gain it does not work, it would be an unrealistic cooperation. Cooperations must pay. And they need be workable without consensus.   Free cooperation is about loyalty to people but not to structures as a free cooperation is re-evaluated time and again. Don’t stand others in the way. And: Be self-reflective.

Session 1) Models of Online Cultural Production

While models of web-based art flourished in the mid-90s, much of the debate focused on formal interventions, increasingly modernist moves enhanced by increasingly sophisticated technical skills. What are current critical models of computer mediated and computer generated artistic practices including disruptive emerging networked practices, web-based art, hyper-media projects, computer games, and shared virtual environments? How do we assess the by now fashionable relationship between the street and the Internet as platforms for dissent? What are hopeful examples of web-based artwork that go beyond the initial play, that go beyond entertainment, mere decoration, empty beauty and coded self-expression? How can we re-define a critical network based practice that takes account of its social context and does not give itself up to the golden cage of the institutionalized artworld? How can education in new media go beyond the training of students for corporate dot.bomb jobs, creating a context that encourages the creation of experimental web-based artworks re-inscribing historical memory, re-inscribing untold histories, a practice that embraces new technologies optimistically while not loosing the necessary skepticism, a practice that incorporates theory.

Possible speakers:

Brian Holmes, Eduardo Navas (Net Art Review), Jeff Gates (Smithonian), Sarah Diamond (Banff), Paul Vanouse, Natalie Bookchin, Wayne Ashley (director New Media Initiative Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, organizer of Future of War Conference), Josephine Anstey, Paul Vanouse, Martha McCaughey and Michael D. Ayers (editors of Cyberactivism Online Activism in Theory and Practice), Alex Halavais—in Buffalo—

(, Horit Herman Peled (Tel Aviv), Picture Projects, Christiane Paul (maybe, net curator Whitney Museum), Ricardo Miranda Zuñiga (NYC).

Session 2) Lists, Blogs and the Quest for Meaning

Mailing lists have become such a standard instrument in every area of life, it is not likely that they would be easy to replace. They have limitations, though. Some of the problems mailing lists encounter include domination by a few members with more time than fresh ideas, spamming (flooding the list with petitions, forwarded messages, etc.), trolling (disruptive behavior). How then can we ensure the greatest freedom for the greatest number, without simultaneously abridging the freedoms of others? Discussions may be choked by a plethora of announcements or excessive self-promotion. It is often difficult to find the right balance between moderation and openness. Based on past experience, Discordia has been designed to avoid or alleviate problems like these. This will not make mailing lists obsolete, but should open up the territory for more diverse communication.

Possible speakers:

The Thing, Nettime (Ted Byfield), Discordia (Amy Alexander), Indymedia (Evan or Sheri), Oz Shelach (Israeli peace activist, NYC, editor/ founder of, Clay Shirky, DeeDee Halleck.

Session 3) Tech Skill Exchange

A one-day workshop will focus in the first half of the day in a large number of short public presentations by technology activists, new media artists, software programmers, and other digerati who use new technologies for potentially subversive results.

The focus of the second half of the day is a non-hierarchical diverse peer-to-peer exchange. This concrete technical skill workshop will be broken down into five sections: 1) web-based organizing 2) low cost wireless technology 3) DIY radio communication 4) socially critical web-based art 5) the social context of the Internet – often ignored issues of racial exclusion online, gender and access.

Possible speakers:

Indymedia Buffalo, Indymedia NYC, Critical Art Ensemble, Chris Eggert (programmer, UB), Ruckus Organizer: Alan Gunner (, John Duda (Tech Support for the Revolution, ), Uri Gordon ( uri@riseup.netanarchist theory/ democracy , Israeli php student at Oxford, UK)

Session 4) The High Art of Collaboration

„When we are together we are an assembly, when we are separated we are a network”

Are there new forms of expression, new identities that result? What are workable approaches to make artist/ programmer collaborations useful to all involved? How can cultural and semiotic differences be overcome? How can the content-provider / code-pusher dichotomy be overcome and communication barriers be mitigated? What can we learn from historical precedents such as chat spaces and role-playing environments, media production cooperatives, artists’ collaboration, and scientists’ collaborations? How do we evaluate cooperative initiatives? What about individual achievement? This summit will bring together expertise in computer-supported cooperative work, computer-supported communities, collaborative video conferencing, online discussion, chat and design systems, agent technologies, human computer interface design, performance.

Possible speakers:

Daoud Kuttab (Palestine), folks from, Mayo Fuster ((Valencia, Spain) phd networking of social movements, Christoph Spehr (Bremen, Gernmany).

Session 5) Global Social Movements / Participatory Networked Cultures

Are there ways to scale up online activities? At what point will the distribution issue, now still in the hands of corporate giants, be put on the table? Satellite for the people and broadband for all? What is the role of the emerging ‘cellspace’ and wireless networks? A recent FCC ruling seems to point in the opposite direction. How can self-referential preaching to the converted be prevented and larger media issue be addressed? Ten years after the introduction of the World Wide Web, the Internet is no longer in its infancy stage. What post-dotcom models are sustainable beyond sharing free content on peer-2-peer networks? How can the ‘multitude’ address the issue of the ‘political’ without turning into a political party itself?

What is networking? From network protocols such as IP, UDP, and TCP to hubs, switches, and routers or information is transmitted optically, electronically, or wirelessly. For the majority of users networking is equivalent to the Web, SMS, telephone. For yet others networking is a social phenomena that has changed and is changing how humans communicate, business work and the military operates. These many aspects point to networking, its possibilities, its capabilities, and its limitations.

Possible speakers: Brian Holmes, Yates McKee, Mayo Fuster ((Valencia, Spain) phd networking of social movements: „When we are together we are an assembly, when we are separated we are a network”.))


In a collaborative weblog in which all participants are simultaneously editors

–we collect a large amount of material that is then edited by the entire group. All group members can edit each participant’s contribution.

SATELITE WORKSHOP: In conjunction to the conference at SUNY at Buffalo, there will be a workshop at NYU, Dept of Media Study or the ITP.

The conference aims to create deep creative relationship within departments and disciplines at SUNY Buffalo but also internationally.


Both organizers are members of the founding collective of DISCORDIA, a collaborative weblog on art, tech culture, and politics

Geert Lovink is a media theorist and Internet critic, based in Brisbane, Australia. He is the founder of numerous Internet projects such as the Nettime and Fibreculture mailing lists. He is the co-organizer of conferences like Next Five Minutes and TulipomaniaDotcom (Amsterdam), Dark Markets (Vienna) and Crisis Media (Delhi). The MIT Press recently published his writing on critical Internet culture ‘Dark Fiber’ and ‘Uncanny Networks,’ a collection of his interviews. In October 2003 V2_Publishing will bring out his latest study on Internet culture My First Recession.

Trebor Scholz is an East Berlin-born Brooklyn-based cross-disciplinary artist and writer who links his political investments and artistic sensitivities with his commitment to emerging networked media. Past projects include “Carnival in the Eye of the Storm,” “Right2Fight,” and “Tuesday Afternoon.” A graduate of the Whitney Independent Study Program Scholz is professor at the Department of Media Study, SUNY at Buffalo. He exhibits and lectures widely in the US and Europe.

In collaboration with SUNY:

Bill Warner (copyright conference)

Design/ Art Department

Alex Halavais, (communication dept., School of Informatics)

Literature Department

Contact details: Trebor Scholz (, Geert Lovink (