Iterations #5: Operating / Exploitation

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A collaborative work, with inputs by: Mia Melvaer, Maxime Stifinner, Zoumana Meïté, Norbert Math, Iris Torruella Segura, Yoan Robin, Rosa Llop, Geraldine Juarez, Martin Rumori, Louis Rodil Fernandes.

08/11 – 24/11/2019,
Bozar Lab

Tuesday -> Sunday : 10:00 -> 18:00
Opening / Vernissage 07/11 : 18:00

Iterations talks and performance:
07/11 : 14:00 – 18:00, Rotunda Bertouille

BOZAR, Centre for fine arts
Rue Ravensteinstraat 23
1000 Brussels

A computer operating system functions through interacting scripts which negotiate collaboration, instrumentalisation and interaction between connected elements. This exhibition uses the operating system as a metaphor to investigate the conditions for working together. It occupies the semantic space between the English and French terms for it: operating system and système d’exploitation. Operating / Exploitation is the outcome of a group residency in Bozar Lab. It takes place in the framework of Iterations, an investigation into the potential of artistic collaboration in a digital context.

Operating / Exploitation is about the technology of collaboration. Technology in this context is not to be interpreted as ‘high tech’, but refers to everything that can be said about the know-how, tools, skills and techniques that are connected to the act of working together. Operating / Exploitation experiments with collectively shared authorship. It does not follow the scheme of the individual author as an isolated genius, but is rooted in networked culture. The artists working together in Operating / Exploitation consider their collaboration within a larger framework: a common project between several art organisations, which in its turn is part of a European funding program. Their col-labor-ation addresses the relationships and hierarchies between partners and agencies involved. What is the status of this togetherness? Is that ‘labor’ a commonly desired objective or a necessary evil? Is the action aimed at a common goal?

The metaphor of the operating system extends to the way computers can operate between each other and in relation to other systems. To operate a system, of whatever type, is to integrate, use, deploy and exploit material and energy. This goes for businesses, politics or art institutes as well as for humans doing things together. Computer code and software tools are often presumed to do this in agnostic ways, as tools that can be deployed for many purposes. However, they are deeply entangled with social political complexities that are not innocent nor neutral. For example, software needs hardware, a computer, a server, which uses metals, plastics, electricity, bodies that bend over keyboards. Working conditions on assembly lines, the way that electricity is produced, and the violent realities bound to the mining of conflict-minerals such as coltan which is used in electronic devices, is also part of the system in operation. Each time we ‘power up’ our computers we activate these realities.

In June and October, Constant invited several artists to exchange and work together in a collective residency that was hosted by Bozar Lab. The artists shared their practices through experiments, talks, studio visits and common exercises, and further developed the theme of a preceding exhibition that was made by another group of artists in esc, medien kunst labor in Graz, Austria. ‘Collaboration Contamination’ was made by the group that called themselves ‘Common ground’, and consisted of a huge pile of fertile soil that was deposited in the gallery space of esc, from which several elements grew: plants, textile, sounds, interactive motion. The exhibition stated that no collaboration is possible without making time and space for mutual change and influencing.

An outcome from the Bozar Lab residency in June was the decision to work around the conditions of working together. A start was made with a listing of what can be expected from a collaboration. Conflict and friction were considered to be essential notions to work with and were moved to the center of attention. The October residency, which took place in the two weeks before the exhibition opening, elaborated on this notion and developed the installation that is shown here.

Operating / Exploitation develops new languages that arise from doing together, finding out, trying, failing, trying again. Anthropologist Anna Tsing reminds us that ‘Collaboration is only possible through dedication to knowing that, “you are going to be changed in the process.”. The artists engaging with the project have committed themselves to a process of change, of the work, themselves, and the world it inhabits. Working together artistically puts image into action. Collective imagin-ation is doing, acting out while imagining together. It is through working together and mutually influencing each other that we will imagine and give shape to the world of tomorrow that we will inhabit together. If we write that story together and we want to be part of that, then togetherness is the tool that we need to study, improve and distribute. We cannot afford to not find out about its technologies.