From 'Highbrow Art' to Participatory Culture –
A Potential for Change
Through the arts research project TransCoding - From 'Highbrow Art' to Participatory Culture (funded by the Austrian Science Fund as PEEK-project AR 259-G21) we wish to encourage participation in the development of a musical-multimedia show and an audiovisual installation by offering participatory culture via the web 2.0.
What is it about and who is involved? Since February 2014, the TransCoding team has built a network of various social media channels around a main hub, the WordPress-site what-ifblog.net. (Therefore, we will subsequently refer to the project as Transcoding | What if). Here we introduce our topics of multimedia art and contemporary (art) music, community participation, and the creation of our show under the categories "Art we love", "You, us and the project", and "Making of", respectively. In a fourth category we choose "identity" as our main topic for the content of the artwork and the blog (Fig.1). The concept of identity offers a framework for the project that is universally relevant and unites our otherwise diverse community members.
TransCoding | What if is for women and men, professional artists, and home producers. All are invited to participate in the community through any (feasible) means of expression: music of all genres, poetry, prose, drawings, photos, videos, interviews, links, or ideas. Our main target group is comprised of digital natives who are technically savvy, 20-35 years of age, and are interested in creatively expressing themselves while coming from popular culture. However, participants outside of the target group are equally welcome to join the community. (Fig.2)
The blog is our main contact point with our community, and affords them the opportunity to participate in our project. Via calls for entries we encourage our visitors to contribute images, sounds, and texts that we incorporate in our artwork. Through our social media channels we invite to speak out, share discourse and take influence on the creation of our artwork, and additionally present situations and material for community members to create their own artwork (with or without immediate relation to us).
We afford our community members authority in shaping our work and offer them a platform to meet and make their interest clear. As we invite contributors to exercise influence in the joint artwork, we look at change as viewed through the power relationship between artist and community. The (commonly) hierarchic relationship artist and audience/followers is being changed into one of permeability and mutual influence.
Our research question is the following:
In which way does community participation in the decision-making process of our joint creative work change traditional (power) models of artist-audience/community relation?
The romantic principle of the individual composer-genius working beyond established rules or external controls is obsolete for us. By opening up access to the creative process to the community, we investigate whether mutual interaction consequently alters both sides involved. We explore not only how the artist as researcher can engender change in the relation artist-community, but also how the community can do so through their contributions to the project.
We challenge traditional (power) models between artist and audience, and explore which areas of success or conflict this might yield. We search for a way to express this interaction in the joint artworks and trace how democratising the creative process alters both sides involved.
In chapter 2 (Methodology), I position us as researchers and within the artistic field of contemporary (art) music and introduce strategies employed in our project. In chapter 3 (Case Studies) I investigate where and how we grant authority in decision-making to our community while outlining areas of success and conflict our project yields. In chapter 4 (Conclusion) I outline social and/or artistic change TransCoding | What if engenders relating back to methodology and the theoretical discourse.
The project began in February 2014 and will last for three years in total. During the first year we worked in a team of four artists and a social media strategist with shared responsibilities in the creation of the artwork. After a year we continued in a smaller team for project-inherent reasons that are deeply grounded in the topic "authority for the community versus sole creative sovereignty for the artist" investigated in this paper.
At the moment our team consists of two main operators. I myself am the head of project in the capacity of conceptual leader, social media content producer, main artist, performer and researcher. My co-worker, Clio Montrey, who is in charge of communication with the community, works mainly as social media strategist and blogger. Occasionally, a visual artist, software programmers and a dramaturge support us. We have recently been joined by a junior researcher who will reflect on the project from sociologist' point of view.
In the following three subchapters, I will outline the different methodological approaches of TransCoding | What if –from ethnography to artistic research to participatory culture– and add a fourth subchapter that deals with the artistic context the project is positioned in.
2.1. The Research Field
Our methodology is based on qualitative research. We conduct an ethnographic research study in which the fieldwork takes place primarily but not exclusively in the virtual realm of web 2.0, on our social media platforms with a focus on our central online hub, what-ifblog.net. Our operating mode, based on communication through social media, demands from us to engage on an almost daily level with members of our community to establish trust, acceptance and the feeling of authenticity. Therefore, social media strategist Montrey's and my own constant presence on the various social media platforms are of imminent relevance. Consequently, we concurrently immerse and actively participate in our field that we investigate.
As for our position in the field, I follow the definition of sociologist Shula Reinharz (1997, p. 5, cited by (Sandiford 2015)) who identifies a number of researcher selves for field-workers. My co-worker Montrey and I appear in three roles that are not always separable from each other: the role of the "brought self", the "situational self" and the "researcher based self".
a) The role of the "brought self" is evident, when I, in my capacity as head of project, function as conceptualiser of the overall project; when my colleague Montrey and I set topic of the overall artwork, "Identity", feed it, and shape the way how art and identity is introduced to our community, when we both formulate the calls for entry that invite the community to contribute to our artwork. (Fig.3 and 4). My personal "brought self" is likewise relevant when I work as composer, visual artist or performer within the project, fulfilling my role as lead artist. I create the framework of the audiovisual installation as well as the multimedia performance for violin, electronics and video. The material I use for both artworks is based, in part and to various degrees, on contributions from our community. I curate the contributions that will be included in the artwork while searching for an adequate framing, which allows our members to identify with the project, and features their contributions in an authentic and respectful manner.
In both contexts, our personal selves and my individual self as artist are visible and provide a sense of authenticity, which we sustain through blog posts in the category "making of". Under this heading our community can read what goes on behind the scenes of TransCoding | What if. Through these “journal entries,” we share our experiences, challenges, and ideas while putting the collective artwork together.
b) Our “situational self” appears when Montrey and I take on the role of temporary members of the overall social media community in the form of bloggers who participate in challenges on https://dailypost.wordpress.com/, SoundCloud members who participate in February Album Writing Month jointly with our community members (http://fawm.org/), or when we roam Facebook or Twitter for inspiration. In short, we enter this mode when gathering, learning, sharing, acknowledging, and narrating along with our community without taking on a leading role with any kind of pre-conceived authority but rather "to get the feel of what it is like to be a part of the community". (Fig.5 and 6).
c) In our role as "research based self" we conduct an overt study in the sense that it is known to our community that they are part of a research project. We observe, reflect, analyse, and draw conclusions as to communication strategies, community motivation, and the community's influence on the artwork and on the artist. From an artistic standpoint, our research question is how can we incorporate the community's contributions and influence in an authentic, respectful and yet artistically interesting way into our artwork. From an artist's point of view we trace how the interaction with the community changes us and our art. We discuss the findings with the academic field and society in general in talks, workshops and papers.
d) The fourth role, which I alone take on within our team, is that of the "artist self." (Fig.7). As a performer I come from a yet another context and peer group, namely that of the contemporary music scene. The contemporary music scene differs slightly in each country according to cultural politics and historical background; it influences me while composing and when offering the show to festival promoters.
2.2. Artistic Research: The Central Artworks of TransCoding | What if and the influence of the community
With the artistic research project TransCoding |What if we embrace the final artworks as well as the process of producing art: the gathering of inspiration, the communication process, and artistic exploration. We view our arts practice and research as performative, meaning that the artwork as well as the creative process will modify how we (and possibly our participating community) understand and reflect the world; thus it will do something to us, it will perform us and we will perform through it coming from a material to an immaterial level.
Moreover, artistic practices are always embedded in context; they are not detached from society or time. In TransCoding |What if we put an emphasis on the situation and on the community. The outcome of the interrelation between community and artist will flow into the art’s body and the reflection on it.
What are the artworks we are referring to? The entirety of TransCoding | What if 's social media channels around the main hub what-ifblog.net is a joint produced composite work of our community and the TransCoding team. It forms one of the central artworks. Here the interaction between all stakeholders (community including the TransCoding team) stands in the foreground. Participation is open to everybody, with limited and only occasional curation by the TransCoding team. The different online channels serve as accesses to the project for our worldwide community, as communication platforms and communal online exhibition spaces for mini artworks of all stakeholders. It serves also as an artistic documentary of the interaction between the TransCoding team and its community. We consider it a common contextual art artifact which reveals the connections between TransCoding | What if's art works and the conditions of their production.
A further central artwork of TransCoding | What if is the multimedia show Slices of Life for violin, soundtrack, and video. It is created by myself as the main artist, and incorporates community contributions. The participation mode for Slices of Life is as follows: In regular intervals we call for community contributions to gather material for the show via our social media channels. We let community members decide how to approach the calls and which agency to follow: some get creative for themselves and out of interest for the call; others enter an intersubjective exchange with us and consciously contribute to the multimedia show.
The material we get in form of photos, texts, sounds or videos is usually quite different from what we had in our mind when we formulated the calls. The community interprets the calls in a way that meets their personal interest, not necessarily the demands of the artwork. Therefore, the second step is on the one hand to curate the material and choose what might fit the show, and on the other hand to adjust concept, content and aesthetics of Slices of Life to the community material. Subsequently I create a part of the show that incorporates the material of a given call and feed it back in the loop of communication via our Youtube, Soundcloud, blogs (Tumblr and Wordpress) and Facebook channels. All participants are consulted before I use their contributions and are clearly acknowledged.
The influence of the community is strong, although not as palpable as in the other works. It shows for example in the fact that since the first sketches in 2014 Slices of Life has turned from a contemporary (art) music-centered work based on abstract symbolism around the Greek-Roman idea of the four temperaments (sanguine, choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic) into a narrative multimedia performance that is based on a string of real and invented stories by the community, incorporates elements of popular music and takes videos and images contributed by individual members as the basis for the video production.
With the interactive audiovisual installation Read me I provide a technological setting and a conceptual frame that can be filled with the personalized content of individual community members. Here the development of the artistic content can be entirely authored by a single community member.
Additional satellite artworks are produced in workshops around TransCoding | What if in which non-professional participants shape their own work around the topic of identity. Participants have the say in the development of an overall performance or personal artwork, while TransCoding's artist offers an optional initial conceptual framework and assists with professional advice in the realization of the artwork.
In the following subchapter I describe how we approach this project from a participatory point of view, elaborating on the strategies employed.
2.3 Participatory Culture: Strategies employed
In general, we invite our community to creatively, qualitatively and meaningfully participate in different ways. They co-shape the participatory culture we initiate by means of communication, collaboration and through interpreting it in their own way.
We grant at least four categories of community-authority in different creative settings:
a. We allow concrete decision-making power in the creative process of our artwork. Community members may have -in the extreme case- even the ultimate say over the content. (Case study 3.1.Read me, analysed in detail with regard to the power of single community members).
b. We use original raw material (sound, text, video, image) contributed by the community in the artwork and frame it clearly and recognizable. However, we retain the power to decide in which way we use it and how it is framed. How the community reacts to our calls for contributions strongly influences and affects the aesthetic of our artwork and the actual process of creation. (Case study 3.2. What if we had wings? analysed in detail with regard to the viewpoint of the artist).
c. The community inspires and influences the artwork, for instance through the aesthetics of their contributions, through their choice of topics in our calls for entry and through their communication with us on the social media channels (a topic I only mention but will not tackle in detail in this paper).
d. The community uses our material to make their own art (Case study 3.3. SoundCloud, described in a general overview).
When we began the project, we engaged via social media, a form of communication important in developing identities. Thus, we ensconce our topic "identity" as the focus of the artwork and our social media presence. Additionally, the key features of web 2.0 allow for free classification and arrangement of information in the form of social tagging (the so-called folksonomy), user participation in the form of crowd sourcing and contribution through evaluation, review, and commenting. Users are empowered to shape their medial reality (7 key features of web 2.0 | webAppRater 2010) (Fig.8). Our contents were made available to share, reuse, distribute and edit as a sign of basic trust. A wide dissemination and dispersion allows for content delivery via multiple channels including file sharing and permalinks. Our community had a certain amount of authority from the onset.
An important step was to locate our project's position with regard to the concept of participatory culture. Media scholar Münker states that a participatory public "wishes for interdisciplinary discourse, enables the development of new concepts, consciously exceeds familiar organization and invites to look for new perspectives and paths" (Jank 2012, 146). Referring to philosopher and sociologist Habermas, he claims that there are four criteria for a sphere of civil openness: "Access to it is principally open, their members are completely equal, the choice of topic is entirely open and the circle of potential participants is open". (Münker 2009: 36-37).
The project Transcoding | What if is theoretically open to anyone who has access to uncensored internet and a computer. However, our core target group is an internet-literate young audience of digital natives. Its members are interested in creatively expressing themselves, are coming from popular culture, and wouldn't necessarily attend classical contemporary multimedia performances. They are what arts marketing expert Keith Diggle describes as the in a first instance "unavailable audience:" non-traditional visitors of an organisation's concert who may nevertheless be reached in new ways. (Diggle, 1994, p.32, cited by (Carboni 2011). Still, contributions by participants outside the target group are equally welcome. The reach of the project is wide. In the year 2015 we reached visitors of 119 countries with almost 10 000 views on the blog alone (Fig.9). We have come up with a list of active participation possibilities that come into question on TransCoding | What if from least to technically most difficult that applies to online communication with us via web 2.0. Here the participants have the possibility to:
3. Supply a link (comment section of Wordpress or Facebook)
4. Contribute with text (Wordpress, Facebook, twitter)
5. Pingback on our blog via contributor’s blog (Wordpress)
6. Upload a photo (tumblr, Facebook, instagram, twitter)
7. Film a video
8. Create own music (SoundCloud)
9. Remix the sound samples we provide with own music (SoundCloud)
10. Download mute video, score the music, re-upload on YouTube
10. Create own individual artwork that includes elements of all of the above
In our project, the research team drives the participative and creative process; the initial choice of topic for the overall project, "identity," was given by us. Additionally we determined three further blog categories "Art we love", "You, us and the project", and "Making of" in which we a) introduce our audience to contemporary art we feel close to, b) feature the participation of the community and c) give insight in the evolving artwork Slices of Life. We shape the "calls for entry" that ask for contributions which later may (or may not) be woven into the overall artwork.
Participants are equal amongst themselves but they follow the topic and the calls set out by the team. We provide different platforms on which those contributions are featured regardless of whether we will interweave them into Slices of Life. The way a contributor approaches the topic is free and amongst others community power lies in accepting a call or refusing to participate. Some of the calls took on a creative life outside of the immediate framework of the central artistic work in form of compositions made by community members with our material, stories that have been extended and material that has been used for collaborations outside of our community (Fig.10).
Museum consultant and scholar Sabine Jank talks about the limitations of participation when she addresses participation as a utopian idea, and discusses the feasibility of participation in her article "Strategien der Partizipation" [Strategies of Participation]" (Jank 2012). She states that a "participatory public" is generally seen as a utopian idea, because of its multiple perspectives and congenial composition that goes along with a breakup of the traditional production of knowledge. In her opinion, media scholar Stefan Münker, whom she quotes, describes an "ideal" type of the participatory public.
The participatory aspect of TransCoding | What if? is characterized by a processual quality. To paraphrase Jank, the project raises questions of power constellations, objective knowledge (and access to it), unrestricted communication, open, critical dialogue and the dissolution of traditional practices, as well as public access and the congenial inclusion of outsiders (Jank 2012, 147). In our project, the term "outsider" refers to members of our target group who originally come from popular culture and whom we aim to integrate in our process of creation. In Chapter 3: Case Studies, I will address different perspectives on and possible limitations of participation. However, to round off the description of context in which this project is situated, I first specify the artistic and aesthetic field of TransCoding | What if?.
2.4. The Artistic Context
Using the work of art historian Claire Bishop as a lens, I position TransCoding | What if in the field of participatory art meaning "the involvement of many people (as opposed to the one-to-one relationship of interactivity)" in the sense of "a reconsideration of the ways in which art is produced, consumed and debated". (Bishop 2012, 1 and 3). We don't conceptualize TransCoding | What if as primarily politically art (as socially engaged, educative, or associated with the general political question of citizenships rights and voice.) Instead we deliver the framework for an arts project and produce situations in which our community can be creative together with us or independently from us, express their voice and enter into discourse.
The artistic and aesthetic field in which our project is contextualized is classical-contemporary, music-based multimedia art. In this project we are concerned with through-composed electro-acoustic (multimedia) music with a performer. Within this field only very little participatory art can be found, usually in audio art or soundscape art, some of which I will now present:
The soundscape project stereopublic: crowdsourcing the quiet, devised, directed and composed by sound artist Jason Sweeney asked its participants to seek out quiet spaces in a city and share visual and audio impressions online. On request these recordings were turned into compositions:
"Sweeney is a participatory art project that asks you to navigate your city for quiet spaces, share them with your social networks, take audio and visual snapshots, experience audio tours and request original compositions made using your recordings." (Sweeney 2012).
The project had documentary features, the participants contributed information and material but did not compose themselves.
The Personal Soundscape Project of the ORF festival musikprotokoll and ORF Kunstradio, both hosted by the Austrian public broadcast (ORF), encouraged people to engage online with an audio art project.
As part of an online art project initiated by musikprotokoll, for months school-goers throughout and audio recording enthousiasts were collecting sounds, listening in their everyday lives, exploring and recording their personal soundscapes: they have now processed, layered and arranged the sounds of their lives and translated them into art.
The result is a kaleidoscope of “Personal Soundscapes” and at the same time a young sound image of the province, which can be heard and modified online on the project website. ORF Kunstradio embarks on a journey through the mountains and valleys of these acoustic landscapes. (ORF musikprotokoll im steirischen herbst 2013-2015)
The project was concurrently participative and educative. Participants could either simply collect and contribute sounds or take it one step further, creating their own composition. Some of these works were then featured at the musikprotokoll festival.
In Walk that sound by Serbian artist Luka Ivanovic a.k.a Lukataboy, the artist provides walkie-talkies to participants so that they can record conversations and environmental sounds coming from a nearby area. Lukataboy collects the material of which he creates a tape that is later broadcast via radio stations. The project has happening and documentary character.
For his ongoing participatory project Blind Tapes Ivanovic invites four people to individually record ten minutes of playing their instrument, singing or talking on a 4-track cassette recorder. The recordings overlay each other. The people are unaware of the people who play before, or will play after them. Ivanovic later sold a mix-down of the recordings under the name Blind Tape Quartets mentioning the individual participants.
A small, basic studio with a portable 4-track cassette recorder is provided for musicians (established, amateurs, first-time…) and/or singers (writers, spoken word artists…) to record a single channel, until a recorded “quartet” is ready and blind-mixed. Each person is responsible for the ¼ of the overall, 4-track/channel recording - and will be provided with some directions in order to preserve the overall mix from being too busy. (Ivanovic 2013)
At Disquiet Junto, an "association for communal music/sound making" participants hosted by webzine publisher Marc Weidenbaum, USA, follow the given theme of the week and produce a song that is not part of an overall artwork. The only connection between the contributions is their being featured on the disquiet Junto SoundCloud and their individual engagement with the weekly topic.
"[Disquiet Junto] is a group based on Soundcloud.com where musicians respond to weekly, fast-turnaround assignments to compose, record, and share new music. The idea is to use restraints as a springboard for creativity." (Weidenbaum 1992-2016)
The community can meet at an online forum to discuss, reflect and exchange (http://disquiet.com/forums/categories/disquiet-junto). The project encourages and gives incentives to compose, it offers a platform for exposure, discussion and reflection for the community, but it does not connect the participants through an overall artwork.
Within the field of participatory contemporary (art) music, I have not found a single work that takes participation, exchange between artist and community, the permeability of authority and the building of a community to a similar encompassing level as we do.
Subsequently, I will talk about how we apply our methodology using case studies as a means to illustrate processes of creation, distribution of authority and the dissolution of traditional practices.
3. Case Studies – Grades of Community Authority in Different Creative Settings
In this chapter, I would like to shed light on the following question: in which way, which quantity, and on which level do we afford our participatory community authority in the decision-making process of our joint creative work, and how does this affect the evolving meaning of artistic work for both the project artists and the community?
3.1. Case Study – Read me – an Area of Success
I shall first analyse in detail the artwork Read me with regard to concept, mode of participation and the question of shared authority with individual community members.
Read me is an interactive audiovisual installation that can be personalised for individual community members of TransCoding | What if. While I offer the original artistic idea and the conceptual and technical framework, individual community members are invited to personalise the installation for themselves by filling the framework with their own chosen texts, portrait, sounds or even compositions. Accordingly, the afforded authority lies in the actual content: the material provided to turn the installation into a person's personalised artwork.
The idea behind Read me is the following: Often our first impression of a person leads us to believe that we can grasp who this person is. It seems clear and obvious. Yet the closer we get acquainted, more and more complexities about this same person are revealed. In the installation Read me, the closeness of the relationship will be expressed through the distance of an audience member to the projection. The further away one is, the clearer the material will be (at its limit, one soundtrack and one sentence visible on the projection). The closer we get, the more complex and layered the material will become. The audio and the visual content of Read me will reflect the complexity of our impressions of a person (video 1).
To personalise Read me for a community member, I try to get to know the person, preferably personally but if that is not possible, I try to make a connection online. In the standard version, I subsequently ask the community members to send their portrait photographs along with texts that are close to their heart. For the installation, I overlay the image with a dark layer, so that the onlooker can only see the shadow of an image behind the overlay. One single sound layer is audible and one single sentence appears in the middle of the projection. The letters of the sentence take away the dark layer and the underlying portrait shimmers through. This symbolises the first strong impression we have from a person when we have the feeling to already clearly know who this person is. Nevertheless, in reality we are usually still very much left in the dark (Fig.11).
Having met the same person more often, we get to know more layers of them and start to see more clearly. Accordingly, when the onlooker approaches the installation, further sentences appear and along with them more of the photograph becomes visible. The audio gets a second layer as well. (Fig.12).
Once the onlooker is very close, all layers of the music, and all layers of the text appear. The amount of text almost covers the screen and uncovers the image. Now we can see the person in the picture behind much more clearly, yet the texts are not necessarily legible anymore, the content is more shrouded. The audio on the other hand reveals more characteristics of the person represented. The onlooker, sees more, learns more about the person but nevertheless knows him or her less clearly than in the beginning (Fig.13).
In Read me, a single community member can have a significant influence on the creation of the TransCoding | What if artwork. In fact, it is probably the aspect of the project where a community member can exert the most extended creative influence.
Several versions of Read me for individual community members have already been realised and there exists more demand for other implementations. You will find a playlist of the Read me installations on YouTube: bit.ly/1KqVTCd. The videos trace the approach of an onlooker toward the installation. Unfortunately, it is impossible for these two-dimensional videos to fully convey the playfulness inherent in the exhibition itself, which awakens curiosity through the placement of a tracking sensor, which triggers the installation to react based on a spectator's physical proximity to the artwork.
In 3.1.1, I will retrace the decision-making power, i.e. authority, that I grant users when I open up the installation to them. I do this by looking at the categories of material they contribute and by assessing the degree of involvement of individual community members. Additionally, I briefly analyse the reasons why I consider the Read me iteration featuring Ricardo Tovar Mateus as especially successful.
3.1.1. Community Authority in the Creation of Read me
Figure 14 illustrates on which level (x-axis) and to which degree (y-axis) a community member has decision-making power when personalizing the audiovisual installation Read me (please click on the image to enlarge it). The last column is derived of the arithmetic average (the sum of the different categories of numbers divided by the number of numbers in the categories of material provided by each community member).
The modes of working for the installation range from what Nina Simons calls "contributory: the participant supplies content, the artist incorporates it in the artwork" to "collaborative: the participant and the artist are committed to deep partnership" to "co-creative: the artist is committed to supporting the needs and goals of the participant that align to the project and provides them with the necessary tool to accomplish the work" (Simon 2010, p. 190/191). Up until now, five versions of Read me have been realised. Depending on their creative self-assessment respectively self-consciousness, and keenness to be involved, as well as their technological skills, the community members may supply one or all of the following categories of material for the installation: image, text, raw sound material, and a composed soundtrack.
I am aware that this eventually will lead to aesthetic frictions between community members and myself, which I might find difficult to overcome. Not everybody shares the same taste in music or text with me or vice versa. Community members might not like what I compose for them or might not find themselves represented in the sounds I chose. In the worst case we could mutually dislike what we jointly created. In the instance of community member Maria Hippenfels [name changed by the author], to whom I will introduce you later, some of the possible frictions showed, but I am nevertheless happy with what we did and so is she.
Coming back to the material that can be provided, I realised that to everybody the image had a high priority. Only in two cases I had been offered a series of portrait photos to choose from which accordingly resulted in my assessing it as a lesser degree of authority. One of them was the prototype built for Clio Montrey. In her case, we still had to experiment with the kind of photo we needed for the installation. Text seems to be equally important to the community members. Again, only in the prototype for her I added a second text by the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies to the one chosen by her. As I knew Clio personally it was my interpretation of Clio Montrey by which she feels to be adequately represented in the context of the artwork. From everybody except Alina Murzakhnova, a young Russian pianist, I got raw sound material to work with. The sound material that stems from the portrayed community members is usually very personal and adds to the individual and unique feel of each single installation. In the case of Alina, she had no piano available to record sounds in situ when we met, and she herself had not enough technological experience and equipment to later provide me with sound material in a digitised form.
The compositional process to put together the actual soundtrack affords the most technological and compositional experience from the community members, which is probably why there is a lesser amount of community decision-making involved. Again the prototype for Montrey is somewhat of an exception, since with her expertise she could have composed the soundtrack herself. However, at that point in the installation's development, the framework and overall aesthetics of the installation had not yet been fully implemented. It was only in subsequent versions that the idea came up to offer the subjects the choice to create the soundtrack themselves.
Gloria Guns is a young lawyer and pop musician from Canada. In the case of her installation, the raw material for the soundtrack consisted of a remix she had done (http://bit.ly/1Lr4QkH) on base material drawn from our SoundCloud tracks (Audio 1) and my personal music. For Maria we recorded her voice and djembe improvisations. When composing the soundtrack for each of their installations, I had to deal with pre-composed elements, which were inherent in the material they had provided. Therefore I assigned a percentage of authority to them over the composition of the soundtrack, although I actually composed it myself.
There is only one person, who provided every element for the installation, resulting in a comprehensive contribution: Ricardo Tovar Mateus, a young composer and pop musician from Colombia. He gladly and successfully took 100% authority for the material he wanted represented. Why did it work so easily with Ricardo? First of all he fits perfectly into our target group: he is a bit over 30 years old, educated in "high art" but working in popular culture. He is technologically savvy and is a skilled composer. Having contributed to two previous calls for entries since autumn 2014, i.e. he has a good understanding of what this project is about (Video 2).
When calculating the arithmetic average of the percentages in all categories, we find that the minimum percentage in total of the given authority the community members took on was 50%. The individual contributions are clearly framed within the artwork, recognizable and acknowledged. Each installation has a unique feel to it while conveying an impression of the person we see and of what is dear to their heart. It captures an idea of the multitude of layers that make up their personality.
What advantageous elements are there for both the participant and artist in setting up the installation in a participative manner? First of all, there is individual value of empowerment: The installation explicitly empowers community members to express their own identities and to actively participate in the creative process. The conventional power structure changes; the commonly hierarchic relationship between artist and audience is being altered into one of permeability and mutual influence. There is a learning value for both the community member and the artist: the audience member who co-creates the installation is deeply drawn into the creative process and learns about new media art from the inside; for me as the artist the learning value lies in the variety of personalities I portray, the variety of material and topics that are offered to me, the possible frictions in taste and goal that I have to overcome and in the artistic challenges that evokes. Last but not least, there exists the social value: the artwork is dedicated to the people who works with me on the installation, which strengthens both their creative power and their self esteem. Additionally the relationship between artist and its audience is strengthened far beyond the encounter in a museum or a concert hall (as would more traditionally be the case in the new music scene).
In the following subchapter I outline possible areas of conflict that our project yields, analysing in detail the multimedia composition What if we had wings. This composition was originally intended to become a part of the multimedia show that is now called Slices of Life. I will investigate from the perspective of the original arts team. To let the reader more clearly grasp the context and the complexity of the setting I will refer to the method of "thick description" as developed by ethnologist Clifford Geertz in The Interpretation of Cultures. (Geertz 1973). For this purpose, I will look in close detail into the actual process of developing the artwork and include discussions among the group of involved artists.
3.2. Case Study: What if we had wings? – Online Community and Original Arts Team in Opposition: an Area of Conflict
The multimedia composition What if we had wings? (violin, interactive live-electronics and video) includes text contributions of our online community that are incorporated in the artwork of the team. The texts given to us were prompted by a call for entries on visions and dreams on what-ifblog.net. The video shows excerpts from the live performance on 26.9.2014 at European Researchers' Night in Vienna. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kr-RDwSGkQk) (Fig 15).
For What if we had wings?, we used original text material contributed by the community and framed it clearly and recognisable in the artwork. The call for entries that rendered the text material was called "Call for Entries | Contemporary Fairy". We introduced it on our blog with a short fairy tale, followed up by instructions on what kind of contributions we were looking for. We consciously used a fairy tale, because fairy tales are a part of the cultural upbringing of most people and feel relatable (Fig 16).
Once upon a time, there lived an artistically-inclined polyglot fairy (though she herself disliked that loaded and complex string of labels, because she felt that labels limit how one can express one’s identity). She went around the world looking for ways to facilitate artistic collaboration.
What if you were to meet this fairy on your way to the office or to your studio, and she told you she could grant you one wish and make one of your dreams come true? This dream could be anything: personal, professional, artistic, or a wish for society at large. […]
We would like to gather entries in the following form:
One short text, no longer than one sentence. This text can be in any format you desire: a coherent, grammatical sentence, a haiku-length poetic-type written statement, a string of words that can be understood, a graphic poem made with simple word processing means such as use of spaces, special characters, capitalization, etc.
This sentence should tell the audience what your dream (vision) is. It can be personal, professional, creative, or a view for society at large. Your “wish for the fairy,” if you will.
(http://what-ifblog.net/2014/08/07/call-for-entries-fairy-of-the-four-temperaments/, visited on 2016-2-20).
We received multiple comments on the blog and contributions via mail or Facebook (Fig 17). This was the first participation project we initiated that was extremely successful in terms of contribution volume and scope. However, the inclusion of the contributions in the artwork brought major conflicts to the surface the original arts team had with the notion of participation.
What was the sequence of events that led to What if we had wings? The original arts team had developed the soundtrack for What if we had wings? in the context of collaborative sessions between February and August 2014. Although quite abstract, the music was developed around the topic of identity. We created it entirely without relating to the community, but we knew the community had to be involved in our artwork at some point. Consequently, "Call for Entries | Contemporary Fairy" on the blog was meant as a resource of material for a video to go along with the music, whereby the material should be provided by the community. The call was initiated about a week after our last working session. I was to premiere the music (with the video) on European Researchers' Night on September 26, 2014.
As it was not technically feasible to hold another arts team gathering between 1st of August and the premiere, we discussed the call, the material it rendered and the making of the video online only. Soon some feelings of unease and discomfort came up. (In the following quotes I will refer to my fellow artists with imaginary names: Anna Veenen, Bernhard Hütten and Connor Willing).
Anna Veenen: The questions I have could be described in general as questions on the balance between “our show” and the “participating culture”. […] I don’t feel very comfortable with this way of working, and I feel less “participating” in the project, because it gets further and further away of how I normally work. […] I definitely see the many values of the project, of the blog, the growing participation etc, but speaking for myself I am quite incapable to “participate” in this way.
I am not a blog writer, I have no experience with participatory art nor do I feel able to make an artwork which includes many materials by other people. The reason that I participate in this project is because I want to make a show with you three, and I underestimated the participatory part, which is not the way that I work. (Anna in an email to the author and the rest of the team, on 6-16-2014)
Due to time pressure and to the fact that the other team members were either gone for their summer vacations or busy in their usual professional work context, I took on the task to develop a video for the European Researchers' Night and incorporate the texts. I used footage from a plane flight taken on my smartphone and depicted the community texts as they had come to us without shortening them, refining them or processing them further to make them seem more "artful". To do so was a conscious decision of mine, because I wanted our contributors to feel that we appreciated their work and would used it as authentically as possible (video 3 or watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kr-RDwSGkQk).
While the performance garnered praise from the community, it didn't find the approval of my colleagues. This consequently led to a fundamental discussion between the members of the arts team about the project in general and the inclusion of the community in our artwork. In our discussions we searched for what in the eyes of my fellow artists worked against the notion of community participation and what brought on the resistance against the basic concept of TransCoding | What if. The artist group's primary goal seemed to be to create artwork that reflected their individual identities, rather than ensuring the self-determination of our community, or pursuing the general curiosity inherent in a research setting.
To understand what happened it is important to follow a timeline and to start at the very beginning of the project. The setting for the artwork that preceded the artistic research-setting TransCoding | What if was different from the current project. Originally the arts team with its four members from the fields of composition, performance, visual art and interactivity had only agreed on a joint collaboration on the topic of "Identity/Undoing Gender" with the purpose to develop a performance for violin, electronics and visuals. Nothing more, no research attached, no community involved. Everybody had agreed to be part of the group and of the project because he or she wanted to work within this special group of four artists hoping that our collaboration would render an interesting and rewarding artistic endeavour. We explored possible avenues of funding.
The research funding we received for TransCoding | What if afforded us the necessary means to get the project off the ground, yet at the same time called for a completely new angle to our work, the idea of letting an online community participate. It had an enormous and unexpected impact on how we had to approach our art making. Initially none of us had realised how deeply it would eventually concern us on a personal and on an artistic level, and to what extent it would be necessary to engage in the participatory process with the community. We discussed it in the consequences in an extensive team meeting (audio 2).
Barbara Lüneburg [the author]: We [Connor Willing, Bernhard Hütten and I] have worked together before. We [addressing Anna Veenen] have never worked together before, yet I was always admiring your work. And I think what we have done in the summer, end of July and the beginning of August was something really, really special.
Yet, I am torn. I am in the middle of this community thing and on the other hand the responsibility I feel towards you. I can feel that you have to move much out of your comfort zone, which you didn't expect, which I didn't expect and I feel not comfortable asking you to do that [interacting with the community] but on the other hand I don't know what I can do. [Nods from the others] (Team discussion on 4th of October 2014).
After seven months into the project, I as project leader had necessarily (and willingly) already become deeply immersed in the interaction with the community we were building.
Barbara Lüneburg: …unexpectedly - this whole community thing grew much more quickly than I thought. It grew to my heart, it is something, as I said before-it's not-, - what I learned -, it especially got another dynamic when Clio [Montrey, social media strategist] came in.
I learned that social media is much more about being social than doing things online within an anonymous online community. This is something which I didn't expect to happen at all, which is a really beautiful surprise in a way. I get reactions which are really very warm and very, very encouraging. And people really- like this one woman who wrote to us "It took me a lot of courage, but now I really want to tell you this is something absolutely special what you are having going on." (Team discussion on 4th of October 2014).
My colleagues would have preferred to see their task in producing a good work of art, not in interacting with what they called "anonymous onlookers". They confessed that they did not believe in the worth and authenticity of communication which is led online. Moreover, they felt too introverted and not confident when attempting to engage with an anonymous community on creative, maybe even personal, artistic matters via social media. To them it felt like an intrusion to give the online community insight in our process of creation (audio 3).
Bernhard Hütten: You know I felt a bit overwhelmed knowing that this would suddenly be a bigger part in the project than I thought. And I went along with it and ok, you know, let's give it a try, but for me it's still difficult to engage with the blog. (Team discussion on 4th of October 2014)
They couldn't relate to the blog, it was not interesting for them as artists, and they felt it took away from the artwork. Consequently, they were not willing to promote any material of TransCoding | What if on their personal social media sites, which they usually used as a means for personal or artistic promotion only.
Bernhard Hütten: I look at the posts and some of the posts I find relevant, but I cannot engage with it at all, it is not something I am interested in.
Connor Willing: […] You are reluctant to see the work that we are making together as the team, if you like, in the same context as the blog, because you feel the blog is taking away from it a little. But maybe this is our challenge, you see. How do we make the blog, or how do we, you know…
Bernhard Hütten: …integrate it (Team discussion on 4th of October 2014)
My colleagues proposed to reverse the process of communication by creating the artwork first and only afterwards trying to engage the community. They believe that the artwork should inform the blog, not the blog the artwork.
Connor Willing: You know I sort of feel, if we had-, if the blog had come a little bit later, then the work we would have had established would start to lead the blog maybe a bit more and that may have been the main content of the blog. Whereas at the moment the blog is full of all these different, you know, things that may or may not relate directly. (Team discussion on 4th of October 2014)
To make art and at the same time to go online with it didn't provide a safe environment for my colleagues and for their doing their art, even after they had given permission for posting certain content online. Despite consenting to participate actively in online interaction, they nevertheless felt uncomfortable.
Anna Veenen: For me one of the things that is problematic with the blog is – as you earlier said – the safe space. That was really for me quite difficult […] You know these videos [from trying out some interactive gestures, note of the author] are really just for us or for me. I don't want to be pushed to say 'no' or 'ok', or to think 'is it so bad if this is online? (Team discussion on 4th of October 2014)
Showing the artwork at a too early stage felt like a risk to them as professional artists: they didn't want to be associated with anything that in their opinion was not "perfect" yet. The same applied for integrating contributions that possibly didn't meet their demand for quality. Not only was it a question of taste to my colleagues, but it also got in the way their habit of collecting the materials themselves and having total control over them. Moreover, they were afraid that if the material was "not good enough", it could reflect badly on them as serious artists and could damage their reputation in their new music peer group.
We realised that the structure of the social media, the building of a community and the speed with which social media works, stood for some of the artist group in contrast to their working habits and to their wish for depth. To work within a participatory context demanded continuous engagement with a community that was perceived as "anonymous" by my fellow artists and as getting in the way of meaningful collaboration within the group of artists they originally wanted to work with.
The openness that my social media strategist and I felt was necessary to get the trust of a community (audio 4) and to get the community to interact with the arts team was opposed to the need for a safe haven in which the artists could build their artwork. Although we had set strict privacy rules for ourselves, the feeling prevailed of not being allowed to "fail and fail more" in order to develop the artwork, because the failing could possibly become part of the next blog post for the category "making of".
At this place I would like to return to Jank's thoughts on participation as paraphrased in the subsection 2.3. Participatory Culture: Strategies employed. The development of What if we had wings? and the participatory aspect in it clearly raised 'questions of power constellations' and of the 'congenial inclusion of outsiders'. It afforded 'open, critical dialogue' not only with the community but also among the team, as well as the dissolution of traditional practices (Jank 2012, 147). We understood that we had to develop a new mode of operating; we had to search for a way to include contributions from our community in a meaningful and responsible way; we had to make the border between "us" and "them" (the 'outsiders') permeable; we had to be willing to be influenced and had to value the community. We had to give up some of our control over the artistic material and instead value our community members' creativity and integrate their contributions. We needed to be willing to hear the voice of the community and to share the power over the vision for the overall artwork. All of this had to be accomplished without losing ourselves or our artistic integrity. However, since my colleagues could not find the additional value in the participatory setting for themselves and for their art making, since they found it got in the way of what they really wanted to do, we decided to end the collaboration after the first year of TransCoding | What if.
The fear to lose respect from one's peer group, perhaps not to fit in anymore, the discomfort in handling material that is not one's own, not to one's taste or maybe not of the quality we are used to be working with, the unease to operate beyond our self-chosen and established artistic "brand image", the need for safety in the working process, or well-tested and comfortable working habits that stand in the way of a yet uncertain approach, those are all valid points that should be consciously acknowledged rather than suppressed. The pressure from the domain we are working in and from the field that an artist answers to cannot be denied, neither can (our personal) artistic taste be too much ignored in the working process. Both are factors in our professional life as artists that cannot easily be changed.
Hence, I would like to look more closely at an example in which a (subliminal) friction between a community member and myself occurred, in which a conflict of "taste" versus "authority" came to the surface and in which I was challenged to overcome several of above mentioned points. The perspectives I describe in detail include both that of the artist and of the individual community member.
3.2.1 Read me – Personalised for Maria Hippenfels – A Conflict of "Taste" Versus "Authority" With a Positive Outcome
So far we have heard from the installation's subjects that the personalised installations are personally meaningful. I quote Maria's representative e-mail to me (2016, February, 2) about the music I composed for her soundtrack (audio 5):
Ich hab's mir gestern schon angehört und wollte es noch einmal nachklingen lassen.
Dein Soundtrackversuch ist unglaublich. Und selbst dieses Wort kann gar nicht gut genug ausdrücken, was ich empfinde. Ich bin sehr berührt und ich habe das Gefühl, dass die Musik ganz tief in mich hineingeht. Ich kann mich zu 100% damit identifizieren.
Ja! Es ist GENIAL! Und ich bin so unsagbar froh, dass ich ehrlich war zu dir und darauf gewartet habe, dass du Zeit dafür hast.
DANKE schon einmal.
Also ich würde gar nichts ändern. Mein einziges Problem dabei ist, dass ich nicht genug davon bekommen kann. Es ist mir immer wieder zu kurz und von mir aus, kann es ewig andauern. ;-)
Sag mir bitte doch noch einmal, was du von mir brauchst [bezieht sich auf Textmaterial für die Installation, A.d. Verf]!
ganz liebe Grüße,
I already listened to it yesterday and I wanted to let it linger for a while.
Your soundtrack attempt is unbelievable. Even these words can't express well enough what I feel. I am truly moved and have the feeling that the music touches something deep inside me. I can identify with it 100%.
Yes! It is GENIUS! And I don't have words to tell you how glad I am to have been honest to you and have waited for you to find the time to compose it.
THANK YOU already in advance
So I wouldn't change a single thing. My only problem is that I can't get enough of it. It is too short. Again and again, if it was for me it could last eternally. ;-)
Please tell me again what you need now [with regard to the text material for the installation note of the author]!
All the best,
Maria (Maria in an email to the author on February 2, 2016)
Reading the exuberant email from Maria, one could think that she trustingly relinquished all the authority over the music and the installation to me and that she follows me blindly (but happily) in whatever I offer her. That was not the case. I would like to follow up the question of who had the authority in which part of the process and which friction had to be tackled.
Maria Hippenfels is a dance and kindergarten pedagogue. She teaches elementary music education and holds drumming workshops for non-professional musicians. I had met Maria in the environment of "Schmiede Hallein", a place for creative people who want to collaborate for 10 days and create something out of the situation. When Maria approached me for her version of Read me, I was a little hesitant. I had heard her sing and improvise in the room next to me. Her improvisations gave me the impression that her creative taste was quite far away from mine, maybe too far for me to handle easily in the context of the installation. However, Maria approached me again and again, she almost urged me to personalise "Read me" for her. In the end I took on the challenge not wanting to disappoint her.
For her installation she gave me a spiritual poem by Hermann Hesse, and a text paragraph on rhythm from a description of a film she loved. In her self-assessment she described herself as a person of contrasting facets: rhythmic, very active, but also very soft and melancholic. We recorded her improvising on the djembe and with her voice. At first without any guidance from me; she improvised the way she wanted to. Later, I asked her to experiment with sounds and to try extended techniques on her instrument hoping to get material closer to what I usually use.
Subsequently, I sorted through the material and started to compose with it, trying to combine the information and material I had into a coherent piece of music that would describe her. I soon realised that I was having difficulty finding a way to bridge her sound and text worlds with the one from which I was coming, and that I struggled on a not only artistic, but also emotional level to merge the disparate information I had. After a series of fruitless trials I asked Maria if I could delegate the composition to my colleague Clio Montrey, who is very experienced in the crossover between high art and popular culture, and who I thought might meet Maria's expectations and wishes more easily than I felt I could.
Maria replied that she could not identify with Clio's art as much as she could with mine and that she would rather put up with an even longer waiting period to get a soundtrack composed by myself. Consequently, I needed to find a way into her world without entirely losing the grip on my own. I realised that I had to get rid of whatever had come from me. The improvisation I had guided her in was not representative of Maria; the way I wanted Maria to appear was not the person she was. Therefore, I had to find a way to relate to her by repeatedly going through her material and finding out what to me was the essence she wanted to convey. Only then I could add sounds by my own to her djembe playing and her singing and render the whole to something I hoped would capture Maria as a person.
In the end, Maria and I both were happy, although I am aware that the soundtrack for Maria is not a soundtrack I would usually compose for myself. Neither the music nor the text Maria chose is entirely to my taste. Nevertheless, it satisfies me and makes me contend that she feels I have understood her through my art and that I have found a way to express her personality using her given material.
In her persistence that she wanted this installation for herself, and in her not yielding when I wanted to delegate the compositional process to somebody else, Maria fully played off the authority the concept of Read me gives her. She challenged me to incorporate her ways of expressing herself into my art in a way that was meaningful for both. She changed the traditional (power) model of the artist-audience relationship –in which the artist is powerful and creates, whereas the audience (reverently) consumes– into one of equality. Artist and audience listen to each other and co-create.
In the next section I would like to touch on another phenomenon we encountered with this project. The community takes over and makes the material their own.
3.3. Case study: SoundCloud – Unlimited Authority Generates Additional Value
We grant unlimited authority to our community members when we share our artwork or our sound material with them under a Creative Commons license. This effectively means that we leave it to the community's creative discretion how to use our material, and we occasionally encourage them to exploit it for their own artwork.
We consider this as part of meeting our audience within an 'engagement-based' versus 'appointment-based' model. I draw this terminology from media scholar Henry Jenkins et al. in their book Spreadable media: Creating value and meaning in a networked culture. In TransCoding | What if I define the 'appointment-based' model as the one where artist and audience/community meet each other in concerts without any deeper interaction, whereas an 'engagement-based' model means that the community not only meets the artist and consumes what art is offered but engages in a meaningful way through, sharing, exchanging, and creating additional value.
Our SoundCloud is the most obvious channel on which we can offer them the opportunity to interact with us in this particular way. (https://soundcloud.com/what-ifblog/). Here we offer sounds for free use under a Creative Commons license. We ask for credit and a link back to us, but have no control over it. We also offer to join our group to submit remixes of our sounds: soundcloud.com/groups/what-ifblog-submissions.
Up until now we have hosted two challenges on our SoundCloud. The first time we offered our sounds for drone remixes (Fig.18), and the second time we asked to submit downloadable sound samples as a "holiday" gift to our community to celebrate the impending New Year. In total, we got 41 submissions from our 27 group members. As we at that point had just 64 followers on our SoundCloud, it consequently means that 42% of our followers followed our call. They might be a small group, but they are a deeply engaged.
Without being actively encouraged by us to do so, members have started to use and remix the contributions partly in other contexts than ours (Fig.19). Our SoundCloud stats show 336 downloads of our material in 2015 and 2016. We once even made a double loop: Community member Gloria Guns used our sounds for her remix Fan death (https://soundcloud.com/gloriaguns/fan-death) and I used her remix as a soundpool to personalise Read me for her. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkJTh3erdR0)
As a team we are gratified to watch the community begin to use not only the material we provided, but also materials that they provided to each other, and gets in touch with each other independently from us. We consider this as a value in itself. Besides sharing and passing along content, liking, commenting and contributing, our users independently generate value by and for themselves showing the engagement of an active audience. They work as what anthropologist Grant McCracken calls "multiplier" in his essay "Consumers" or "Multipliers" (McCracken 2013).
A "multiplier" is someone who will treat the good, service or experience as a starting point. Multipliers will build in some of their own intelligence and imagination. They will take possession of a cultural artifact and make it more detailed, more contextually responsive, more culturally nuanced, and lest we forget the point of the exercise, more valuable. Using a term like "multiplier" will help the meaning maker keep new realities front and center. If there's nothing in the product, service, or experience that can be built on, well, then its back to the drawing board.
The status of our members changes from consumers to independent makers to multipliers.
Concluding, I would like to look more closely at how TransCoding | What if engenders social and/or artistic change. Where can we trace change? What is there to be gained for the community, what is there to be gained for the artists involved?
4. Conclusion: TransCoding | What if – A Potential for Change
In their paper Mapping of practices in the EU Member States on Participatory governance of cultural heritage Sani et al. ask "What is the point of the public’s participation? […] this question has become one of the key questions in the debates about participation and the evaluation of participatory practice and it defines key trends and questions that concern those engaged in developing participatory practice." (Sani, et al. 2015)
They claim that each project should investigate what kind of difference the participation practice offers in people's life: whether it is an active agency-a resource for capability development and self-determination, or if it offers potential for organisational change (i.e. in our case change in the production art and power relation artist-audience). Additionally, they ask if the project shows a commitment to dialogue, debate, and reflection with all stakeholders. (Sani, et al. 2015)
In TransCoding | What if we strive for a change of the traditional (power) models of artist-audience relation through participatory culture. An indicator for a successful power change is, if the notion of the artist as lone creative genius and the audience as mere spectators and consumers changes into on of mutual influencers, inspirers and co-creators. Both parties are in a dialogue, listen to each other and get to know each other. The community participates in the creative decision-making process, in the creation and the reflection of it; the artist works in dialogue with the community instead of alone. The activity of the community moves from mere consuming, and "using and choosing" art to "making and shaping" (Cornwall und Gaventa 2011) by establishing a creative communication and partnership with the arts team and by developing their own creative capabilities and determinations. How are these values reflected in our project?
A) Commitment to dialogue, debate and reflection:
In TransCoding | What if it is not the artwork, but rather the dialogue with our community that comes first to our mind. They are at the foreground of the team's thinking. Before we even start creating art, we think about our community and what could interest them. We begin conversations for the purpose of learning what triggers the imagination of our members, what captures their interest, and what gets their creativity going.
We communicate as directly as possible exchanging with the community via blog posts, music, images, chats, e-mail, or comments on our social media platforms. We listen to their words or music and feel a responsibility to acknowledge their ideas and wishes, reflecting them verifiably in our artwork. Community members can express themselves via their creative contributions, guest blog posts, through interviews or feature posts, comments, or likes. They can feedback negatively – if they choose so– through negligence towards our triggers or in comments. All stakeholders have a voice before, during, and after the creation of our joint artwork when joining the dialogue, debate, and reflection on our social media channels.
About the change in the aesthetic approach and outcome seen from my perspective as the lead artist, I claim that thinking about our target group while developing Slices of Life, listening to the sounds they contribute, and looking at the images they send us and the text or thoughts they provide, effectuates my design of the evolving artwork. With Transcoding| What if new music or multimedia art cannot 'hide' behind abstract beauty; instead, the work needs to have connotations to which the community can relate, and in which their influence shows. Various strong elements of concreteness permeate the often-found abstractness of European avant-garde music I originally come from: I work with a string of stories that feature identity, relate to the lives of our community members and pick up the stories they contribute; I incorporate images and texts in their original submitted form, without manipulations; I create a sound language that is relatively clear although rooted in extended instrumental techniques and electronic music; I don't hesitate to use sound design to underline and interpret texts, thoughts images or identities the community entrusts to us. The direct communication with my audience and their works inspire and influence me, all while demanding a large degree of flexibility.
Here, a clear indication of change is that I alter my aesthetic decision making and content of the artwork through the exchange with and the contributions of the community. The (non-professional) community members experience and express personal change and added value through the recognition of their artwork in a different (professional) environment. They gain additional reputation, since an internationally renowned artist performs their (clearly designated) contribution at prestigious festivals, and their personal voice is heard and appreciated by an international expert community.
B) Organisational change in the production of the artwork with relation to the community:
On the blog I reveal parts of my personality, try to show how I work or how I think about art. Hereby I challenge or 'humanise' the notion of a 'creative genius' to a level that is more tangible. Thus, I consciously alter the traditional power relation between artist and community. Actively contributing community members likewise share the personal involvement brought into the project by me. Personal interactions with the TransCoding team–even when happening online– seem to assist our community members in overcoming their inhibitions in experiencing new music and new media art. In chats or interviews some members tell us that they venture into areas of art that they had previously not explored.
Likewise the interaction with the community helps me to critically question my cultural socialisation, the art scene I am working in, and my artistic background. I am consciously looking for tools to make the art I develop for and with our community accessible without renouncing my personal context and cultural heritage. Lately, my peer group in the contemporary (art) music field has begun to take notice. On the occasion of my solo concert at the international festival "Ultraschall" in Berlin 2016, I performed the initial sequence of the evolving multimedia show Slices of Life-The Shirt (video 4 or watch on youtube: https://youtu.be/WrBWcUVhFj0). Subsequently the journalist Torsten Flüh wrote in his review:
Die Community des Blogs what if? Your participatory arts community on identity, aus der sich Barbara Lüneburgs Kompositionen generieren, die dann von ihr als Violinistin aufgeführt werden, ist die aktuell wohl fortschrittlichste Praxis der Musik- und Medienkomposition. (Flüh 2016)
The community of the blog what if? Your participatory arts community on identity – from which Barbara Lüneburg's compositions are generated, which she subsequently performs on the violin – is probably the most progressive practice currently taking place in music and media composition. (Flüh 2016)
C) Capability development and self-determination for community members through participation:
In our online, social media community we can observe change on many more levels: in the self-confidence of individual members, in an increased motivation to create, in trust and openness towards the team that indicates an altering of the traditional (power) models, in pride to be involved, in pride to be acknowledged to be contributor to the artwork and to be acknowledged by name, and in interest in sharing a discourse.
To give but a few examples: Being featured on our blog as a challenge winner or with a guest post boosts self-confidence and motivation to create. Community member Sarah Sherlock writes (Fig 20):
Hello musicians and music lovers alike!
I’ve been told by the above masses that I should share my good news! Last month I entered a competition by ‘What If?’ – a participatory arts project about identity, psychology & art in it’s purest form. The contest was to incorporate drones and samples from their own sound design that they created and into my own music to essentially compose an original song, and I was one of the 3 winners! […] I will be also featured on a future dedicated blog post! (Sherlock 2015)
Community members appreciate the personal contact with us. They sometimes give critical feedback or ask for advice. Anahit Mugnetsyan from Armenia, for instance, chats with me on Facebook on 01/03/2015 7:08pm, and has critical thoughts on our Call for entries: Catrina (Fig. 21). (http://what-ifblog.net/2014/10/27/call-for-entries-catrinas/)
but your comunity [sic!] gallery is full of strange i think articles ....sorry who is catrina?... much negative energy comes from ....you think that my article is ok next to them dear Barbara? (Anahit Mugnetsyan chats with the author on Facebook 01/03/2015)
A few days later Anahit asks for feedback on her work.
dear Barbara sending to you scores i wrote but as you know i am not composer just creations of me see and say pls honestly how are they... (Anahit Mugnetsyan, Armenia, 06/03/2015 6:47pm on Facebook)
Being included in our artwork and possibly featured in big festivals and on international venues, is motivation to participate, carries a fascination and is reason for our community members to be proud. Gloria tweets about her personalised version of Read me on her personal Twitter account @gloooooria on February 12, 2016:
when the artist becomes the art...an installation about ME by @e_violin of @what_ifblog: youtube.com/watch?v=ZkJTh3...
The actual activity of writing, photographing, composing and thinking about our challenges, holds in itself joy and fascination (Fig.22). Anthony Green comments on the project's Facebook-page, February, 22nd, 2016:
Thank you for this awesome project!
Last but not least, I would like to quote my co-worker Clio Montrey, who also experiences personal change, capability development and self-determination through the project. The example demonstrates the difference participation in TransCoding can offer in people's life.
Today I submitted a manuscript to a literary competition. No matter the outcome, I feel like I've already won a tremendous prize.
In early 2015 I was still too shy about my creative writing to share a single piece of fiction online or in public[…]. I've been steadily writing fiction since I was fifteen, including a very questionable early steampunk novel (it did have dragons, though) and various short stories over the years. It was always for myself. […]
But just over a year ago, I could no longer bear it. I decided it was time to start sharing. I began posting tiny snippets of my novel-in-progress along with the SoundCloud tracks I was composing. In July I finally posted a story on my blog. In October I had the pleasure of reading at Resonance (thx Klara!)[Klara Plessis, poet from Canada]. Now I'm here.
A few days ago I rediscovered a novella I'd begun in 2012. I've since begun working on it again while allowing my "big novel" a rest before I do a new draft. I'm taking my time but also exploring exciting new areas of creativity I didn't even know I possessed.
Thanks for reading and commenting and giving me feedback on the short pieces of flash fiction I've shared so far! Thanks to Barbara [Lüneburg from the TransCoding team] for getting me so involved in blogging that I could no longer deny my deep love for writing. [emphasis by the author] And thanks to everyone who read this post!
Much love, Clio (status from 2016-3-25, on Clio Em's personal Facebook site)
Working in the context of TransCoding | What if afforded Montrey community (and professional) approval, encouragement and a field of practice for her writing which resulted in a different self-perception of her creative abilities.
During workshops in the framework of TransCoding | What if another indicator for a successful power change in the artist-audience relation is tangible. Here the authority in decision making with regard to content, aesthetics, form and production of the individual or group artwork lies with the participants alone. The participants use the framework of TransCoding | What if as an active agency-a resource for capability development and self-determination. My artistic ideas on the other hand are influenced by the communication and debate with and through the work of the participants and their reflection of the project.
Generally I would like to state, that to work and produce art in the framework of the participatory project TransCoding | What if is in our opinion a decision fed by curiosity and the desire to reach people beyond the anonymous relationship of the "creative genius" and "consuming audience". Instead we strive for sharing and democratising the creative process, and to define the (commonly hierarchic) relationship artist and audience/community to one of permeability, mutual influence and empowerment of the community.
However, in the course of the project we had to accept that not every artist is comfortable with community participation in the decision-making process and the change of the traditional (power) model of artist-audience relation, that they don't perceive it as a personal gain for their artistic practice, and that each individual creative has to balance the pressure they feel from the professional field he or she works in.
In the end, what individual community members explicitly gain – and this includes all stakeholders, online community, workshop participants and the TransCoding-team–, and on what level it alters them, is up to them.
We observe that our project awakens curiosity for our art and that our community establishes a habit of watching, experimenting and co-creating within and beyond our project. Our numbers attest to this. With over 20 300 views on the blog alone during the last two years, 2 612 posts reach and 141 people engaged on Facebook in the week of February 15th –February 22nd, 2016, and almost 1200 followers on our various social media channels, we reach far more people than we could had we stayed in the contemporary music scene alone.
In conclusion, I would like to quote Malika Squali, from Rabat, Morocco, a traveler and photographer, who wrote to me on Facebook on February, 23rd, 2016:
I had a look at the project and the link you sent me - I so love the collaboration of so many from creatives to scientists. And the return to the importance of the land - sensing the space and time and questioning the lines that boundaries are. It made me think that your project is also about lines, words and description and boundaries of identity. When we define something we draw a line around it through words which are ultimately lines when written and sound waves when spoken. […]
I will get on your project - it will take me on a little wander in fairyland and come up with a new personal mythology - I often refer to myself as Alice in wonderland where reality often outdoes the fiction!
Take care and I will be in touch soon.
xx (Malika Squali in a message to the author on Facebook on February, 23rd, 2016).
From 'Highbrow Art' to Participatory Culture – truly a potential for change.
( I would like to thank Clio Montrey, social media strategist and communicator for TransCoding | What if? for her invaluable work within the project and the community, and both her and Kai Ginkel for critical input while writing this paper).
All images, screenshots, videos and recordings © Barbara Lüneburg unless otherwise explicitly indicated.
Alkemeyer, Thomas, Literatur als Ethnographie: Repräsentation und Präsenz der stummen Macht symbolischer Gewalt. 2007, Zeitschrift für Qualitative Forschung, p. 11-31
Bishop, Claire, Artifical Hells: participatory art and the politics of spectatorship, London, Verso, 2012
Carboni, Marius, Changes in marketing in the classical music business over the last 20 years, 2011, Vienna Talk
Cornwall A.J., and Gaventa, 2001. From users and choosers to makers and shapers: Repositioning participation in social policy. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies Working Paper 127, 2001.
Dellwing, Michael; Prus, Robert, Einführung in die Interaktionistische Ethnografie: Soziologie im Außendienst, Wiesbaden, VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften | Springer Fachmedien, 2012
Flüh, Torsten, Neue Musik von der Urbevölkerung und der Blog-Community - Barbara Lüneburg bei und das Abschlusskonzert mit dem DSO von Ultraschall 2016http://nightoutatberlin.jaxblog.de/post/Neue-Musik-von-der-Urbevolkerung-und-der-Blog-Community-Barbara-Luneburg-bei-und-das-Abschlusskonzert-mit-dem-DSO-von-Ultraschall-2016.aspx
Geertz, Clifford, The Interpretation of Cultures | Selected Essays by Cliffor Geertz. New York: Basic Books, 1973.
Jank, Sabine, Strategien der Partizipation in Das partizipative Museum, (editors:Gesser, Susanne; Handschin, Martin; Janneli, Angela; Lichtensteiger, Sibylle), transcript, 2012, p.146
Jenkins, Henry (P. I.); Purushotma, Ravi; Weigel, Margaret; Clinton, Katie; Robison, Alice J., Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture - Media Education for the 21st century, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2009, https://mitpress.mit.edu/sites/default/files/titles/free_download/9780262513623_Confronting_the_Challenges.pdf
Jenkins, Henry; Ford, Sam; Green, Joshua, Spreadable Media: creating value and meaning in a networked culture, New York and London, New York University, 2013
McCracken, Grant, "Consumers" or "Multipliers", 2013, http://spreadablemedia.org/essays/mccracken/#.VssqGilCyGh
ORF musikprotokoll im steirischen herbst. Personal Soundscapes. ORF. 2013-2015. http://personal-soundscapes.mur.at/en (accessed 3 17, 2016).
Sandiford, Peter, Participant Observation as Ethnography or Ethnography as Participant Observation in Organizational Research, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, p.411-446
Sani, Margherita, Bernadette Lynch, Jasper Visser, and Alessandra Gariboldi. Mapping of practices in the EU Member States on Participatory governance of cultural heritage. European Expert Network on Culture (EENC). 2015. http://www.eenc.info/eencdocs/reports-documents-and-links/mapping-of-practices-in-the-eu-member-states-on-participatory-governance-of-cultural-heritage/ (accessed 3 25, 2016).
Sherlock, Sarah, Sarah Sherlock Music. 9 28, 2015. http://www.sarahsherlockmusic.com/#!I-won-a-contest-for-Sound-Design-Composition/tkry5/5609a0c40cf25fa7fe1b92fc (accessed 2 25, 2016).
Simon, Nina, The participatory Museum, Museum 2.0, 2010
Sweeney, Jason. Stereopublic. (creative producer: Martin Potter). 2012. http://www.stereopublic.net/#what-is-it (accessed 3 17, 2016).
Troxler, Peter, Libraries of the Peer Production Era,in: Open Design Now - a collaborative effort of Creative Commons Netherlands, Premsela, the Netherlands Institute for Design and Fashion and Waag Society. http://opendesignnow.org/index.php/article/libraries-of-the-peer-production-era-peter-troxler/
Weidenbaum, Marc, Disquiet ambient electronica. 1992-2016. http://disquiet.com/2013/04/25/disquiet-junto-faq/ (accessed 8 24, 2016).
7 key features of web 2.0 | webAppRater, 2010
http://webapprater.com/general/7-key-features-of-web-2-0.html (accessed 2 29, 2016).