Marc Garrett – Unlocking Proprietorial Systems for Artistic Practice.


The cultural, political and economic systems in place do not work for most people. They support a privileged, international class that grows richer while imposing increasing uncertainty on others, producing endless wars, and enhancing the conditions of inequality, austerity, debt, and climate change, to own everything under the rule of neoliberalism. David Harvey argues that the permeation of neoliberalism exists within every aspect of our lives, and it has been masked by a repeated rhetoric around “individual freedom, liberty, personal responsibility and the virtues of privatization, the free market and free trade”. (Harvey 11) Thus; legitimizing the continuation of and repeating of policies that consolidate capitalistic powers. Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval in Manufacturing the Neoliberal Subject, say we have not yet emerged from “the ‘iron cage’ of the capitalist economy […] everyone is enjoined to construct their own individual little ‘iron cage’.” (Dardot and Laval 263)

If we are, as Dardot & Laval put it co-designing our own iron cages, how do we find ways to be less dominated by these overpowering infrastructures and systems? How do we build fresh, independent places, spaces and identities, in relation to our P2P, artistic and cultural practices, individually and or collectively – when, our narratives are dominated by elite groups typically biased towards isolating and crushing alternatives? Does this mean that critical thought, aligned with artistic and experimental cultural ventures, along with creatively led technological practices, are all doomed to perpetuate a state of submission within a proprietorial absolute?

To unpack the above questions we look at different types of proprietorial systems, some locked and unlocked, and consider their influence on creative forms of production across the fields of the traditional art world, and media art culture. We look at how artists are dealing with these issues through their artistic agency: individually, collaboratively, or as part of a group or collective. This includes looking at the intentions behind the works: their production and cultural and societal contexts, where different sets of values and new possibilities are emerging, across the practice of art, academia, and technology, and thus, the world.

The meanings of the words proprietorial and proprietary are closely linked. Proprietary is defined as meaning that one possesses, owns, or holds the exclusive right to something, specifically an object. For instance, it can be described, as something owned by a specific company or individual. In the computing world, proprietary is often used to describe software that is not open source or freely licensed. Examples include operating systems, software programs, and file formats.(“Proprietary Software”) Many involved in the Free and Open Source Software movement, share a set of values built around its beliefs against proprietary control over our use of technology. Olga Goriunova argues that, software is not only bound to objects but also includes social relations and it’s about breaking away from the fetishism of proprietary software structures, and “commodification of social processes layered into software production and operation.” (Goriunova 92)

If we consider the definition of proprietorial, in the Cambridge Dictionary it is especially poignant when it says “like an owner: He put a proprietorial arm around her.” This brings us directly to a biopolitical distinction. The term biopolitics was first coined by Rudolf Kjellén, (who also coined the term geopolitics) (Markus 35) and then; later expanded upon by Michel Foucault, arguing that certain styles of government regulated their populations through Biopower. Hardt and Negri developed Foucault’s ideas saying “Biopower is a form of power that regulates life from its interior, following it, interpreting it, absorbing it, and rearticulating it.” (Hardt and Negri 23-24) But, as we will discover further into this text the term also reinforces a deep a psychological bias that asserts the right of the patriarch to own our social contexts.

Locked and Unlocked Proprietorial Systems.

Enter aFig1. Hazel O’Connor, in the Movie Breaking Glass. Paramount Pictures. September 1980. caption

A powerful image I will always remember from the 1980 Post-Punk movie Breaking Glass. Is when Kate (Hazel O’Connor) the talented and angry, singer and songwriter, gradually loses her agency. Whilst manipulated by the record company managers, she is grabbed, and they hold her close to them. They’re not necessarily aware of how suffocating they are, but there is an obvious portrayal of ownership at play. It is through the social and managed infrastructures, and the belief systems, in which we all grow up, that proprietorial behaviours enact psychological and concrete forms of violence, from birth to the grave. Slavery and domination by the patriarch are both proprietorial systems. Murray Bookchin proposes that, even before social class emerged that “the priesthood established quasi-political temple despotisms over society, the patriarch embodied in a social form the very system of authority that the State later embodied in political form.” (Bookchin 120)

If we want to find examples of what Bookchin refers to as despotisms over society. We need not look that far. For instance, the pharmaceutical industry has its own particular brand of ‘high’ priesthood, and proprietorial lock down; in the form of Martin Shkreli, founder, and head of Turing Pharmaceuticals where he raised the price for Daraprim in September from $13.50 per pill to $750. The drug is preferably used for a parasitic condition known as Toxoplasmosis, which can be deadly for unborn babies and patients with compromised immune systems including those with HIV or cancer. His company, Turing Pharmaceuticals AG, bought the drug, moved it into a more closed distribution system than before, and instantly drove the price up. (Smythe, Christie and Geiger, Keri) Soon after, he cut it down to $375 for some hospitals after a mass public outcry. Even, though many pharmaceutical companies held back at first and refrained from putting their own prices up, in the end they all followed suit. Shkreli’s actions reflect a wider issue where the priority is monetary and feeding the markets, and health and life is low down on the list. The establishment of ever more efficient and productive systems of growth are owned by fewer, more centralised agents.

“it’s the distribution of freedoms and access to sustenance, knowledge, tools, diverse experiences and values, which improve the resilience social and environmental ecologies.” (Garrett and Catlow 69-74)

Shkreli’s over the top approach is part of larger already accepted condition where extreme scarcity threatens lives. In contrast, Dana Lewis has provided the world with a fresh example to bypass the assumed narrative that only the privileged can control our health and well-being. Lewis was a member of the diabetes community for years and was frustrated by the commercial companies and their diabetes. As a solution, she created the “Do-It-Yourself Pancreas System” (DIYPS) and was founder of the open source, artificial pancreas system movement (OpenAPS). (Lewis) Since then, a large online community has developed using DIYPS, and advocating free and open software as the way forward. Another way to deal with proprietorial domination in the pharmaceutical industry, is to make an art project that delivers an element of DIWO and DIY into it’s very being. One such project is Housewives Making Drugs, 2017, under the name of Mary Maggic. Based on the project by biohacker biologist-artist, Ryan Hammond OPEN SOURCE ESTROGEN, a collaborative interdisciplinary project seeking to subvert dominant patriarchal institutions of hormonal management.” (Maggic) Housewives Making Drugs was a fictional cooking show where the trans-femme stars, Maria and Maria, teach the audience at home how to cook their own hormones, step by step. They perform a simple “urine-hormone extraction recipe” (Maggic) While amusing the audience with their witty back-and-forth banter about body and gender politics, institutional access to hormones, and everything problematic with heteronormativity.” (Maggic)

Proprietorial domination is the presumption of ownership not only over our psychic states of existence but also through the material objects we possess and use daily, and this extends into and through our use of digital networks every day. This can mutate into forms of dependency, reliance, and addiction. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google etc. – have impoverished autonomous relations to such a degree that it is becoming increasingly rare to experience an exchange or online activity outside corporate-controlled “social” zones. The digitized versions of ourselves graze away in these social networking platform pens, like cows in a field, chomping at the bits allocated to us via biased algorithms that dictate what we see and hear. Thus, our Internet experience is restricted as we abide by and exist within imposed filter bubbles. When we use these social media platforms and web browsers, our data is harvested and scraped. In a recent interview on the subject of everyday addiction to digital devices and social networking platforms, artist Katriona Beales says “Addictive behaviour is both normalized and valorised in late capitalism as it is associated with the public performance of productivity. Whilst these actions appear to be the choice of individuals, how much is due to the influence of mechanisms and systems of control?” (Beales)

This addiction is approached face on by the Tactical Technology Collective with funding support from the Mozilla Foundation, in the form of The Data Detox Kit. People are introduced to an 8-day step-by-step guide on how to reduce data traces online. “Each day has a different focus – from cleaning up your apps, to social media, to your phone’s connectivity – informing you of the data processes, walking you through some changes you can make, and giving you a small challenge at the end of each day.” (Tactical Technology Collective) Katriona Beales’ critique on addictive digital behaviours, and the Tactical Technology Collectives’ activities present a more recent, common distrust towards our use of social media. The current conditions can give an impression that these issues are only occurring now. But, if we look at forms of resistance going back to The Diggers and The New Levellers, what is revealed is how deeply entwined and established proprietorial domination is, in respect to land ownership. In the British Isles, an enclosure was the act of “buying the ground rights, and all common rights to accomplish exclusive rights of use, which increased the value of the land. The other method was by passing laws causing or forcing enclosure”, such as a parliamentary enclosure Act. Peter Linebaugh describes the English enclosure movement of the 1500s, 1600s and up to 1850, as belonging to a series of concrete universals, such as “the slave trade, the witch burnings, the Irish famine, or the genocide of the Native Americans.” (Linebaugh 142)

The similarities between land grabbing by past elites and how the Internet has lost its potential for openness via top-down orientated, centralised platforms. Is a continuation of what is a timeless battle.. In an interview with Ruth Catlow on Furtherfield, Tim Waterman says, it’s the exploitation of people and resources that marks the practices of contemporary capitalism is very much a continuation of the project of the enclosures, whether it is to skim value off creative projects, to asset-strip the public sector which is increasingly encroached upon by the private sector, or to exhaust land and oppress workers in the Third World” (Catlow and Waterman) Silvia Federici, says it’s no accident that “the witch-hunt occurred simultaneously with the colonization and extermination of the populations of the New World, the English enclosures, [or] the beginning of the slave trade” (Federici 164) In her comprehensive study, Caliban And The Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, Federici writes that, the emergence of the witch-hunts were “one of the most important events in the development of capitalist society and the formation of the modern proletariat.” (165) And, it unleashed “a campaign of terror against women, unmatched by any other persecution, weakened the resistance of the European peasantry to the assault launched against it by the gentry and the state, at a time when the peasant community was already disintegrating under the combined impact of land privatization, increased taxation, and the extension of state control over every aspect of social life.” (165)

Moving on from Divine Constructions.

The mainstream art world of Frieze, the Saatchi’s, and repeated biennale’s around the world, have for years, presented us with locked down proprietorial systems. If, we consider how and why these art institutions such as the Tate Gallery exist in the first place. A backdrop emerges, where a combination of: conservatism, colonialism, imperialism (Harvey 11), colonization, conformity, and the patriarch: have built walls around themselves, where those who do not belong to the same class systems, rarely get through, unless they perpetuate similar marketable values. The Tate Gallery’s legacy is intertwined with a complex mix of ideals consisting of genius as a product, which assumes the position of presenting what is deemed as the ‘best’ about the nation. This is all bound in an almost untouchable divine construction, where the values of a secular and enlightened culture co-exist as universal qualities. This imagined civilization is a construct born out of a wide-ranging set of central, changing values that include, colonial wealth, Christian liberalism, social science, and ideals of the enlightenment, all sanctioned and driven from the historical achievements and exploits of the industrial revolution. These attributes convey nationalism, and a self-image with a cultivated sense of authority, where those seen as the great and the good are given pride of place for all to admire. (Garrett)

Gerald Raunig adds another level when he proposes it to be an inherent set of the conditions imposed by state apparatuses instigated through conservative values with a historiography, that promotes processes of marginalization. We’re still dealing with the consequences of these reductive “conservatisms, such as rigid canons, fixation on objects and absolute field demarcations, activist practices are not even included in the narratives and archives of political history and art theory, as long as they are not purged of their radical aspects, appropriated and co-opted into the machines of the spectacle.” (Raunig 19) Anna Brzyski, argues that “the language of the canon obscures the historic existence of multiple, temporally and geographically situated canonical formations.” (Brzyski 7) Raunig and Brzyski both share the position saying that these divides by the powers that be and established gatekeepers in the art world, consciously create these divisions. This process is a systemic trickling down, effectively maintaining the status quo with help by the artists themselves. For instance, it is not unusual for artists who become successful and those hoping to be successful, to edit out the lesser-known galleries, groups and projects, who were inclusive and supported to them earlier on in their careers. I have looked at CV’s of artists as they have changed in time, and have noticed smaller scale arts organisations no longer in them, and replaced with better-known institutions as time goes by. This seemingly banal act gives even more power to these well-established bodies and promotes a myth that it is only they that supports artists. This blots out the reality of the mix of diversity and grass root ecologies actually existing in the art world. Alongside, exists a rather absolutist narrative that is promoting an art mainly in relation to market driven incentives. There is massive social inequality in the art world, which is accepted as the norm in art circles and art magazines and galleries. They may well even acknowledge to themselves and peers, that something is wrong with this, and it needs to change. But, as Morgan Quaintance so succinctly puts it, “silence, resignation or apathy are fuelled by something far more basic, comfort. Put simply, people are adverse to personal risk and lifestyle change.” (Quaintance)

The recent appointment of Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of Rupert Murdoch, to the Arts Council England’s National Council, worryingly reinforces the neoliberal agenda, as it is “directly linked to Sir Nicholas Serota’s current leadership of Arts Council England and to his wife, Teresa Gleadowe’s own arts projects. […] During Serota’s reign at Tate, he supported artwashing in the form of BP sponsorship, refused to recognise unions, privatised staff positions, introduced the use of zero hour contracts, presided over a culture of widespread bullying, privatised information, and, of course, Tate staff were then asked to kindly chip-in for a new boat for his leaving present! Serota’s leadership of Tate lasted 28 years.” (Pritchard) The Panic! Report, written by academics Dr Orian Brook, Dr David O’Brien, and Dr Mark Taylor, draws on survey data from 2015 and several academic papers into social mobility in the arts. “The cultural and creative sector “significantly excludes” those from working class backgrounds, which is in addition to barriers faced by women and people who identify as disabled or Black and minority ethnic (BME), new research finds.” (Romer) And, “the report also finds the creative industries are mostly upper middle class and with very different cultural tastes from the rest of the population.” (Romer)

To change such a divide, there needs to be infrastructural changes, such as what punk and post-punk had in the 80s, when the working classes were part of the cultural contexts. In media art, there are artists demonstrating through their processes how this can occur, crossing over, between art and everyday life, demonstrating critically engaging ideas that directly open up (literally) how others can hack around, through and around, platforms, networks, and infrastructures, in their work. For example, artist Jennifer Lyn Morone, turned the tables on data scraping social networking companies, by becoming a public trading body herself, claiming ownership of her data. Morone has claimed corporate ownership of her personal data (self), and has founded herself, as her corporation and intellectual property. Reclaiming agency whilst being immersed within data driven networks, protocols, and algorithms, constitutes a style of Post-Fordist cyborg-activism. Caronia proclaims that today’s cyborg is forced into a process of capitalist growth, and sees no difference between work and leisure, “the office and the playground, and between times of public and private life.” (Caronia 27) Artist and hacktivist, Heath Bunting has demonstrated since 1996, an insightful understanding in regard to biopolitical nuances involving data and its uses and how it is used to measure our worth, status, and relevance in wider society. One project of his, called The Status Project, is a functioning database with over 10,000 entries by individuals mainly living in the UK. From the data he has created over 50 maps with sub sections. One work to come out this larger project is his identity generating software, which is, he says, recognized under UK law as a person.

“The machine is defined in part by Bunting as the societal mechanisms that attempt to understand and disrupt human social systems. This is most overtly seen in corporate and government surveillance and mapping of individual behaviors on the Internet, but also evidenced by any social contract whereby privacy is traded for goods or services—drivers license, credit card, store membership.” (Klowdenmann)

Although there has been a gradual move to include artists practicing across media arts, and through the intersections of art and technology. This shift is a movement initiated from the ground up, finding small cracks in what is still a closed set of systems that Felix Stalder proposes is, “created by the means of active and unauthorized appropriation”. (Stalder 32) And, “opposes the dominant version and the resulting speech is thus legitimized from another – that is, from one’s own position.” (32) In her book Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West, Lippard says, “Writing about conceptual, feminist, and political art as escape attempts, I’ve concluded that the ultimate escape attempt would be to free ourselves from the limitations of preconceived notions of art, and in doing so, help to save the planet.” (Lippard 9)

Lippard’s comments are echoed by a younger generation of artists and techies, either taking control of technology and or examining their roles in how to deal with aspects of climate change, whilst also questioning those who build and sell technology. This extends to artists claiming their own cultural identity through their art, on their own cultural terms. This could be as geeky hackers, contemporary indigenous artists, and critical arts organizations constantly critiquing their role in society, looking how they relate to infrastructural networks and on the ground dynamics, aiming for radical, cultural change. As a response to underrepresentation of First Nations cultures in the Australian media landscape and internationally, artists: Gretta Louw, Owen Mundy, and Sneakaway Studio, have collaborated to build a photo editing app called Mirawarri celebrating Indigenous Australian visual culture. It combines traditional Aboriginal Art aesthetics with the vibrant, media-savvy approach of the Warlpiri artists of the Tanami region, working with Warnayaka Art Centre. When, those living in the western world suddenly stop appropriating everything they touch, this action can allow a more nuanced acceptance of other existing ecologies beyond the neurotic act of always wanting to control the context and situation.

What am I made of?

If, we remind ourselves of land ownership and the enclosures from 1500s – 1850, and how now, people’s data is trawled and scraped, and then owned by clandestine groups tracing every digital interaction. Both are represent to us non-consensus decisions bei9ng done to others without their own informed choice. The point here is, it is a deliberate act of exclusion, and usually implemented before anyone has a say on the matter. This panopticon (or netopticon) of networked dominance has integrated humans into real-time, states of existences under constant surveillance. A strategy inspired by the production and distribution of Free and Open Source Software is that the opening up of these black box of objects is to share information, and understanding more on what was previously hidden. As we move into the age of the Internet of Things, it is expected that our homes will be all linked up through smart devices and smartphones, in our homes, ranging from: “temperature control, light automation, sprinkler scheduling, smart refrigerators, home security”. (Chan) Although this may seem like a great concept to some, are not so convinced, expressing serious concerns around the vulnerability of home privacy and personal data. As an alternative, they propose a project called ‘The Privacy Dowse’. Its aim is to perceive and affect all devices in the local, networked sphere. As these ubiquitous devices communicate to each other even more, control over these multiple connections becomes essential. They say that more people need to understand how to interact beyond GUI interfaces, so to see who has access to private, common and public information. Dowse was conceived in 2014 as a proof of concept white paper by Denis Rojo aka Jaromil. The project abides with the principles set out in the Critical Engineers Manifesto, conceived in Berlin, in 2011, by The Critical Engineering Working Group, consisting of Julian Oliver, Gordan Savičić, Danja Vasiliev.

“The Critical Engineer observes the space between the production and consumption of technology. Acting rapidly to changes in this space, the Critical Engineer serves to expose moments of imbalance and deception.” (Oliver et al)

Another project exploring infrastructural contexts beyond face value, is MOCC (The Museum of Contemporary Commodities). As, part of The Human Face of Cryptoeconomies exhibition at Furtherfield, on July 2015, they invited people to “imagine the things they value today as the heritage of tomorrow” (Furtherfield, The Human Face) to reflect on the ethics of production, data, and trade embedded in the things they buy, by imagining themselves as future attendees at a museum of 21st century commodities. They were invited to join a team of volunteered researchers and art makers to get involved in a series of walk shops, workshops, and digital art social events that ran at Furtherfield Commons and Gallery, and local other spaces in and around Finsbury Park and online. From a 9-month residency emerged the prototype, and re-purposed MoCC Guide, Mikayla, an Internet connected ‘smart’ doll. It was designed to appeal to young children with its long yellow hair, pink outfit and cheery voice, and respond to children’s questions by consulting the web. Paula Crutchlow worked with technologist Gareth Foote to reconfigure the doll’s original script to make her self aware. They made the doll talk “about who made her, what she was made from, and how she felt about the condition of almost ubiquitous digital connectivity we increasingly live in. A year after the exhibition in December 2016, in Germany, a complaint “turned the media focus from lack of personal security inherent in the object, to alleged breach of privacy by the object and its software,” (Crutchlow) due to the doll constantly “listening, collecting data without consent from children under 13, and accessing phone data, services and hardware without clear explanation why.” (Crutchlow)


When new and powerful technologies are developed they tend to reflect the interests and values of those who develop them, whilst impacting many people’s everyday lives. To counter this tendency, Furtherfield has sought to cultivate a critically informed diversity in the conversations and practices surrounding the blockchain development space, since 2015. The blockchain, the underpinning protocol of Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and smart contracts, is 10 years old and is surrounded with a hype hardly seen since the arrival of the Web. Just as it has been necessary for artists to move into all forms of technology to disrupt the top-down narrative imposed today’s thinkers, hackers, and artists need to rethink our relationship with the blockchain.

Through a film, exhibitions, commissions, and publications, artists and researchers introduce circumspection, hazard warnings and a search for new solidarities into the narrative of the blockchain, otherwise, characterized by an accelerated logic of capital unleashed. The World Economic Forum predicts that these developments will be accompanied by a significant increase in global inequality This vision of the future disenfranchises and demotes the role played by an ever-increasing number of humans (and no doubt other life forms too) in the business of determining what makes a good life. It has been shown that ‘strategies for economic, technical and social innovation that fixate on establishing ever more efficient and productive systems of control and growth, deployed by fewer, more centralized agents [are] both unjust and environmentally unsustainable. This study proves the existence of a dynamic, thriving, grounded culture, finding new and different ways of existing and creating, in contrast to the dominant neoliberal narrative. Yet, the power to create our alternative contexts is constantly under threat, by those who would lock down: territories, systems, places, spaces, histories, and consciousness, for their own less egalitarian interests. Humanity and art across the board, needs new strategies for social and material renewal to develop more diverse and lively ecologies of ideas, occupations, and values.

Some promising examples in this area include, a blockchain based music cooperative owned by musicians, labels and music lovers, FairCoop the cooperative, with a mission to further the common good, and the construction of decentralized technical infrastructure to facilitate spaces of economic and financial liberty, and Harvest by Julian Oliver, the critical climate change artwork that uses renewable energy to mine cryptocurrency to fund climate change research.


Works Cited.

Bookchin, Murray. The Legacy of Domination. The Ecology of Freedom: the Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy. Cheshire Books, 1982: 120. Print.

Brzyski, Anna. Partisan Canons. Duke University Press, 2007: 7. Print.

Caronia, Antonio. The Cyborg: a Treatise on the Artificial Man. Edited by Tatiana Bazzichelli. Translated by Robert Booth, Meson Press, 2015: 27. Print.

Catlow, Ruth, and Tim Waterman. “Situating the Digital Commons. A Conversation between Ruth Catlow and Tim Waterman.” Furtherfield, 2 Nov. 2017, Accessed May 13, 2018. Web.

Catlow, Ruth. “Are We All Addicts Now? An Interview with Katriona Beales.” Furtherfield, 22 Oct. 2017, Accessed 12 May 2018.

Chan, Stephanie. (July 26, 2017). Internet of Things continues to build the smart home of the future. Cisco. Accessed May 13, 2018. Web.

Crutchlow, Paula. “Differently Smart – the Evolution of MoCC Guide Mikayla.” MoCC Guide, 2017, Accessed May 13, 2018. Web.

Dardot, Pierre, and Christian Laval. The New Way of the World: on Neoliberal Society. Verso, 2014: 263. Print.

Data Detox Kit.” Tactical Technology Collective, Accessed May 13, 2018. Web.

Earth’s Cooperative Ecosystem for a Fair Economy.” | FairCoop, Accessed May 13, 2018. Web.

Federici, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. Autonomedia, 2004: 164. Print.

Garrett, Marc, and Ruth Catlow. “DIWO: Do It With Others – No Ecology without Social Ecology.” Edited by Simon Biggs, Remediating the Social (E-Book) | ELMCIP, University of Edinburgh, 1 Sept. 2012, Accessed 12 May 2018. Web

Garrett, Marc. “Disrupting The Gaze: Art Intervention and the Tate Gallery.”, 2012, Accessed May 13, 2018. Web.

Goriunova, Olga. Autocreativity: The Operation of Codes of Freedom in Art and Culture. FLOSS+Art. Edited by A. Mansoux and M. de. Valk, GOTO10, 2008: 92. Print.

Gunneflo, Markus. “Rudolf Kjellén: Nordic biopolitics before the welfare state”. Retfærd: Nordisk juridisk tidsskrift. 2015: 35. Print.

Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Biopolitical Production. Empire. Harvard University Press, 2003: 23-24. Print.

Harvey, David. The Enigma of Capital and the Crisis of Capitalism. Profile Books LTD, 2011: 11. Print.

Heath Bunting. The Status Project.” KLOWDENMANN, 2017, Accessed May 13, 2018. Web.

Linebaugh, Peter. Stop, Thief!: the Commons, Enclosures and Resistance. PM Press, 2014: 142. Print.

Lippard, Lucy R. Undermining: a Wild Ride in Words and Images through Land Use Politics in the Changing West. The New Press, 2014: 9. Print.

Manning, Erin, and Brian Massumi . “A Cryptoeconomy of Affect.” Edited by Marc Todoro, The New Inquiry, 14 May 2018, Accessed May 15, 2018. Web.

O’Dwyer, Rachel. “Blockchain Just Isn’t As Radical As You Want It To Be.” Edited by Dana Snitzky, Longreads, 14 Feb. 2018, Accessed May 15, 2018. Web.

Oliver, Julian, et al. The Critical Engineering Manifesto, 2011, Accessed May 15, 2018. Web.

Oliver, Julian. “HARVEST. A Work of Critical Engineering and Computational Climate Art.” H A R V E S T, Accessed May 13, 2018. Web.

Pritchard, Stephen. “Elisabeth Murdoch’s Appointment to Arts Council England National Council Is a Corporate Takeover of the Arts – a Takeover Facilitated by Sir Nicholas Serota and His Wife Teresa Gleadowe.” COLOURING IN CULTURE, 15 Dec. 2017, Accessed May 13, 2018. Web.

Project Overview ‹ Housewives Making Drugs – MIT Media Lab.” MIT Media Lab, Accessed 12 May 2018.

Proprietary Software.” Proprietary Software Definition, TechTerms, Accessed May 13, 2018. Web.

Raunig, Gerald. Art and Revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century. Translated by Aileen Derieg, Semiotext(e), 2007: 19. Print.

Resonate – the Ethical Music Streaming Co-Op.” Resonate, Accessed May 13, 2018. Web.

Romer, Christy. “Working Class People ‘Significantly Excluded’ from Arts Careers.” ArtsProfessional, Apr. 2017, Accessed May 13, 2018. Web.

Stalder, Felix. The Digital Condition. Translated by Valentine Pakis, Polity Press, 2018: 32. Print.

The Human Face of Cryptoeconomies. (17 Oct – 22 Nov 2015) Furtherfield Gallery. Accessed May 13, 2018. Web.

Quaintance, Morgan. “The New Conservatism: Complicity and the UK Art World’s Performance of Progression.” e-Flux Conversations, 24 Oct. 2017, Accessed May 13, 2018. Web.



  1. Hi Marc,

    I understood that you concentrate your argument on opening the proprietary as a limiting moment which creates inequalitites. The proposal – to open up something and make it non-proprietary – seems very familiar to me, as I’m helplessly intertwined and engaged with the rhetoric of openness and non-proprietary myself since the mid-1990s. I also understood that you are interested in developing practical alternatives, so my argument may be difficult insofar that it seeks to develop a critique, rather than practical solutions. Still, I’d like to share it with you.

    At some point I began to struggle with the notion of openness, because growingly I did not see it as opposite to neo-liberal tendencies, rather as a kind of an escort to neo-liberalism. In “Open Source – Open Gender?” (2003) I argued that open source is not an alternative to capitalism, but it constitutes a new mode of production.This may not be the intention for and not apply to the artistic practices which you have depicted.
    Yet, the similar rhetoric of openness can be found in online entertainment platforms such as FB, Twitter, Instagram, which are just open enough that users can add their content. In 2003 I used Bourdieu to discuss how the creation of Open Source software can support the accumulation of social capital and how this can be turned into economical capital. Shortening can could argue, that in open source software the proprietary is not abolished, it is just distributed differently and often enough inequally between the project originator and maintainer and the project contributors.

    Click to access francis_hunger_open_source_open_gender_english.pdf

    So the question at hand is, how the artistic projects which you describe, are open in different kind to the openess of liberalism.



    1. Hi Francis,

      Thanks for taking the time to present your ideas in response to my essay.

      Before I answer your questions, it’s necessary to mention I have not used the word capitalism, and this is a deliberate decision. This is because I find most anti-capitalist arguments too simplistic (for and against). Having said this, I am against most extreme forms of oppressive capitalism, such as a neoliberalism that pulls part and demolishes every aspect of human existence. As well as patriarchal oppression, which has already been explored as part of ‘Unlocking Proprietorial Systems’.

      Also, I’m very careful not to say ‘open source’. This is because I’m more interested in, Free and open source software (FOSS), but at a push am very happy for free/libre open source software (FLOSS) and free/open source software (F/OSS). Just like, it’s too simplistic to use the word capitalism without caveats or equally relational contexts, ‘Open Source’ is too general a term.

      If you look at when I use it, it tends to usually be ‘free and open source software’. And, yes there is also a reason for this. I agree with Stallman when he says “Others use the term “FOSS,” which stands for “Free and Open Source Software.” This is meant to mean the same thing as “FLOSS,” but it is less clear since it fails to explain that “free” refers to freedom. It also makes “free software” less visible than “open source,” since it presents “open source” prominently but splits “free software” apart.”
      FLOSS and FOSS. By Richard Stallman

      “I also understood that you are interested in developing practical alternatives so my argument may be difficult insofar that it seeks to develop a critique, rather than practical solutions…”

      Yes, fair enough. We’re also exploring the development of critique, but at the end of the day, we like to see how it works in reality. This is because we are activists working in a an infrastructural way. Which kind of makes us ‘Post Tactical Media’.

      I see it as a complex set of conditions, space and places, intertwined with a grass root’s perspective, which is also as part of a thriving ever-changing, independent community (online and offline), existing in 2 difference physical spaces in the middle of a very diverse area of London. It’s radical because it’s real. Especially if you think how tough it is surviving in the climate of the UK at the moment, under, Brexit, Austerity and Neoliberalism.

      “We have a world of pleasures to win, and nothing to lose but boredom.” (Vaneigem 1972)

      Wishing you well.



  2. Hi Marc,

    maybe it is best, if I just delete my comment, because this blog may not be the right place to make it. As I said, my approach is through critique and it may not be appropriate to deliver it in such an impersonal way when we’ll have the chance to meet and talk in person in January.

    If you agree, I’ll delete it then.


  3. Hi Francis,

    I very much found your questions thoughtful and engaging. Hence, spending a bit of time answering them. Thus, respecting what you asked.

    Perhaps, we can stop here as you wish, and discuss it In January. I would like to leave the text up if that’s OK, I find nothing wrong with it all.

    However, I have been reading your essay ‘Computational Capital’, and it’s excellent, and I do appreciate where you are coming from, with your ideas and intentions regarding critique. And, will most likely use it & reference it in my studies.

    I think we may be at odds with what critique is. But, perhaps we can unpack this another time.



  4. Hi Marc,

    Here are some (probably mixed up) comments about your paper.

    Really clear introduction, although I wasn’t keen on the ‘we’ and ‘most people’ in the first sentence, and other similar slightly vague phrases in the paper. I was asking myself ‘who?’ a few times!

    The Cambridge Dictionary ref is a great example: “like an owner: He put a proprietorial arm around her.” – I’ve done a bit of work around online dictionary examples based on gender-biased datasets (the one I used was the Oxford Dictionary’s example of the word ‘rabid’, which gave the example ‘rabid feminist’), but I hadn’t thought about it in a biopolitical way, which is an interesting angle – a kind of linguistic biopower – I like it – especially in terms of proprietorial ‘ownership’ of language in this way… v. useful, thank you!

    You also raise interesting points about the problems of critiquing from within the system without recuperation into the marketplace/art world… this is something I am grappling with and would welcome further discussion on this topic in Berlin. The Lippard ref will be really useful…

    In terms of content of the paper I found it rich and fascinating, but the structure and flow were sometimes hard to follow (although this is probably because of having to cut it down for this blog post), for example the jump from Art to Pharma.

    “The power to create our own contexts is constantly under threat by those who would lock down territories, systems, places, spaces, and consciousness, for their own narrow interests.” Great ending… reminds me of Lyotard’s idea of ‘context control’ in Postmodern Condition.

    I enjoyed the paper, and look forward to more discussion in Berlin!


    1. Hi Pip,

      Thanks for spending time reading my paper,

      Your comments in regard to ‘we’ and ‘most people’, I will definitely be checked out.

      >The Cambridge Dictionary ref is a great example: “like an owner: He put a proprietorial
      >arm around her.” – I’ve done a bit of work around online dictionary examples based on
      >gender-biased datasets (the one I used was the Oxford Dictionary’s example of the word
      >‘rabid’, which gave the example ‘rabid feminist’), but I hadn’t thought about it in a biopolitical
      >way, which is an interesting angle – a kind of linguistic biopower – I like it – especially in
      >terms of proprietorial ‘ownership’ of language in this way… v. useful, thank you!

      It would be interesting to find out more about your studies around “gender-biased datasets”, this would help define a stronger position when I use my example of the Cambridge Dictionary ref for the term ‘proprietorial’.

      >You also raise interesting points about the problems of critiquing from within the system
      >without recuperation into the marketplace/art world… this is something I am grappling with
      >and would welcome further discussion on this topic in Berlin. The Lippard ref will be really useful…

      Lippard for me is a necessary connection because she offers like Suzi Gablik, a space where the artistic thought process is brought into the everyday, as well as artistic experience — beyond its production. If I have time, I will investigate further around aspects of ‘phenomena’, I see strong links between Hegel, Situationism and Permaculture here, as well as Lippard and Gablik. I’m hesitant to discuss it further right now until more homework is done 😉

      >In terms of content of the paper I found it rich and fascinating, but the structure and flow were
      >sometimes hard to follow (although this is probably because of having to cut it down for this blog
      >post), for example, the jump from Art to Pharma.

      When it is cut down to a thousand words your comments will be useful.

      It is from a set of studies I have been working on for a while now. It also includes actual experience with Furtherfield and the critically engaged community that I have been part of for over twenty years. It is an Autoethnographical PhD. So, when balancing the combination of one’s own cultural research, history, politics, and theory. Yet, this methodology is bringing me closer to the contexts of the subject matter(s) at hand. It is opens up different ways of understanding the life I have and do live in, and it touches on how to make (grounded) changes in the world, reflecting it’s materiality; and what this looks like, whether it is in relation to my own experiences and knowledges as well as the collective’s.

      When it finally shifts into 4-5 thousand words it will become a less compressed piece of writing, which will help it breath more. The subject matter as you say is ‘rich’, and it is also going to inform my last PhD chapter, it also includes writings about ‘Hack Value’.

      >“The power to create our own contexts is constantly under threat by those who would lock
      >down territories, systems, places, spaces, and consciousness, for their own narrow interests.”
      >Great ending… reminds me of Lyotard’s idea of ‘context control’ in Postmodern Condition.

      I will explore Lyotard’s ‘context control’.

      >I enjoyed the paper, and look forward to more discussion in Berlin!

      Thanks again,

      See you in Berlin.



  5. Thanks for the interesting article. From a moderator perspective, my comment will be more on facilitating the dialogues between the three papers’ authors.
    First of all, your paper suggests and articulate the term proprietorial systems, which is more related to closeness and private owned (proprietorial lockdown) systems. Rewards normally go back to corporations or towards top-tier markets. But this proprietorial system extends the concept of proprietary system in a way it focuses on the bio political consequences – the control of our bodies, such as the reliance and dependency of networks with our bodies.

    To tackle the proprietorial lockdown, the paper suggests some unlocked systems and potentials. With the introduction of unlocked proprietorial systems, especially systems or services are more opened with the use of free and open source software, this leads to the decentralisation or distribution of ownership, as well as the freedom to participate/control by oneself, which is now starting to appear in medical sectors, such as building artificial pancreas with diabetes and free + open source/DIY medical monitoring devices.

    As one of the unlocked systems, Blockchain technology is started to use in cryptocurrencies and it changes the way how we think about the banking system and distributed transaction (bitcoin as an example). However, as Martin Nadal and Cesar Escudero Andaluz have pointed out in their paper about most of the mining activities are taken place in China (but the Chinese government is now going to shut down on cryptocurrencies on bitcoin miners) which is essentially controlled and generated by mining corporations or is benefited, at least, mostly to certain groups of people, and needless to say it is depended upon other parameters such as labour and economic policy, factories’ costing, etc. To further link with the third paper by Calum Bowden, instead of the time is being standardised and operationalised, how might we address the problems of privatisation over time even though it is a peer to peer network or even employing free and open source software? How might we actually give the “freedom” to individual equally?


    1. Hi Winnie,

      Thanks for reading & responding to my text,

      I agree with yours, and Nadal and Escudero Andaluz’s point, regarding China’s recent move to ban bitcoin trading, ICOs, and also clamping down on Chinese miners, which produce three-quarters of the world’s supply of bitcoin,[1] Because of this China’s bitcoin miners, some of the industry’s biggest players are shifting their operations overseas.[2]

      I can see connections between Bowden, Nadal and Andaluz, which like mysel, are looking at opening things up a bit more, beyond tech specialization and locked down systems of domination (both neoliberal and libertarian) with finance. Cryptocurrency culture tends to skew right/libertarian, and critically/ethically engaged hackers, hacktivists, and arts culture tends to skew left.[3] I think we need to arrive at a place where there exists a mutual engagement around Post-Capitalist Transition. It needs to be inclusive and rooted in social change from the ground up to have any effect, meaning or point, for real life ethical transition  to occur. Technologies have usually advance the been selected for the values of larger systems of control. This is “unsustainable and is in the process of disintegrating. In creating the successor system, we must select for the technologies and organisational forms that serve our needs for survival as the system we formerly depended on decays.”[4]

      In contrast to the business hype there are various grass roots alternatives not only challenging how bitcoin is ruining the planet but they incorporate new ecological shifts, and also build new forms of collective/social agency. This includes Julian Oliver’s HARVEST –‘Wind energy used to mine cryptocurrency to fund climate research’ – using Zcash & “Rather than filling the digital wallet of the artist, all rewards earned by the HARVEST mining machine are paid out as donations to non-profit climate change research organisations such that they can better study this planetary-scale challenge.” and, collective and P2P groups such as ‘FairCoop’ “Earth’s Cooperative ecosystem for a fair economy”, and their use of the energy efficient and socially progressive “Proof of Cooperation”

      I use the word unlocking because it can been seen from all angles: whether it is a class issue, a business position, a hacking function, and a bio-political context. And to especially critique patriarchal male dominance around, finance, technology, and every day governance. Thus bring us closer to potentially understand the big problems dominating our relationship with technology, structurally, psychologically, and politically. 

      [1] Russell, John. (Jan 8, 2018) Techcrunch. China is reportedly moving to clamp down on bitcoin miners.
      [2] Bloomberg News (Feb 5th 2018) Bitcoin Miners Are Shifting Outside China Amid State Clampdown.
      [3] Myers, Rob. (2015) DAOWO: DAO it With Others.
      [4] Carson, Kevin. (2017) Report: Libertarian Municipalism: Networked Cities as Resilient Platforms for Post-Capitalist Transition. By Kevin Carson, C4SS (Center for a Stateless Society). P.10.


  6. I hear your call for breaking patriarchal models of ownership and am excited to learn more about Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain. My comments focus on thinking through how your arguments might apply to the blockchain.

    “We need a set of updated visions, tools, and emancipatory levers, that reflect contemporary social contexts that assume all as equal agents, as part of a larger, global, intersectional community. “

    Something I’m also interested in is how to leverage tools that break down notions of the bounded individual. Blockchains, and Bitcoin, in particular, are understood by some anarcho-capitalists as an emancipatory technology for how it facilitates sovereign individuals engaging in free market exchange without the need for intermediaries. In automating the enforcement of rules, the technology also seems to remove politics, offloading the question of governance to when the rules are made and set into action. Part of my research is about investigating sites of alternative emancipatory potential (along the lines of what you discuss as anti-patriarchal, and queer) in this technology that has a clear ideological leaning towards isolating market forces. Along these lines, I’ve been looking at forking, heterogeneous chains, and multi-sig wallets, as ways of breaking the concentrations of power forming around blockchains.

    “Biopower is a form of power that regulates life from its interior, following it, interpreting it, absorbing it, and rearticulating it.”

    Blockchains are often talked about in terms of their crypto-economic incentives. This is how the design of the network drives ‘rational economic agents’ to do certain things. In the case of the original Bitcoin network and the Proof of Work consensus mechanism it proposed, the network incentivises the creation of the ‘mining’ infrastructure required to make it secure. Mining is the only way new bitcoins are minted and computers are rewarded for their work securing the network. This is called decentralised as no single authority is forcing the mining infrastructure into existence. In many ways, it seems the form of power exerted by crypto-economic incentives regulates life from its interior. For this reason, I understand the design of blockchains as the design of biopower. Anthropologist Daniel Miller argues that the technologies that people make, make people, creating a vicious cycle of interrelation. With crypto-economic incentives, it seems that Miller’s analysis has gone from describing the process of technological development to being central to how it is being developed. Developers design how their networks make people. This is not necessarily something new, and as you mention, we are now living the consequences of interfaces and media designed to be addictive though behavioural psychology. What strikes me a different about the blockchain is how it facilitates the design of biopower by profit/token growth hungry startup and free market agents on a granular scale that would be too costly previously. All social interactions and governance models can be marketised.

    “Peter Linebaugh defines the English enclosure movement of the 1500s, 1600s and up to 1850, as belonging to a series of concrete universals, such as “the slave trade, the witch burnings, the Irish famine, or the genocide of the Native Americans.”

    As both Bitcoin and Ethereum are revealing universalising tendencies and concentrations of power (mining, cult of personality..), what tools and techniques can help us resist the next great totalising technology? What kinds of power, network effects, or shared values are needed to enable new types of ownership?

    “Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google etc. – have impoverished autonomous relations to such a degree that it is becoming increasingly rare to experience an exchange or online activity outside corporate- controlled “social” zones“

    Benjamin Bratton inverses Paul Virilio’s formula to argue that accidents produce new technologies. Some of the early developers of social media recently made a statement saying they didn’t know the monster they were creating – Should technological development uphold morals and ideologies? What are the key differences between neoliberal innovation and generativity or hacking?

    “Another way in which we can unlock proprietorial systems is to ensure that we are behind the walls before they get built and the locks put on”

    The metaphor of being behind the walls before they get built and the locks put on potentially doesn’t align with the argument of redesigning socio-economic relationships with more equitable and intersectional values. Are enclaves/exclaves a necessary feature of the preferable system? It seems blockchains might further enable dominance by the few, offloading the enforcement of rules to machines, while obscuring political processes.


  7. Hi Marc,

    Thanks for you piece as well as your further responses to the comments received. I’m glad the above exchange with Francis did not get deleted! As I think it (re-)opens an important question, relevant to all participants, around the role of critique in articulating a meaningful relation between theory and practice. I’d be interested in hearing more about your reasons and motivations for doing a PhD – how do you see this experience feeding your already well-established practice, and conversely how do you leverage your experience as an activist engaged in practical problems and politics to develop the theoretical contribution of your thesis. In my experience with Forensic Architecture, for example, « hitting the ground » and addressigy a specific issue by intervening into it has always been a way to probe established theories, to try identifying fault lines within them and call for a reconfiguration a given theoretical framework by integrating the complexity and friction from the ground. And perhaps this is how I would primarily understand «critique ». Interestingly the logic behind your piece seems rather – that would be my reading, perhaps a misreading – to outline a general, high-level diagram of the political problem of property within and against which a number of (counter-) actions including those of your collective practice can be read and understood. I obviously don’t think there’s a right way of approaching this question, but simpmy I’d be keen to hear more about the dyamics at work between practice and theory for you, as well as for the other participants. Speak soon in Berlin.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s