As I prepare for my artist residency at CalArts this fall, the Open Source Studio project is coming to life, a entirely new treatment of online education and artmaking. Well not entirely new as I revisit the notoriously radical work of Eva and Franco Mattes, who created the Life Sharing project in 2001 as a commission of the Walker Art Center. This work truly sets the stage for the open source studio. How? Because the artists understood that the computer is the artist’s virtual studio, connected to every other computer in the world, it is opened up to the network. Never mind firewalls and security, our computers are part of a vast system of hubs and routers whether we like it or not.
And in the case of Life Sharing, the artists have eradicated all notions of privacy, their computer is 100% public, it is an open door to their virtual lives, nothing is hidden, everything is revealed, except, their true identities, which is hidden or obscured by contradictory information they provide about themselves. So they share their lives, their virtual lives, but because it is their virtual selves, it isn’t necessarily who they really are, it is who they pretend to be, or want to be, or want us to think who they are. They were post reality long before reality had reached its inevitable conclusion.
That is the nature of the open studio, the artist (or anyone with a computer and an Internet connection) can reveal themselves from the vantage of their virtual space, a magical otherworld of theatrical possibilities, as unlimited, unconfined, and connected as one can imagine.
Why did Eva and Franco Mattes choose to let it all go public? Why would they perform this act of self-surveillance? This was the year 2001, several years before Facebook had led nearly a billion people into an act of collective self-display.
In January 2001 we started sharing our personal computer through our website. Everything was visible: texts, photos, music, videos, software, operating system, bank statements and even our private email. People could take anything they wanted, including the system itself, since we were using only free software. It was not a normal website, you were entering the computer in our apartment, seeing everything live. It was a sort of endurance performance that lasted 3 years, 24/7.
I believe there is something nearly uncontrollably seductive about being connected, about being part of the vast network. It had been predicted by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s that we would eventually all be part of an electronic nervous system, or the global village as he called it. We are now living publicly online, with our blogs, our self-publishing, our citizen journalism, our thousands of Facebook friends, our hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. We have this extraordinary reach into the electronic sphere. There is a sense of power with this reach, that allows us to extend our nervous system beyond our everyday lives, instantaneously, at the speed of light. Or as Eva and Franco declared:
The more you work in a computer, the more it looks like your brain.