Episode 14: Instagram has ruined the art world. What now?
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Is Instagram a good place to share art? It's like we are all standing in the same town square screaming for attention but we can't even clearly hear the screams because we are screaming too. In this episode, we discuss the limits of centralised social media for artists and we also look at the alternatives -- with special guests Kim Foale and honor ash.
Speakers: Gabrielle de la Puente, Zarina Muhammad, Kim Foale and honor ash
Transcribed by Amy Ní Mhurchú
Jingle by Toynoiz
(scroll to the bottom for all links referenced in the episode!)
GDLP: Hello and welcome to the latest episode of The White Pube Podcast. My name is Gabrielle de la Puente.
ZM: I’m Zarina Muhammad.
GDLP: And today we’re going to do a bit of a different episode. We’re not, it’s not just the two of us. We are joined by other people, but we’ll introduce them in a minute. A few weeks ago you might have seen us do a survey. That was actually highly, highly filled in by our lovely followers. We had over, like, eight hundred responses on the survey, which just astounded me because, like, I find it so boring filling in random surveys on Google. So thank you everyone for taking the time to do that.
The survey alluded to some kind of super secret project that we are looking to do in the coming year based on the fact that we think that social media doesn’t serve artists very well. This is not a new subject by any means, it’s something that we find ourselves speaking about very easily with people. It’s like everyone is bound to instagram and to twitter, maybe a little bit less, but its like this relationship we feel like we have to accept and we have to put our artwork out on the internet because that’s the only way that we’re going to be in touch with an art world that goes beyond our own social circle and its the only the way that we’ll stay relevant and its the only way that people will yeah, like, remember who we are and what we do but its not a very fair platform and actually it does artists a disservice in a hundred ways.
So over the past few months, we’ve been thinking amongst ourselves and with a few people in The White Pube Discord server about what those alternatives might look like. You know, is that the case of building a whole other website where artists are able to share their work and if that’s the case why don’t we all just go to DeviantArt? Is there something better? Is there something that’s just more democratic and plain and to the point and feels like a comfortable egalitarian space with better vibes than the horrible space that is Instagram? But unfortunately, me and Zarina don’t have a clue how to build websites so we got in touch with people who do.
So we’re joined today by Kim Foale, who is the head of Geeks for Social Change and we’re also joined by honor ash who is an artist based in Norwich. I’m going to let them introduce themselves so I can stop talking. Kim, who are you?
KF: I like the fact that it’s like, plural you and singular you stacked together, but yes, hello! I’m Kim. I set up the studio called Geeks For Social Change, I think it’s about five years ago now, and it came out of a combination of sort of wanting to do community organising and community development work from my kind of background in doing feminist and queer organising, anti-racist stuff, a little bit of climate stuff and mostly just, like, you know, wanting to do sort of more on the ground, hands on stuff with communities. Which I found just wasn’t represented in the way that the tech industry shifted over that time and I’ve also spent the last, sort of, fifteen years making websites and little things for small organisations. I think some of us here have heard of us because we helped The White Pube remake their website in this way, in a way they can manage and then I also did a PhD in this thing that I really don’t do much about anymore but it’s kind of about qualitative research.
So I kind of started Geeks For Social Change to try and break down some of these barriers between disciplines really so you don’t just have the tech people in one place doing their weird tech thing and not talking to anyone else and then you know, the academics, I mean I think anybody who’s worked with academics know they tend to self-silo and just do Uni stuff and it’s always a bit weird and then, like, community stuff can always be very, almost like anti-tech and very sort of backwards looking and trying to kind of, I think especially left wing organising really has this reputation for being sort of, trying 1970’s tactics that haven’t worked for twenty years over and over again and hoping for different results.
So trying to live in this space of imagination and hope and planning and new things that kind of enjoys, to some extent enjoys technology in terms of what it can do for us, but is also critical of it as a part of capitalism and the way that it sort of, like, you know, I think it’s sometimes hard to remember that a lot of these sites that we’re moaning about like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, have barely been around for ten to fifteen years and in that time feel like they’ve completely transformed life on the planet and how we relate to each other and I think now maybe, especially with the downfall of twitter that seems to be in progress, it starts to feel like now’s the time where people, the gloss is gone a bit and now it’s maybe a good time to have these discussions about, you know, what has happened over these last fifteen years and what do we want to do now? So, that was a little bit of an all over the place introduction but there you go, that’s me, hello.
GDLP: That was a great introduction but do you wanna say like, maybe a few specific things that Geeks For Social Change has produced, just so that people have more of a concrete idea of what you do?
KF: Yeah. So our biggest flagship project has been something called PlaceCal, which is kind of hard to explain because there’s a lot of angles to it but basically we ended up working with some groups of older people all where I live here in Mosside and who had this perception that there was nothing to do in their neighbourhood. So we went out to find out why this was the case and to cut a long story short we just found that, I mean it’s kind of intuitive if anyone’s dealt with, seriously talked to their parents or community groups about it but it’s like, no ones really working together so there’s five systems run by council, health service, housing authority, maybe a resident - if you’re lucky - facebook groups and it’s just overwhelming and a lot of the time word of mouth is fine in these spaces and then basically the people running the groups are often very digitally excluded and they don’t really know what to use and none of the software is designed for them either, cause basically like, I think, in fact on the last Geeks For Social Change podcast we talked about this right, like Facebook Events especially has just gone from kind of being a thing that launched a few people’s careers actually, a long time ago, to being basically like, if you’re not paying for it or making constant video, they don’t care about you anymore. It’s kind of mad how far that platform has fallen in terms of being a kind of community organising stalwart and so we’re in this situation now where like people feel they should have a website but they don’t really, they might have a friend who does it and everything’s kind of broken down but because all these technologies are very self-siloing it means you can’t work together. So there’s this whole thing you’ve got to get over if you really want to digitally include a neighbourhood in terms of like, getting people to work together, training up these people who run community groups to publish things and then just like, having this overall strategy.
So the way that PlaceCal works is basically we sort of do it in a community development way where we find a group that wants to be onboarded, like a neighbourhood, it’s usually in a neighbourhood setting, work individually with the people there to help them publish a calendar using Google Calendar, Outlook, Eventbrite, MeetUp, Dice, whatever they want to use and then it aggregates all the content together and adds some, loads of other little bits and it spits it out into like consistent, high quality event and service listings that can be on ward levels, so very zoomed in, or on a district or regional level, they can have interests applied.
So it all sounds kind of abstract and it is a little bit but like our biggest success, we just launched last week in fact, the TransDimension, which is transdimension.uk, which is a listing of events and services for the trans community in London. We did this in collaboration with Gendered Intelligence who went out and, you know we went through all the listings we could find online, on registered sources, loads of them are out of date, some of them were, you know, some weren’t, we got some great data and I think there’s, there’s getting upward of fifty groups on there now and we did a survey before and the median number of groups people knew about was three. This was like a twitter survey of people who follow Gendered Intelligence. So we found something like fifty groups and like most days there’s like nine events on and like I say the best thing about it, is now that it’s all set up, no one has to do anything, it like updates itself from all the aggregating all these like Squarespace and Dice and Google Calendars and everything else. So like as we build this out we’re kind of making like sort of low effort, high reach stuff where people can come and work together.
So like that’s like the really big level stuff and we make a few smaller things too but I think generally our approach is very much with this mindset. It’s like, we’re not trying to like, you know, like everyone starts a thing and they’re like “you have to sign up to my site” and you’re like “why?”. It’s always like “oh you need to sign up to my tool, download my app”. We’re not like that. We’re like “what is it you’re trying to do on the ground and how can we help? And here’s a thing.” So you know we’ve also done a project for feeding people locally where, there was a local pub called The Old Abbey Taphouse we do a lot of work with, they wanted to start this sort of ‘Meals on Wheels’ service at the start of Covid and basically what they needed from us was a database designing and a service design doing. Which if you work in tech and you do sort of systems design stuff, it wasn’t the most work when it came down to it but it’s like being in the right place, at the right time, with the right people and knowing the right thing to put to enable other people to get on with what they want to do and not what you wanna do. So I’d say that’s, that’s kind of a long answer but that’s kind of our ethos really.
GDLP: No, yeah, I can already see like how, you know, a lot of this is about wanting to do certain things but…the shape of the internet just not being conducive to putting the right people together in order to make those things come true, offline.
KF: And if you ask a tech person the answer is always more tech, right? And sometimes it’s not, it’s like, no, we have all the tech we need. What someone needs to do is slow down and go and talk to them.
GLDP: Yeah, yeah. I can see how it would be so helpful for some kind of similar solution to fix the art world. Which -
KF: Wouldn’t that be nice.
GLDP: - Which brings us to honor. honor, who are you? How did we get speaking? What are you interested in as an artist?
HA: Yeah, so I’m an artist, my practice has always been around, kind of, communication and power and alienation and kind of the connections between people and those moments of connection. And it took me a long time to realise that actually all of this work kind of came under - I use the term ‘internet informed’ when I’m talking about it - because I realised how that spending just an awful lot of time on the internet had actually changed how I think and just how my brain actually works. So it took really, really a long time to realise that that was a truth throughout pretty much all of my practice. Which I guess shouldn’t have surprised me but it kind of did. So since I’ve kind of realised that I’ve been more researching the internet itself, the materiality of it, so the physical things that make it up, and how the understanding that we have of it, societally, generally being quite different to what it actually is and then also how that changes how we see each other and how we see ourselves. So as part of this I did a talk this year about imagining what the world could be like if all of our data had an expiry date. So thinking about if all of our photos would by default expire, all of our emails by default would just disappear after a certain amount of time and we had to choose what we kept, rather than just keeping everything in a big, unsorted box that gets thrown back at us randomly by ‘on this day’ algorithms. And really looking at, also no only what shaped that to be how it is, and kind of the really, like, the capitalist lens that pulled us into how things are shaped now, but thinking about the ways that that changes how we, how we see ourselves, how we see each other, how we form memories, how we form our perception of self, if our whole lives are collected on these profiles that are controlled by companies that are completely decontextualised from who we actually are. It’s just like a little profile picture on a big white box that’s owned by Facebook.
Yeah, as part of that I also taught myself how to code my own website and moved my artist website from Wix to a Raspberry Pi that I host in my bedroom, which was just such a, I felt so kind of, affirmed by that process of learning how that worked and learning how to actually have agency over the way that my work appears on my website and how that integrates with other things and also the physical connections that get made through the internet to display that to other people.
GDLP: Yeah, great answer! I just thought maybe we could ask Zarina to say, ‘who are we?’, in case people are, have never come across The White Pube before and don’t know why we are hosting such a conversation.
ZM: So, hello, yes! We are The White Pube. We have been running a website since 2015, thewhitepube.com and .co.uk. On that website we do some interesting things, like writing art criticism, reviews and essays about art and video games, books, film, whatever, culture at large. But we started The White Pube in 2015 by getting a Wix Black Friday deal.
GDLP: That’s completely true!
ZM: Because we were, we were tiny babies and we didn’t know, we didn’t know how to code. I think the most coding we’d done was like, on MySpace when you’ve got to do the HTML thing to change the cursor, right? Like Pixo, back in the day. So we didn’t know what we were doing, we just thought, we want to run a website, these website builders are helpful but as the years went on we found out that Wix was an Israeli company that operates in occupied territory, I believe. Well, it’s not BDS compliant and that’s something that we care about, so we tried to move off Wix but as the weeks had gone on the site was growing and growing and we just didn’t know what to do but within The White Pube’s specific politic, it made sense for us to make a bid for separatism. Separatism? Does any of this make sense?
GDLP: - Through laughter - Zarina’s very ill, for any listeners, you should see the like, the balminess of her face right now, she’s just like, off on one. Yeah, it totally made sense for us to shift the website to somewhere else. We got in touch with Geeks For Social Change who gave us a quote. We did a massive merch run to raise funds and then we hired Kim’s services and Jazz’s services to move the website over and I think in that process it sort of made me feel what you’ve just been describing honor, about having more agency about where your work goes and how it goes there and it has also, as a result of moving it off Wix and having a website that does involve us doing more coding bits than we thought we would ever have to do because we’d been so spoiled by the website builder promise. I think ultimately it’s made us write more, it’s made us more creative, we’ve added new pages to the website because we feel like it’s a more playful area to totally, yeah, get that writing out and, y’know, the blog would never have existed without the website change. ‘Lads I Fancy’ would never have existed without the website change. All of these wonderful, totally important things.
ZM: I just think we have more control over the shape of the site and as a result it means that ideas in keeping with the nature of the site are more likely to come about. Serendipity. It opens up a chance of serendipity.
KF: So the term we really like to use is ‘digital independence’ because I think it’s less about the specific tech you use and more about the fact that you are free to choose. Like the way that these platforms are designed is to like to lock you into one vendor so like, there isn’t an export tool on Wix at all, there isn’t an export site on any of these, and the ways they encourage you to design, it’s like, they’re all a little bit like having some horrific word document where you’re trying to arrange all the tables and you’re not getting that content out without recreating it somewhere else. So I think like, that probably links us on to starting to talk about the survey, cause Instagram is another, it’s like, in a way, another example of this kind of site, right? It’s something you can sign up to and put your content into but only in exact and very specific ways that they want you to.
GDLP: And it’s like artists just really don’t have a choice in that, it’s like they’re funneled into this one system because when artists get to that certain point in their career when they think, d’you know what, I need an online portfolio I’m going to sign up to Wix, or Squarespace, or any other of these paid services, I’m going to put my work on there. They can’t expect their work to be seen by anyone because it’s just this floating website in the ether and how is anyone going to even know their name to Google who they are and see if they’ve got a website? We feel totally forced to join Instagram in order to find people and to say “oh, by the way, I‘ve got a website over here” because Instagram is where everyone already is. In the survey that we did 97.1% of artists shared their work on Instagram. That’s just basically everyone. It’s like we just don’t have a choice and as you said, in terms of digital independence, it doesn’t exist on those platforms.
KF: There’s part of me too, when we say this, that makes me wonder if the Instagram interface is almost like a design classic in it’s own sense, which is why it’s so ubiquitous. Like, I think especially because a lot of the history of Instagram like, how I ended up on it, was like, Facebook just started adding feature after feature, after feature, after feature and suddenly now our parents and our boss are on it and everyone was like “um, this is a bit much” and so I think, like after that I’m just like, this Facebook feature creep when Instagram came out, initially, it was so refreshing. I can remember it. It was like all this is, is nice pictures of my friends, doing things, putting their stuff up. There was like a real honeymoon period I think and then at some point it became, it just felt like everything else, isn’t it? Like, all of a sudden, oh…right.
HA: Initially it was a competitor to Facebook, right? So it wasn’t owned by the same company and then it got bought and suddenly the features that were creeping into Facebook were also creeping into Instagram and just another platform designed for you to put so much into it that you have to spend all your time there and watch their adverts, basically.
GDLP: So what are the problems with Instagram, for artists? honor, do you want to start? As, an artist.
HA: Oh, well there’s so many.
GDLP: There’s so many. Take your pick!
HA: I don’t know where to start. I mean I think that the thing that underlies all of it, to me, is that the priority there isn’t for people to actually see what their friends are sharing. It’s to keep people looking at stuff on Instagram. So the platform kind of has an incentive to just keep burying things and keep showing you random things that you think are interesting or annoying or will keep you scrolling basically, like that’s their motivation. So anything that is not explicitly buying into that kind of motive is going to have a hard time in that environment. So artists creating work that is about emotional exploration or things that are not necessarily explicitly selling something or kind of playing the game of the algorithm, then it’s not gonna gain traction because it’s not doing what the platform wants it to do. It’s like directly in conflict, the motivations just don’t line up so it makes every single thing frictious, basically.
GDLP: Yeah, we had a lot of comments from artists in the survey that completely spoke to that. First of all, someone said: “Even though I have almost seven thousand followers my posts (of great quality, might I add) are only showed to three hundred, absolute max.” Somebody else said: “When I first got into the swing of posting my comics they’d get a hundred and fifty to two hundred likes on Instagram. Then something changed and it went to twenty to thirty likes. Totally crushing. I assume it’s cause they wanted me to buy ads but honestly, it just made me want to quit.” A lot of people said that, yeah sort of what you were alluding to, like, atmospherically it just doesn’t make sense for a lot of art work to be there.
HA: This is, I mean with any kind of platform, there’s the phrase that I hear quite a lot is ’context collapse’ which means that there’s no separation between, you’ve not traveled anywhere to get to someone’s place, house, that feels a certain way, that has a certain atmosphere so you know what you expect to find there. It’s just all this, like, white wall with random things just like, flinging in and out that can be totally unrelated and right next to things that maybe are like, cause people post really personal things, so you might see someone posting ‘Oh sorry to have lost you Nan’ next to someone posting ‘Oh yeah, come to my party!’ and then it’s such a whiplash of you never know what you’re going to see next but that’s also how it becomes this addictive scroll, is something that it really pushes onto you. Casue you know, the whole motivation is that they want people to spend more time on their website and they also want people to buy adverts to show things to people on their website, speaking to the other point about things never getting any views.
GDLP: And they are good at that, so one of the comments that we got from someone on the survey said: “It’s harder and harder to do authentic, heartfelt promo of yourself without it looking really entitled, gross and irrelevant compared to the world at large.” Yeah so in between those people saying “Sorry to lose you Nan.” and “Oh, do you want to come to my party?” there’s like the artist in the middle who is like “Oh, I’ve made this thing and it’s something I really care about” but you just like, swipe past it and it might not want to be what you want to see that day but it also might not wanna be what you see after the post where someone’s talking about their dead Nan. It just doesn’t quite make sense. It feels really, yeah, like that jackpot system of ‘ok, I’m going to carry on pulling the slot arm down until I get what I want’. It’s never quite showing you the right match up of things. It’s just such a mish mash and I think if we take that offline, imagine what that would be like in a gallery, if you were to go from walking around a room and see such a completely messed up curation group show that…it feels absurd that we use Instagram as artists. It doesn’t make any sense and Zarina can speak to this as well. I would never, ever put a White Pube text in text form on that platform. I see some writers and especially poets do this where they will take screenshots of works, make sure it fits into a square format and then put it on the platform and I really sympathise because, obviously that’s where their audience is. They don’t want people to be lost in that redirection, like ‘Oh, I’ve made this new poem can you please go to my website to read it’ because in that instruction they’re going to lose, like 90% of people but for me that noise makes me feel, again, it would just do the work a disservice. I don’t want people to read in between all of those other posts, in between news articles, in between Love Island influencers, in between people pulling content from TikTok and it just all of it feels horrible, like a horrible competition.
KF: For me at the moment, I guess there’s so many surgery fundraisers, mutual aid requests and a lot if too, it’s friends of meme artists and countries that I don’t live in and that feels weird. I’m really empathising with this all and again imagine if you were in the gallery and all that stuff’s there. It’s such a strange place and maybe there’s something about it that feels really desperate at the moment too because there’s the adverts which are a lot already and then there’s sponcon which everyone’s into cause no one’s got any money anymore and people like shiny things so it’s fine and then there’s people who, like you say, who are just like ‘please go to my site and leave this one’. 00:26:21
GLDP: That’s us!
KF: So there’s a level of Instagram which is entirely asks. You’re scrolling through a hundred asks a day.
GDLP: That’s so true! That’s so true, yeah, and I hate that that is what I have to do and I think that artists are complaining about. You know, they’re limited in their experience of their art work but they’re limited in the presentation of the artwork as well and that’s before we even get on to talking about censorship.
HA: But it also influences what actually gets made as well. If you’ve got such a huge following that it’s actually materially changes things about your life to have that following on that platform you’re going to change what you create in order to keep the algorithm gods happy. You do things that aren’t going to push the boat or aren’t going to rock the boat, sorry, in any particular direction.
GDLP: Yeah, someone said “Not all artwork can be changed into a reel for the sake of getting people to see it.” and that is like, oh my god! Oh my god!
HA: The pivot to video.
GDLP: The pivot to video. Instagram came out and said that, I think it was towards the end of 2020, beginning of 2021, a lot of major illustrators, it was sort of coming from a conversation from them getting in touch and being like ‘why has my engagement plummeted? You know this is where I make my money. This isn’t just a place I get some nice external validation. Like, I make my sales of prints and jewelry through this app so you need to tell me the answers.’ and it was not long after Instagram had introduced reels. Which are the short videos that people post. And basically Instagram’s answer was like ‘listen, the only way now to make sure now, your work is seen, because yeah you might have seven thousand followers but it’s never going to be shown to all seven thousand of those people, but the way to try and aim for that is to use every single feature Instagram offers’ and that means posting on main, potentially multiple times a day, posting on stories, every single day multiple times, using reels every week, using the live feature every week, but also making use of Instagram’s in service commercial options, so you can sell things directly through Instagram, commenting, replying to comments, liking other people’s things, sharing things to posts, making sure you’re using messages. Like, unless you are a full time Instagram user essentially, it’s probably gonna make you feel like shit because you’re just going to think no one is seeing your work because they’re not being shown your work and you’re not getting a fair turn.
KF: And overall it’s everyone appealing for the same attention, right? I’m even remembering that period where people were like, ‘oh actually can you favourite my post cause that boosts it up the algorithm’ and I think there was a period too in activist circles, I think it’s still going on but it’s died off a bit now, but for a while it was almost overwhelming how many people were doing that thing you were just describing of like, ‘we’ll do some infographic stuff of about something awful that’s happened over eight slides’ - I’ve been responsible for a load of these, right? Then the pattern takes off and everyone’s doing it and all of a sudden you’re just getting lectured to and I think I even remember seeing posts where it was like ‘here’s the best things you can do to support people: leave a comment, do this…’ and again it’s people with small businesses and it’s just like at what point do we just go ‘why is everyone competing for the same attention?’. The end game of this is that everyone does the same things all the time and the site is hell.
GDLP: I think it’s already there though.
HA: It also gets like, weirdly superstitious. No one actually knows what the truth is of what - because it seems almost random and kind of cruel actually when it doesn’t show things to people or it doesn’t actually - you know someone follows you because they want to see what you’re making. They don’t follow you cause they want a chance of maybe seeing something you do in the future. They want to see, they want to keep up with you and so then everyone gets into these weird superstitions of ‘if I can get five friends to share this then maybe they’ll - the Instagram gods, will bless me and my post might actually get shown to some people who want to see my work.
GDLP: Yeah, and if that work isn’t, often a painting, or an image, 2D image, graphic, that uses a shit ton of neon colours then, you’re fucked. Even the fashion world is having to respond to the business they’re doing through Instagram. More and more fashion designers are using neons in their collections and doing what someone recently called ‘flat fashion’ so that it looks good from the front and who gives a shit what it looks like from the side. It’s not about shape, it’s about that one image that street style person or an influencer can take for the sake of propagating that product. What kills me, kills me, as a fan of painting is how many painters are, again I’m not critising anyone I’m critising the fucking state of the world, like how many painters are having to basically become process artists and action artists instead and setting up a camera in order to film themselves doing the painting because actually, what the algorithm cares more about is the verb. They just wanna see paint being pushed along on a canvas in a really satisfying way and they don’t give a shit about the end result because that reel will be seen by potentially tens of thousands of more people than thestatic studio shot of ‘my new painting’. It is killing me.
ZM: Yes. What I think is especially crazy is - because right, the art world maybe,prides itself on being quite high brow you can personally, consciously, you within yourself, you can guide this. You can say ‘I don’t care about the likes’ but I think it would be absolutely crazy for you to say that Instagram has no effect on the work that is produced by and large by the majority of working artists at the moment. Instagram has been such an enormous part of the way that we form taste. It’s been such a huge part of our visual landscape that it has been so instrumental in taste for the past, maybe eight, ten? Past decade, maybe eight years and it has already had a huge effect on the way that working artists engage with the idea of aesthetics, right? It’s beyond painters turning into action artists. It’s affecting the way paintings look. Literally. Like, I don’t know if this is pseudoscience or if this is just a fake statistic but there has been, I think, an increase in the number of paintings that are painted on square canvases because that’s just the way, for a while before Instagram changed their aspect ratio allowances or whatever, that was, you had to put things in a square. You had to take iPhone pictures on a square. It was just, that was the primary aspect ratio for images that we engaged with in life, right, because Instagram are such an enormous part of the way we interact with visual culture, the way we create visual culture. I think, I think it’s crazy, so I think it doesn’t matter, you can say ‘oh I don’t want to engage with that, I don’t care about the likes’ - the likes care about you, hun.
GDLP: Someone said on the survey: “I just feel like it’s pointless. Just throwing it out there into space, no idea who will see it, it being content, but what option do I have? I’m nearly fifty, live in the country and I’m completely disconnected from the clique-y city art scene.” Yeah, it’s like, it’s this horrible life line for people, professionally, emotionally, socially, professionally. Like, it just, it just kills me.
KF: Should we go on and talk about these punishments a little bit cause I’m really keen to talk about these?
GDLP: The punishments…go on.
KF: So I think the thing is right, even now what we’re talking about is Instagram in the best case when it works but, so the wild thing about this survey we did, that yeah, like Gab said we had eight hundred and thirty two respondents. One hundred and sixty people filled in, which is about one in five, actually bothered to write in a story about being punished on social media. So that’s probably a minimum because I don’t know about anyone else but I can never be bothered to fill in the writing question. There’s a few ways that people get punished on Insta - again like, this was so heavily skewed towards Instagram, people were talking about it on Tumblr and Facebook but it was mostly Instagram for this. It seems by far the most carceral. So the basic punishments. I think the mildest one seems to be removing your ability to boost posts or promote them. Some of that is related to things like promoting smoking. It was a bit weird. That one is a bit unclear what causes that. The next level up seems to be content removal. So they just take a post down. There’s then this shadowbanning thing which as we discussed earlier is this huge nebulous thing. It’s really hard to prove it’s happening. I don’t think Instagram even really even properly admit it’s a thing but - cause you know, you could explain it as the algorithm dropping - but there seems to be some pretty good evidence that after people saying key phrases they just have a tenth, a hundreth of the followers they had, the views they had the previous day. So it’s a bit unclear where to put this in this little hierarchy we’ve made. The next one up seems to be like a violation warning, so something like a copyright strike or a warning to improve your behaviour. Then there can be a temporary suspension, sometimes you don’t even know it’s temporary when it happens and you might get it back, all the way up to account banned. You know, shadow banning is the most common punishment it seems like and then content removal and then within that the majority of the time people just do not know or like it’s really weird and nonsensical so someone said - and some of them are a bit more understandable than others but are a bit weird right - someone said they did an artwork about beheading the queen and that was threatening violence and it got deleted but then someone also said they posted a two of swords tarot card and that got censored and then it gets weirder when someone says their doing art bots and their making this, like, weird AI art and that got removed and then someone just painted Chester Beddington and that got removed. So there’s like this whole scale of: ‘Why?’ Can someone explain? And I think you know, we’re talking about a kind of cruel and unusual punishment here. This feels to me a little bit like that right? It’s like, you’re trying to make a living on this site and it’s removing your content and you can’t even talk about why.
HA: You know what the shadow banning reminds me of? It reminds me of when we all found out that Tinder was secretly rating everyone with like a hotness score out of ten and it was using that to determine who it was showing you to.
GDLP: Wait it was what? Wait. Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop.
HA: Did you not know about this?
KF: Yeah, you have an ELO score Gab. You have a hotness e-low score.
GDLP: I’m in a relationship, I’m fine.
HA: People who use Tinder were getting rated, yeah, out of ten on how hot they are.
GDLP: Jesus christ.
ZM: Also, it’s the way that like, it’s still like an issue with apps like Hinge, showing you people who are just not your type so that you engage with the paid features. Like it’s just, I think algorithms are evil. This is still an issue, this is still just a business model, this is the way they monetise. This is the way big tech monetises itself, right, because
GDLP: It’s just, it’s shit as well right. When we were looking through the submissions that people have about censorship, complaints, just like, the stuff that we could figure out, a lot of it was to do with nudity. It’s like, really ironic I think, that so much of traditional art practice begins in like: ‘Here is a life drawing model. We would love you to study form. Here are pencils, think about dimension and space and how the lighting falls on the boob.’ Like, it is still sort of like the fundamental beginning to most people’s art practice. So for Instagram to pull that out from under people is just like, batshit, it’s probably gonna put people off looking at nude figures and just like the body completely. It’s sort of, yeah, I just wonder what the impact of that is gonna be.
KF: Yeah, so we had loads of people, I think this was probably the single, the thing in the survey that was the most - I don’t think it’s a gray area, I think it should be allowed - but in terms of like, probably the terms of service as you come but it’s wild anyway, so like, and we got all these responses about it. So someone just wrote: “Why do you even censor nipples in it?” Which I think is funny cause it’s like, and it’s so specifically nipples right, it’s not even boobs and then these go through, again there’s like a whole range here from going through, from like, from sort of, someone said they do performances, they perform topless and they try and cut it but there’ll be like one frame where you can see a bit of nip, through to like, someone scanned a buttock, which was part of a bunch of other stuff, and again like but then it goes through to drawings or photographs of - so someone went to a Sally Mann exhibit, I’m not sure who they are, maybe you guys do, but like, you know, other people’s artwork that’s being displayed in exhibitions, that presumably are all ages in the real world, or like something relating to Yoko Ono, so like, other artists, all the way through to someone who just says: “My work has floral images that resemble vulvas” and these have been banned by this sort of like ‘you can’t boost it’ thing, and they can’t use hashtags related to vagina. So it’s just like, and then I think there’s even one person who said that they had, did some AI thing, and it didn’t, it was nothing to do with nipples but the algorithm decided it was. So I don’t know what Mark Zuckerberg’s personal issues with nipples is.
HA: I mean, it’s really interesting because I feel like so much of that is just the scale that Instagram operates at because every different jurisdiction has different restrictions on what servers can and cannot host in terms of like, adult content or like, who might be exposed to that content and like that changes all over the world. So if you’re a website that is fully global you kind of have to assume this kind of, you have to be the most conservative node in that whole thing. You have to go for the most restrictive, playing it safe, overly paternalistic content moderation policy purely because someone could sue you for being like ‘well this image was on your server in this country and this actually violates this specific law in this random country’. That to me feels like really a product of just the scale that they operate on in that they’re like ‘we want to be for everyone, everywhere’. So -
KF: I actually don’t know if they have moderation controls per country cause very famously Germany has very strict rules about not promoting the Holocaust and using Nazi imagery and basically every tech provider, somehow, Twitter manages, they do filter out all the Nazis in Germany that are seen everywhere else. So I actually don’t know if, I actually don’t know how much what you see on Instagram is dependent on the moderation policies of your country. I’m not sure.
GDLP: Yeah, but, either way it’s absolutely slamming artists. One of the most interesting comments I thought that we got about censorship was someone saying that they set up a new collective account and they were banned for tagging too many names that were all in the collective. Like, you know, we can speak about the nude being a sort of fundamental part of someone’s art learning experience, this just feels like another example. So many artists do work in collaborations. Me and Zarina work in a collaboration. People work in groups, like, if all of this is having an affect people where they do feel like completely unseen by the algorithm, unseen by the people that chose to follow them. This feels like another example of how it’s completely forcing individualism on people. In just a horrible way that is, just makes me think again, like why are we on here? Like why are we all putting ourselves through this and fucking hell, I wish there was an alternative because it’s just so bad. It’s really bad.
ZM: Yeah I think the idea that an algorithm - algorithm? Or a big tech company - have got so much control - ultimate control? Conceptual control about what artists make things about is problematic. So people did send in a list of subjects that they found the algorithm didn’t like or that didn’t sit too well on Instagram. I’m going to read through them. So, abortion, abolishing landlords, criticism of white supremacy or using the word Black, the farmers’ protests - I’m assuming that’s the farmers’ protests in India, right? Yeah - Palestine, racism and sexual violence. Which is…all of those things are political in quite a specific way. I think that’s interesting the way that the algorithm reacts. Like, on the right there is, you know, within right wing discourse there is an understanding that social media companies like Twitter, maybe, have got quite a left wing bias. ‘That left wing bias’, right? ‘Fascists keep getting banned off twitter, isn’t it terrible’, right? ‘Left wing bias’. But I think there is a, kind of a quite a liberal understanding of what politics, what politically is acceptable on these sites. It’s kind of, I think, well, it’s crazy to me. Contemporary art is a critically engaged field in which there is a kind of progressive understanding of these things, right? There’s a progressive understanding of all of these topics and it’s crazy to me how art as a field has to engage with these spaces that kind of don’t really have a politics that align with the political consensus within contemporary art. Like, abolishing landlords? Not that crazy. The fact that these conversations can be so missing from the main digital arena - digital arena? The marketplace of digital ideas.
KF: Just for a bit of context to this, yeah, I think it’s shown over and over that like big tech companies, the boss gives to the republicans and all the employees give to the democrats.
GDLP: Hmmmmmm. That makes a lot of sense. Ok, so what are we gonna do about all of this? How are we gonna fix it? Why are we speaking today and why did we even ask all of our lovely followers to fill in a survey? Kim, what are the answers?
KF: Well, yeah, I mean not to like land with the big questions. So right at the start of this - I actually didn’t quite realise how neatly this would segue - we talked about PlaceCal which was our attempt to, you know, sort of have this community development led approach to technology. So rather than just having, next thing, next thing, next thing, we sort of do things in this very social setting where it’s all about what are we trying to achieve together as a group and what tech do we need to do that. So we talked to Gabrielle about making this project which she then titled ‘The Art Pages’ and basically we kind of want to use the same approach. So there’s three real bits to this right? I’ve done sort of open source tech, like Linux person for a really long time and I think honestly everyone hates that person - and it’s usually just after your computer’s crashed too, right? - they’ll be like, ‘oh you should just use Linux instead’ and it’s like: fuck off. You know what I mean? So I think a real key piece of the Geeks For Social Change DNA is we’re trying to get away from this and meeting people where they actually are rather than where we wish they were. So I think as a lot of people maybe know we’ve been working with The White Pube for a while now. The first thing that we really helped them with - and that’s how we got to know each other - was helping them migrate their website off Wix onto what’s called a static site generator. So it’s one of those things that’s quite hard to explain if you’ve not used one but basically in the, in the sort of Wix, Squarespace, often Wordpress world the way that you operate your website is you kind of log in through your browser and you point and click and you drag stuff around and you’re sort of totally beholden to the whim of whatever that vendor wants you to do. It’s not transferable so you get really locked into what they do and they’re very visual and also as a result of this they tend to be pretty bad for things like search engine optimisation, accessibility, cause the way that the tech works through all this is very engineering-y and it’s always just a bit of a hack in the middle. So what we did with The White Pube site is we helped them basically structure their data properly. So the way a static site works by contrast is it’s more like laying out files on your hard drive. So you have a folder with all the blogs in, one with all the art reviews, one with all the, you know the ‘Men You Fancy’, right? Or ‘People You Fancy’ - I can’t remember what it is.
GDLP: ‘Lads I Fancy’. 00:49:27
KF: ‘Lads I Fancy’!! Lads. There we go. The gender neutral lads which is a hill I will die on. But then with them you can store the images together and like the text you store in a format called Mark Down and it’s sort of pretty similar to BBCode if people remember that. So you can put stars around things to bold them, you can make images with something simpler than writing out HTML tags and then what the static site generator does, in our case we’ve used one called Hugo, there’s also ones called Jekyll, Gatsby, etc, is it pulls all these documents together and spits out a website using very plain technologies nowadays like HTML and CSS but then because it’s in that format it’s very simple and cheap to host - often free - on a range of services. So actually this has even happened to us already, we were using one service called Netlify and they decided they were going to start charging so we just moved it to another one and that’s kind of the option you have this way. So it’s a bit of a different approach, rather than it being this sort of visual, top down, what you see is what you get thing, it’s more of like an engineering approach where you put your text and your images together and then it compiles it for you and does all the imagery sizing. As a result it makes it much more structurally intact, as I think you guys have now found, I think you told us that your time to make an article went from forty five minutes down to like five, but not just that now right, you’re close to the metal you actually know what it is you’re making. There’s nothing that’s hidden from you, right, and you can draft things properly too right and you can track your changes and you’re not just going to delete stuff. So there’s all these side benefits but as we said, I think as we mentioned earlier this is the problem, it’s a lot harder than signing up to Instagram. If you sign up to Instagram it will work instantly. It’s very user friendly, it’s very accessible, all your friends are on it. So there’s just this massive gap between them basically and in the sort of language of the public sector a lot of the time this is called ‘digital exclusion’ or ‘digital inclusion’ cause you’re excluded from some things and included from others that are sort of based on the affordances of what the design gives you. So individually, which is the world we’re in now, this feels really insurmountable and it feels like the tech people are off over there doing their open source thing and kind of being the, ‘just install Linux’, just do this, just do that and then on the other hand we’ve got all these artists who are like well actually that’s not working for me. So what our plan with this project is to kind of try and get a group of people and we’ll all do it together and we’ll all have fun and it’ll all be lovely and at the end of it we’ll maybe make our own thing. So I think there’s three basic bits to the project. So I think one of them is what we really wanna do is get like a little cohort of people who are interested in migrating their content off Instagram, onto their own thing. Which as we acknowledged earlier, if you’re doing it individually it might not seem to be worth it because who is going to look at your own site but then there’s lots of technologies that basically what they do when you’ve got your own site is they let you read it with a computer so the main one that we use is called RSS. There’s a bunch out there and I don’t know how sidetracked we’ll get with like activitypub and JSON and APIs and all the rest of it, but basically and Gab’s done a load of really cool posts about RSS, that you might have seen recently, I don’t know if you wanna talk about that?
GDLP: Yeah, I, part of me felt like when we were doing this, this episode of the podcast, which is essentially, let’s all bitch about Instagram because it’s easy and fun and important to acknowledge how shit it is, while also catching up our audience on the fact that the reason we did the survey is to try and pull together some information so that we can write a funding application to start to do this work in earnest. Part of me thought that maybe we should just do another episode that was all about RSS because it’s so fun. What does it stand for, again? Just remind me.
KF: Really Simple Syndication
GDLP: I love - I should remember it because it’s so simple but basically like, RSS is way old and when we talk about it online it’s normally like our older followers who are like: ‘Really - question mark - you’re interested in this. We thought that was dead.’ Honor do you want to describe what it is? I think you would be able to do it justice.
HA: Sure. Ok. Yeah. So it’s - oh, how do I approach this? So it’s how podcasts work. So if you have a podcast app you might have, especially if you subscribe on Patreon, people who have private podcast feeds you can put the address of the podcast feed into your podcast subscription app and then it pulls through the new episodes of that private feed and so the way that RSS works is literally exactly like that except that it’s for really for everything instead of just podcasts. So podcasts kind of went down a very specialised route for audio but an RSS reader it looks, you put an address into it, of someone’s RSS feed and it checks that address for updates. So it pulls through the new things that they put onto their website in the same way as new podcast episodes come into your podcast application but except it can be blog posts and a lot of the time it is blog posts but it can also be, photos can come through, yeah and a lot of sites actually have it automatically supported in some way. It’s usually really hidden, it’s not very obvious any more because it was a very common way of reading the internet essentially but I mean, Google kind of killed it a little bit but it still exists and the infrastructure is still there. So things like Tumblr automatically create RSS feeds of posts that you can just subscribe to and as well as sites like blogspot. It all, the infrastructure is still there underneath basically. Is that useful, is that a useful description?
GDLP: Yeah, yeah. It’s useful. I think what I would add is that, in practice for me what that means is, on my phone I have an app called Feedly. Like, f-e-e-d-l-y, I have another one on my laptop whose name I can’t remember and basically I go on that app, it’s completely blank. I add in different RSS feeds, which are like, in the form of a link, so The White Pube’s one is like, thewhitepube.co.uk/index.xml , I put that link into the RSS feeder but I also put in the link for BBC News, Kotaku, honor’s blog, all of these different things that I want to read and then the app automatically pulls all of the new updates on honor’s blog, all the new stuff about God of War Ragnarok from Kotaku, and it brings it to me. So for me, that’s huge. Like, I can’t believe I didn’t know about this sooner because I just, as many people, got into that rhythm of when I go on the internet, I go on Instagram and twitter and YouTube and that’s it and like I almost forgot how many people were doing these really interesting blogs outside of those things. Which is like, so stupid of me, as someone who runs a website called The White Pube. Someone who should really know about this. So it’s important for a number of reasons. One, I think it really helps to remember all of those things without having to go out and do that work for yourself. Like, instead of everyday opening up one hundred different tab, it’s just doing the work for me and brain fog wise, that’s great. I find it really accessible. I also think it’s important because of the entire point of what we’ve been speaking about today which is like, Me and Zarina on October the 12th 2015 were like, let’s start a website and it was funny and we started a website and then the same day we started a Twitter account because of that problem that we’ve been speaking about. We needed to tell people that there was something on that website and then we, you know, a week later started the Instagram account and it functioned in the same way. So while we were posting what we really cared about, which was exhibition reviews on thewhitepube.com, we still had to go use Instagram and Twitter as a way to go and knock on everyone’s doors or like a town square and just like bellow that there was a new review. Go to the website. And we saw them as very much instruments and then they evolved into their own thing but basically, over the past seven years, we have grown to hate Instagram as functional and sometimes entertaining as it is. The use of an RSS reader means that we can say to people ‘oh, just download RSS reader so that all The White Pube posts come to you and we don’t have to come knock on your door and bother you and do the thing that Kim was talking about’, which is like begging the audience for something. Like, we’re not asking you to go and read the new text. It comes to you anyway and then you can decide whether it’s something that looks interesting to you or you read it, you care, you read it, you don’t care, whatever. It feels so important, so important and I wish more people were speaking about it. Again it’s that thing of like, digital inclusion. It does just take like five minutes to get your head around. Which is too much for a lot of people, and for me it was too much for a long time and then I got so sick of Instagram that I almost like backed myself into a corner and the only way to come out of that corner was to learn about RSS feeds.
KF: And it’s subtle too right, the benefits are subtle. I think there’s lots of other little ones. Cause I’m still not fully converted to it. Like even just having all that content come in, in whatever interface suits you that’s a bit less overstimulating? That’s nice.
GDLP: I love that, like yeah, having it stripped down so it’s just text only, or -
HA: The reader view is amazing!
GDLP: The reader view is so good. That simplicity and then being like, do you know what I do actually wanna see it in that website’s design with that website’s font. I’m going to click through and read it properly. Like, just all of that as a decision is great and The White Pube-wise, we recently, with the change of the website with Geeks For Social Change, split off our content so it was like, art, so I’m saying like thewhitepube.com/art, /games, /misc for Prima Facie and Tell Me I’m Worthless and then /blog and /podcast and /grants. All of these different little updates that we put out are so disparate but this completely brings it all back and it shows this is all part of our practice, it’s all under the same umbrella. Here it all is together and I think that is so satisfying. I feel like a preacher. I feel like – I’ve not shut up about this for so long. I really was surprised that when we put out the post on Instagram initially to say like, ‘by the way guys, this is what RSS is, how cool is this?’ It’s like the Marge Simpson, isn’t this potato neat, meme. I feel like that. I feel like possessed and a little bit embarrassed.
KF: I think it’s funny because there’s a lot of discussion with, I don’t wanna get too sidetracked talking about the fediverse, but there’s a lot of discussion around at the moment about decentralised tech and I think like, a lot of it’s quite intimidating on how to get into but RSS is a really interesting simple one because it almost harks back to when the internet was a bit simpler and when there wasn’t these mega sites like Google that would just scrape everything together, you’d rely on for everything and I think that because of that it’s just this idea all we really want the web for is to publish what we’re doing and follow what our friends are doing and we don’t want all this advertising and over the top thing and to deal adblocks and to go through all this almost like, armour you have to put on to browse the web nowadays, right.
GDLP: Yeah, cause it can be like, it can really take you off guard. It reminds me someone said on the survey that in order to find the things that they want on Instagram they have to go to the discover tab. Like it’s this whole thing and then they can actually find that quite triggering because they’re going there to use it as a function but instead they’re being thrust all of this other content that they weren’t prepared to see. It just, it’s yeah a constant attack.
HA: It’s very overwhelming right, like the way that it all works is just very maximal and overwhelming and kind of trying to get all of your senses and full screen video, first off, and everything is playing out loud and it’s like every few weeks they change how to keep things muted.
GDLP: I despise that. It’s horrible. Yeah.
KF: It’s a really small bugbear but it really bugs me that every single app the notification icon is red, which is deliberately chosen to be a visually arresting colour. I just don’t want my notification icons to be red and there’s lots of other little knock on things like this too, right. Like, by default if I get a text message from someone it makes my phone vibrate or make a noise. If they send me three more messages I don’t need three more beeps. I get it.
GDLP: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that’s why the RSS feed system feels just so, just relatively, uhhh, like deep breath relaxing because you opt in to certain things, and then it comes to you and then you can read it when you’re ready or you don’t read it. Personally, I find that I’m reading so much more than I was and it’s so much more diverse in terms of where it’s coming from, like, website wise and it’s useful as a network to apply to this project because it can keep artists in touch with each other without having to go through the - I feel like trauma’s a strong word - but like the strange trauma of having to be a part of Instagram and social media in general.
ZM: The ordeal.
GDLP: Say again?
ZM: Just the ordeal might be the best word for that.
GDLP: The ordeal. Not trauma, the ordeal of being on social media. I learnt recently, like a kind of obvious distinction that might be useful to talk about here is the difference between social networks and social media. Like, it feels important to retain the value of a social network without it having to become social media. Which just feels like pure sparkly capitalism and the ordeal that Zarina just described.
KF: And I think this brings us through to the final part of this project, right. So to recap, part one is we wanna help artists have a meaningful migration path to get off Instagram which we’re developing. There’s some tools out there that already do it. We wanna help people turn that content into static sites that require as little extra effort as possible to maintain. Part two is, we want these then independent sites that people own themselves and hopefully they’ll be able to update and style a bit, just like The White Pube have, have these RSS feeds, so then straight away we’re starting to enter this world like, where these exist but then like we also realise in doing this that there definitely is a need for curation. It’s a cool thing really and it’s weird how like curation nowadays almost feels like this weird dirty word that’s, you know, dirty word and I think like, this is kind of what the art pages, I think, from the outside, I think this is what the project will look like at the end. What we wanna do is basically build a website that is effectively a big RSS reader that automatically aggregates all these feeds so that anyone who is a fan of The White Pube, who wants to have their artwork listed on this new site, the challenge to them will be make an RSS feed and we can import it but then all this art becomes visible through our own front end. So like, in a way, this is like us creating our own Instagram but the idea is we’re going to try and do it in such a way that like, it’s open, right? So if you don’t like The White Pube’s one you can download the software and set your own one up and aggregate your friend’s artwork and do your own thing that you want in your environs. If you look at the site and you only like a few of the artists you can just get their specific RSS feeds and import them into your RSS reader. Do what you want but and so the idea is that by sort of doing these three things at the same time we’ll sort of really try and like overall break down the barrier and resistance to all the, just the difficulty in going off on your own, cause we’ll try and do it together, we’ll do it to open standards, we’ll make a thing so that if anyone’s not convinced about RSS yet or you know, they just want to see some artists without commiting they can go to this website. And then hopefully by doing this together with our combined forces too, we’ll just get a bit of hype into this whole concept and give people like, cause I think so much of the work we’re do at GFSC and especially with how grim the world is right now is even just coming up with like a vision for how the world could be feels like, nice, right? It’s like ‘ah maybe there is some hope here’. So I think that’s the whole project. I don’t know if you’ve got anything to add to that but
GDLP: Yeah, I think what I would say is like, I’m, I’m not necessarily seeing it as like a White Pube branded thing, I just want everyone to have somewhere to go when we jump off the ship. I just want this huge big life raft, yeah, somewhere that feels like, very straightforward and very, you know, we’re still figuring out exactly what this is going to be so when you say the word curation, I think ‘no way’. Like, this isn’t being curated, Kim’s wrong, because like, I think it should be more democratic than that. I think we use the word ‘art pages’ in italics and in pencil because you know the Yellow Pages was so nicely organised. It was like, I need a cleaner, in Liverpool, now. I can go to the Liverpool section, I can find the list of cleaners and I can just start ringing people up. I really like the idea, personally, of a sort of like, wiki-er style plain, white/have a dark mode available website where people have categorised themselves in terms of like, where they’re living or where they tend to be based, or whatever it is but also the type of work that they make, the type of artist that they think they are. So for curators, if they’re currently looking for sculptors to fill an exhibition in Newcastle and they want people at the artist-led level, whatever that might mean, they can click Newcastle, click sculptors and start going through people’s work and start going through people’s work and see the type of exhibitions they’ve done before, the type of work that they’re producing at the moment and start to pull things together. I think that the location side of it is really appealing to me because, you know when that person comments that they’re like fifty, they don’t feel part of the city, clique-y scene and they’re slightly outside of everything, if they can find people in their area in order to make the most of what a social network should be in order to find collaborators because so much of the problem with Instagram is it really isolating people. So yeah, I’m kind of seeing this in a few, in a few angles and we spoke, like, we’ve spoken over the process of like trying to put these ideas together about, who is this for and should it be for certain types of people, should it not be for certain types of people. Like if Damien Hirst was listed on this website and he put his RSS feeder through and it meant that it was, the website was also being updated with Damien Hirsts’ latest stuff, like is that a problem? And for me, I think, no because it means that it would raise the profile of the person who is also a painter in London and is listed alongside Damien Hirst and I think that would be quite levelling. But we’ll see, yeah it’s -
KF: What if he’s selling NFTs though?
GDLP: Oh well, I mean I’m not going to speak on that. I think that yeah, just to reiterate like, a lot of this is still very much coming together but that shape that Kim describes feels like, it feels like a winner to me. I really like it. It feels empowering.
KF: I guess when I say curation though, what you were describing is more what I meant by curation. Maybe we got lost in the weeds a little bit with this. So I think like, a lot of the work with PlaceCal is it’s like, data out there is pretty messy and a human needs to make it nice and usually that’s the role of people who are really good at - cause I think a lot, you know, I’ve talked, I’ve been trying to like force you to be a bit more business-y, which is possibly a bad thing but I think part of that is seeing, yeah, I think The White Pube are a really vital arts infrastructure organisation and the work you do and the networks you work with are just really important in their own right so I think, at least in the first instance I’m almost saying this as a way to support that but it sounds like maybe you got a vision past that which is about making this not something that’s maybe run by you two but more democratically owned in a way that’s like tbc.
GDLP: Exactly. Yeah, I -
HA: Well, so that’s, that’s kind of like the diction between like, a platform and then like, something else. I don’t know what the key, the encapsulating term is for the something else, but you know, you’re not uploading things to The White Pubestagram, -
GDLP: Yeah, it’s not like that at all.
HA: - like it’s not harvesting things inwards, it’s like sharing things outwards that stay you know, hosted and maintained by the people that created them and have that jurisdiction over them. So it is, you know, it is different than like, it wouldn’t make sense almost for it to be like a White Pube branded thing because it’s like, this is like a directory almost of how, and in the same way that we’re talking about the Yellow Pages, that’s not, well I don’t want to get into the weeds of it cause I don’t really know how it fully works but like it’s still, it’s like, if everyone is listed there it’s not like someone, but then again, did they take payment to have bigger adverts, is that part of how that works? Without that feature -
KF: I think everyone pays to be in it I think.
GDLP: Ok, so maybe that’s not the best example. I take it back.
ZM: You know the same way that you described the categorisations system of a static site generator, Kim? Like, it’s just folders on a desktop, right, and you’ve got your little documents and - I do my folders in quite a stressful way where I organise it via year and like, within each year, but like it’s that, right? Like maybe you wanna organise it by year, maybe you wanna organise it by city, so maybe - maybe it’s the Yellow Pages but like, cut and paste.
GDLP: Yeah, like I think directory, directory is like the neatest word for it but just something with like a really good filtration system. Like, you know, I was hanging out last night with a dramaturg, like there’s something important to me about this covering like, comedians and musicians and like, seamstresses, like people who make things and it can be found and we’re all there together and it feels and it just feels so neat and clean.
KF: I think that’s one route but actually another route might be that it’s more appropriate that they set up their own instance of our software and do their own thing. Cause I -
GDLP: But, but yeah, potentially, like if there was you know one huge thing that everyone sort of fits into but actually all the theater people in Liverpool want their own space. It’s kind of similar to like, Me and Zarina have long been maybe jealous of like, the Norwegian system where there are museums and galleries but actually there is the sculpture association and there is the photography association.
ZM: And like a writer’s guild. The idea of like, it’s the guilds system, right? Like the medieval guilds system.
GDLP: But it’s like sort of small groups of people who like, really look out for each other and have the ability to keep track of their own archive together and like attract opportunities and like they become the go to experts for that region and for that art form and it’s like anyone can come in, anyone can come through the doors and that feels like maybe it might be like the digital version of that.
KF: I think that’s great cause I feel like what we have in this country - I do this rant a bit so I’ll keep it short, but like - we have very top down, very hierarchical systems but they’re quite subtle. So we have, so like, you know, there is this real trickle down thing and you know we were talking about the impact that the arts council has, that Instagram has, you could also say that the arts council have a massive, massive, impact over even what kind of art you can make in this country if you want to take that step from doing a few drawings to becoming a professional artist, right? They control so much of it and it’s completely top down, as far as I’m aware they don’t really do things like participatory budgeting, it’s very individualised in a very similar way, you know, you’re kind of competing, and I think like, what we’re kind of offering here is an opportunity for people to kind of grow power by working together better. So each individual artist is in a position, each individual artist has to compete for these big funds but yeah if we have twenty people together is that a different prospect? What does it look like if we suddenly start having people be able to like, work together and I think like this sort of soft bottom up, you know, like for me this is like the kind of very soft anarchism I’m trying to practice these days, which is less, which is about helping people see where there’s an oppressive power structure that affects everyone and helping them work together. Cause I know one question I asked you in this a while ago that I think this is a good segue into is like, I think we talk a lot about things that sound cool, maybe a bit slogan-y, like saving the art world, fixing the art world and I think it’s terrifying, you know, maybe this is a question back now, if you have any more time to think about it, like what would it look like to fix the art world? What would an arts sector in this country that actually served people’s needs for both artists and kind of, like fans of art look like?
ZM: I think more and more, as time progresses, I don’t know if there is a version of the art world that could ever - I think, I think the needs and wants and secret terrible desires of like, funders and artists, curators and audiences are all at odds with each other. I mean the art world talks about stakeholders, I think that’s like a crazy way of talking about people involved in the art world because it makes them one. Like, you can refer to them with one term, stakeholder. That’s everyone, that’s like your funder, that’s your funders, that’s your audience, that’s the artist that you’re working with. I think all of those people have competing interests and I don’t know that there’s a version of the art world that - you might have to cut this bit cause it’s horrifically pessimistic - but like, I don’t think, yeah, I don’t think there’s a happy version of the art world where all of those people are happy. I think it’s like a nice balancing act, right, where one person’s happy for like a year. More often than not it’s the government that’s happy, isn’t it, really?
HA: I think that’s really the beauty of having something that is then able to be reproduced by people for their own communities. So like, creating something that is not just like one place but it could also be deployed for a specific need and for a specific group of people, that would meet their needs because it would be then also managed by that group of people and then that’s kind of what, an RSS reader is your personal like, here’s my personal thing that meets my needs in terms of what I want to read and what I want to hear about and like I will see everything that comes, that is updated here. It’s not being decided for me by some mystical power, it is just like a straight, I follow this feed so I will see everytime it has an update and just having actually that agency again over what you see and what you read and like the art that you actually look at and what paths you want to follow rather than having it decided for you by some kind of algorithm that has a motive that is at odds to your motive.
GDLP: Yeah, I think that is, that is important. It’s also like, almost a description of mastodon as well like and it’s one -
HA: Yeah, I was thinking that when I was saying that. I was like, this is like federated social media but I don’t want to get into that right now.
GDLP: No, no, no, but like, it’s just worth saying for people who haven’t got their head around that yet that that is what you’ve just been speaking about. Just in terms of like, more social spaces. One problem that we haven’t touched on yet is like, how is this all gonna be paid for? How is like, Geeks For Social Change’s time and like, our time thinking about this gonna play out? What are the practicalities?
KF: So basically, we are going to try and go for a pretty large funding bid for this. We’re speaking to some fundraisers about it now. The nice thing about being a tech studio is that we have budget where we can afford to go for these kind of bids because they’re big and expensive. So, in fact this would be a good one to put in The White Pube funding library too, huh, if we succeed at all.
GDLP: Hopefully! Yeah
KF: But basically, yeah, we’re going to talk to, should I name the funders?
GDLP: Yeah, I mean they’re not, everyone knows who they are anyway. Yeah.
KF: So, the initial ones we’re going to look at are Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Paul Hamlyn and then after that we’re going to look at Arts Council. Which I think, a lot of people in the arts too have said this a lot, they don’t, it’s like the funding seems the hardest in the arts and actually if you do things with a social dimension to it, with a sort of, one is activist focused, there’s a lot of funds that are a lot easier to get for a lot more money. So we probably will go for Arts Council large grants but yeah I feel like everyone should be aware that like, if you look at things like National Lottery Awards For All you can get 10k, you fill in two four hundred word questions and a bunch of other forms and that’s about it. There’s a lot of this stuff around but I think it, and I get that not all artists want to have a social dimension to their work but I have to say increasingly as the world’s burning around us it feels like that’s a shame to me, cause I think like, for me, you know I’m always someone who’s always had a, I don’t know how I consider my practice nowadays. One way of looking at it is, what I try and do is put together these creative things that in another world might be considered kind of, collaborative art works, I don’t know. In this world it feels like, more of what I do is described as like, you know, project management systems design. I don’t even know to be honest quite what I do and I think for me the exciting thing about this is there isn’t a clear definition yet and it’s about kind of returning this autonomy to community hands. Like there’s a book I read that blew me away - that’s amazing called Decolonising Methodology I’ve spoken about a few times and I won’t get too into it but one of the points it makes really early on is that like one of the big things that colonisation did was sort of break up these bits of life. So instead of having things more integrated, it’s like, ah, if you do research you’re an academic and you work in a university, if you’re an artist you make paintings or sculptures or whatever and you go in an art gallery and you compete in that system. If you’re into medicine you get trained to become a doctor and you work in a hospital, right, and it sort of separates and rarifies these parts of life that then create their own internal elites where people are competing within them and I think maybe like, in terms of what I would like to see in art is like, I’d like it to feel more accessible to me, as someone who didn’t, you know, it would have been if I got to choose more subjects at school it would have been the one I’d done, I feel like I’m now at a point in my life where I’d have loved to, I’d just love to have the time to take a year off and do an art foundation but it’s never going to happen cause of capitalism. I’d like it to feel like these spaces are less intimidating to me and that there’s more opportunities to just like do an art that’s something a little bit more than, you know, the umpteen life drawing classes. That’s cool but it’s not really like my kind of thing. So I don’t know quite where I’m going with this but I think maybe like the future art I’d like to see is it’s something a bit less apart from everything else, you know. It’s a bit more part of day to day life, that like I expect to see beautiful things and see my friend’s beautiful things and make things together and do creation and - but not in a productive way - not in a way where I want to be an artist or get paid to do it. I just want to do something, you know.
GDLP: How amazing would it be if like, you know we built this directory and maybe it became so established and so the go-to and so like, ‘oh of course my RSS feed is linked to the Art Pages, obviously, that it wasn’t just necessarily art interested audiences who already go to galleries and who already know like, the deal, who went on that directory to have a look around but it was like, yer mum? Who was like, ‘I also don’t wanna just go between the same two websites. I’m just going to click on this’ and like, you know maybe we have my favourite feature of all websites which is like ‘I’m feeling lucky’, you know, roll the dice button and it ends up on like Kim’s RSS feed for art and my mum is like ‘Interesting’ and then clicks the button again and it spins and it lands on like the dramaturg that I hung out with last night, like. It would be so nice if that was the case and if yeah, like, it, we could find that integration.
KF: Kind of like the online version of like, I think, I don’t know if everyone else’s guilty pleasure is going to Ikea but like, you know when you go to Ikea and there’s like the print section and they’re all mental and they’re all really cheap and you kind of want all of them but they’re all not quite - like, that, right, and you don’t know who the artist is, it’s all totally mad, like there’s just all these different art styles and I think like, it’s funny you say the ‘I’m feeling random’ I hadn’t thought of that but there’s something very amusingly anti-capitalist about it right? Instagram is never going to have an ‘I’m feeling lucky’ feature that shows you a random artist and especially if you tune it so you’re like, you know, show me an artwork by someone with less than one hundred views or whatever. That’s never goign to be on Instagram. I love that.
HA: I think those kinds of tools pop up all the time though. So there’s websites where you can see YouTube videos that no one’s ever watched and like you can listen to a song on Spotify that no one’s ever played and there’s a really good search engine called Marginalia and you can just click on a random, it just shows you random, small websites. So like independent websites and not things that have been created on the platforms and so I think that there’s a really nice inclination that people just want to have a bit more fun in their experience online.
GDLP: Like Stumble Upon. Like when that was in its heyday. Like, maybe we just make a vow right now that we add that feature to the website.
KF: Maybe the final art world vision is that Damien Hirst is on it but no one cares cause he’s boring.
GDLP: Honestly. Yeah. One thing maybe we just mention before we wrap this up is, is another like, lovely part of the internet that I didn’t know ever existed but it’s something that I want and maybe this is going to give me that feeling. When we were designing - when Geeks For Social Change were putting the website together and we were like chatting through the design features and the things that we might like and sort of talking about that like, early web, old blog, you know GIF-y, glittery, transparent PNG frames, tiles, aesthetics, Jazz introduced us to something called web rings, like. Web. Rings. And I was like, Oh My God. Like I cannot believe I missed out on this and can we have one now and it is essentially like, a ring of people, say us three, we’re in a ring together. It would mean like, when you scroll to the bottom of honor’s website you could like, click a button to go to the next person in the ring and it would end up on my website. And then you’d go to the bottom of mine, click and go to Kim’s and it feels like so wholesome and friendly and special and supportive in a way like that the competition atmosphere of all the other shit that we’ve been talking about today, like, just doesn’t accommodate for. Like people do sometimes share their friends’ posts on their stories but like then you just click past them. Like, there’s something about making your friend’s pages into destinations which feels really special and I like the idea as well also that the directory is like a big web ring for all the artists and all the comedians and all the other people who make things.
KF: I’d say too the irony of the internet, right, is it’s probably like the single biggest decentralised system we use. It’s like, a massive feat of like, design to make such a huge system that works but like, there’s just been so - trillions of pounds, poured into making it not that way. Which is why everyone’s on Facebook and Instagram but if you, you know, when these companies start to fail, which they increasingly are, we’re left with what we had before which is this system that used to be a bit more like this I feel like and maybe we’d appreciate it more now then we did back then.
GDLP: Especially because they’re just continuing to close all pubs down and shit like that. It’s like where do people go? Where do we spend time? This is the kind of thing that Mark Fisher was writing about. We’re all just being split up from each other and it’s a strategy.
HA: It’s enclosures.
GDLP: It’s a total strategy to not let us think together and think in that creative way together.
HA: Yeah, the enclosure of the commons and everything being privately run and privately managed and private security and like, you know, you go anywhere in London, right and it’s just like actually this is private land and you can’t be in this square and I’ve got a security guard that’s coming to get you and tell you to leave and like there’s - where can you go? That’s the big question, right? Where can you go?
KF: Yeah and I hope the answer isn’t, you can be looking at this website instead but you know maybe it’s a start of like having people work together so they can make spaces again because I feel like, yeah, we’ve been talking for ages now we should probably stop but you know I think like fifteen years ago we did have like this sort of - I feel like there was more spaces. There was like this radical social centres networks that usually had IT suites that you could go and you could learn a bit at and have a chat and a cup of tea and get some food and then learn how to do a thing which I think’s gone very missing now. You know we’re hearing from the community development workers who we work with that like, a lot of the free spaces now they can’t afford because the heating bills are too high. There’s some real crises and they’re already happening and they’re getting worse but like the issue with space is a massive one but - and yeah, it feels like something’s gotta happen. Like, we’ve gotta find better ways to work together and not just like bitch about each other online. You know.
GDLP: Yeah, definitely.
KF: We all do it.
GDLP: This feels like one small potential solution. Ok. Thank you so much for listening. honor, where can people find your work?
HA: My website is hnr.fyi and that links out to all my other stuff.
GDLP: Kim, what about you?
KF: Geeks For Social Change are at GFSC.studio on the website and we’re GFSCstudio on Twitter and Instagram.
GDLP: I’m also trying to think of like what emoji I should put at the end of the episode.
HA: The little link one. Like, the two links
GDLP: The link, the, this one? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ok.
Outro - GDLP: If you’ve made it to the end of the episode or if you’ve read to the end of the transcript please go and comment the link emoji. I’ll put it in the show notes. Go and post that on ironically, Instagram or share the episode on twitter with the post. Thank you so much for listening. This is actually the last thing that The White Pube will be putting out in 2022 so thank you for your attention this year and your support on Patreon and PayPal and Ko-Fi and we will see you in the new year. Ok. Buh-byyyye! Duh-ne-ne-nyeh-nu-nu-nyeh.
References in order of appearance:- https://thewhitepube.co.uk/blog/the-white-pube-discord/