Digital Ethnography (for artists)

Nestor Siré, Steffen Köhn
Nestor Siré, Steffen Köhn
Digital Ethnography (for artists)

Workshop
19 April 2023, 2–5 PM
The Academy of Fine Arts and Design, UL, Video, Animation and New Media, Tobačna 5, Ljubljana

What to bring?
– a laptop and/or a smart phone

Aimed at: Arts, humanities and social science students, art practitioners with an interest in artistic research, academics and professionals in the fields of sociology, cultural anthropology and media studies


Part of Tactics & Practice #14: Scale
In the framework of konS – Platform for Contemporary Investigative Art


This workshop explores how ethnographic fieldwork methods can become a key part of the artistic research process. Ethnography is a holistic method for exploring cultural phenomena from the point of view of the subjects. It emplaces the researcher’s self in a field site as a consequential social actor and conceives their body and perceptions as an integral part of the toolkit.

After an introduction in the central concepts, ethics, and methods of digital ethnography, we invite participants in an autoethnographic experiment that we call “Internet diary” to reflect upon how differently digital culture is experienced across the globe.

In Cuba, such as in many other parts of the world, media files (such as films, photos, music, etc.) are shared primarily offline and interpersonally on pen drives or from phone to phone when internet access is restricted for economic or political reasons. People in Cuba, for example, have found an ingenuous way to distribute all kinds of web content in the form of the Paquete Semanal (The Weekly Package), a one-terabyte collection of digital material compiled by a network of people with various forms of privileged internet access. It is circulated nationwide on USB sticks and external hard drives via an elaborate human infrastructure of deliverymen, so called Paqueteros who deliver right to their clients’ homes.

Such alternative distribution networks not only make up for limited internet access but also have the potential to avoid online surveillance and data extraction and are difficult to monetize or co-opt through advertising. Hence, they represent a striking alternative to algorithmically-powered platform capitalism.

To experiment with the intricacies of offline cultures ourselves, we invite participants to document their internet consumption ON THE DAY BEFORE THE WORKSHOP and make it accessible offline. Participants are asked to prepare a folder containing everything they have watched/read/seen online on that day. Each participant is also asked to detail the strategies they used for downloading and archiving these materials. All these personal archives are then compiled into one folder that represents a day in the group’s internet use. During the workshop, we will then explore and try out different ways to organize and distribute these offline data to make them meaningful to others, just like the curators of El Paquete Semanal do. Upon Nestor’s return to Havana, this curated archive will then be circulated as a collaborative work in Paquete Semanal’s art section, an ongoing artistic intervention by Nestor that repurposes this offline distribution network as a digital exhibition space. Artists among the participants are invited to explore ways to represent their work in such an offline form.

Participants will develop:

  • a critical lens on how global digital technologies become “localised” or appropriated in different cultural and political contexts; 
  • insights into an ethnographic approach to artistic research and the ethical requirements of such a highly immersive process;
  • an understanding of experimental forms of collaboration between artist-ethnographers and their interlocutors, and the politics and poetics of such cooperation.

THE AUTHORS

Nestor Siré (1988, Nuevitas) is an artist living and working in Havana, Cuba, who is interested in informal methods of the distribution of information and goods, forms of social creativity in the face of scarcity, and the communities and human infrastructures that shape such practices. His projects are related to alternative networks, informal economies and power structures. Siré pays particular attention to the alternative strategies that have emerged in the digital culture of his native Cuba, which are a response to the country’s disconnection from the global networks that control the Internet today.
His works have been exhibited at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Havana), Queens Museum (New York), Rhizome (New York), New Museum (New York), Ars Electronica (Linz), Hong-Gah Museum (Taipei), Musée d’art de Rouyn-Noranda (Canada), Transmediale (Berlin) and The Photographers’ Gallery (London), among others. He has participated in events such as the Havana Biennial (Cuba), the Gwangju Biennial (South Korea), the Curitiba Biennial (Brazil), the Warsaw Biennial (Poland), the International Biennial of Asuncion (Paraguay), the Festival of New Latin American Cinema of Cuba and the International Short Film Festival of Oberhausen (Germany).

Steffen Köhn (1980) is a filmmaker, anthropologist and video artist living and working in Berlin and Aarhus who uses ethnography to understand contemporary sociotechnical landscapes. For his video and installation works, he collaborates with local gig workers, software developers, science fiction writers and fellow artists to explore viable alternatives to current distributions of technological access and arrangements of power. His works have been exhibited at the Academy of the Arts Berlin, Kunsthaus Graz, Vienna Art Week, Hong Gah Museum Taipei, The Photographers’ Gallery and the Biennials of Lulea and Warsaw, while his films have been screened at, among others, the Berlinale, Rotterdam International Film Festival and the BFI Film Festival London.

EXHIBITION #1

Nestor Siré, Steffen Köhn
Memoria
19 April–12 May 2023
Aksioma | Project Space, Ljubljana

EXHIBITION #2

Nestor Siré, Steffen Köhn
Fragile Connections
20–28 April 2023
osmo/za, Slovenska 54, Ljubljana

ARTIST TALK

Nestor Siré, Steffen Köhn
Localizing the Internet: Cuban alternative data distribution networks and the social infrastructures that sustain them
20 April 2023 at 6 PM
osmo/za, Slovenska 54, Ljubljana

CREDITS

Author: Nestor Siré, Steffen Köhn

Production:
Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 2023

Partner:
The Academy of Fine Arts and Design, University of Ljubljana

Part of the series:
Tactics & Practice

In the framework of:
konS – Platform for Contemporary Investigative Art

The project konS – Platform for Contemporary Investigative Art was chosen on the public call for the selection of the operations “Network of Investigative Art and Culture Centres”. The investment is co-financed by the Republic of Slovenia and by the European Regional Development Fund of the European Union.

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