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AGAINST INNOVATION (Pirate Care Conference)


(show: publisher: Mute, publisher: Institute of Network Cultures, author(s): Phillip Mirowski)

Our base is Zagreb. 20 years ago we founded there the cultural center Mama. At the beginning, we called it net.culture club where the coinage "net.culture" was a homage to Dot was an important marker at the time. That dot coming after "net" and before "art" signalled our membership in the critical internet scene which profiled itself as "the other" - critical - side to what Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron called the "Californian Ideology". On that side of the ocean, there was the Wired magazine, a true Californian, techno-utopian, libertarian glorification of at the time still early Internet. And on this side of the ocean there was a loose community of playful artists, punks, pranksters, tactical media activists and their ilk based in Berlin, Moscow, Riga, Ljubljana, Novi Sad, Vienna, Italian social centres and, in this respect cisatlantic, New York. The publication of Barbrook and Cameron's text in the Mute magazine and the debate that ensued on the recently founded mailing list Nettime pressed all the right buttons. Andrew Leonard in Salon in 1999 called Barbrook & Cameron's work "one of the most penetrating critiques of neo-conservative digital hypesterism yet published", whereas the editor-in-chief of the Wired magazine called that critique "anal retentive attachment to failed 19th century social and economic analysis". The job of historicising those events was done a long time ago - both by academia and by the scene itself (after all, the "meta" aspect is inherent and foundational for that scene). We start from this reference to two Internet cultures on two sides of the pond for two reasons:

  • First is to explain why our practice is not constrained to creating artistic interventions. Rather, our practice is something that falls into the tradition of critical - and tactical - media culture on this side of the ocean. On this side of the ocean, it is the institutional landscape that shaped the cultural production in a very specific way. There was public support coming from the legacy institutions of the welfare state in the former West part and the legacy institutions of the socialist state in the former East part - however, where these found themselves in decline, the support by the Open Society Institute and other international foundations providing support to the so-called countries in transition substituted where the legacy institutions failing. In any case, there was barely any market logic there and instead of simply producing artistic or cultural works, we all ended up organizing smaller or bigger festivals which included conferences, exhibitions, round tables, workshops, concerts - and all of those events at the same time in the same place. Many of us involved would do everything from conceptualizing, to giving lectures/presentations, curating exhibitions, making art, to running workshops. If you ever been at the transmediale or just at the HKW throughout the rest of the year in Berlin, you would immediately recognize what we are talking about.

  • Second is to introduce the two major geoeconomic imaginaries around the internet - or whatever the name is for the world where the Internet has gotten us today. For example, here we call that the postdigital cultures. Those two imaginaries have their orbits around the market or the social institutions at their centres:

    • We've already discussed the Californian ideology. At its centre was the market. Philip Mirowski would call that neoliberalism and in "Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste" he offered a very simple definition of that imaginary: "neoliberals more or less reject the older notion of a market as a physical allocation device; instead, they invest the market with superhuman qualities of information processing — the Ultimate Cyborg — in that it is literally taken to be smarter than any human being, and further, to convey just the right information to those who need it in real time." Although the system that resulted from that belief is nothing but cruel cynicism, not all believers in the market as the Ultimate Cyborg are cynical. Their utopian fantasy is based on a vision that the Internet, the ultimate input/output transaction engine, would transform itself into a running singleton implementation of a global, free, horizontal market, without centralization and any monopoly, safeguarding and letting individual freedoms blossom. The world of freedom and the new disruptive economy. Two trends were not playing nice with that utopian vision. Both were unavoidable and overwhelming: monopolization and commodification.

    • The other imaginary has its orbit outside of the idea of all-pervasive Market as the Ultimate Cyborg. That is the imaginary that assumes that the society is never run by a homogenous community whose major task is to fight for the national, ethical, or religious equilibrium in which everyone has to subscribe and align to their idea of ideal. In this imaginary the society is messy, diverse, questioning, negotiating and (some) goods in that kind of society cannot be enclosed and commodified, but instead they need to be mediated through institutions which can deal with the complexity of qualitative differences and antagonisms that are the hallmark of plural societies. The society to which we subscribe is a society in which concepts like property get re-articulated and denotes social rather than private property. In such a society the scope of the concept of property is always in flux, questioning how can we negotiate the best for everyone directly related to or affected by some property and of course what is then the best for the society as a whole. That's never a logical puzzle resolved for once and all. We were born in such a country - Yugoslavia - and while we would never say it was a perfect society, we still feel the social property was the way to go.


(show: titles: pirate)

Going back to the primal scene of two Internet cultures - just as the revolutionary manifesto of the Californian Ideology, the "Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace", was proclaiming the dematerialisation of borders of nation-states and the liberation from the power of governments, the writing was already on the wall: the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was about to be passed and the Internet, that driver of the fantasy of the horizontal markets, was declared an open frontier for enclosure and commodification. In a matter of a few short years, the capitalist forces started to reassert themselves and the time was to try the strategies of reform to limit the power of monopoly. The revolutionary promise of the cyberspace started to fade.

When we opened our net.culture club MAMA, we decided to create a space that the cultural and political initiatives beyond our organisation could use freely. Rather than focusing on the dematerialised online world, we followed the intuition that it is resources that critically give form and matter to politics in the technological realm. This proved to be a successful strategy -- activists of all hues were able to encounter each other and build alliances that continue to bear political fruits until the day present. These encounters also included a significant number of DJs and music producers converging around MAMA. To organise them, in the early 2000s, we created a free culture label using the GNU General Public License, thinking that propertyless collaborative production from the free software world can be transferred to cultural production. We came from the world of worker self-management and generalised social property. So why not?

Yet the revolutionary promise of the cyberspace had started to fade. Calls for the abolition of private property and the common ownership of the means of production felt more like a style than a practice. It was rather the reformist strategies aimed at limiting the power of monopoly in the realm of intellectual property that at least seemed plausible - such a reformist strategy was Creative Commons. Its strategy was to fight the exclusions of copyright with the expansion of the freedom of choice for the authors. We joined early. Yet by mid-2000s it was becoming clear that this strategy neither upended the monopoly nor ended the exclusions of property. Piracy had proven to be a much more effective strategy. In the day and age when the market forces rule uncontested and everything can be enclosed, piracy had demonstrated that the politicisation can happen not by alternative approaches to creating new, but rather by organising the straightforward way of breaking the old: by stopping the flow of capital, by abolishing property-form, by occupying, by stealing,... Piracy is one of the few remaining ways how we can effectively politicise the context.

Fundamental to any politicisation that starts with an intervention such as stealing is, however, that it is followed and supported by a clear articulation - expressing in the language of society the larger implications of the intervention. In our case, we consider digital piracy as an effective way of upending the exclusions of intellectual property, an intervention that can be done by modest means to great effect, but one that we think s equally necessary in all domains of human well-being where property-form creates exclusions and asymmetries - in work, housing, healthcare - yet where it might be much harder to do it. It is the latter, the articulation, that situates the intervention into a larger political imaginary of a society.


(show: book: Public Library/MotW, librarian: Sreten Lešaja, librarian: Gerard Rozier, librarian: Aaron Bataille, librarian: Kenneth Jungius, website:

Here is the story of Memory of the World. Our intervention. And our articulation.

In 2012 in Ljubljana, we launched a project under the name Public Library. It was the 2012 iteration of the biannual new media festival HAIP and we were the curators of that new media festival. First, we had to convince the main organizers that we wanted to launch a public library instead. And we succeeded. Then we had to convince the rest of the world that what we launched was a public library. For that, we proposed a definition of the public library. On that definition, the public library is: - universal access to books for every member of society - a library catalog - a librarian

In Ljubljana we had a million books in the room. If you would look around, you would not see the bookshelves. Only the drawings of the bookshelves on the wall with the outlines of the spines of the books and qr-codes instead of the titles and the authors. The download of any of the books was almost instantaneous. Instantaneous because we had a server there in Kiberpipa with 11 terabytes of hard disks with the whole collection of a million books from Library Genesis. We were downloading those books for more than a month before the launch. Library Genesis was the first book piracy websites which offered their whole catalog for easy download. A million books on a server in the same room was very convincing. That was a public library. It had its public program, books to read, its patrons and its librarians.

During the same event we launched our proof of concept following the definition we proposed. A public library is: universal access to books for every member of society, a library catalog and a librarian. With a slogan that: With books ready to be shared, meticulously cataloged, everyone is a librarian. When everyone is librarian, library is everywhere.

We imagined that today everyone could easily become an amateur librarian. An amateur librarian takes care of the book catalog and together with other amateur librarians runs a collective public library. Something we maintain and run at for the last seven years. At the moment there are almost 150000 books maintained by 19 amateur librarians. During those seven years, we were slowly moving from referring to the project as Public Library to Memory of the World. Our project is the synergy of two efforts. First, it makes the case for the institution of public library and its principle of universal access to knowledge. Second, it is an exploration and development of distributed internet infrastructure for amateur librarians.

Amateur librarians at Memory of the World take care of different collections: Written-Off - a digitised collection of titles that were willfully removed from the shelves of Croatian libraries in the early 1990s because they were by Serbian authors, Serbian publishers, in Cyrillic, dealing with communism, labour movement, anti-fascist resistance. Herman's Library - a mostly digitised collection of 100 books that the Angola Three Black Panther Herman Wallace as 100 books that were the foundation of his political pedagogy and radicalisation. Midnight Notes - a partly digitised, partly aggregated collection of all issues and publications of Midnight Notes Collective's publications. Catalogue of Liberated Books (KOK) - a largest digitised collection containing 1000 books on the history, politics and culture of socialist Yugoslavia.

We are inspired and stand in solidarity with other shadow libraries: Library Genesis, the biggest one where all of the books online eventually get uploaded, Science-Hub, the host of all academic articles, run by our heroine Alexandra Elbakyan,, a community of more than 100,000 researchers and enthusiasts from contemporary art, critical theory, philosophy, and amazing, Check them all out.

With other shadow libraries, we have written open letters, under the monicker, expressing support for other shadow libraries. In the first letter, written in 2015 in support of Library Genesis and Science Hub we wrote:

We demonstrate daily, and on a massive scale, that the system is broken. We share our writing secretly behind the backs of our publishers, circumvent paywalls to access articles and publications, digitize and upload books to libraries. This is the other side of 37% profit margins: our knowledge commons grows in the fault lines of a broken system. We are all custodians of knowledge, custodians of the same infrastructures that we depend on for producing knowledge, custodians of our fertile but fragile commons. To be a custodian is, de facto, to download, to share, to read, to write, to review, to edit, to digitize, to archive, to maintain libraries, to make them accessible. It is to be of use to, not to make property of, our knowledge commons.


(show: titles: Dear Art, abstract: Aaron Swartz)

In this presentation, we have defined our work as that of politicisation. Politicisation unfolds through intervention and articulation. And what we are doing here is articulation.

Our work on the Memory of the World had found great resonance with and recognition by the institution of the world of art. Memory of the World was presented in exhibitions such as "Dear Art" at Museum of Contemporary Art in Ljubljana or "Really Useful Knowledge at Reina Sofia". We were invited to organise the Public Library exhibitions and workshops at places such as Wurtembergicher Kunstverein, Galerija Nova,, Kontrapunkt. Institutions readily made themselves complicit, while we used the stage to articulate the position of collective disobedience. For this reason, they had perceived Memory of the World as avant-garde, although the nitty-gritty of the work we were doing couldn't have been further from the historical avant-garde's predilection for the new. We are over-identifying with the institution of public library and its operations: we were digitising, aggregating books, creating collections, entering metadata into catalog, writing code, maintaining servers. Yet in our over-identification with the libraries, we are refusing the imposition of innovation that is placed on the public libraries today.

In the shift to the digital the libraries were denied the right to provide access that has now radically expanded [@americanlibraryassociation_open_2012], so they are losing their central position in the dissemination and access to knowledge. The decades of retrenchment in social security, unemployment support, social housing, arts and education have made libraries, with their resources open to broad communities, into a stand-in for failing welfare institutions [@mattern_library_2014]. But with the onset of 2008 crisis, libraries have been subjected to brutal cuts, affecting their ability to stay open, service their communities and in particular the marginalized groups and children [@kean_library_2017]. Libraries thus find themselves struggling to provide legitimation for the support they receive. So they re-invent and re-brand themselves as 'third places' of socialization for the elderly and the youth [@engel-johnson_reimagining_2017], spaces where the unemployed can find assistance with their job applications and the socially marginalized a public location with no economic pressures. All these functions, however, are not something that public libraries didn’t do before, along with what was their primary function – providing universal access to all written knowledge, in which they are however nowadays – in the digital economy – severely limited.

Avant-gardes always come as a twist -- a politicisation by means of intervention and articulation in the context of crisis (of capitalist development). The twist in the present is to resist the imposition of innovation. In our forthcoming text for the Ephemera we have reflected on this imposition and our entry into the institutions of knowledge as an opportunity to develop in those institutions the capacity to resist.


The entrepreneurial language of innovation is the vernacular of global techno-capitalism in the present. Radical disruption is celebrated for its ability to depose old monopolies and birth new ones, to create new markets and its first movers to replace old ones [@bower_disruptive_1996]. It is a formalization reducing the complexity of the world to the capital's dynamic of creative destruction [@schumpeter_capitalism_2013]. A variant of an old and still hegemonic productivism that understands social development as primarily a function of radical advances in technological productivity [@mumford_myth_1967]. However, once the effect of gains from new technologies starts to slump, once the technologist’s dream of improving the world hits the hard place of venture capital monetization and capitalist competition, once the fog of hyped-up technological boom clears, that which is supposedly left behind comes the fore. There’s then the sunken fixed capital that is no longer productive enough. There’s then technical infrastructures and social institutions that were there before the innovation and still remain there once its effect tapers off, removed from view in the productivist mindset, and yet invisibly sustaining that activity of innovation and any other activity in the social world we inhabit [@hughes_networks_1993]. What remains then is the maintenance of stagnant infrastructures, the work of repair to broken structures and of care for resources that we collectively depend on.

All that innovation that universities and libraries are undertaking seems to be little innovation at all. It is rather the game of hide-and-seek, behind which these institutions are struggling to maintain their substantive mission and operation. So, what are we to make of this position of compromised institutional agency? In a situation where progressive social agency no longer seems to be within the remit of these institutions? The fact is that with the growing crisis of precarity and social reproduction, where fewer and fewer have time from casualized work to study, convenience to do so at home and financial prospects to incur a debt by enrolling in a university, these institutions should, could and sometimes do provide sustaining social arrangements and resources – not only to academics, students and patrons, but also to a general public – that can reduce economic imperatives and diminish insecurities. While doing this they also create institutional preconditions that, unlike business-cycle driven institutions, can support the structural repair that the present double crisis demands.

The avant-garde radicalism nowadays is standing with the social institutions that permit, speaking with Laurent Berlant, the ‘loose convergence’ of social heterogeneity needed to construct ‘transitional forms’. Unlike the solutionism of techno-communities [@morozov_save_2013] that tend to reduce uncertainty of situations and conflict of values, social institutions permit negotiating conflict and complexity in the situations of crisis that Gary Ravetz calls postnormal – situations ‘where facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent’ [-@ravetz_models_2003, p.75]. On that view, libraries and universities as social infrastructures, provide a chance for retardation and slowdown, and a capacity for collective disobedience. Against the radicalizing exclusions of property and labour market, they can lower insecurities and disobediently demand universal access to knowledge and education, a mass intellectuality and autonomous critical pedagogy that increasingly seems a thing of the past. Against the imposition to translate quality into metrics and capture short-term values through assessment, they can resist the game of simulation. While the playful simulation of reality was a thing in 1967, in 2017 it’s no longer. Libraries and universities can stop faking ‘innovativity’, ‘efficiency’ and ‘utility’.

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