All that is Air
This essay was produced as part of the Design Curation & Writing Masters at Design Academy Eindhoven.
Concepts drive emergent publishing formats. This is evident when looking at when and where the physical means of production (i.e. the printing press) recede in favour of the less tangible (such as server-based applications). This shift brings to the fore the concept of dispersion, or the “the shimmering fascination of the instant” as described by Maurice Blanchot in ‘The Book to Come’. In Blanchot’s case dispersion, as noted in literature, was referred to disparagingly and mourned as a loss, first through a type of fragmentation — “those brief illuminations … moments of being”¹ — then as a gradual, intermittent disappearance — “Is there a way to gather together what is dispersed, to make continuous the discontinuous?”.² Although this perceived swelling tide of dispersion, evoked by the rise of mechanised reproduction, has been seen as an encroaching doom or ‘death’³ — particularly through the lens of literature’s historical lineage — it has also become an accepted way of being for content propagated online and, indeed, for post-digital media in general.
Artist, Seth Price noted in his on-going work titled ‘Dispersion’ that, “Publicness today has as much to do with sites of production and reproduction as it does with any supposed physical commons”.⁴ In this work Price suggests it is helpful to see the act of reproduction and distribution as less of an issue-to-be-addressed and more as a natural state. The real problem for entities born online — and fed by the systems internet-based project work allows — is that any sort of resonance they seek to create is automagically rendered ephemeral through the process of publishing it. Publishing creates versions designed to proliferate and lead lives of their own. And yet, removing the act of publishing leaves works and ideas static. As Silvio Lorusso states in his essay, ‘Performing Publishing’, “…every reframing adds a certain ‘charge’ to the work and therefore makes something new out of it. No transposition is neutral”.⁵
This is why creators working online will often allow what they produce to naturally disseminate — to fragment and dissolve or morph into new versions and editions — without question. This form of distribution becomes part of the ebb and flow of a work or piece of content’s life cycle — it’s built in. Digital memes and the act of memetic dispersion⁶ through online forums is an accelerated display of how a dispersed system of distribution like this operates.⁷ This speed and intangibility — this slipperiness — makes it tricky to identify objects and formats within emergent forms of publishing — but they are there. To identify them requires a unpicking of the established definitions they play with…
Take Cargo Collective’s ‘Useful Music’ for example — Cargo is an online platform, popular with designers and creators looking to build portfolios, and have them hosted for them, by utilising a set of pre-defined site-based tools (similar to services such as Squarespace and ReadyMag). Cargo recently started releasing a series of mixes via Soundcloud titled ‘Useful Music’. Each mix is posted according to a pre-defined schedule and each has it’s own artwork denoting it as part of a series. Making it a periodical akin to a printed magazine or journal, only as an mp3 file uploaded to an audio sharing site.⁸
We Transfer is a company set up to help people send large files to one another in as simple and as streamlined a manner as possible. Their success, in terms of profitability, has lead them to develop an editorial arm, under the guidance of Editor-in-Chief, Rob Alderson (previously editor of online-first platform, It’s Nice That) who was running the ‘This Works’ blog, until it was re-framed as ‘We Present’, earlier this year. ‘This Works’ took the form of a standard blog site although it wasn’t just written posts that were published. ‘This Works’ posts also contained links to original podcasts, videos, project work and more.⁹ The blog behaving like an irregular newsletter, only with enriched media embedded within the articles.
Worth noting too is an upcoming project by design collective, Future Corp titled ‘vvatch’ which uses hybridisation to form a new format for accessing video content online. In an article on It’s Nice That describing the project, Marc Kremers from Future Corp fuses together a number of established and emergent publishing formats from television to YouTube to Netflix to Tumblr to Tinder.¹⁰ Hybridisation, at this scale, relies on dispersion techniques to take part and reassemble formats. Techniques that naturally occur when working with content online. As Kremers says in an interview for The Caret, “The Internet smears time and experience in beautiful ways”.¹¹
And so we arrive at LOT and their regular live-streaming ‘hang outs’ known as Fresh Hours. At it’s core, LOT is a subscription service that supplies customers with ‘portion-controlled’ clothing (1 sweatshirt every 3 months, 1 pair of pants every 4 months, 1 t-shirt every 2 months, etc.), metered-out lifestyle products (such as dental floss, charging cables, perfume, hair bleaching kits and tattoo guns) and “media content”.
A large part of LOT’s appeal is in the knowing banality of their presentation. The LOT code of practice states, “Do not build utilitarian products. However, use them as a medium to express yourself.”¹² LOT products are generally only available in one colour: black. There are no logos, only monotone descriptions mechanically printed, often extolling odd expressions that read like lines of code (LOT’s Hair Bleach proclaims, “Be Holy Lot 0025 the key BRB 7.15pm 01/12/2017 because I am Holy”, the exterior of their posted packages simply states, “For the good death”). LOT’s minimal presentation suggests that dispersion has already occurred — there is no need for detailed packaging because, once a subscription has been initiated, there is no one sales point or display — only the distribution — the subscription model acting as a push button for the dispersion that occurs as a result.
As much as LOT actively inhabit the realm of ‘personal subscription’ services there is also a desire for a type of politicised, communal ideal — referring again to their code of practice, “Look for loyalty, not for a skill set”. Therefore, they recently initiated a ‘free subscription’ tier — the ‘digital plan’ — which acts very much like a traditional publishing arm (although it’s easily argued that their other plans act in a similar way, publishing clothing and products rather than text, audio or video-based content). LOT’s digital plan offers subscribers access to text-based works (often fictional or poetic) via email, mixes via SoundCloud and meet-ups, under the banner of ‘Fresh Hours’, via live-streaming services such as Twitch.¹³ It’s these meet-ups that offer insight into — not just the new shapes of formats emerging from online publishing — but also the way the ephemera produced by these emergent formats is captured and allowed to resonate — the way published entities are encouraged to disperse.
During a ‘Fresh Hours’ meet-up, a host is invited at a particular time to chat and share their music tastes and creative inspirations with subscribers and attendees. In comparison with earlier fears discussed at the beginning of this essay about the dispersion of ‘author’itative voices, Fresh Hours, offers something new away from the ejaculate described by Mieke Bal in her discussion of the navel¹⁴ and Blanchot’s mournful reading of Virginia Wolf’s final text.¹⁵
The atmosphere is calm, voices hushed, images and references are shared but not enforced. Music plays and visitors and host are allowed to be distracted by it. There is the standard Twitch chat area although it is less frenetic, or charged with provocations, as the tone of the host’s presentation doesn’t allow for this. In this way ‘Fresh Hours’ becomes a rare space within the realm of online conversation where interaction occurs in a polite and genuinely mindful way. This is in stark contrast to the majority of the broadcasters on Twitch who operate within a duality where they are encouraged to play online games within the game-ified community system Twitch employs. If there is an authoritative voice within LOT’s Fresh Hours it is quietly and calmly aware of it’s dispersion — almost led by it.
“It’s important to have this ego death.”¹⁶
Seth Price refers to this reframing of dispersion through published media by referencing Martha Rosler and her notion of the ‘as-if’.¹⁷ For contemporary art to be truly affecting — for it to really matter in a way that nudges towards a type aequitas — it must unpin itself from familiar tropes such as philosophical discourse, from the physical spaces that house it (Brian O’Doherty in his essay, ‘Inside the White Cube’ describes the gallery or museum space as having “laws as rigorous as those for building a medieval church”¹⁸) — to detach from all those ‘author’itative voices and allow itself to be set adrift amongst popular culture. It must disperse to be considered relevant. But not in a way that suggests a diminishing, rather in a way that is open to change. LOT’s continued activity is a microcosmic view of how this non-traditional, emergent breed of publishers manoeuvre within the post-digital environment and how dispersion has become ingrained in the every day.
- Blanchot, Maurice. “Reality”. The Book to Come, translated by Charlotte Mandell, Stanford UP, 2003, p99.
- Blanchot, Maurice. “Perfidious Calling.” The Book to Come, translated by Charlotte Mandell, Stanford UP, 2003, p101.
- Roland, Bathes. ‘The Death of the Author.’ Aspen, 1967. First published in English in Aspen, Issue 5+6.
- Price, Seth. Dispersion. 38th Street Publishers, 2008.
- Lorusso, Silvio. ‘Performing Publishing: Fragmentation, Networks and Circulation’. Copyshop, 2018.
- Dawkins, Richard. “Memes: The new replicators.” The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, 1976.
- I have made a video investigating ‘memetic dispersion’ which can be viewed on YouTube by visiting https://youtu.be/siBUD16LHWs (accessed June 2018).
- Cargo Collective. “Useful Music. All mixes.” Cargo Collective blog, Cargo Collective, June 2018,
http://2.cargocollective.com/Useful-Music. Accessed 8 June 2018.
- We Transfer’s ‘This Works’ blog was formerly at http://wetransfer.com/thisworks/
- Gosling, Emily. “Marc Kremers Talks Us Through His New Tumblr-esque Curated Online Video Platform Vvatch.” It’s Nice That, 21 Oct. 2015, http://itsnicethat.com/features/marc-kremers-vvatch. Accessed 8 June 2018.
- “Interviews. Marc Kremers.” The Caret, http://thecaret.co/interviews/marc-kremers. Accessed 8 June 2018.
- LOT. “Code of Practice.” LOT, http://lot2046.com/code. Accessed 8 June 2018.
- LOT. “fresh hours.” Twitch, LOT, http://twitch.tv/videos/265399225. Accessed 8 June 2018.
- Bal, Mieke. Looking in: The Art of Viewing. Routledge, 2013, p82.
- Blanchot, Maurice. “Reality.” The Book to Come, translated by Charlotte Mandell, Stanford UP, 2003, p101.
- Chayka, Kyle. “Engineering the End of Fashion.” Ssense, 25 July 2017, http://ssense.com/en-us/editorial/fashion/engineering-the-end-of-fashion. Accessed 8 June 2018.
- Price, Seth. 2002–ongoing. Dispersion. Essay displayed through various mediums. Rhizome Net Art Anthology. https://anthology.rhizome.org/dispersion. Accessed 8 June 2018.
- O’Doherty, Brian. “Inside the White Cube: Notes on the Gallery Space, Part 1.” Artforum, March 1976.