DO IT YOURSELF MEDIA NETWORKS

Liesbeth Huybrechts
Catholic University Leuven, Media And Design Academy Weg naar As 50, 3600 Genk, Belgium

ABSTRACT We don’t always realize that the boundaries between the physical and virtual worlds in our daily life are becoming increasingly sketchy, even invisible. We often realize that a chat session is possible thanks to a computer network. But it is less obvious that our city, our living room or even our food, in addition to Internet traffic, depend on this technology. Developers are trying their best to make this “ubiquitous” technology (often referred to as “ubiquitous computing”) as obvious as possible. The outcome is that now and then we actually tend to forget that it is out there. This technology, which operates under the visible surface, can then ensure that we are “lived” instead of “living” ourselves, while “experiencing” technology. There are artists who are trying to remind us of this presence. They play an important role in exposing the social and cultural impact of this technology and help us react to our surroundings in a more personal and durable manner. Louis de Cordier and Sarah Pillen or Anouk De Clercq, for example, use subtle interventions to highlight the impact that the interweaving of virtual and physical worlds has on our life. Certain artist’s collectives such as OKNO and FoAM prefer to take it to the next level and guide people in their contact with technology and media. They check technological networks to see where they can intervene, enabling them to install alternative “network ecologies”. These activities are often referred to as Do It Yourself (DIY). They reveal where technology plays a role in our environment, how we can use this knowledge to our own benefit, and also how we can creatively shape our own surroundings. Creativity is thus not only reserved for artists. Creativity intervenes at all levels of our daily life. It helps us take our place in the world that we live in more consciously, whether by decorating our living room, or mapping our personal route through the city (Certeau, 1988). Below we will look at how artists approach the phenomenon of ubiquitous computing and how they bring about network ecologies and DIY cultures in response to it. The fields of tension between tangible and intangible, place and space and between disciplines serve as the source of inspiration for alternative field studies on “space”. In this research we chose to combine insights of the communication and cultural studies with the artistic and design research to make a more holistic and material approach to the man/technology/environment relationship possible. The paper is a part of an ongoing research towards the question on how art mediates the relation between man/technology/environment. KEYWORDS ubiquitous computing, network ecologies, art and society, DIY

1. INTRODUCTION
We don’t always realize that the boundaries between the physical and virtual worlds in our daily life are becoming increasingly sketchy, even invisible. We often realize that a chat session is possible thanks to a computer network. But it is less obvious that our city, our living room or even our food, in addition to Internet traffic, depend on this technology. Developers are trying their best to make this “ubiquitous” technology (often referred to as “ubiquitous computing”) as obvious as possible. The outcome is that now and then we actually tend to forget that it is out there. This technology, which operates under the visible surface, can then ensure that we are “lived” instead of “living” ourselves, while “experiencing” technology. There are artists who are trying to remind us of this presence. They play an important role in exposing the social and cultural impact of this technology and help us react to our surroundings in a more personal and durable manner. Some artists use subtle interventions to highlight the impact that the interweaving of virtual and physical worlds has on our life. Certain artist’s collectives prefer to take it to the next level and guide people in their contact with technology and media. They check technological networks to see where they can intervene, enabling them to install alternative “network ecologies”. These activities are often referred to as

Do It Yourself (DIY). They reveal where technology plays a role in our environment, how we can use this knowledge to our own benefit, and also how we can creatively shape our own surroundings. Creativity is thus not only reserved for artists. Creativity intervenes at all levels of our daily life. It helps us take our place in the world that we live in more consciously, whether by decorating our living room, or mapping our personal route through the city (Certeau, 1988). Below we will look at how artists approach the phenomenon of ubiquitous computing and how they bring about network ecologies and DIY cultures in response to it. The fields of tension between tangible and intangible, place and space and between disciplines serve as the source of inspiration for alternative field studies on “space”. In this research we chose to combine insights of the communication and cultural studies with the artistic and design research to make a more holistic and material approach to the man/technology/environment relationship possible. The paper is a part of an ongoing research towards the question on how art mediates the relation between man/technology/environment.

2. UBIQUITOUS COMPUTING
Some definitions of ubiquitous computing describe technology as being “everywhere”: they state that our entire environment is becoming technological. Hence the often used term everyware. Other definitions mainly concern the fact that objects are becoming intelligent (“things that think”). Automation is an important concept in this context. Objects have started to anticipate our behavior: I walk into a room and the light switches itself on. The outcome is that we end up having to pay less attention to technology, which we usually appreciate as a positive development. As a result, the computer and design world is even more stimulated to use a more “intuitive” approach in design (Bolter & Gromala, 2003) (Galloway, 2004). In some situations, however, we start to experience that same automated behavior of objects as disturbing or even threatening. We are bombarded by digital advertising billboards - which will soon be customized - , whether we like it or not, with visually “loud” messages. Closed circuit TV cameras register our actions in the city, in the name of safety, and our shopping behavior channels our data into different types of commercial databases. The much-desired ease of use and fun to use aspects of objects come with a side-effect, namely that we have to partially relinquish the control of an important component of our daily infrastructure. Artists are often interested in making the invisible visible (Tufte, 1990), the obvious strange, what is automatic a nuisance, and to highlight the material aspect of things. They share this interest with a number of disciplines, such as social and cultural scientists or designers. The actions within, between and across the boundaries of a discipline can fuel the debate on ubiquitous computing in its many aspects. What does it mean when virtual and physical start to blend? How should we conceive this fusion? Together with Anton Aeki and Heidi Voet, Anouk De Clercq developed a virtual meeting place named “hereisthere” (2006) to collect their diverse views of the city of Beijing. Small threads against a black backdrop connect images, sounds, and texts with one another. They continuously create new links, thereby literally shifting the horizons of the makers and the onlookers. They have thus set up a virtual space, which reveals the hybrid nature of our daily surroundings. Their work illustrates the potential and the beauty of this “layeredness” in the space that surrounds us. At the same time, it also presents the challenges for our daily communication. We will thus be increasingly confronted with intercultural communication, or as illustrated by Louis De Cordier and Sarah Pillen in their project “Felt” (2003), our present architecture is no longer suited to our new communication methods. If we are literally less connected to cables for our data traffic, then why should we have to put up with a “fixed” architecture, such as an office? And if our outside environment is chock full of radiation and data, shouldn’t we think of some protection? Why can we not carry our architecture along on our body? These are some of the issues raised by Louis De Cordier and Sarah Pillen with “Felt”, a garment made of thick felt. The early nomads used this material to protect themselves against wind and bad weather. De Cordier and Pillen have revisited this material as a nomadic or portable architecture, which protects our body in our information environment. They do this with an aesthetic and technologically carefully considered intervention and thus draw our attention to the presence of technological networks in our environment.

3. NETWORK ECOLOGIES

Artists have always explored different uses of new technologies. At the time when the first portable video cameras became available, the so-called Sony Portapaks, in the late 1960s, artists used this technology to create their own alternative media networks (Paul, 2003, p. 241) (Joselit, 2007). Nowadays the Internet is the most discussed example of a personalized use of technological networks. The product of a network for military purposes, the Internet rapidly became a tool enabling scientists to share knowledge or even launch their own publication network. Many artists and net critics did not wait to explore new approached to discussion, knowledge sharing and ways of networking, using this technology. Regularly this was more of a reaction against the mainstream media, controlled by the authorities or commercial media groups and the Internet was used to redevelop one’s own voice in the public debate. It is no coincidence that the Internet is the best-known tool for alternative reporting. It has facilitated the process of “independent” publishing to a large extent, also because the production of content using the Internet, a computer and open source software (computer programming, where the source code can be viewed and even changed) continues to be relatively cheap. This is another important motive of the so-called grassroots or civilian journalism. Generally speaking, this means that civilians are in charge and participating in the media debate and the supply of information. Within the Flemish media landscape this trend has translated itself into a number of organized initiatives, such as Indymedia (an international organization with branches in Flanders), although they are still the exception. The spokespersons for Indymedia play an important role in publicizing the “Do It Yourself (DIY)” media networks. In 2000, they published the book “Media-activism. Don't hate the media, be the media” (Soete, Custers, De Bondt, 2000), an accessible manual for alternative media reporting using the Internet, video or audio. Usually though, individuals publish on the net. The creation of several online tools, such as blogs and social network sites (usually under the collective denominator web 2.0), has contributed to this development in no uncertain terms. We massively share information via a post on a blog or a film that we made ourselves and uploaded to YouTube. This content mainly functions like a social object. A shift has operated itself from the first web generation, where the emphasis was largely on the distribution of information between networks of computers to web 2.0, where the distribution of information occurs between networks of people (Zijlstra, 2007). The growing number of bloggers and “participants” on social network sites has reinforced the “We are the media” motto. The question arises though to what extent it is really the civilians who are determining the media discourse. The platforms that they use to publish on a daily basis are often owned by media giants such as Google, much like the classic media landscape. New media technologies offer opportunities for more “distributed” (in contrast with more “centralized” creativity), more participation and self-organization and the development of a “counter-voice”, which is different from the voice of the authorities and the mass media. This does not necessarily and automatically lead to democracy and a “public sphere 2.0” (De Waal, 2007). A civilian’s participation just as often has a rather confirming effect on the prevalent media discourse. Irrespective of the question of whether these media are really critical or communicative, the aesthetics of their messages also play an important role. The articles are often written in a more personal manner than those in the mainstream media, the photos are often more amateurish and grainy. They carry the aesthetics of a moment in them. This is a reaction, although not always consciously, against the production methods of the professional media. They are consumed just as massively as the media for and by ourselves, as “extramedial” media (Gunthert, 2007) (Mulder, 2004). Next to the initiatives of the media organization and the individual, the experiments of the artist with media and the extra-medial also have a vitalizing impact on a critical media discourse. The DIY philosophy also plays an important role within the arts. Cultural practices are regularly aimed at subverting the “effective” uses of different types of (consumer) technology, both hardware and software, to their “own” uses (Ramocki, 2007). Technologies, civilians, journalists and artists have always been a link in a broader media ecology or “mesh-up” network, as Tapio Mäkela defines it, whereby the media are viewed in relation to a number of diverse actors (such as companies, the authorities, artists, engineers, etc.) and materials (network cable, transmitter, GPS, etc.). The Brussels collective OKNO uses this media ecology as a starting point for its artistic functioning. OKNO is an “umbrella organization, which develops research and creation platforms for artists, lends support during the production phase, and which programs works by OKNO members, but also of other artists (Annemie Maes, 29.12.07)”. OKNO groups a number of artist’s organizations, who are all actively working with technology in the broadest sense of the word. Their activities concerning radio, for example, illustrate their constant testing and expanding of the media boundaries. Radio is an interesting case, because of the tension between its sensitivity to takeovers and its possibilities of decentralized

communication. Hitler helped create radio. At the same time, radio also belonged to the amateur and the DIY technician, and was an important tool for social movements in the 1960s. This example thus illustrates how media always function within a broader ecology. OKNO explores the possibilities of radio for decentralized communication. Their networked performances and experiments with waves allow us to conceive of radio as a network of junctions, where waves can be picked up from every point, and then converted into media content (Medosch, 2005) (Mulder, 2004). At the center of the group’s functioning, is not radio technology itself, but the network concept. The organization literally creates networks by placing nodes and junctions, in various locations, and by also physically putting them together. Their network platform is, first and foremost, an artistic showcasing and research location, which, partly due to the technology, transgresses the boundaries of the walls of museums or galleries or even geographical boundaries. In second place, OKNO opens up its networks to the general public. Everyone who is interested can join. The artists involved organize workshops or put manuals online, which guide people in setting up their own junction or node. They contribute to building alternative and more democratic networks, in collaboration with the initiative “Réseau Citoyen”, a wireless network organized by its users.

4. GROW YOUR OWN WORLDS
OKNO’s experiments illustrate that Internet technology is not the only technology to lend itself to decentralized and personalized use. The phenomenon of ubiquitous computing brings about a mental shift from a manipulation of media and technology to a manipulation of “things”. Clothing, consumer electronics of food, can be used in an alternative manner and developed in a network, subject to a healthy interest in technologies within the daily context. This is the case for the FoAM collective, which has been conducting research for several years on the interaction between the arts, science, technology and the daily environment. FoAM came about in 1999/2000 and was founded by Starlab’s (a scientific research institute in Brussels) cultural department. In 2001, Maja Kusmanovic, Nik Gaffney and Lina Kusaite converted FoAM into an independent non-profit association, which rapidly developed into an international network. They feel that the art world tends to move too much in its own closed circles, and underestimates the potential of daily life. Their interest in new technologies is related to an important extent with the fact that it is part of daily life. The subjects that they deal with appeal to everybody: clothing, materials, ecology or food. The “food” events set up by FoAM were initially created with the aim of opening up the discussion between people from diverse disciplines and domains, by eating together, a language that almost everyone has in common. FoAM thinks an interdisciplinary approach is essential (they call themselves generalists) because making projects in and about daily life entails too many different components for a mono-disciplinary approach. After some time, food became a subject of their projects. Food inherently comprises several ethical, social and cultural issues. Under the denominator “Luminous Green”, they also founded a broader discussion platform, which centered on ecological issues in relation to society’s technological development. Technology is never viewed in a merely utopian or pessimistic manner. Quite the contrary. The group tries to use technology in an “alternative” manner, to change our view. They create alternative food, clothing or materials. They stimulate people to shape their environment themselves. Under the motto “Grow Your Own Worlds”, they function as an advice and work platform for everybody wishing to design, research or produce in a different, more ecological and sustainable manner. The DIY philosophy and its democratic impact is an important point, as is the case for OKNO.

5. CONCLUSION: DO IT, EVERY DAY, YOURSELF
Artists play an important role in fueling the debate on the technological networks that are present in our daily surroundings. The artists like to enter the daily life of the city, the village and of suburbia, without therefore relinquishing the artistic role, which allows them to cast an alternative glance of what is possible with media. In the distributed and participative culture that developed along with the information society it is perhaps not illogical that the artist “writes” space together with the community.

Some artists will start effectively creating, even shaping networks, in order to have their say in this ubiquitous technology. Or they will show us how we ourselves become a conscious junction, a nigh impossible task in an era where the intelligence of computers transcends our own more than considerably. And yet, we should by no means interpret the actions of these artists as some kind of humanistic backbench reflex in a so-called “post-human” era. Building networks is a way of gaining an insight into our virtualphysical infrastructure and trying to use it in a creative and critical manner. The artists involved organize workshops or put manuals online, which guide people in setting up their own junction or node. The complexity of the technological questions requires a collaboration with other domains and disciplines. Artists can, in other words, play a crucial role in educating society on technology questions. A role which is often solely given to engineers, computer scientists, technology marketeers and educators. The cross-disciplinary collaboration can present a more holistic view on how society changes under influence of technological developments. An additional advantage is that artists are able to make us grasp concepts in one blink of an eye and can present alternative views on technological questions. This paper wants to remind educators and computer scientists of the role of the artists in communicating technological questions should not be forgotten or underestimated. And yet society should not forget that the artists can only play this refreshing role if they are able to work in society and in a free experimentation space. Art should never be used in an instrumental manner or it loses its energy. The free experimentation space of the artists remains of essential importance for the role of the artist within the broader media ecology, which links technology, users, developers and media content with one another (Zielinski, 2006). This space affords a fresh approach to all the possibilities to shape our (technological) environment ourselves every day again.

REFERENCES
Book De Certeau, M., 1988. The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press, California. Joselit,D., 2007. Feedback: Television against Democracy Feedback. The MIT Press, Cambridge. Mulder, A., 2004. Over Mediatheorie. V2_/NAi Uitgevers, Rotterdam. Paul, C., 20O3. Digital Art. Thames & Hudson, London. Soete, H., Custers, R. & De Bondt, B., 2004. Media-Activisme / Don't hate the media, Be the media.. EPO, Berchem. Tufte, E., 1990. Envisioning Information. Graphics Press, USA. Zielinski, S., 2006. Deep Time of the Media. Toward an Archaeology of Hearing and Seeing by Technical Means. The MIT Press, Cambridge. Journal Galloway, A, 2004. Intimations of Everyday Life: Ubiquitous Computing and the City. Cultural Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2-3, pp. 384-408. Gunthert, A., 2007. L'image parasite. Après le journalisme citoyen. Available at: http://www.arhv.lhivic.org/index.php/2007/06/15/432-l-image-para. Medosch, A., 2005. WAVES. [Context of the Exhibit]. Available at: http://rixc.lv/06/en/txt02.html. Ramocki, M., 2007. DIY: The Militant Embrace of Technology. Available at: http://ramocki.net/ramocki-diy.pdf. Zijlstra, T., 2006. Social object. Available at: http://www.zylstra.org/blog/archives/2006/07/social_software.html. Interviews in the framework of this article Huybrechts, L., 2007. Art, Technology and daily life, Face-to-face interview with Gert Aertsen (Code 31), Pieter Heremans (L45) , Olivier Meunier (ogeem), Annemie Maes (so-on), Brussels, Koolmijnenkaai 30/34, 1080 Brussels, Belgium, 27 December 2007, 16u. Huybrechts, L., 2007. Art, Technology and daily life, e-mail to Maja Kuzmanovic FoAM, 21 December 2007 . Other web sources relating to the article http://fo.am/groworld/, http://luminousgreen.org/, http://fo.am/trg/, http://fo.am/publications.html http://okno.be/ OKNO is a collective of the following organizations: code31.org, mxhz.org, societyofalgorithm.org,

ogeem.be, l45.be,so-on.be and isjtar.org. http://used.m-cult.org/ http://www.media-ecology.org/mecology/ http://www.media-ecology.org/publications/MEA_proceedings/v1/levinson01.pdf http://www.indymedia.be/ http://www.louisdecordier.com/felt.htm, 2003, geconsulteerd 26.12.07 http://www.reseaucitoyen.be/wiki/index.php/Welcome http://www.portapak.be/ http://www.hereisthere.org/

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