Extract from V&A Bicentenary 2057: UtopographyOctober, 2012, V&A Museum, London
Well its great to be here with you,Really great to be here with you, as part of the V&A’s bicentenary celebrations.I’ve really enjoyed the day so-farThanks so much for Dan and Adam for inviting me.Dan suggested, given my age and prosthesis, that I perform a live-thread recall……I’m a little out of practice,……..but I’ll do my best. So, I’m going to disconnect from Composite now………OK I’m presentAnd, in keeping with the ‘old-school’ nostalgia of this face-2-face conference, I’d like to invite you to do the same too.Could you all just, also disconnect…………ThanksWell, you’ll appreciate as with all live-thread recalls, this will be partial and flawed.The thread I’ll be re-running, is something like institutional subjectivity,Or, how the V&A became conscious of itself……………….a sort-of-self portraitI don’t have time or energy to begin in 1857,I thought a good place to start, would be 2013, with the foundation of the MultitudeOK. LIVE
Some of the more enhanced of you might remember,I think, inspired by the distributed assemblies of old-Spain’s 15-M movement in 2’09,various ‘occupy initiatives;occupy cities, democracy, finance, and even museums,and a network of events recalled as an ‘Arab spring’, a broad coalition of over 20,000 social enterprises and non-governmental organizations from over 47 countries began to network into what became in 2’13, the Multitude.
It was the first major, global civil society coalitionI recall, it was in October when the Multitude lobbied the United Nations to amend Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN-DHR),adding free access to information, knowledge and culture to the existing freedom of opinion and expression
Initiated by the Multitude,And protected by General Public Licence (GPL) v4(which had evolved from protecting FLOSS software in the 1980’s, enabling the first iteration of what was called, the internet,…a primitive network of networks)was the foundation in 2’14, of iCommonsiCommons starts as an index of all resources currently in the public domain,But soon aggregated all open educational initiatives,
Free University curricula, publically funded law, science and medical research, systems design research, Open Access publishing and of course some enlightened public Museums and Galleries.I recall the V&A had foundation status.a pool of collective resources.A vast cultural commons.
Creativity was nurtured, and……..outside of property restrictions, unleashed on a scale previously unimagined.We could produce a thread to our current CompositeAh, yes, I can also remember plans for the V&A DundeeThe first node in a new local network……... the seeds of a distributed rather than corporate public institution.Construction started in Dundee, Scotland.
After years of debate(I think we could thread it back to 1972 with the proposal of the Tobin Tax)A Transaction Tax is finally implemented (on the 17th August 2014) by the then European Commission and the International Monetary Fund [IMF]It was a blanket micro-tax of 0.05% on every transaction in the Financial Industries.Instantly, it curbed the volatility of high-volume, feral, short-term tradingArcane financial instruments were repurposed to be socially productive, as revenue began to flow from speculation into public domain resources.It’s the beginning of our fantastically well-resourced Public Museums and Galleries. And, of course the V&A benefitted enormously
As I recalled earlier the V&A was foundational to the fledgling iCommons cultural meshwork.By negotiating GPL v4 compliance for all research, archives, collection meta-data, as well as exhibitions and collections,the V&A actually enabled public access and creative participation; on an institutional level.Some of you might also be able to remember in 2’14, War Child: A Century of War.A year-long research project, into the centenary of the first industrialized global conflict. There were some major exhibitions.Like the early works of the Vorticists,And then in the summer, War Shapes Lives: Anthem for Doomed Youth in collaboration with the Museum of Conflict, and what was then the Baltic, here in Newcastle.and in the autumn, Freedom explored the role of women in war and the struggle for enfranchisement.Of course, these exhibitions, events and research are memorable,because all of the source data were made freely available through iCommons.
In September 2’15 at the iCommons Governance Summit in São Paulo, Brazilthe V&A participated in drafting guidelines on Radical Transparency.Radical Transparency, pioneered by the Multitude, encouraged accountability in public institutions………..Through processes we take for granted now: -like public agendas, published minutes, open public meetings; open budgets – for full financial disclosure, use of rough dissensus, and so onPreviously, there had been a lot-of lip-service paid to ‘openness’ and ‘participation’ at public institutions,Although usually this meant increasing visitor numbers, not actually enabling a truly public institutionThe Radical Transparency guidelines formalized core values and processesAnd wrote them into Museum operating systems.
I think it was in 2’16, as a consequence of the unwinding of the £13 billion overspend on the 2012 London Olympics, the government embarked on a round of pre-election cuts.The (then) Department for Culture, Media and Sport disbands Arts Council England, exactly 70 years after its foundation.It was almost a year late,but the V&A local nodal branch opened on the banks of the River Tay. V&A Dundee was opened by,……..I think it was Nicola Sturgeon,First Minister of the recently independent Scotland.
I recall that in 2’18, there was a radical expansion of the V&A’s interest in computational practice,
They readdressed the source; the legendary Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA0 in London, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary
The 68’ exhibition is recalled asthe first encounter between machine assemblies and exhibited creativity
In collaboration with Tate v1, the Whitechapel and the Critical Practice network- The original curator Jasia Reichardt, she was I think, about 85 then, but still very sprightly, opened the year-long research project -Machines and processes, both analogue and digital, were emulated through a variety of media ecologies.
What was remarkable, was that the project was not simply historical, or archival, it was productive and creative,…………….. generative even.It initiated a whole new strand of recursive programming at the V&A, that I guess, even this live thread recall is part of.
Oh, I could never forget the legendary 2’20, Ex Habere: The Practice of Exhibition projectThis three-year research project, initiated by the V&A, was launched…………uhmm, yes on the 5th March.The project uncompressed the Latinate root of exhibition, ex habere, to reveal the intention of ‘holding out’ or ‘showing’ evidence in a legal court.Implicit in the genealogy of ‘exhibition’ is the desire to show, display and share with others.By cleverly grafting this ancient drive, to desires for more contemporary notions of creative co-production,……Exhibition as a practice was reaffirmed as core to the V&A’s aspirations.And at the same time; to source, participate, co-produce and share, to generate non-rivalous resources became vital to the constitution of sustainable public institutions, and structures of governance.Ex Habere: The Practice of Exhibition was amplified through the iCommons public domain meshwork – and indeed its values replicated at an astonishing speed, throughout civil society.
After ten fruitful years, Martin Roth stepped down as V&A director, to take up a post as consultant to the Southside Wellbeing Initiative.
Rachel Chan, based in Dalian in Northeast China, took over as executive, on a fixed five-year term.
I remember that in 22, the V&A began a self-reflexive critique of the 19th-century museum model.Of course, a model they did so much to initiate, replicate and develop.It’s difficult to recall now, but principally this 19thC museum-model and its 20th C intensification was an unsustainable,It was a corporate model of an exhibitionary institution;that has to constantly expand, commission signature buildings, evolve huge administrative hierarchies for exhibition, education, development and management, and so on.So, the V&A resolved to institute – in the ancient sense of the word, of founding and supporting – creative practice.The V&A began to re-think itself as a creative (rather than a merely exhibitionary) institution, more fluid, engaged, nimble,…………… less spectacular.It began to play, risk, co-operate, research and rapidly prototype – not only through research and distributed exhibitions, such as Ex Habere- but also with it’s governance and organisational structure.
Some heritage values were lost – like prohibitions on de-accessioning- and others produced, maintained, nurtured and cherished. For example, working with Intermediæ in Madrid, the V&A learned to invest, long-term, without regard to an interested return.
It devolved locally, with projects (of course) in Dundee, also Leeds and of course here in Newcastle, in cooperation with the Eden Project, the New Economics Foundation, and the Free University of the Sothern England.And also networked globally with new partners in Brazil, regions in the fledgling Indian Multitude, and China.
In January 2’27, the spectacular sixty-five-year roller-coaster ride of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation was over.
The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the cluster in New York, Venice, Bilbao and the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, together with the unfinished projects in Shanghai and Moscow, were all, I recall, taken into Multitude stewardship.
The demise of the Guggenheim, and the concomitant collapse of the Singularity Bond market, forced other hyper-resourced private museums into stewardship.Like the Akzo la Caixa Collection,the Generali Foundation in Vienna,the former Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing,and MOCA in Qatar.
They all filed for Chapter 12 protection with the UN-Multitude. Of course, art works from the failed museums devolved to the Multitude and entered public museum collections.
In a spectacular reverse of resource flows, tens of thousands of art works poured into public collections from previously private institutions.
The V&A benefited enormously from a spate of default donations, as did MOMA’s America’s network, and the Asian Art Museum’s in China.An ethic of public generosity was distributed, nurtured and encouraged.Everyone benefited.
I remember this famous byline for the V&ANo, not the one about the “Ace Café”But,“To enact. To be more agent than immanent.”It’s a quote from Larissa Riquelme, the V&A’s new fixed term executive
When she inaugurated the exhibitionary phase of Operating System: Governance, the result of a two-year research thread into exhibition as technology, and immanence as an institutional logic.The project concluded with the realisation that the V&A needed radical revision,It needed to add an executable function, to its research and exhibitionary core.
In the past, being a spectator meant looking at a spectacle.It was like being a member of an audience - like the experience you are recuperating today. And the act of spectatorship, looking, is the opposite of knowing or doing, it’s a state without any power of intervention.
Being a spectator means being passive, and it had dominated arts reception, and the practice of exhibitionary institutions, for much of recent history.By 2’31, the affect of the V&A’s co-produced exhibitionary networks,like Operating System: Governance, the operation of the Radical Transparency guidelines, and access to the iCommons meshwork, produced a tipping point.
Spectatorship was largely overwritten by agency and engagement.And in turn, representation was replaced by co-presence.
By 2’35, trust, circulating through logistical systems of attention;
systems of capture, accumulation, and distribution were producing new ecologies of value .
Attention is both a power and a communicative medium, and nothing moved outside of its sphere of influence; everything is permeated by attention.By the same token, no exchange of attention,no matter how small, bodily and intimate,or vast in volume and scale is possible without trust.
The V&A commands and redistributes trust and attention.It’s a super-institution, a super-node in the contemporary ecologies of value.
Oh this, this I remember locally, I remember it well. Even the date.
It remains a seismic event, the 6th February 2’37 at the Ferguson Research cluster at the Manchester Open University, an organic-synthetic assembly participated in the legendary Turing Test.
In an examination that lasted more than three and a half hours a panel of human judges were unable to agree on which of the participants was a human subject,For the first time, an organic-synthetic assembly was credited with human-like intelligence.An evolutionary firewall was breached
In January, the V&A inhabits the first in a series of affinity buildings, commissioned from Sapience Habitat Ecologies,its located in downtown Fortaleza, in the Ceará region of Brazil.
As well as nestling sensitively in the local permaculture (it used a lot of upcycled materials) the building explored biotic responsiveness.It senses emotional communications within visitors,…….or emotional excess,and is able to environmentally respond.I visited later in the year, in June I recall.
It was amazing, the environment senses emotional exchanges,…….or emotional excess – I remember a heated discussion with Rachel over the impact of domestic 3d printers - and the building responded.
By 2’43 there were mature economies of trust and attention.To attend is to invest.Its to invest in values not yet known; future, fugitive, contingent values.Time, trust, generosity, prestige, love and respect are the currencies in theses economies of attentionThere are aspects of private interests, and residual retail culture that strive to capture attention.
They thrive on minimum, short-term, quantified, calculated investment.Attention to be bought and sold.Any long-term investment of attention, of creativity, of love and generosity are always at risk.The V&A co-instituted these economies, and nurtures their currencies.
Skirmishes break out, often escalating into local conflicts for the social currencies at play.There is a diffused sense of permanent emergency, a low-grade war in the political economy of attention.
Britain Can Make It - an uncanny echo of The Great Exhibition of 1851 - was a legendary, vast, temporary exhibition of product design and manufacturing at the V&A in 1946, intended to kick-start consumerism after the disaster of WWII.
I visited the local Centenary exhibition, in 2’46.Some of the exhibitionary architecture of the first iteration was reinstalled……..
many objects reproduced, and I even printed a mutated version of Misha Black’s prototype electric bicycle. I still ride it,.………..well occasionally, hydrogen stacks were pretty bulky back then, although the bamboo monocoque is still beautiful.
The V&A deployed Britain Can Make It, as an opportunity to explore the legacy of resource profligacy – there was so much carbon, and so much energy locked into a cynical refreshment of financial capital in the 20th C.
And the ethics of belonging - it had already been 10 years since ‘Britain’ had devolved into local, Regional Assemblies coordinated as part of the European Multitude.Britain as a Nation State had long-lost its citizens trust, their attention, and its administrative authority.
I would broadly characterize the heritage of human philosophical inquiry, as premised on, an already constituted subject.A conscious, self-present, sovereign individual in possession of private property, anterior too, or before, communal relations.
In contrast Almost Real: Composite Consciousness - the research exhibition the V&A initiated in 2’50 - to coincide with the centenary of Turing’s seminal paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence - was an exploration of logistical, distributed or networked ‘subject’ relations, the very foundation of contemporary self-presence.
Composite consciousness is the logistics that constitutes the social identity of those present, and those not.
And in this gap in presence - between those present, and those not - is the archive, collection, database and meta-data of memory………… a composite consciousness.This composite consciousness shifts self-presence into the future, or re-collects the past into the present.
I was involved as advisor in 2’51, to the agent cluster of the V&A that campaigned for a new Article to be added to the UN-Multitude Declaration of Human Rights.
According to Article 6 of the UN-MDHR, all humans are persons under the law.But there is a philosophical and legal distinction between humans and persons. Humans are those that fall within the biological classification Homo sapiens, whereas a person refers to those with certain traits or characteristics.
I think it was John Locke in 1689 who defined a person as a“thinking intelligent being that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places”
Organic-synthetic assemblies were approaching personhood, yet were unable to enter the biological classification Homo sapiens.The V&A agent cluster petitioned through research and exhibition to add a 39th article to the UN-MHDR, extending human rights to appropriate organic-synthetic assembliesTime is running out, so I don’t have time to recount the V&A’s part in the bicentenary of the Great Exhibition, although I’m sure many of you here will have participated…….
With the evolution of assemblies for replication; nano-manufactoriessingularity is overwritten by difference.
Everything is at once singular, everything can be narrated into singularity.Yet nothing is singular,Everything can be bedded down into a flow of precedents and antecedents.The singular only exist at the level of ideology, and it disappears as we advance towards it.
The singular is in essence a generic artefact, assembled from the minute and relative differences from within a defined series. And this drive to replicate, image for image, object to object, sound to sound, word for word is how we make the known world;and, that world known to one another.
As you all know, our Composite meshwork went live in 2’54.
All common data, information and knowledge, every common archive, database, collection, and DNA storage device is accessible live and in real time.Extended by, and assembled by composite, our desires, investments, and attentions produce new logistical populations.
Consciousness is arrayed in myriad networks of association, and concentrated in multiple locations – like in composite social assemblages, of persons, institutions, technologies, and geographies.
Well, most of you were here to celebrate.What a great achievement for the V&A, it could your defining moment…….and on the eve of your centenarySo, you don’t need me to remind you, but I will;
it was almost a year ago, on the 19th October that the V&A sponsored Article 39 of the UN-Multitude, Declaration of Human rights…………….extending rights to organic-synthetic assemblies……………. was approved.Congratulations
Ok, that’s it!The local thread I’ve been running is out of time, and we’re more or less up to date.Today, throughout the V&A, in all our intensities, we are celebrating.Thank you so much for you attention,Please feel free to reconnect to composite.And enjoy the rest of the celebrations
Neil Cummings was born in Wales and lives in London. He is Professor at Chelsea College of Arts, London, a member of Critical Practice and on the editorial board of Documents of Contemporary Art.→ neilcummings.com