April 19, 2006

REPORT | Hard Copy

by Linda Carroli

The Hard Copy Workshop was presented in Adelaide last month as part of the Adelaide Festival. Facilitated by Roger Malina, Leonardo, the workshop considered a range of writing, research and publishing scenarios and ideas related to interdisciplinary practice and emerging from the application of new technologies. Roger said it was an "Australian discourse with an international perspective", adding that it presented an opportunity to compile a report that is an argument for funding and lobbying. After quite a number of 'hard knocks' (disbanding of new media arts board, restructuring in the education sector, inconsistent uptake of innovation agendas, a decade of conservative government etc), the field of interdisciplinary practice is still reeling from those and perhaps not in a sufficiently consolidated state to advocate.

However, a number of important and valuable ideas emerged from discussions and presentations. Roger was keen for some kind of consensus to emerge and argued that there was a need to be affirmative about the sort of changes we wanted to make in our community and in our environment in relation to publishing and interdisciplinary practice. He also provided many examples to highlight the extent of impacts from new technologies including his own arena of research. "Astronomy is done differently today because of the changes to information and intellectual communities," he said.

Roger referred to ideas of ‘experiments’ and ‘ecology’, both compelling notions for their open-endedness given various claims for certainty, particularly in relation to criteria for archiving. Prior to Hard Copy, a discussion was held on the fibreculture list. Here Malina said: “I want to emphasise the way that a publishing ecology is an evolving set of mechanisms for dissemination of information and debate and that what we need from funding bodies is an openness to experimentation. Whenever an intellectual community can make explicit a need that is not being met by the current publishing ecology then the grounds for an experiment exists - and indeed the internet offers much lower thresholds to micro publishing that was the case before.”

In discussing the comparative merits of soft and hard publishing methods, Lisa Gye said that this binary showed up limited ways of thinking about publishing. She posited an idea of the membrane as something more permeable and flexible. There was a need for a new way of thinking outside of binary models. Alex Burns supported this proposition saying that there were ways of approaching a transdisciplinary culture as a 'third culture' so as to cultivate discussions between artists and scientists. Earlier, Roger said that the discussions need to be two-way - even in the Leonardo network, there was a requirement for more engagement from the science/scientist end of the dialogue. Alex spoke of the growth and availability of platforms and tools that made it possible for knowledge to be collectivised in unprecedented ways. He also spoke about new hybrid models emerging from MIT and Stanford research in the USA. For there to be any notable shift in the hierarchies of publishing there was a need for major institutional change. Online publishing ventures simply reproduced the conservatism of established print journals.

Katie Cavanagh discussed a range of issues related to archiving, describing a 'digital dark ages' in which there was a great deal of creation but not enough storing or archiving. The pressing issue in this environment was determining what to save and the suggestion was put that the starting place could be peer reviewed works. Another concern was that academic institutions were lagging behind business in the uptake of technologies that could solve some of the problems of archiving and accessibility.

One of the overarching messages of this session was change. Not only changing the ways in which we think about and describe things, but also deeper institutional change (not the sort we are now seeing that valorises the 'hard sciences'). This speaks to ideas of power and value.

In the session on practice based research, Teri Hoskin spoke about writing being itself a kind of material. She said that writing was was not just describing but is a work in itself. Academic writing, she said, has a structure and finish whereas a material practice does not - "a material practice has flexibility, a logic without end of program". Ross Gibson commented that the most relevant academic writing needs to become less academic and there is a need for a style of writing to help the reader think rather than telling the reader how to think. Legitimacy is an issue because structures of legimate knowledge surround academic publishing. Teri proposed moving away from an instrumental relationship and someone in the audience talked about merging the creative and critical.

Finally, speaking about readerships and criticism, Sam de Silva and Linda Marie Walker more directly engaged their experiences of writing critically and endeavouring to connect with audiences through writing and publishing. Sam specifically spoke about the publication Spinach7 which he instigated as a business. Having run for five issues, the publication is now on hiatus due to a lack of funding. With this issue of sustainability rearing its head, Sam said one of the key factors was ensuring that people (readers, sponsors, advertisers) valued the project and made a commitment to supporting it. Linda preferred to address her comments to ideas about readerships rather than criticism. "Writing is my research," she said. "The writing I do is about writing." She recounted several of her experiences as writer, including her experiences as an academic. The challenge is getting another kind of criticality heard and seen. This session voiced some concerns about the 'material conditions' under which independent publishing is undertaken - often voluntary, under-funded etc.

During the plenary session, Roger recapped the key points (burning issues) from each panel discussion. There is obviously a need for more thinking, networking and lobbying for this field to develop in a sustainable way.