Hybris släpper skrift om konstnären som konsult

Anders och Johan på Hybris konstproduktion har satt ihop en folder om att ta betalt när man som konstnär jobbar gentemot myndigheter, förvaltningar och institutioner, som ofta förutsätter att konsultation ska ske utan betalning. Nu senaste har Stockholms kulturförvaltning gjort workshops och djupintervjuer med kulturutövare helt utan ersättning, så frågan verkar aktuell. Jag har hjälpt till med formgivning av foldern.

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Textual Raptures, essay on co-writing

This essay was published in To Do by Hybris Konstproduktion as a report on Möte09.


Some thoughts on co-typing in the backwash of Möte09

I got my hands on a real-time collaborative text editor for the first time in 2005. The software was called Hydra, named after the many-headed serpent that fought Hercules. When the Greek-roman demi-god cut off one of the dragon’s heads he found that two grew back. And although he almost got killed, Hercules won the fight at that point. A couple of thousand years of individualist, anthropocentric, patriarchy followed. But I have the feeling that a new hydra has woken up, stronger and smarter than ever before.

Technological breakthroughs are often followed by cultural changes. The praxis of writing is linked to the material conditions for writing. When the typewriter came in use the process of producing text started to resemble the process of reproduction. Writing became a matter of typesetting. Writing with a computer keyboard follows the same pattern. The text is broken down to a set of characters, which in a digital context are ever interchangeable. A text is a consequence of a compley series of key strikes.

The last few years of software development has made it possible to render the same key strikes of several keyboards visible on many screens simultaneously. This means that several people can write a text collaboratively in real-time, each one navigating with their own marker. Anyone involved can at any time add, edit or delete any content. Writing together in this way is quite new, and so far mostly programmers have used it. But once writers, authors and artists in general get going with the technology it will probably have deep impact on how we think about writing, reading, text and creativity in general. Since it’s not a matter of continuously writing a text, but rather type your way through a flow of expanding text I think it is suitable to call it co-typing, until some better term emerge.

What seems clear is that production and reproduction of the text merges on screen. In this way writing becomes communicative in a dialogical way (as opposed to the monological structure of a book or newspaper). But it’s a dialogue with one voice, or at least expressed through one text. Thus the process of writing/reading the text might for some be more important than the result of the process.

The experience of participating in a writing session like this is something that could be compared to a jazz jam or a role-playing session. The pauses, flows and associations become important, since they actually mean something. The musical dimension of the text, relating to tempo and simultaneity is lost once the writing session is over. The text can still be interesting and worth reading, but it’s obvious that the product is the excrement of action and not its absolute goal.

Co-typing thus require a different set of skills than individual writing. You must be able to read and write at the same time, being usurped in flow created by the group. Media theorist Henry Jenkins has proposed a number of cultural competencies and social skills needed for full involvement in participatory culture. They include play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, networking and navigation.[1] Many of those skills are quite different to the traditional traits of the author, being patient, concentrated, dedicated, etc.

The myth of the author is challenged in general. The single-minded author with divine inspiration, sitting on his own in his chamber, exiled from social life does in most cases not exist. And even if he did “these aspect of an individual, which we designate as an author (or which comprise an individual as an author), are projections, in terms always more or less psychological, of our way of handling texts: in the comparisons we make, the traits we extract as pertinent, the continuities we assign, or the exclusions we practice”[2]. Everyone who writes knows that the process is linked to many social activities: finding inspiration, doing research, getting feedback etc. Co-typing intensified this social aspect of text-production.

But since getting “flow” is a matter of both skill and challenge, and many of the skills are new to us we cannot expect to be master co-typers in a minute. The more I co-type, the more it becomes of obvious that it’s an activity with a set of skills that doesn’t equal with traditional writing. Flow theorist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi suggests several ways in which a group could work together so that each individual member could achieve flow. The characteristics of such a group include target group focus, advancement of something in existing, differences among the participants, playground design, etc.[3]

If you enter the session with an old-school author mentality you will probably end up super-frustrated. The others will change, rearrange and delete your work. But with the right approach the joy and pleasure of writing together cannot be understated. When you see the text flooding the screen, you need to immerse intensely to keep track and give input at the same time. The intensity makes it urgent to change approach at some points during the process. The easiest way of doing that is through time-boxing.

The easiest way of regulating the intensity of the typing is through time-boxing. One score we have tried several times is to imitate the process of print media in fast-forward giving:

  • 5/10 minutes of creative writing (free writing without really stopping ourselves),
  • 5/10 minutes of editing (spell-checking, reorganising, cutting, etc),
  • 5/10 minutes of silent reading (hands off the keyboard)

The amount of time given must be clear on beforehand, and a half time and last-minute call for each period definitely helps. The first period works perfect to create a mass of text to work with. When you write together you will not face problems relating to lack, but rather problems of excess. Thus, the second period of editing and deleting is quite important. Then the reading follows, functions as a way for the group to build up a productive frustration among the participants, since they are not allowed to work with the text. They also get an overview of the whole corpus, which is a hermeneutical necessity for any further development of the text. So … when you have went through this three-step session once you can go for it again.

If you are aiming for fiction there are plenty of possibilities to choose a direction on beforehand. A pronoun is a good starter. Whether I or You, he or she, the main characters can be chosen before, just as they are in a role-playing game. An easy way of coming up with characters is to start out with traits or professions: boss, cleaner, killer, miner, princess. Then come up with adjectives or attributes: smelly, sexy, evil, chaotic, eager, blue, tasty. Combine the trait with the attribute giving more or less original gestalts: The eager cleaner, the evil miner, the blue killer, the smelly princess, etc. Adjectives can also be combined with genres: smelly drama, chaotic social realism, sexy sci-fi, etc. This method is really joyful, and a great way of starting out exploring the possibilities. It can sometimes end up to fun.

Keith Johnstone, the guru of improv theatre states that the first thing people do when they get a chance to participate, improvise and act is to come up with dirty jokes, ruining for each other, trying to be fun and aiming for attention.[4] This is phase that most groups go through, so if you want to do some serious work you should plan for a free, wild and fun session so that everyone can empty their inner “dirty” thoughts and ideas and start anew with a fresh mind after half an hour or so.

The research and experiment on co-typing will continue for sure. I think this will be one of my very last essays written as an individual. I am to be dissolved – rebirth as a head of the beast.

Illustration: 16th-century German depiction of the Hydra

[1] Jenkins, Henry, et al. (2008): ”Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century”

[2] Foucault, Michel (1969): ”What is the author”

[3] Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály (2003). Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning.

[4] Johnstone, Keith (1979): Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre

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Samskrivande och scenexperiment

2005 började vi använda ny mjukvara som gjorde det möjligt att utan fördröjning skriva tillsammans i samma dokument med flera datorer samtidigt. Nu behövs inte någon speciell mjukvara längre, det är bara att starta ett dokument hos Etherpad. I ett sådant dokument kan upp till åtta personer samverka i en textprodukt/process. För ett par veckor sedan la dem även till möjligheter att feta och kursivera sin text, vilket tidigare ansågs onödigt, eftersom verktyget från början var avsett för programmering.

Det här ett helt nytt sätt att skriva, eftersom det kräver både läsare och författare i ett. Det innebär även ett konkret utraderande av författarfunktionen. Vi behöver släppa vårt ego, vår idé om det individuella och kontinuerliga författarsubjektet. Det kollektiva skrivandet återaktualiserar därmed frågan om författarens död.

Den senaste tiden har jag fått möjlighet att experimentera flitigt med verktyget. Det blir mer och mer uppenbart att det kollektiva skrivandet är en färdighet som liksom allt annat här i världen kräver träning. Det behövs även metodik för att fokusera och uppmuntra skrivandet. De tillfällen det gått bäst att skriva har jag intagit något som närmast motsvarar rollspelen spelledarposition. Den som gör samberättandet möjligt genom att markera gränserna för skapandet, värden.

Ett sätt att skapa rytm i processen är att dela upp den i korta sjok om fem eller tio minuter. T ex:

  • Skriv 5 min
  • Redigera 5 min
  • Läs 5 min

Denna process är ju en sorts mikrokopia av hur texter vanligen behandlas. De skrivs, de bearbetas av en redaktör, de distribueras till en läsare. Dessa tre steg kan upprepas tills texten känns färdig. I skrivfasen behöver ingen bry sig om formaliteter, det handlar mer om att få ner idéerna. I redaktörsfasen kan man putsa texten och slytta om stycken osv. I den treje fasen skapar man sig överblick, dessutom bygger man upp en sorts frustraion över att inte få ingripa i texten, vilket leder till små kreativa utbrott när gruppen återgår till skrivfasen.

Om man ska skriva fiktion så kan det vara gynnsamt att definiera några roller, en miljö och en genre eller ett tema på förhand. Annars blir texten så spretig att den är fullständigt oläslig.

För ett par veckor sedan, under Möte09Norrlandsoperan i Umeå hade vi möjlighet att projicera ett textflöde från Etheterpad över hela den bakre väggen i operans blackbox. Framför scenen stod fyra laptops kopllade till dokumentet. Instruktionen till publiken var enkel: “Write what you see, Write what you want to see.”

På så sätt skapades manuset i samma stund som performancen på scen. Resultatet av skrivandet samt en liten video går att se här.

Upplevelsen av relationen mellan manus och scenrum förvånade mig. Det var som om tiden öppnade sig en aning. Eftersom både vad som just hänt och det som var påväg att hända var öppet för förändring, revidering, tolkning skapades en känsla av att handlingarna inte lagbundet knöts till ett nu.

Denna uppställning fick mig även att associera i någon sorts religiösa termer. Ljuset från ovan (projektionen, manuset) inverkade på livet på jorden (scenen), men inte på det direkta sätt som ett manus vanligen styr en pjäs, utan på ett vagt sätt som förde tankarna till någon sorts änglalik intervention. Manuset liksom vidrörde och berörde handlingarna på scenen, men textens värld och scenens värld var så olika att de aldrig kunde stå i direkt relation.

I höst kommer jag hålla en studiecirkel på ABF i Sundbyberg. “Vi övar samskrivande med hjälp av lekfulla övningar och genrébundet berättande. Alla skriver i samma dokument, historierna växer fram i samspel mellan deltagarna.” Det blir fyra måndagar med max åtta deltagare. Varför den är kategoriserad under “Psykologi, pedagogik” vet’e fåglarna. Jag tror det blir grymt kul att skriva med samma gäng fyra träffar i rad. Först till kvarn!