Appendix 2*Interview with Femke Snelting
Interview: Femke Snelting, Eva Weinmayr
March 24–25, 2020 (Resolutions are always temporary)
Femke: It's been very nice to read your questions.
Q: In the video conversation "Forms of Ongoingness" between you, spideralex and Cornelia [Sollfrank] at Creating Commons, you describe this weight of connecting everything to everything else – saying it is an impossible project. On the one hand, there is this ongoingness with all its dependencies, entanglements and relations. And on the other, there is this danger that such ongoingness slips into some kind of endlessness, "universalist everything". It is very concrete in my current situation writing the PhD and trying to make the writing and thinking more concise, to connect things in a meaningful and precise way. It is satisfying when it works, but it is so hard.
Eva: People keep talking to me about Karen Barad's agential cuts, making cuts well, and making cuts responsibly (Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska for example). I read Barad, I went to her seminar in Gothenburg, but it never really had purchase on me – it is just too abstract. What would it mean to make an agential cut in the process of writing and negotiating different voices in a PhD?
Agential cuts – intra-actions – don’t produce (absolute) separation; they engage in agential separability – differentiating and entangling (that’s one move, not successive processes). Agential cuts radically rework relations of joining and disjoining.
Separability, in this sense, agential separability, is a matter of irreducible heterogeneity that is not undermined by the relations of inheritance that hold together the disparate without reducing difference to sameness.
(Karen Barad, Nature's Queer Performativity)
Femke: I think I use Barad as a kind of "self-help guide". But of course, she never gets practical. She just lets us figure it out. There are several things. There is the risk if you're not careful with "entanglement" – meaning when everything is connected to everything else – it leads to a kind of relativism. That's a problem. On the other hand – thinking from an anti-colonial and intersectional perspective – I take Barad as a way to try and think the world through responsibility. It's the ability to take responsibility but also to be response-able. How can you be responsible, not for but with what you do? How can you make situations and obligations and objects in the world that can allow for a response?
For me, it connects – that sounds maybe a bit direct – to things like publishing your sources. To be responsible with your material in a way that allows people to figure out their own ways and also to run with it – in ways that you might not have foreseen. This is a simple way of how response-ability could work. Or, for example, using free software tools. That's a way to include choices made about how things come into the world. These are tools that are in themselves response-able to their sources.
Here the making of something becomes interrogatable. This is how it works for me in a very concrete way. The term "entanglement" is perhaps a bit of too naturalized a way of talking about things.
Things are together in a certain way, through relation, and at the same time, the objects (or elements) do not pre-exist their relations. Instead, they radically change because of the way they are brought into relation to each other. I think this is really interesting – neither the relationship nor the elements "exist" or make sense without this intra-action.
More recently, I've been looking at another term, which is implicancies. It is a term that Denise Ferreira Da Silva uses, that is for me about potential consequences.
Annotated by FS
It is similar to "implications" but not as "consequences" in the sense of a property of an action (or a movement) that might have consequences. It is about "potential" and "possibility". And I think that's an interesting one because it has got a bit more handle on what kind of ethics entanglements have. And it also puts imagination back into the picture: trying to understand what the effects will be of bringing certain things together and not others. Does that make sense?
E: These terms are so abstract. Could we go quickly back to "response-ability"? It means that I can respond to something or somebody. It has a two-way, dialogical element in it. It is a very different way to think about responsibility.
F: Yes, it is a feminist way to think with responsibility. In the sense that it is not making this patriarchal move of making the one responsible over the other. And that's a significant move. The difficulty then is: where does it end? You can never take into account all the threads and all the layers. That's the part of the "self-help" with Karen Barad's cuts. Think about agential cuts as generative in themselves; generative of a new phenomenon, of a new situation. So the cutting is not just a negative move of things going out of sight, but actually, the cutting produces new relations. And then you work with that responsibly.
E: I am curious when you're using the term "cut", what kind of cut are you actually imagining? Do you see scissors cutting a thread? Are you splitting something into two parts?
F: It is about drawing boundaries. Barad uses "the cut" when she is trying to understand the implicancies of echography when you make sound waves in bodies – in her case with babies, visible on the screen. She is trying to think through what the different phenomena are in this process. So she is saying okay we have the radio waves, the screens, the hardware around it, the people managing the situation, the patient in the bed, the bed, the doctors, the people that have invented it, the storage, and so on. When you want to think about what this technology does you can endlessly...
E: ...break it down...
F: ...because if you take that there are entanglements really seriously you cannot assume that things are autonomous. So you will have to make a cut, she says. It could be a framing, it could be to look only at this bedside situation – and then something happens because of this chosen limitation. It is not just that things outside of the bed will go away, but a new relation will appear. Something else is appearing because of the cut. The phenomena, as she would call it, are produced by the cut. So it's not that there are phenomena and then we see just a little sliver of it, the phenomena itself is produced by the agential cut, says Barad. So the cut has agency in itself.
E: How could the cut produce the phenomena?
F: The situation that can be observed and experienced is a result of the fact that we somehow mentally have closed the door of the room. And we are not thinking about everything that happens outside of the room. I use it more pragmatically, and it often has to do with time. When to stop? Or what to stop? Or what one can do. Because it seems in these entanglements ending something is very important work – to not go on. It could be simply: “OK we stop working on this now.” Or “now it's finished.” Or “let's take two hours for it.” And then it's about what can happen within that cut. It is what it is. A two-hour conversation is not a detail of a 100-hour conversation. It is a different conversation. And for me, this is super useful, because it shifts the “stopping–ending– cutting–limiting–framing” from a negative move like, "we have the whole world and then we can only...” into a generative action.
E: You are right, the two-hour conversation is not an excerpt from the 100 hours, it operates differently.
F: You have different hierarchies, somehow. It doesn't mean that these conversations would not be connected or would be autonomous. It helps to deal with the universalizing overwhelmingness of “everything is connected to everything else". It is useful.
E: Is Donna Haraway's "ongoingness" similar to this?
F: Even if Barad can be seen as a sort of daughter of Haraway, something else is happening – more thinking around trauma, damage, things not working. With Haraway, I see no urgency about "ends". Barad is also a different generation. They are super connected but at the same time Barad shifts it somewhere else; it is politically in a different space.
The ongoingness with Haraway is quite subtle. How can you acknowledge environmental disasters and the possibility of things being fundamentally wrong, and at the same time think of what can continue? It is affirmative. The idea that affirmation is more important than anything else is interesting, but also difficult sometimes. "Staying with the trouble" is ongoingness. But then, Barad’s cutting is a continuation as well. The cut is a making. It makes something happen.
2 citational politics
Q: I am trying to get my head around the politics of citational practices. Citation's potential – because it is a device to relate to other people, tools, and agents, such as an environment, a situation or “a people”. You had this example of Donna Haraway who did not refer primarily to the author of an anthropological study (Marilyn Strathern), but to the research subjects of this study: the Melanesian people.
At the same time citation is a validation strategy; it produces omissions and exclusions due to a narrow, or traditional understanding of citational practice that only what is published or recorded can be cited. Otherwise, it would become storytelling.
E: In my thesis, I'm trying to make the argument, that the very moment when something is published, fixed, and turned into a document, an outcome, something else is lost. It's quite hard to describe this "something else". It's still fuzzy. For example, Deleuze in the book Dialogues II tries to capture what's happening in the conversations between him and Guattari. He says dialogue is that what happens, what develops, what is generated between the two of us. It is not mine, it is not yours, it's in-between. I always imagined two persons talking to each other and "this something else" is floating above them, or back and forth in between them, like a cloud, or energy. Deleuze calls it a "zigzag". So when it comes to reference a dialogue or even a practice, how do we cite a zigzag? How can we refer to a moment that is not fixed or documented? Interestingly, academic style guides have procedures on how to reference the content of a phone call – a source that is not fixed or published. So here citation turns into storytelling: you narrate what somebody said, in contrast to letting this person speak for themselves.
The other question is: what kinds of "knowledges" are citable at all. It's quite a big and clunky question, but let's say if we'd spent a day together in a workshop, and a lot of stuff happened in the room, with our bodies, with our movements, closeness, distance, timing – all of these elements generate something. A good example might be the collective sleepover during the Feminist Mobilization in 2016 at HDK-Valand. It was an official session titled "When do we learn?" What happens when you fall asleep with 20 other people in one room? It is quite hard to say what we learned, but we had this experience. How do you refer to experience? Of course, you can't "cite" experience. Experience has first to be articulated – in words, in images.
F: Eva, sorry, but where is this problem appearing? The problem occurs because of an academic framework, that recognizes citation as an economy; and these citations are usually bound to an individual, and bound to mostly published and linguistic traces. In most cases, they are both, published and linguistic. Of course, there are exceptions, but mostly anything outside of this realm will have difficulties to show up.
E: And then the question is: what kind of knowledges and experiences are being excluded?
F: I think it's important to keep reminding ourselves: what are they excluded from? Because if you are doing research outside of academia, this problem is different.
E: Oh, that's interesting. I don't think so.
F: I am convinced. And I am also frustrated with the fact that the only way to think about citation is through an academic system. I just want to be very careful about locating the problem. Where does the problem appear?
E: It applies, of course, to other contexts as well. How do you transmit? How do you carry this knowledge or this experience from one place to another? This act of transmission, so that others can participate, takes place in any context whether academic, activist, or any other.
F: Yes, but one of the ways to do that is to work response-ably. That means when you produce knowledge of whatever kind, you can do it in a way so that not just the one who owns the space (or is present in this space) can walk away with it. Things like documentation, resource sharing, licenses that permit re-use can help because that means the centralization of authorship is not asserted. And then many of these problems already go away. Because when someone wants to take something out of there – they can.
I see it often in Constant’s work: who has something at stake in re-narrating an experience? A good historical example is Open Source Publishing (OSP). As part of my work for Constant and also being a member of OSP, I worked on a body of meta reflection about the use of software tools. I became the one who took care of the blog and was interviewing people. On the one hand, this is a powerful position because I would narrate what OSP is. At the same time – because of my position of being paid by Constant – I could also do a service to that collective in which others were freelancers, doing side jobs, working against deadlines, not having headspace, etc. If I had not been inside of OSP, it would be harder because I would have turned into the observer, analyst or journalist, and then it's kind of weird.
Did you see the book we made with all the interviews, I think that conversations are the best, biggest thing that Free Software has to offer its users? It was mostly me who would prepare the questions, do the transcriptions, and all that stuff. Then, when doing the design of the book with Christoph Haag, we had the "Femke Snelting" problem: my name was everywhere. It was weird and we had to find tricks. First, it felt like hiding, but actually, I only formulated the questions that I knew were going on. The challenge was to find a design solution for that and to show that this is a group of eight people thinking, working and reflecting together – maybe not literally in this specific moment...
E: ... but somehow speaking through you...
F: ...or with me.
E: It's interesting when de Sousa Santos talks about epistemologies of the south he introduces the "super author" as a person authorized by the community to speak for them. It always seemed controversial to me, but in a way, his thinking is similar to your role in these interviews.
F: It's more “sub-author!”
E: Yes! The “super” might be the problem.
F: The fact that I have gone through all these interviews and was carrying them in my backpack – this experience produced a different relationship with them. I did all the work, editing, checking, correcting, and ensure the book is made. It is not authorship; it is a service to a larger conversation.
E: Who gets cited, when people refer to this book?
F: I think, in the end, we decided to frame my role as editor. It is edited by Christoph Haag and me. This is a not-so-complicated way to talk about this kind of work. Editor, I’d say, is a "service-authorship".
E: That's nice.
F: But the systems for this are complicated. There is always the question of how you credit collective work.
E: When I worked with Manetta and Christina from  on customizing the code of the Mediawiki for my thesis, they produced this category/property template to have a colophon on each wiki page to categorize and name different roles of contributors to the projects. I tried this with the Piracy Project, which was a five-year collaboration with Andrea Francke, touring to many cultural institutions, places, with many people involved – in a range of roles: people giving books, inviting us, hosting us, people who contributed to conversations, people who donated books to the collection, people who gave actual money, people who provided support in kind, and so on. I was thinking for a while how I could break this down to the individual agents in this project – just trying to define the roles, the tools, basically everything that made this project happen in the way it happened. It was impossible!
Interestingly, when I talked about this to Andrea, she said such an attempt would come close to what new public management asks us to do: Which museums invited you? How many attendees, etc.. But I was curious if I made an effort and acknowledged the roles and tools that normally aren’t credited – the cleaner in the art space, the care of hosting, etc.. I tried it. I started to define new "roles", but it turned out to be an impossible task. By trying to be inclusive you always produce exclusions. And that was unsatisfactory and too much work.
F: I completely overuse Barad today, but if I look at the colophons that Constant did – especially in the period when we were active with OSP – there is a disproportionate amount of space for naming tools. In that period, we needed to figure out the presence of tools in the objects we were making. The “cut” we were making was to pay attention to tools. There is, of course, a limit to what you can hold somehow – so then the cleaners might not get included. It all depends on the kind of stories the colophon needs to tell. If we thought this was about completeness, we would be back to what you call the neo-liberal idea that it would be desirable, or even possible to cite everything and everyone. Neo-liberal transparency would ask you for everything that makes a colophon quantifiable within a specific economic system. For an academic one, for instance, it would imply that everybody who matters within this system needs to show up. So the question is: which decisions limit or produce the colophon rather than how can we list everything and everyone. Because that would be the world, and maybe even the universe!
To list a typeface in a colophon, for instance, seems ridiculous. Who really cares? But in some environments and at specific times this is what needs to happen. And then, after a while, it can become a habit at some point. In the Netherlands, for example, every book will list the person who designed it. There is no question about leaving the designer out.
E: Because of the Netherland’s design tradition?
F: Design matters, and therefore you list it. In Belgium, this is absolutely not the case. When I came here to Brussels, the non-listing of the designer felt like a purposeful omission, but then I understood, it's the opposite: to list the designer does mean something.
3 the object is made by its relation
F: I was going to tell you a story. Years ago when I was earning money in web design, Nicolas – at the time also a member of Constant – and me were commissioned to make a website (which is gone by now) for the Antoni Tàpies Foundation in Barcelona. They were working with different kinds of people, with artists, editors, and curators, and they wanted to express this web of relations on their website. The idea was to develop a system that could map these relations to show a more interconnected image of what they were doing rather than just showing artists x, y, z on their website.
This plan was also important because the foundation is built around one single and famous male artist: Antoni Tàpies! So we used the technique of the semantic web, a way to express triangular relations. You say: Eva is connected to Femke in the role of an interviewer, but she is also a friend, and she participated in a number of workshops where both Femke and Eva took part. At some point then you can tell: this workshop had many friends participating. The idea was to produce – through these triangular relations – additional knowledge and understanding of the world that is not direct, but indirect.
After a few months, once all was in place, we wanted to check back what had been happening and how they were using it. The person taking care of the website was the one who had to name these relations and she seemed overwhelmed by the responsibility of actually deciding: who relates to what in which role. It is quite a thing to say "we are friends" or not. Maybe we are acquaintances? In the end, she named all relations: "participant of". "This book has as a participant Eva". This workshop has as a participant Femke. So all the relations turned flat because the act of naming was just too hard. You think it would be an easy decision, but the "claim to truth" was too much. Narration was not an option in this system. So it just completely failed.
E: It’s interesting to relate this power to name to reference practice more broadly. In the PhD, for example, when I refer to a person it is good practice to introduce her or him to contextualize their contribution. Instead just using a name like “Sara Ahmed says”... you introduce her as "former Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths". But you could likewise introduce her as "academic activist"; or you could write "the loving dog owner Sara Ahmed says". Which facet of Ahmed’s life do you present? It changes the meaning of what she says.
F: This is similar to Haraway’s trick when she says “our debts here are due especially to Melanesians, in alliance with Marilyn Strathern”. There is quite some space in this triple:
Annotated by FS
"citation relates to the author as a dog owner". In a citation, an author is always in relation to a certain piece of text, or a thought. So you have the thought (the concept), the author (person), and the relation between the two.
E: But the actual problem is – and that’s where the person at Tàpies Foundation seemed to struggle with – that such kind of naming and classifying, and its implicit claim to truth, is so restrictive.
F: At first, with the Tàpies Foundation, I thought the person did not have the position, the entitlement to make these decisions. But now I am thinking that the promise of the system that we set up is that those relations would exist in any context. If you write a text it is specific: you could say “feminist activist” or “feminist author” depending on where you want to put the emphasis in the narration.
But when you remove the context, which is what happens with these abstract semantic relations, it gets really problematic. Then it becomes impossible to make a decision, because how can you say something meaningful about the relationship when you have no handle on, literally, the "cut" that is being made. When the context is not part of it.
E: At Tàpies: it is quite a violent act to define one role...
F: Of course the idea was that people could have multiple roles. It is sort of hiding behind the flexibility and possibility, whatever. The violence was not in the lack of options but in the lack of context for the relationship. Because the relationship was always between two different entities. The person would supposedly always be the same thing or the book would be the same; only the relationship can change but the objects always stay the same! But it is quite a different book when you name it a catalog that accompanies an exhibition, or as a book that is included in the "most beautiful books of the year". The system we proposed could not deal with the fact that the whole constellation of things is co-defining – and that's where the violence was.
Anyway, at that point I had never heard of Karen Barad.
4 otherwise-disciplined research
Q: I am curious to learn more about the term “undisciplined research” you used a couple of times (for example in your research agreement with Kate Rich). When I last saw you ––– a very early breakfast during a cold January morning in Brussels – you pointed towards a more unstable, un-safe mode of research. I’d love to discuss this more.
F: I used “undisciplined” research at some point because I was really attracted to it, but I think “otherwise-disciplined” is more correct.
E: “Un-disciplined” is a good pun, though.
F: It's a good one, but it is also dangerous to pretend that there is no discipline outside academia. It is important to remember that there are methodologies or modes of research that define non-academic artistic research – to keep reminding people that academia is not the only place where research is done. Academic research is not the only mode of doing research. Knowledge is produced outside of academia as much as inside. My question is how to avoid this "funneling mode” of saying “we will find a place for your non-academic research in our academic research environment. We will stretch the system”. No! Some modes of research do not need, or desire, to be fitted into those environments. They need their own ontologies and epistemologies of what it means to do research.
E: Artistic research has been swallowed up for good reasons because academia is one of the few places, where people can spend multiple years with a salary being paid. Perhaps badly paid – but still.
F: Yes, and if this is the only option, you will figure out a way to make your work fit – and I think this is really sad! This is not to say that there is no interesting work being done in academia. Of course, lots of the people I read and cite are the product of academia. It is sad because there is relatively little money – or space – for research practices outside.
E: Because the institutions don't exist?
F: The institutions don’t exist and there is "added value" of doing research in an academic institution: if you want to teach in an art academy you are required to have those certificates. You have to be gone through this system. There is directly and indirectly no economy for other types of research. I find this really problematic. But I understand why so many researchers end up trying to fit their research into an academic framework.
E: Do you say, this has also implications on how the research is being done?
F: Yes absolutely.
E: But isn't that an assumption? Or perhaps I am already so institutionalized that I can’t see it? In the Swedish system, the one I am most familiar with (the UK is much much stricter in terms of what you have to produce), I could not see a big difference. Of course, I am running against blockages and limitations regarding collective practice in my PhD, but it would be good to talk through where you see the difference between the kind of research Constant is doing, compared to how my colleagues and I are working at HDK-Valand. Let's unpack this.
F: There are so many things! Where to start?
When you are trying to understand the difference between research and making work. At Constant, for example, it means trying to avoid "production situations". That does not mean that we don’t make things. Making things is important. It is a space where questions can be asked and critical situations can appear. But this “making” always tries to relate production to reflection.
Constant is an institution in itself – a self-defined institution. An institution, because it has its archives, and has modes of remembering and plotting. The work for OSP, for instance [see above], took place in an environment of thinking ahead and looking back – to contextualize the work you do in a larger framework than the here and now is important.
Also, we can do the work as collective work. Not because we found a little exception (like one of the three places in the world where collective PhDs would be possible...) but as a basic principle.
The kind of work that Constant does cannot happen in the kinds of institutions that constitute academia. What does it mean, when the only place that awards the validation of research is built on individual authorship, on a certain type of hierarchy, on a certain tradition of language-based articulation? There are all these layers ... at the same time, it is very frustrating not to be in the same financial situation. The budgets are incredible compared to what we work with. Still, it would not make any sense to move our work into a university environment, because we would lose all the qualities of it. It just wouldn't work.
E: Yes, I agree all this seems quite impossible in research that is done for a degree. For example, doctoral research, where you have a syllabus, assessment criteria, etc. in order to be awarded a degree, but...
F: ... but this is already where it starts. To gain the funds and the space to do the kind of research broadly as we want, we all would first have to have PhDs and have gone through the disciplining process. So good luck!
At Constant, we have agility in making decisions; the ways we scope in quite different ways than academic research; the fact that we work radically differently with citation and experience is very much part of the research practice and how it functions; the fact that it is based on collective work and not "the individual first". This is not an exception but this is our starting point.
Our work is otherwise disciplined: it is neither media art nor design, nor environmental research or anthropology – it is something else. Even if it relates to these fields, it mixes expert positions with amateur positions. It is intergenerational, which means there are researchers that are junior, but they are as important for the process as are people with lots and lots of experience. All these elements are on purpose. They are not naive; they are developed over many years. So unless academia changes radically, there is no space for such work.
There is, of course, a problem with the distribution of funds and the distribution of validation. It really outrages me, that there is only one path, and increasingly so. In the near future, it will be impossible to function in an art school in any reasonable way without having an academic degree. That makes me angry. This is unfair.
E: I am frequently challenged by Mick Wilson, my PhD supervisor, that my critique of academia is too monolithic and directed to only one mode of academia. Of course, there are openings and it is true, that there is always some leeway for people in the structure to interpret the rules. I recognize the structural problem – my PhD unpacks some aspects of the micro-politics in academic knowledge practices – but still, I think it is not possible to talk about "ACADEMIA".
F: No of course not. The only thing I am talking about now is the possibility of research inside and outside of academia and what the consequences are of doing it in, or outside. For me, it would mean: I would go there – on my own – and do "my" PhD. And maybe I would have a good time, find out interesting stuff, and would be respectful to whatever I am doing around it. But to deal with these different levels of validation given to research that goes through that door and to research that is not going through that door, would be up to me. I am frustrated because the only possibility to solve this problem is to feed everything through the door of academia. How can we find forms of validation that can crossover?
I don't have any doubts about the quality of your work and how it relates to the type of work we are doing at Constant. This is not the question. But for example, the work you do with "Teaching to Transgress Toolbox"  would not be called research and would not get this validation (and the funds) if there was no academic institution involved. In academic research, really, is a lot of super important and interesting work. There is no way that I want to dismiss that, but it is very centralizing, increasingly, and that is worrying me.
And this is why I get so enraged even by the suggestion that I would be giving a too monolithic image of the university. Of course, there are different spaces within academia – obviously, that's absolutely true, but the university is not the world!
E: No. Do you think that the university thinks of itself to be the world just because there is so much money and so much power connected to it?
F: Not "just"... How can we think about more interesting relationships between different fields of knowledge-making that are not about centralizing a certain type of institution making space for everything? It is benign the way artistic research has rushed into academia. It brought headspace for artists, yes, but it is still a centralizing move. It's not that many other types of research institutions are being produced. With other histories and other modes of validation, referencing, etc.
E: When we worked on organizing Let's Mobilize: What is Feminist Pedagogy?  we got in touch with a Gothenburg-based activist group, "The Black Panthers". We wanted to learn from them, their perspective on segregation in town and the role of the art school in this. After a bit forth and back they eventually weren't interested in taking part because they did not consider the art academy as an interesting context for their work. On another occasion, the Literary Composition program at our school organized together with the Black Panthers a literary festival. The festival took place "on their terms" and outside the university. Now I wonder, when you talk about the centralizing force, would you consider such collaboration as a centralizing move by the art academy? It is the question when collaboration turns into appropriation or co-option...
F: No, no, not necessarily, of course not. It is also important that different kinds of knowledge are being connected – and indeed learn from each other. It's not about segregating these spaces at all. But I can totally imagine that it is something else to be on your own terms and to be able to define the space and the conditions, or co-define. This will be necessary in order to make an actual exchange and not absorption. Who is learning from who? What does it take to actually get to this thing you can teach? How does it get its validation? In that sense to organize the activity outside the institution seems a very useful and necessary move.
E: But still from a cynical point of view you could say the art academy includes these activists in their knowledge-making process and that this is a centralizing move.
F: Well, I am not so sure. Maybe the activists included the art academy in their knowledge-making process? It's quite arrogant to think there is only one direction. This is this thing if you make response-able learning situations – it could go both ways.
Every situation is different of course. In the sense of how the validation flows, how the money flows, how the credits flow – there is never just one direction. And this is so interesting about your thinking about instigation, when we talk about input-output and how these work on to each other. This is where research is interesting; it can go in different directions. So, on your personal research, we are not having this conversation! This is where the payment question comes in.
5 exchange economies
Would it be good to make a research agreement for this collaboration/conversation? Reflect on each other's economies? For example, would something change, if I offered you a fee for this conversation?
Let's speak about it, think together. I got so hung up on the fact that the people I work with "provide a service" for me and my institution. Re-distribution of institutional money to precarious peers? Non-monetary exchanges?
E: So yes, the payment question. I have a budget from a Swedish state university to produce research. In my case, often collective research. So a straight way to go about it would be to simply re-distribute the money to precarious peers and collaborators. Redistribution is a very important and valid argument.
But would a payment turn this “thinking together” into a kind of weird service? I don’t want to overthink it and it might sound a bit naive, but I am cautious about the implications of “buying a service” for our collective thinking. So the question is, would payment change this relationship and in which ways?
F: I am lucky to be working at Constant, where everyone is paid the same salary – who knows what is happening in the next months – but at the moment there is no urgency or emergency. And there is this service you are doing to my thinking.
F: Preparing the questions and also you having the burden to make something from this recording – is part of this exchange. I trust you with it. But also if nothing comes out of it that would be all right. There is no expectation; it will feed thinking anyhow and come back into the galaxy at some point. Whether I will personally catch it or a colleague doesn't matter. So there are different layers.
Maybe in half a year’s time, I would need the payment to survive as an otherwise-disciplined researching person. I will probably not be able to get any other income and a fee would buy me time later to support my research practice.
Another thought is that your research is contributing to the field I am interested in. It is important to think things through and I trust that you will help thinking. I am also busy with figuring out how to think about Constant as a research entity. This type of conversation helps me to articulate this.
So there are several reasons, direct and indirect, why this redistribution economy works. Redistribution, not in the sense of money but in the sense of thinking. Like the fact that your thinking is distributed and coming into the world. The fact that you are writing on a wiki is significant. Because it means not just me, but others will be reading this. And this means it is not going to be locked up in only one environment. So I know whatever I contribute is going to be part of that larger pool, it flows back to the field and is, therefore, in some way resisting this centralizing force of academia. And this is why I can think with you without feeling abused.
It is not about my work being included, it's more general: I feel your project has made a response-able step. Feeling as in personal feeling, but also politically. What do I – as a thinking being – prioritize? What is more or less important? This is why we can be "light" about money in this specific case and due to my current situation. There are some things I would never do without getting paid. But here it is optional because the exchange is in balance. Of course, I would not mind getting paid.
E: Would something change if you got paid?
F: It would have the added value of producing some time for me – at the other end – and that's nice. But for me, in this situation, payment is not a make or break, either way. There are other motivations.
Shall we talk again tomorrow? So we can come back to some things.
Great speak tomorrow 9 UK time, 10 Brussels time.
Bye bye, ciao, ciao.
6 feedback loops
Q: I am thinking a lot about the two different directions of “input" and “output”. It’s obvious to me that input is a generative agent (yeast in the dough). Can you think of “outputs” that are generative? Of course, we know that publications (outputs) can be generative, and fun. We are producing an output right now. ; ) Is there a problem in generalizing this idea of input and output? Perhaps we cannot think of input and output in form of a directional arrow? Do we need to discuss here the understanding of a “public” or a “community”? Could we perhaps also try to think through in which way the Wiki-thesis could be both, an input and an output, and thus get rid of this binary?
F: I have been thinking about "publishing in the middle", where input and output are not so much about a linear process but something that is part of an ecosystem, or a milieu, where the different process of input and output are happening at the same time. More images of fermentation, of humus, of soil. Already "putting out" is nice! It is input and output at the same time. It is not so helpful to separate these two things. A word like “instigation” might be more interesting? There is more complexity rather than just output or input. This comes back to a certain idea of how research works – discussed earlier. Does it make sense for you when I say “publishing is in the middle”?
E: Yes absolutely, only, the middle of something is also a spatial – and potentially centralizing – term, if you imagine the center of a circle, for example.
Annotated by FS
Humus or soil is perhaps a better metaphor because there is no center, it's decentralized, it's just there.
Diffraction owes as much to a thick legacy of feminist theorizing about difference as it does to physics. As such, I want to begin by re-turning – not by returning as in reflecting on or going back to a past that was, but re-turning as in turning it over and over again – iteratively intra-acting, re-diffracting, diffracting anew, in the making of new temporalities (spacetimematterings), new diffraction patterns.
We might imagine re-turning as a multiplicity of processes, such as the kinds earthworms revel in while helping to make compost or otherwise being busy at work and at play: turning the soil over and over – ingesting and excreting it, tunneling through it, burrowing, all means of aerating the soil, allowing oxygen in, opening it up and breathing new life into it.
It might seem a bit odd to enlist an organic metaphor to talk about diffraction, an optical phenomenon that might seem lifeless. But diffraction is not only a lively affair but one that troubles dichotomies, including some of the most sedimented and stabilized/stabilizing binaries, such as organic/ inorganic and animate/inanimate. Indeed, the quantum understanding of diffraction troubles the very notion of dichotomy – cutting into two – as a singular act of absolute differentiation, fracturing this from that, now from then.
(Karen Barad, "Diffracting Diffraction: Cutting Together-Apart")
E: This binary of “in” and “out”, sort of comes from trying to tackle these forces in academia, which in my view tends to produce this binary. Barad's metaphor really pictures a different planet.
F: Yes it does. If you think about publishing as such an earth-wormy process... taking in the soil and excreting it. There's some input-output when these two directions happen at the same time. We risk losing that complexity when the temporality of input and output gets separated too much, first the input and then output. For example, when it comes to questions of citation you get this almost economic dilemma: What was the input for this output to appear? It also connects to our discussion of payment yesterday; there are more complex processes of input and output happening in our conversation. To allow for citational politics that not just consider citations as input, but maybe also as output. Yesterday we discussed how one "produces" Sara Ahmed, for example, as a certain type of author by placing the work in a certain context and letting it do its work. The idea of bibliographic politics is interesting because it is active. It is an act. It is activism. It is not just rendering the input visible. It is also turning the input into an output, somehow.
E: Can you expand on this? [laughter]
F: It is not just making transparent which input went into the text. Your citational politics will also produce something – in the sense of a certain arrangement of resources, the bringing together of thinkers. This is different from the idea of making only the ingredients visible. Bringing together is also an act, an action, a production in itself. It is generative. Here citation is not just to be understood as an input but also as an output.
E: I wonder whether it is useful to stick to the word output at all. Just thinking about the Barad discussion at the beginning, when objects are brought in relation to each other the objects don't stay the same. They are being generated by being brought into relation to each other. So that would apply to citation as well.
F: This is why I was interested in instigation as a tool. As a term “in-stigation” is an output that's an input. Let's look it up.
Instigate implies responsibility for initiating or encouraging someone else's action and usually suggests dubious or underhanded intent ("he was charged with instigating a conspiracy").
(MW) -> Making trouble/troubling!
sticking-in / a stick-in
E: and the etymology...
Noun (1) Middle English stik, from Old English sticca; akin to Old Norse stik stick, Old English sticianto stick
Verb (2) Middle English stikken, from Old English stician; akin to Old High German sticken to prick, Latin instigare, to urge on, goad, Greek stizein to tattoo
F: It is a stick. Like in witchery. A prick. It's good no? It's nice "to put a stick into something." It is not just stirring things up, it's also "sensing out things" – a way to probe. So it has these two directions. It's nice. Do you want to move to the next question?
E: Let's stick with the stick for a moment. Because here we could come back to the soil, the environment, the milieu. These are all interesting terms to explore ... Severine Dusollier, during the "Author of the Future" study day Constant organized last year, referred to Sarah Vanuxem’s book La Propriété de la terre that explores the concept of milieus. But it is in French and I haven’t been able to look at it. Do you know other texts thinking on such kind of ecologies, that are not in French?
F: Gilbert Simondon maybe? But I find it difficult to read. He thinks through how things form in relation to each other. It was influential to Deleuze, and because of recent translation work, it starts to appear in other environments. I find it almost impossible to read because it is its own cosmos, but there is a lot of interesting thinking coming from it.
Anais Nony, for example, in a recent text on technological infrastructures has been thinking with Simondon. Input-output, of course, also belongs to the world of cybernetics. Simondon was a cybernetic thinker who was critical of the way in which cybernetics was taken up in the 1950s and 1960s and in Silicon Valley. I'm trying to find Nony’s text.
For Simondon, the information in a feedback loop takes place in a “non-recurring information background” (fond d’information non récurrente). The notion of feedback as a cycle in tension not only reconfigures the communicative system of information outside of the sender/receiver paradigm; it grounds a theory of transmission within a continuously evolving structure of exchange.
The value of reception is then concerned with two distinct modes of relating to both informational operation and structure: one that is permanent and wide and that the subject can include in the world as a milieu; the second that is narrow, temporary, instantaneous, and eminently linked to the action. Such a distinction becomes crucial for an understanding of information that is qualitative as opposed to quantitative.
Anais Nony examines techno-colonialism and the way how technological infrastructures have followed a certain idea of cybernetics – namely one of quantified immaterial input and output processes. She turns to Simondon to develop a processual and ecological perspective by taking materiality into account. It is not just about senders and receivers, it is the system of exchange that changes due to the fact that input and output constantly produce each other.
For me, it is an interesting read because it connects to ideas that I recognize from New Materialism like Barad. Simondon is not at all feminist, so it's always a bit weird, what his politics really are. Therefore it's great to read his work through Anais Nony because she is approaching technological infrastructures through intersectionality and neocolonialism.
7 explicit choices
Q: In our intersectional feminist practices we invest a lot of collective labor in note-taking, mapping, and sharing as part of an intersectional feminist, open-source art practice. I see a danger, or at least a tension, that this kind of transparency (Jo Freeman) can potentially slip into proximity with the neoliberal idea that everything can be captured, measured, quantified and ranked. Mapping and note-taking are super important for sharing, proliferating, building upon. How can we distinguish between Jo Freeman's demand for transparency and the neo-liberal one?
F: We talked about the choices you make in listing certain things and not others, in the colophon for example. This is different from the transparency that Joe Freeman asks for and also to the neoliberal one. I think neoliberal transparency does not ask for everything to be transparent; it is interested in very particular things becoming transparent.
You need to keep agency with what you make important – and that is not always the same thing. At a certain point, it could be important to list all the tools involved in the production of something – and then other things miss out. There are authorship and editorial decisions in what gets listed. It is sometimes hard to keep these two things apart because we are both trying to live a feminist life and at the same time we are of course implicated in neoliberal systems – we get confused sometimes. But I think it's really important to remember that we make choices.
Another tension is to be explicit about structures – something I really stick to, really try. But then at times, this can produce an impression of ... perhaps ... of management? For example, for me it is always super important to be explicit about when things will happen, when they start and when they will end. People can make decisions and stick to that schedule – show up or not, be available or not. This is important, but it can also produce an impression that there is too much regulation or management – sometimes it is hard to find the balance.
With note-taking: not everything – even if we try hard – gets noted. Also, choices are made, so how can you make these choices legible? This is where the fun is. We experiment with that: different hands on the keyboards, different ways of then re-using stuff. It’s part of the work. You can't just assume that note-taking will happen. I mean there is a lot of authorship in these decisions. Who does that? Who has the time to do it? Where does it get saved? How does it live on?
E: In terms of management, structure and schedules, there is an interesting conflict with the "Teaching to Transgress Toolbox" group in Gothenburg. We have so many sub-groups and so many meetings to keep each other in the loop. Everybody’s time is so precious and everybody is so stretched – that’s why I plan relatively short timeslots for the meetings – as an act of care, sort of. Then people show up and suggest to do a proper introduction round, like how we feel today, what are we up to, "check-ins" as we call them. But often that eats more than half of the time and I can see the exhaustion of a long day in some faces. How do we negotiate these different desires? How do we deal with our collective time which is so precious and also expensive?
F: Sometimes efficiency is really necessary in order to survive. The task is to find a good and sensitive balance between efficiency and other desires. Setting boundaries is difficult to do as a group. It is a service to the group and can be useful, but it can also be too constraining – sometimes you get too good at it. I do a lot of time keeping, and then at some point I realize, OK, it becomes such a smooth service that it is impossible for others to intervene. So you have to let go, not do it, make a mistake, whatever: mess it up.
8 resolutions are always temporary
Q: I am pondering about printing out the MediaWiki that constitutes my PhD thesis. What would it do? The university provides a small printing budget to print/publish the thesis. Now, my thesis is already public via the wiki. Nevertheless, the idea of translating the wiki into a print publication sounds attractive. You have much experience in using web-to-print features. Could we think together what this act of translation would do to the content and the way its being read? Claiming space, materiality, weight, images, linear reading vs multiple entry points and connections, etc.
F: What would you expect from the physical object?
E: The wiki functions – besides offering the text and thoughts – also as an archive. It hosts many materials – images, texts, recordings that are all nested in it. It has many different layers and entry points. I imagine a print publication to be more direct and visual. The idea would not be to try to capture the wiki in its entirety, but a selection, "a version", a kind of visual index, that invites people to go to the wiki. There is something interesting happening when two formats engage with the same content.
F: A sort of “guided tour”, a narration through the wiki sounds good. Something that is not final – “it could have been different”. You could make this contingency clear and in this case, the publication would sit with the wiki. Both structures will interact. The wiki will be different because of the publication and the publication would not be the same without the wiki. If you describe it like this, it is really nice, especially the last part.
E: Yes the idea of completeness – of printing out the entire wiki – would be boring.
F: When we made the Mondotheque book about Paul Otlet’s universalist knowledge infrastructures, we collectively filled the wiki with the idea that it would somehow be a platform for coming to terms with the universe of universalists. The tension that the idea of “completeness” produced, was very much part of the project: it was almost impossible to come to an end. It was a sinkhole of obsessive work and editing – just to get it right. The painful part in all this work was that we had missed the fact, that Paul Otlet had published racist statements throughout his life.
F: Now we have published an addendum. This insertion, called "Omissum," really changes how you read the book. It is not the same anymore. It is an addendum to the Wikipedia page and a PDF that can be printed and inserted into the printed copies.
E: You changed something that is already published? That's is different from a second and revised edition, perhaps closer to what the “Erratum” in a book sometimes does, but yours is an “Ommissum”…
F: Yes, it is an example of the humus-ness of publishing – in a playful way. It was super difficult to realize that – while we worked so hard, and so critically – we missed this! How do we account for it? For half a year now, we have not shown the book to anyone, because it was just too painful. But now, it has become an interesting example again for ongoingness and staying with the trouble – not retracting the work, but putting it into a new light. It is an example of "publishing as instigation". It does not end, it keeps working. This is also an experiment asking whether can we rework backward what we did.
E: It was interesting when I started to move the writing of my thesis from the locked up word document to the publicness of a MediaWiki – it produced (at least) two things: huge energy on my side that this process of tentative thinking happens in public; and it created quite a friction that people who read the thesis-in-the-making will find lots of unresolved claims, thoughts, and leads I wasn't sure about. How would readers deal with the fact that what they are reading is not resolved? And how to live with this unresolvedness on my side?
F: The Mondotheque example shows, that things you thought were resolved were actually unresolved. We finally managed to make a book. We were really ecstatic, that we were able to make a moment in this collectively and intellectually complicated project and then we had to reopen it. I think things are only ever temporarily "resolved"?
- Femke Snelting, spideralex, Cornelia Sollfrank. "Forms of Ongoingness", Zurich: Creating Commons, 2018. http://creatingcommons.zhdk.ch/forms-of-ongoingness/.
- Sarah Kember and Joanna Zylinska, Life after New Media – Mediation as a Vital Process (Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: The MIT Press, 2012).
Karen Barad. "Nature's Queer Performativity."
Kvinder, KØN & Forskning 46, 1-2, (2012): 25–53, https://tidsskrift.dk/KKF/article/view/28067.
- Denise Ferreira Da Silva, Arjuna Neumann. "email correspondence between Arjuna Neuman and Denise Ferreira da Silva 2017–2018". London: The Showroom, n.d. https://www.theshowroom.org/system/files/062020/5ef3716252712a038b005fbc/original/email_correspondence_AN_DFDS.pdf?1599108851.
- Donna Haraway. Staying with the Trouble – Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2016.
- Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet. Dialogues II. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.
- "Forum 6: When do we learn" was one of the eight forums at "Let's Mobilize: What is Feminist Pedagogy?" [See footnote xx].
- Open Source Publishing (OSP) http://osp.kitchen/.
- Constant (eds). I think that conversations are the best, biggest thing that Free Software has to offer its user. Brussels: Constant, 2015. https://conversations.tools/
- Donna Haraway. "Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin." Environmental Humanities 6 (2015): 161.
- Contract of research collaboration between Kate Rich/Feral MBA and Femke Snelting/Constant, February 2018 – December 2019. http://wiki.evaweinmayr.com/images/8/88/Undisciplinedresearch.contract_Femke_Snelting_Kate_Rich.pdf
- "Teaching To Transgress Toolbox" (the title is inspired by bell hooks' book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom) is a two-year trans-disciplinary research and study program on critical pedagogy in the arts (2019–21) using artistic tools. Based on peer-learning and collective research practices it consists of four workshops taking place in 2020/21, an open-source online platform and a publication. The program is developed transnationally by three art schools, erg in Brussels, HDK-Valand in Gothenburg and ISBA in Besançon, and is funded by an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership Grant. Teaching to Transgress Toolbox website: http://www.ttttoolbox.net/.
- "Let's Mobilize What is Feminist Pedagogy?," a three-day investigation of feminist and queer pedagogies at HDK-Valand, Academy of Art and Design, University of Gothenburg, 2016. http://wiki.evaweinmayr.com/index.php/Project_4_*_Let%27s_Mobilize:_What_is_Feminist_Pedagogy%3F.
- Karen Barad. "Diffracting Diffraction: Cutting Together-Apart. parallax, 2014, 168.
- Sarah Vanuxem. La Propriété de la terre (Domaine sauvage) Marseille: Wildproject, 2018.
- Anaïs Nony. "Technology of Neo-Colonial Epistemes." Philosophy Today 63 (3)( November 13, 2019): 731-744.
- Freeman, Jo. "The Tyranny of Structurelessness, Why organizations need some structure to ensure they are democratic." 1972. http://struggle.ws/hist_texts/structurelessness.html.
- Constant (eds). Mondotheque – A Radiated Book. Brussels: Constant, 2016. https://monoskop.org/images/9/94/Mondotheque_A_Radiated_Book_Un_livre_irradiant_Een_irradierend_boek_2016.pdf
- Constant (eds). "Omissum", Brussels: Constant, 2020. https://constantvzw.org/site/Paul-Otlet-Een-Omissum.html