Learning together in Networked Cultural Associations

This following short article was published in Musiques & Cultures Digitales (Paris), March 2011.

How do we learn from our peers—labs, organisations, networks, individual practitioners and artistic communities—in the independent media arts and networked cultural scene of Europe?

Most often it is via sharing information about events and ideas remotely online, aswell as with travel attending gatherings or festivals. A regular feature at physical gatherings are workshops and discussion seminars, sharing new skills or introducing new projects or ways of working. These are most often produced by the organising cultural association or lab, and led by an invited artist or pedagogue.

This approach has been followed over the years also in the Pixelache Helsinki Festival [1], especially related to the fields of experimental electronics, open source development, engagements in public space, and most recently, biological arts. However, as will be elaborated below, the festival period is no longer the sole framework to learn and share practices.

Pixelache Helsinki is a multi-disciplinary platform for developing and presenting experimental art, design and research projects. From the beginning in 2002, Pixelache Helsinki Festival has featured workshops and skill-sharing as a core part of its programme, with a strong association to developing the 'do-it-yourself' initiative into a 'do-it-ourselves' or 'do-it-with-others'. This follows a trend towards social and community learning: learning from peers and experience, as well as learning by doing, and doing it together.

Pedagogical events usually take the form of workshops over 2-4 days, but can sometimes be presentations or seminars. Operating within the festival context allows the host organisation (Pixelache) to focus resources and communications for producing these exchanges of experience, skills and methods. For the workshop coordinators, it is possible to benefit from the concentrated support, extra exposure and publicity; as well as subscribe a relatively specialised or enthusiastic group of participants, both local and those who have come for the festival.

Different types of participants and pedagogues include specialists or those participating within or knowledgeable of the Pixelache scene(s), such as artists, makers, designers, cultural producers and researchers; but also events organised to include professionals employed in companies or organisations with fringe knowledge who want to learn more. Higher education students are often involved in 'open' workshops, but workshops are occasionally targeted to young people and children, especially since age and number of 'Pixelache babies and toddlers' rise. On occasional years, there has also been activity centred around the use of a particular open-source software or hardware.

As example, this year (2011) several of the Pixelache Festival workshops are promoted and aimed towards 'professionals', with specialised technical themes such as Bio-electronics, environmental sensor technologies, plus a 'think-tank' on data mapping [2], in addition to the usual 'open'-type workshop, which in one case, explores voltaic energy cells made from berries. Three of these workshops are led by other labs and collective platforms, while the remaining think-tank is composed by a guest curator.

Since 2006, educational events have also taken place at other times outside the Festival week. During 2008 in particular, a ‘Pixelache University’ theme informed also that year’s festival activity and events which stretched over the year. Open to the public, they were also followed by registered but informal ‘students’ from different backgrounds, many of whom gained a Pixelache 'certificate' for regular attendance. Although the events were thematically unrelated, this experiment indicated that cultural associations can sustain interested individuals in educational activity beyond festival times.

Hence onwards, a programme of educational events called by the portmanteau name 'Pixelversity', was inclusive and adaptive over the whole year. Some events shared and sustained ongoing local practice by members of Pixelache association, for example Koelse (Association of Experimental Electronics) [3], while other events benefited from serendipity and specialists visiting Helsinki, or passing through the region.

Pixelversity [4], as it takes shape this year, is composed of proposals from a mix of Pixelache association members or invited guest pedagogues. It aims to be both an outreach programme extending beyond Helsinki, but also a 'learning bridge' between practitioners, cultural and non-profit organisations, interested individuals and larger institutions. As a 'curated pedagogy' consideration is necessary towards the relationships between the different events in the programme, and how they may build up accumulative knowledge and skills towards the future. Reflection on how to extend or inspire the activity to other locations and organisations in Europe, or beyond, is another critical point for ongoing work and discussion.

(Andrew Gryf Paterson)

References:

[1] http://www.pixelache.ac/helsinki/
[2] http://www.pixelache.ac/helsinki/professional-workshops/
[3] http://koelse.org/
[4] http://www.pixelache.ac/helsinki/pixelversity/