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Cooperation, its not collaboration
notes for a talk, part of a student initiated symposium on Collectivity, Collaboration, and Cooperation
Friday 30th January 2009
11am - 3.30pm
Green Room
Chelsea College of Art and Design

Chaired by Bernice Donszelmann & Paul McGee
Speakers include Dave Beech, Claudia Corrieri, Peter Simpson, Lewis McGuffie and Dr Dan Smith.

15 mins........

I’ll try and suggest how cooperation is different from collaboration

Use Critical Practice – a cluster of artists, researchers and academics here at Chelsea, as an example.

In 2002-03
Some of us at Chelsea (mostly students BA and PhD, but some staff and researchers) became interested in cooperative and collaborative art practice,

in issues of access and participation
the impact of digital technologies
and social exchanges like generosity and friendship.

We recognized that these themes provide tools to enable us to think through,
and think differently about the conventions of art's authorship, its ownership and distribution.

Many of these themes seem to connect directly to what we knew of the development of Free/Libre and Open Source software – FLOSS - and more generally copyleft licensing and the Free Culture movement.

So we began to wonder if, and how, these FLOSS development methodologies could map onto or into the creative practice that we were interested in.

So a core group began to research, convene and discuss. Chelseawiki was set up – student initiative

We began to see how the themes of coopertaion, self-organization, ownership, access and participation were emerging in all manner of cultural practices.

We learnt about initiatives calling for open-source democracy
‘open’ law and knowledge projects
about ‘open’ organizational and business models.

We realized that it would be disingenuous - yet again - to separate art and its institutions off from these other social forces and processes,

so we tried seriously to mesh with and engage our research where we recognized parallel or related drives.

In April 2004, we approached Tate Britain with the idea of a conference using FLOSS as its starting point.

We made an internal bid to the Research Committee at Chelsea College of Art for funding.
We were eventually successful and secured £10,000 to support the project.

In January 2005 we set up our website Open Congress using a free suite of tools, and we started a wiki.

Through using the wiki, we began to engage with a wider related community, both on and off line.
Something we might want to discuss – the scalability of cooperation

We also began to mesh with other organizations that were using a similar suite of software tools and shared similar themes.

We became attached, related to and inspired by Season of Media Arts London [SMAL] - soon to become node.London.

There was a powerful moment when at one meeting it dawned on us......

that it would be disingenuous to organize a conference about issues arising from FLOSS development without consistently and ethically embodying them

- we should also conduct ourselves in an open, transparent and accountable way.

So, this is where it got very, very exciting, but rather messy.
And where Critical Practice was conceived.

We found and used guidelines from a website on how to practice as an ‘open’ organization.
Open Organizations

so this is not collaboration - consensus, and common goal
Cooperation; where independent agents ‘freely’ decide to work together.
And then dissipate.

All art is organized
Theodor Adorno – Culture Industry.
The artworld disavows – hides- its (ruthless) organisation.
So the image of a free and independent artists, of lax timekeeping and low cooperation
– is itself part of an organisational structure.

So we took our organisation as part of our research and our practice. Part of our creative practice.

Open-organizations, are political theorists and software engineers.
The guidelines (note guidelines and not rules)
are very simple and pragmatic, evolved from analysing other groups and organizations

To be an open (we inset cooperative) organisation, they say you need

1) Charter – a document you use to tune yourselves to

we have our Aims and Objectives – editable by anyone at anytime, held in place by cooperation and consensus

2) Open Participation

That anyone who agrees with your aims and objectives should be able to participate, but also freely leave.

3) Self-Organization

And to facilitate Self Organisation

a) Decision-making

Devolve decision making, and use the notion of ‘rough consensus’ to make those decisions.

b) Accountability
We tried to learn to be open, transparent and accountable in all we did. We started to post all details, agendas, meeting notes and action points on our wiki, so we could build a cooperative record, for all to see, of the process we were actively engaged in.
4) Transparency

Of course related to accountability, we evolved the idea of holding public meetings - like the Royal festival Hall, a private members club, a studio, an exhibition, a café at Chelsea, etc.

We also post our budget on line, on our wiki so that anyone can see our use of public funds

5) Public ownership of knowledge – resources

This is a commitment, that if we are in receipt of public money we ensure the resources produced, remain in the public domain.

There is no mention of money as a resource in OO guidelines, so last year Critical Practice drafted some Draft budget guidelines for cooperative budget management – added to OO guidelines.

6) Excluding

This is an extraordinary process.
Related to accountability, that If an individual or a whole group repeatedly does not fulfill commitments, the other members of the group or the organization as a whole can exclude that person or group from current tasks.

Structure for cooperation that is enabling but not binding.