As we move into the final stretch of the Open Source Studio (OSS) this semester at CalArts, it’s time to pause (take a deep breath) and reflect on this experiment in collective pedagogy. The goal of the OSS project is a daunting one: to shift the emphasis away from the solitary mechanisms of individualized studio work, to one that involves an “intertwingling” (as Ted Nelson would say) of ideas, aspirations, and artistic production.
Far too often, as artists we are left to our own devices to forage through the complexities of a work in order to arrive at some predetermined outcome. But the world is not that way! The political system, for example, doesn’t operate in a vacuum, it requires negotiation, compromise, and an exchange of differences to realize a deal. Business transactions, building construction, medical treatment, manufacturing – the list goes on – all require teamwork and the collective process to make things happen and achieve results. Art, I’m sorry to say, is too often a solitary, even lonely experience, “every man for himself:” each artist placed into a competitive relationship with fellow artists.
What Open Source Studio strives to do is bring art making into a cooperative environment. OSS provides the online tools for collaboration, such that ideas and workflow can be documented and shared, to illicit response, feedback, encouragement, and dare I say, sometimes even support. I often sense that the pressure of results-oriented artistic production pushes the artist away from the possibilities of the collective process. Even more difficult is acknowledging just how important these relations are to thinking through the creation of a work, that the co-creative search for knowledge and expanding ideas can be a significant aspect of the work itself. Opening up and making the creative process transparent is critical.
And so the challenge looms heavy in the mounting of an Open Source Studio exhibition, to convey the intrinsic value of the process, the collective experience. It becomes essential to illuminate the process of dialogue, the discussion among guest artists who have participated from every corner of the world, the playful chat-based conversation and the invention of new language and new words – all shaping the spirited discourse that takes place in the real-time moment of learning.
In the 24/7 socially-mediated climate – the relentless immersion in communications and mobile interactions – we barely understand its effects on the social relations we consider so vital to our everyday lives. But here the role of the artist comes into play, as Marshall McLuhan pointed out:
“The artist picks up the message of cultural and technological challenge decades before its transforming impact occurs. He, then, builds models or Noah’s arks for facing the change that is at hand.”
In our age of social media and global communications, I would go so far as to say that the artist must be relevant to one’s time and and its dynamic and find ways to embrace and model the complex mechanisms of mediated social relations for purposes of examination and critical research. This requires a thoughtful and informed use of media to stage a broader understanding of contemporary conditions in our time of incessant communications, and perhaps, instigate new ways of thinking about and challenging these conditions.
While the Open Source Studio project constitutes a collection of individual student projects, a full understanding of the OSS experience cannot be gauged solely by each individual outcome. Rather, this understanding comes from a deeper inspection of how the process of shared dialogue and documentation catalyzes the results: in effect, how the sometimes painful choices are triggered by the collective process in the creation of a work of art. Yes, it takes a village in the 21st century (as it has since the beginning of time): no artist really works alone. And OSS, with its extensive use of Skype studio visits, live web-conferencing, and an open source WordPress site that was customized specifically for the project, OSS could be thought of as our own version of McLuhan’s “Ark,” a virtual raft for navigating the turbulent waters of making new work, and the difficult and often frustrating realization of what it even means to be an artist.
In Open Source Studio, we are deeply invested in the social practice as a crucial component of how see ourselves as artists in the world, ready to work as an ensemble to bring about collective agency in a too often splintered society. If, like McLuhan said, the artist is a builder of models, than OSS can be thought of as a way of modeling the artist’s practice in an increasingly technological world. In a time when our political leaders are paralyzed and social progress advances in fits and starts, we find a timely role for the artist, inventing methodologies (even mythologies!) and new ways of thinking that might illuminate a better understanding of our mediated world, and to use the technological and social tools to make the world a more productive, inclusive, and creative place.