Open culture in three steps: scale, abilities and ambition

may 03, 2012
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Even though it has recently become a recurring motto, collaboration in the field of the arts is nothing new. No need to rewind too much: Surrealists, Dadaists, Situationists and Plagiarists already conceived the idea that all creation is derivative and worked in a cooperatively manner.

Think of the following question: What changed between the exquisite corpse of Tzara, Breton & Co. and the Exquisite Corpse Festival celebrated in October of 2011 in the US? In both cases the resulting creation is a product of convulsive beauty and common participation with a playful spirit. However, in the first example collaboration arises at a local level, occurs in a shared physical space. In the second, the American festival has been created from the Web and users were able to participate in an event where artists that might have never met before created a collaborative work of art through multiple mediums.

“The Exquisite Corpse Festival uses the surrealist parlour game to inspire collaborations in unlikely media and between unlikely artists”

Change of scale

Yes, you got it! What has changed is the scale. And that change is directly related to certain processes that have been brewing for the past three decades due to the existence of a young and educated population, which is connected through the Web and in active search for alternatives. As a result, what before was local now is global, what used to be confined to a domestic field, familiar and close, now acquires to a planetary dimension.

The digital remix culture is a good example of the change of scale in co-creation. The Grey Album is a mash up record created by Danger Mouse and launched in 2004. It uses an a cappella version of the rapper Jay – Z combined with plentiful unauthorized samples of The Beatles. The album gained notoriety when EMI tried to stop its distribution pleading copyright infringements. That same year DJ Spooky remixed D.W. Griffith’s film “Birth of a Nation” (1912), and launched it as “Rebirth of a Nation”.

In addition, the comparison between The Grateful Dead and Dj Vadim is useful to understand the change of scale that the Web 2.0 and P2P have made possible. The cult band from California used to invite fans to record parts of their live performances and in many occasions reused those samples in their own music. Vadim takes advantage of the Web to offer his samples to anyone who wants to remix and upload them back. Then he chooses the creations he likes best and plays them in clubs or turns them viral through his soundcloud account.

“Remix old and new Vadim tracks and upload them back to the cloud: we play our favourites on mixes, in clubs and share on our soundcloud” 

Change of capabilities

The second change that affects collaboration has to do with capabilities. The film “El Cosmonauta” is a clear example because it is the only Spanish movie partially crowdfunded. Both the scripts and the shooting plan have been published in the Web and followed by users whom, after co-financing the project, became producers of the work. The feature film will be distributed under a Creative Commons license.

In this case, the product is only plausible thanks to the change of scale added to a change of capabilities. The Web becomes a board that enables contribution through a series of micro tasks.  But contribution not always has to be monetary: Pantalla Global (Global Screen), currently being exhibited at CCCB (Contemporary Culture Centre of Barcelona), has been co-created with the help the crowd. It is an “open” exhibition divided in three phases: incubation, exhibition and post exhibition. Users may follow the creative process and even participate through the creation of a “counter exhibition”. As a counter discourse, user generated content becomes part of the physical and virtual expositions.

What is yours is mine, what is mine is mine?

The emergence of Creative Commons licenses offers a legal framework for the current creative effervescence motivated by the change of scale and capacities (excluding some restrictions). In the era of the culture industry, the big intermediaries needed copyright to sustain their businesses. Now, the era of contribution reveals the pressing need of new game rules that may protect the author while enabling open distributions and remixing.

In this context, a well known element appears on stage: the commons (or the common good), that which belongs to the public domain, a resource on which ownership cannot be attributed to any individual as it belongs to the collective. And, talking about the commons, a new riddle pops up: what changed between Encyclopaedia Britannica (RIP) and Wikipedia?

Change of ambition

According to Jimmy Wales, founder of the largest digital work ever written, Wikipedia is “like a library or a public park: a temple for the mind”. The mission behind it is to make knowledge accessible to everybody. With more than 20 million of articles in 282 languages and dialects, written jointly by volunteers from all over the world, Wikipedia is one of the major contributions to the commons and is only possible thanks to the magical addition: change of scale + change of abilities + change of ambition.

We assist to a change in ambition when the resulting product of the joint collaboration is a resource for the commons. A resource plausible of being copied, distributed, modified and redistributed, as Richard Stallman points out in his GNU Manifesto, written a few decades ago.

Coleccionarte.org, Barcelona Creative Commons Festival (which not only exhibits CC films but also allows for it’s replication as a concept itself), all the projects that seek crowd funding in Goteo.org are examples conceived with the same change of ambition: that of a participative and free culture which exploits and cultivates the common resource.

 

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