THE VOID BLOG | Looking at Expanded Audio-Visual Publishing for Open Collaborations
As part of the INC, THE VOID is an experimental audio-visual publishing platform for artistic and political research. When working with an audio-visual publishing format, we found ourselves asking: How we can make the language of videographic research more understandable? How do we make a wide variety of conversations happen in video language? To address this gap, we are seeking to rethink audio-visual publishing not just as a one-way street wherein the detached video researcher controls the narrative, but rather as an open and shifting field where conversation can happen. The implicit hierarchies in our ways of seeing need criticism, and as the ways of seeing are intimately connected to the ways of knowing, transforming one means transforming the other.
In the digital landscapes of privatized content platforms and monetized video-sharing services, the creative processes of video production are to the general public at large unknown. This lack of transparency can be viewed as part of a larger development of the capitalist ‘knowledge economy’, wherein information is an economic resource that must be limited to retain scarcity . Digital infrastructures are designed and maintained to keep knowledge privatized and tightly controlled. In the black box of most sharing platforms, users are given little-to-no insight as to how the content they are consuming came to be and the extent of resources going into it, whether that be for academic blog posts, video essays, or digital artworks.
“When a machine runs efficiently. When a matter of fact is settled, one need focus only on its inputs and outputs and not on its internal complexity. Thus, paradoxically, the more science and technology succeed, the more opaque and obscure they become.”
As defined by Bruno Latour, black boxing refers to how successful scientific or technical operations appear to run effortlessly and automatically as an ontologically stable unit. By contrast, few operations are ever stable and effortless but rely upon complex webs of diverse activities. The opposite of this is transparency, wherein the internal operations are laid on the table for all to see (and sometimes also to interact with). The benefit of such transparency is that it allows conversation through replication of the methods used, as well as increased examination and re-evaluation of the conclusions drawn. It matters not only what the outcome is, but also what its production process looked like. This ease of replicability goes hand-in-hand with strengthening collaboration. It follows that what is accessible and doable, is also inviting, and what is inviting is generally also inspiring (although spite is also a strong motivator).
In contrast with the knowledge economy at large, collaborative practices in research, publishing, and cultural production offer modes of peer production, wherein the digital infrastructures that seek to contain and hide knowledge are subverted to let the knowledge be openly shared. Increased transparency plays a vital role in allowing various participants insights into the methods and conclusions of others, and consequently also enables one to position oneself directly in the process of knowledge construction. As noted by Snyder and Allen “the picture is valuable as an index of the truth only to the extent that the process by which it is made is stated explicitly, and the pictures can be interpreted accurately only by people who have learned how to interpret them” . Conversations and progress made by audio-visual publishing depend on a mutual understanding between maker and audience, otherwise, it merely serves as a device for the video-maker to one-sidedly promote their ideas. Needless to say, that is not the goal of THE VOID.
On this note, it must be acknowledged that while black boxing of knowledge represents a large issue in the unfolding of digital life, transparency in the online realms is far from non-existing. The universal nature of a site like YouTube means that a generation of video and content makers share their knowledge and co-produce outputs in a bottom-up manner. Unlike any earlier period of media production, each user can serve as a one-person production crew. ‘Insider knowledge’ from the traditional media industry is becoming more and more accessible due to users with either expert or amateur knowledge sharing their craft.
Videomaking has never been more accessible and transparent. Platforms create accessibility by providing the space in which collaborative practices occur in the first place. At the same time, the nature of User-Generated Content (USG) is that the labor put into video production only serves to support the private enterprise of the platform. The inherent property regimes on which USG runs remain intact, and the potential of peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing is ruled under the thumb of commodification. Thus, while video-sharing platforms are making knowledge accessible to the public, they also effectively garner the conditions of knowledge production in a centralized core of capitalist accumulation.
The platform favors a specific approach to videomaking which is clean, manufactured and advertisement friendly. The plurality of videomaking is hardly present in the standardized stream of content, curated by a lucid algorithmic process. As YouTube now serves as the ‘gateway’ for aspiring filmmakers, it is worthwhile to investigate the interoperability between all that is shared (published) and all that is hidden (non-published).
This is the core case of the peer-oriented movement subverting the secrecy of networks, namely free internet activism. The efforts of the ‘Free software movement’, which initially derives from ideas of replicability and knowledge-sharing established in the scientific community, have brought on new practices that revolutionized IT sciences as we know them. The ethical underpinnings introduced as part of the movement towards FLOSS (‘Free/libre and Open-source Software’), hold important lessons far beyond that of IT sciences. Important to note in this regard is that ‘free’ does not relate to monetary costs, but rather to the accessibility and liberty of usage. To emphasize, the philosophy of FLOSS consists of four central freedoms that any software development must follow to be considered ‘free’:
(Freedom 0) The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.
(Freedom 1) The freedom to study how the program works and change it so it does your computing as you wish.
(Freedom 2) The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
(Freedom 3) The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others.
How can similar principles be imported to other fields? And for what purposes? In simple terms, open-source (OS) production means revealing the ‘source’ from which your project derives. In the realm of programming this would be the code your software runs on, but more generally, the same logic can be applied to any pool of resources a creator both draws from and pours back into. Although it can be tempting to keep the pool to yourself, it has been shown time and time again that sharing the pool also expands the pool.
But OS is not the final solution to the problems at hand. The use of OS software is increasingly becoming incorporated in the large-scale operations of IT corporations such as IBM and Google and media giants like Disney. Ultimately these developments have, accordingly sterilized the OS movement, removing all its counter-critical potential in favor of flexible corporate usage. As OS and FS become neutralized as instruments in growth politics, the pursuit of free and autonomous production needs working methods that open up the black box in which this appropriation occurs. Additionally, OS is limited in that it only expands your project’s reach by allowing others to access the software or resources used. It has little to offer for extending research, videomaking, and publishing material requirements. In the end, free software (FS) on proprietary and restricted hardware can only do so much. There is much to be said for expanding the access of equipment itself and thereby also extending videomaking to a larger group of participants. As part of a bigger institution, the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (HvA), THE VOID holds the right material access for doing this. Through our arrangement, we have access to a multi-camera studio set-up, a rather good one at that. This enables us to produce stable outputs, and as we are working on developing our extended methodology and collaborative practice, we aid other producers with the access and resources we have to offer.
Videomaking, in most of its forms, is inherently collaborative, but which form this collaboration takes is negotiated on a project-specific basis. The currently unfolding project arranged by Timeis.Capital in collaboration with THE VOID engages in questions of free collaboration and non-hierarchical production for audio-visual publishing and artistic research. Rather than seeing research as an external process to the human mind, meaning that the relation of ‘knower to known’ remains independent and unacknowledged, we seek to provide emancipatory research methods that bring together the investigator and the investigated. Using audiovisual media as a tool, we strive with this project to challenge existing paradigms of research and bring about new social imaginaries of co-production.
What is the goal of all this, ultimately? For THE VOID the ambitions are not just short-term collaboration, but rather to construct something useful and sustainable. While projects and videos have a definitive timeline of production, the knowledge and experience we gather do not. Collective knowledge-making does not move into post-production and the final stage, it is always in development. Thus, we are reaching for means to archive and share our experience for future projects to come, both of our own and from others. We seek to blur the boundaries between formats to create a transformative agenda that expands publishing for practice-based research.
To share knowledge, THE VOID will be releasing a working manual encompassing our approach to videomaking, which both serves as a how-to guide for curious beginners and an archival document of our experiments. Accompanying the manual, we will also launch an open event for the discussion of collaborative practices for extended publishing. Interested participants may keep an eye out on the INC website for updates soon to come!
 Bell, D. (1974). The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. London: Heinemann.
 Latour, B. (1999). Pandora’s hope: essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
 Snyder, & Allen, N. W. (1975). Photography, Vision, and Representation. Critical Inquiry, 2(1), 143–169.
Belbury. (n.d). Diagram of a black box input and output. Retrieved December 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_box#/media/File:Black_box_diagram.svg
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Bell, D. (1974). The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. London: Heinemann.|
GNU. (2021). What is Free Software? Retrieved December 2022, from https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html.en#f1
Latour, B. (1999). Pandora’s hope: essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Snyder, & Allen, N. W. (1975). Photography, Vision, and Representation. Critical Inquiry, 2(1), 143–169. https://doi.org/10.1086/447832
Vadde, A. (2017). Amateur Creativity: Contemporary Literature and the Digital Publishing Scene. New Literary History, 48(1), 27–51. https://doi.org/10.1353/nlh.2017.0001