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Possible social and cultural implications of Open Source Creation in Dance

Abstract:
Open Source Culture is an uprising social model. Therefore it is very complex and has many facets
worth reflecting. The most visible are authorship, copyright, the influence of the social structure and
the working model on the result. But here I would like to take a look at the most important “micro-
social” and “macro-social” as well as cultural implications. This is a theoretical experiment, an
evaluation and collection of existing projects and knowledge and a projection of possible or probable
future developments.

The term Open Source was originally used to define a software engineering principle, where the code
or “source” is “open”, accessible for those who have the will and necessary skills to keep developing it.
It is a global and strongly Internet-related methodology of collective creation. A well known exponent
of the Open Source Community, is the Linux software, which has had quite some medial attention
lately.
According to Armin Medosch however the Open Source Movement dates way further back than the
appearance of Internet and Free Software and has its roots in the 19th century1.
The term “Open Source” has been applied to various areas, amongst them the arts. Two groups who
claim to be working in an Open Source modality are Open Source Theatre (UK)2 and Cooperativa
Performativa (Romania) respectively in theatre and dance. I say claim, because neither is available for
comment.
In dance there is a history of democratic or collective creation since the experiments of the group of
artists from Judson Memorial Church in the sixties. But the Open Source modality really takes the idea
a step further. Not only does it require democracy inside the group that is creating, but it opens up the
access to the created material so it can be taken by anyone with the will and necessary skills to keep
developing the work of art.

This paper is a theoretical experiment of what it would imply to apply Open Source in practice not only
to the work of art, in this case the dance performance, but to the creative process, opening up the

1 Armin Medosch. The Next Layer. http://www.mail-archive.com/nettime-l@bbs.thing.net/msg04082.html


“The historic roots could be seen as going back to the free and independent minded revolutionary artists and artisans in 19th
century. More recently, it is based on post-World-War-II grassroots anti-imperialist liberation movements, on bottom-up
self-organised culture of the new political movements of the 1960ies and 1970ies such as the African American civil rights
movements, feminisim, lesbian, gay, queer and transgender movements, on the first and second wave of hacker culture,
punk and the DIY culture, squatter movements, and the left-wing of critical art and media art practices.”

2 http://opensourcetheatre.wordpress.com/
“source” of the piece, its creation material and the process itself. It is theoretical because there is
currently no practical application in the field of dance that I know of for sure or any group who claims
to be applying it that is available for sharing information. An evaluation is difficult due to the shyness
of Open Source projects in dance and the often inappropriate use of the term “Open Source” because of
the medial attention Linux has had lately. This paper is the first in a series of three planned ones, the
next one being on authorship and the creative commons license and the third one on the influence of
Open Source Creation on the result/opus. The third part being a practical as well as theoretical
investigation.

Given the countless possibilities of applying Open Source to a creative process, the first and most
important step is the exact definition of the modality one wishes to apply. In this case it seemed logical,
since I am using the expression “Open Source Creation”, that the creation be accessible in multiple
ways. Besides opening up the process to any artist interested and opening the studio doors during the
period of rehearsal, a more profound way of sharing “code” could be an accessible documentation of
the theoretical and imaginative work that prepares and accompanies creation, including aesthetic
choices and their motivation. The idea being that this documentation be accessible during the creative
process for artists to use and develop, be it in the studio or outside. The main problem of such a
proposal is containing the process of creation and creating boundaries, so a performance can come into
existence in a sustainable amount of time and effort.
There needs to be a processing of information, a selection and possibly a splitting of the various
branches that might develop out of one initial project. Which raises the question of how decisions are
made and what the social structure of the group needs to look like in order for Open Source Creation to
function. Now collective creation has a rich history, but as Armin Medosch says, open source really
takes it a step further3 since it would not only be a homogeneous, closed group of qualified artists that
functions on a democratic basis, but a heterogeneous, open group where theoretically anyone can join
and the relationships between the people that work on an OSC project can be of very varied nature for
each one, according to the amount of time and effort the participant puts into the work.

Communication is another issue that may contribute to the disruption of a group structure. Continuous

3 Armin Medosch. The Next Layer or the Emergence of Open Source Culture. 30/03/2010 URL:http://www.mail-
archive.com/nettime-l@bbs.thing.net/msg04082.html
“Open Source Culture is not a tired version of enforced collectivism and old fashioned speculations about the 'death of
authorship'. It is not a culture where the individual vanishes but where the individual remains visible and is credited as a
contributor to a production process which can encompass one, a few or literally thousands of contributors. “
and current documentation of the creative process, along with the close relation of the Open Source
Community with the Internet, makes it possible for individuals who are geographically distant, to
participate in a project, but that means dealing with a (technically) limited communication.
So finally the need of definition and decision making leads to the necessity of a delimitation of the
project through one or more individuals who take initiative. Which doesn't exclude that the same
project have branches with different decision makers.
The participants in the project constitute a loose network of separate competencies and responsibilities,
thus dissolving roles. That means that there is a number of possible or necessary tasks (composed of the
above mentioned competencies and responsibilities) that are taken on as single ones or in “packages”
by different individuals. Now in a work that claims a professional level, there will be a need for self-
evaluation by each one involved. An evaluation which ensures that a person have the necessary skills to
make a constructive contribution to the opus, thus ensuring its quality, and the ability of the participant
to create or take on a task. It is a rather complicated discussion when it comes to art, whether or not
something is constructive or of good quality and enriching for the work. A discussion that hangs in
between social skills and aesthetic choices. That is where the need for decision makers and project
branches kicks in.

Clive Cazeaux of the University of Cardiff questions whether art can be qualified or quantified as
knwoledge4. Qualifying it as such would make art and its process of creation, unlike some theories
define it, information. In the consequence one of the implications of Open Source Creation would be
that the sharing of documentation of the creative process as well as of the performative work increases
the flow of information, thus influencing a number of issues.
Modern, postmodern and contemporary dance have lost the must of narrative action that made classical
ballet somewhat more accessible to the average spectator. Dance has become “esoteric and difficult to
understand”5 to many. And while the creators often work on very complex theoretical schemes, they do
not share these with the audience. It is but an idea that viewing the creative process or parts of it may
allow a certain demystification of contemporary dance forms to an untrained audience. So the first and
4 Cazeaux, C. (2002) Art and knowledge in Kant's aesthetics. Working Papers in Art and Design 2
Retrieved <30/03/2010> from URL http://sitem.herts.ac.uk/artdes_research/papers/wpades/vol2/cazeauxfull.html
“The relationship between art theory and art practice continues to be the subject of much debate. There are several reasons
for this, all of them interconnected. First, the growth of interest in art and design as subjects of academic research,
undertaken by both staff and graduate students within university art departments, has led to questions regarding the
status of art as knowledge, for example, whether art can be quantified as a form of knowledge or whether it should have
to be quantified as such. Second, and following on from the first point, many of the concepts of art that have been
bequeathed to us by modernism do not encourage integration between theory and practice.”
5 Kate Mattingly, dance history teacher at George Mason University and George Washington University and freelance
dance critic in a private conversation.
maybe most visible value of an accessible creative process is an educational one, in this case education
of the non-dancing audience.

Of course the audience does not only consist of untrained viewers. Some of the most enthusiastic
spectators of dance are professional dancers, choreographers and dance scholars. Especially the ones
that live and work outside the big urban nuclei, being contemporary dance a mostly urban
phenomenon, have still very little access to fellow artists' works and thoughts. We have gone a long
way from the romantic ideal of the choreographer's “divine inspiration”6. Each artist is greatly
influenced by his/her socio-cultural context and the education and information he/she has access to.
Open source programming has proved that the accumulation of information, skills and creativity by a
number of individuals improves and increases not only productivity, but the quality and innovation of
the product itself7. It seems logical that by learning from other people's mistakes and knowing or even
using work that has already been done, the single creator, be it in software or in art, can achieve
working on a higher qualitative and more innovative level than if he would need to re-invent and re-
develop the same steps others have taken before8.

In resume the increased flow of information influences:


– reception by the trained and untrained audience
– education of both spectators and artists, contributing to a demystification of dance
– accumulation of information and its importance for the artistic community and the work of art
itself
– and in the consequence of a change in reception I cannot omit to mention politics and
financiation.
6 Francesca da Rimini. Coding cultures. d/Lux/MediaArts and Campbelltown Arts Centre. Sydney. 2007.
“Contrary to Romantic notions of individual ‘genius’ and Divine inspiration, innovation requires access to existing bodies of
human knowledge. All knowledges are cumulative, built by processes of accretion, not exclusion. Knowledge is formed
by branching generative processes; the action of knowledge upon knowledge creates new knowledge. Repeat sequence
ad infinitum.”
7 Jordan Hubbard. Open Source to the Core. Queue. May 2004.
“Finally, the open source software community can be an invaluable resource when it comes to recruiting skilled,
motivated engineers who come with a ready-built understanding of at least some aspect of your product. This is
one reason why developing and sustaining relations with the open source software community at the outset is so
critical, and it should also be understood that open source software engineers recruited from this community will
have a residual loyalty to this community. One nice way of maintaining your relationship with the community is
to allow these engineers to continue doing some amount of (now-subsidized) work on the open source software
public code base. They get better code, you get better code, and both sides win.”
8 Jordan Hubbard. Open Source to the Core. Queue. May 2004.
“There is a lot of open source software in the world, and it is increasing day by day, so the first step in determin-
ing whether it can help your project is to make a careful study of what is already available. You don’t want to
reinvent some expensive wheels.”
Of course there are quite some possible negative aspects as well. Starting with a social and structural
deconstruction that at this point and with the current knowledge could turn out to be a very positive or
very negative aspect. I have heard Jordi Marti from the cultural council in Barcelona use the term “cittá
diffusa” applied to a tendency of culture in cities9. That may well apply to the structures and networks
Open Source Creation generates.
The flow of information may be so overwhelming that it might be impossible to process and so it might
kill creation. But there could be various solutions as well that depend of the skills of the “decision
makers”. Open Source Creation surely is not apt for every kind of artistic work. I find it especially
interesting when it comes to interdisciplinary research. It requires a constant adaptation,
reconsideration and working with givens. I believe being forced to confront oneself with the
unexpected constantly creates an atmosphere that is very demanding and very supportive of creativity
and research. Joining varied views on a theme and thus various “experts” may otherwise result in an
economic challenge, that narrows this kind of research down to academia and very few high-budget
projects. Which leads me to the next point which is financiation. Contemporary Dance lacks visibility
and therefore its economic base is very weak. Open Source works traditionally as a gift economy10.
Many Open Source Software developers work as highly paid experts, in academia or any other job and
use their free time to keep working on their Open Source projects. In art that leads already to a deep
discussion about Creative Commons licenses and possible ways of financing Open Source research,
which I will leave for a different chapter of this investigation. But the dissociation of financial and time
pressure from artistic investigation is an interesting consideration. As well as is visibility. The more
information is available on a theme the more it is seen and that might mean in the case of dance a
transition from a marginal form of art to a level of recognition that comes closer to the one of music or
theatre.

Another common concern related to Open Source is inflation, decrease in quality. Which happens if a
project's modality is free access for everyone to contribute and no kind of selection at any point. In IT

9 Jordi Marti at the “II Seminario Internacional de Politicas Culturales Locales”, Buenos Aires, March 2010.
10 Armin Medosch.
“Fundamental to Open Source Culture’s value system is the belief that knowledge should be in the public domain. What is
generally known by humans should be available to all humans so that society as a whole can prosper. For most
parts and wherever possible, this culture is based on a gift economy. Each one gets richer by donating their work to
a growing pool of publicly available things... Open Source Culture is a culture of conversation and as such based on
multiple dialogues on different layers of language, code and artefacts. But the key point is that the organisation
of labour is based on the self-motivated activity of many individuals and not on managerial hierarchies and ‘shareholder
value’.”
that would correspond to school children writing homework inside the code structures, which would
probably lead to the program not working at all. But school children do not usually tamper with codes
and neither will they with an artistic project. A damaged software will not usually be used and so
disappear at some point. The same would happen to a work of art and in the consequence there will be
some quality control by the artists involved. In other words, when it comes to software, the Open
Source Community evaluates the product and ensures a quality standard11. I could imagine a similar
dynamic with the arts.

Open Source has exploded in the last decades, thanks to the Internet. Suddenly people all over the
world could join their skills and knowledge without the need of traditional structures like university
degrees, specialized jobs, institutions. That leads to a deconstruction of the “units” of society as we
know it into far smaller units, the above mentioned competencies and responsibilities. This is a
tendency that goes far beyond Open Source. It is the “cittá diffusa” Jordi Marti speaks about. An
apparent mess, difficult to organize into institutional and political structures. I believe Open Source
might be a cause, a manifestation as well as a solution to part of it. It might be a momentary
phenomenon or a working and social structure with great future potential, because that is what Open
Source really is: “an uprising social model”.
Angela Vadori

11 Jordan Hubbard. Open Source to the Core. Queue. May 2004.


“Code that is actively maintained is obviously far more likely to be secure and functional...”