Comprised of many iterative co-existing parts, The Circulation of Knowledge Archive was a collaboration with the Santa Cruz County Public Library system. First initiated through the production of a site specific video installation at the Garfield Park Branch Public Library, the collaboration quickly led to working with Outreach Services. Outreach Services is best known for the Bookmobile, but whether in the Bookmobile or not Outreach Staff systematically serve numerous disenfranchised communities, such as farm labour camps, low income neighborhoods, the county jails, senior living facilities, and home bound seniors to name just a few.
In an attempt to account for the many complexities of a civic and cultural institution that engages such a disparate array of populations we produced an oral history archive. While any given interview contains a wealth of personal and anecdotal stories all the interviews have been indexed through their relationship to the Bookmobile and/or Outreach Services. This means the individual’s relationship to the Bookmobile becomes the entry point into thematic and narrative connections with other interviews, or the entry point into that individual’s extended personal narrative.
Simultaneously while the work with Outreach Services was being developed the political climate surrounding the public library system heated up because of funding issues. The Joint Powers Board that directs the library system commissioned a task force to come up with solutions for restructuring the library system. Two of the four options involved closing three to four of the ten branches. What followed was a series of public hearing where hundreds of concerned citizens came out to voice their concerns. We went to all the public hearings and documented all of the comments by both the public and the board members, then I translated the task force document that had defined the terms of the conflict into a website that allows users to quickly compare the details of the different options and watch corresponding arguments from the public hearings. Users can leave comments and vote on each of the options.
As a form of collaborative portraiture untitled collaboration examines the Bookmobile as a cultural and civic institution by listening and engaging with the citizens it serves.
Clay Shirky argues that media has shifted from a site of information to a site of action. His argument is largely concerned with group formation and our capacity to self-organize independent of (or even at odds with) institutions. And now (in 2009) as the internet is seemingly beginning to mature, its power as a tool for collective action is taking shape. It’s this space of action, both individual and social, of day-to-day habits, that is opening itself up for creative investigation, or more precisely creative reflection via newer modes of media production. I’m starting to think the word production is not entirely appropriate, in that much of the media or data we are ‘producing’ is a kind of residue to the normative functioning of daily living. But our concern is action, social and individual activity as a site of critical and creative investigation. Media functions as a kind of cultural mirror, a space to internalize the overlapping and shifting markers of identity and the ideals common to those identities. For instance the only people I’ve seen attentively watch a 4 hour ethnographic documentary about the daily routine of a Thai Buddhist monastery was with the residence of a Zen Buddhist monastery in San Francisco. But as we know the mediascape is much wider now, media has become increasing porous and ubiquitous to our regular activity, far beyond entertainment or art. Again activity, is what we’re looking for, what am I doing right now? What are we doing? David Robbins in his online book High Entertainment, draws out a dialectic between ‘High Art’ and ‘Popular Entertainment’. He argues that the tools are in place for a new middle expression between these seemingly binary cultural spaces. Either way, wherever you land on this spectrum of art or entertainment, you’re operating within a space of being an expert or professional. There is another spectrum, the range between professional and amateur. It’s within this spectrum that the cult of perfection smashes creativity, often before it even begins. The amateur is a position of great cultural value, inquiry for the simple joy of inquiry. Participation for the joys of participation. For a long time the cultural industries and communities surrounding them have undermined or at least ignored the power of this muted range of engagement. I’m not about to argue that artists and creative minds relinquish their ambitions in order to become more pure, instead I’m trying to tie this back into clay shirky’s argument about media as a site of action.
To instigate habits of activity that open doors to further creation. For bodies to co-opt the collaborative possibilities of each other, and through collaborative relations enact forms of expression. The autonomy of our ‘projects’ is only as stable as we choose to shape it. How do we leverage the flexibility of media, in such a way that it not only represents but facilitates a transparent creative process that is lived as an end in of itself? This might sound really Utopian, but I think it’s actually very pragmatic, and will expose itself via the hard lines of necessity.