Relay Conversation The Reading Room #27 & #28 – Post-Digital Publishing

Conversation with Sissel Marie Tonn (SMT), Jonathan Reus (JR), Flora Reznik (FR), Florian Cramer (FC), Rebekka Kiesewetter (RK), Joana Chicau (JC) and Alessandro Ludovico (AL).

Illustration by Sissel Marie Tonn

Editor’s note


The Reading Room is an event series produced in collaboration with Stroom Den Haag and the Instrument Inventors Initiative. Since 2015 we have been organizing this series with the intention of creating a platform for close-readings and discussion of theoretical texts among an ever-growing diverse community of artists, cultural practitioners and individuals interested in intellectual discourse. For every session we invite guest readers to share their knowledge and guide the community through texts and themes within their field of expertise. The Reading Room is made possible with financial support from Stroom Den Haag and the Creative Industries Fund NL.

As discussions in The Reading Room are so ephemeral, since 2017 we have been looking into ways of recording traces of these events. The ‘Relay Conversations’, are created in collaboration with the guest readers. These interviews are conducted as conversational relays between the three organizers; artists Jonathan Reus, Flora Reznik and Sissel Marie Tonn, and the guest readers.

The Reading Room #27 and #28, Post-Digital Publishing, took place on the 10th of September with guest readers Florian Cramer, Rebekka Kiesewetter and Alessandro Ludovico, and on the 11th of September in the form of a workshop on publishing, called “Performing Interstices: Reading as Writing forward”, guided by Rebekka Kiesewetter and Joana Chicau. 

For the first session, we read chapter 2 of Silvio Lorusso’s Doctoral Thesis Extending Horizons: The Praxis of Experimental Publishing in the Age of Digital Networks, “Experimental Publishing and Its Trading Zones”, Johanna Drucker’s “Entity to event” and “What is Postdigital?” by Florian Cramer. In the second session we went back to Drucker’s text through a playful and embodied experience.  

We’ve explored the practice of publishing in relation to ‘the post-digital’, a notion that describes a condition in which we live in, a hybrid time in which distinctions of ‘old’ and ‘new media’ have become obsolete, and where any publishing practice is being acknowledged as a material practice. Materiality is no longer understood as a mere physical property but as something that is inherently political, an emergence that may occur between textual content, its manifestation as an artifact, the economies and practices, as well as the non-human and human agents determining a publication’s production and consumption. We will ask how is artistic practice, understood in a broad sense as a gesture of ‘going public’, affected by this? What strategies, formats and notions of authorship and public may emerge from this new sensibility?

The second session took the form of a workshop on publishing, called “Performing Interstices: Reading as Writing forward”. Here we will look at text not as a secluded work, but as a provocation that offers its possibilities as an event, inviting us to intervene. By applying choreographic protocols as a “code for bringing-into-relation”, we will explore how we are provoked physically and cognitively into reading and responding, and thus contributing to the creation of the text.

Relay Conversation

ST: Florian, we spent a good chunk of time in The Reading Room discussing where the term post-digital came from and why it seemed urgent for you to write the text “What is Post-digital?“. I was interested in how you have seen a development since 2013, when the essay was written. I remember both Alessandro and you talking about “post-digital” now needed to be replaced with another term, or done away with all together. Can you explain this position, and more generally, why do you find it useful to look for terminology among practicing artists?

FC: For me, the term “post-digital” summed up my experience of having been course director of the Media Design Masters program at Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam, from 2006 to 2010. Before that, I had worked in classical university humanities. Working with students at Piet Zwart Institute, in a program that was very much oriented towards Open Source and “hacktivist” approaches to art and design, made me realize that the terms I and my academic colleagues were using were outmoded. In their work, our students had already gone beyond “new media” as they had been defined by, among others, Lev Manovich, and as they still today inform anglophone humanities and media studies. 

Therefore, the term “post-digital” was just the humanities catching up with practice. This (once more) confirmed Jacques Ellul’s and Marshall McLuhan’s truism that artists are “seismographs” or “antennas” of cultural developments, and that cultural theory has to follow their lead (i.e. theory has to catch up with artists’ practice, not the other way around). In my view, it is highly problematic and unfortunate if “theory” in the arts and their education assumes a position similar to the one that theology had for the arts in the European Middle Ages. Theory literally means “viewpoint” or “perspective”. It emerges from observation and is not supposed to act as prescription or doctrine. In the best case, it can conversely offer new viewpoints to practicing artists.

When “post-digital” was taken up by academic media studies, the term was largely stripped of the meaning we had proposed, as it was simply used as an update or replacement of “new media” and “new aesthetic”, by scholars who were unfamiliar with the artistic phenomena we had described as post-digital. These practices mostly existed in DIY culture outside the system of “new media art”. [To use a simple analogy, “new media art” in 2013 was represented in the Netherlands – in quite diverse ways – by DEAF, STRP,

Gogbot and the ArtScience field, “post-digital” practices could rather be encountered at spaces like Extrapool, WORM and De Player.] Later, the conflation of “Post-Digital” with the contemporary art phenomenon of “Post-Internet” became an issue, all the more when “Post-Internet” ended up becoming identified with affirmative, Internet-age neo-pop art, as opposed to its initial, more critical definition by artists and writers like Gene McHugh.

In 2018, the dichotomy of “old” and “new” media no longer exists in the way it still existed in 2013, particularly in the arts and in art education. 5-10 years ago, people (artists, curators, critics, educators, audiences) were still forced to make a categorical choice between, for example, “graphic design” and “media design” or between “contemporary art” and “new media art”. Today, I still find it useful to have a term for practices that cross these boundaries and media (since one cannot pretend that these dichotomies have been overcome completely). For the experimental publishing activities at Willem de Kooning Academy, we now use the word “hybrid” rather than “post-digital”.

Joana, can you explain how for you, post-digital publishing translates into a material and performative practice?

The term “post-digital” was just the humanities catching up with practice. This (once more) confirmed Jacques Ellul’s and Marshall McLuhan’s truism that artists are “seismographs” or “antennas” of cultural developments, and that cultural theory has to follow their lead.

JC: Thank you Florian. During my Media Design master at Piet Zwart Institute (and later also at the Publishing Lab in Amsterdam) I started doing experiments with typographic compositions in both digital formats > screen based/ web environments, and print > as from book-like to physical installations. At the same time I was collecting dance scores and programming scripts, and writing about how I would see their intersection. This was for me the starting point for exploring the different {performative} outcomes across media and how conditions change through affective interfac{ing} of bodies and technologies. Since then I have been aware of the term post-digital and the discussions around that term within publishing practices.

I am glad, Florian, that you also mention the term “hybrid”. It is a term I often use to describe the merging of languages, systems and methods within my practice. For instance, the hybrid vocabularies which combine JavaScripts and Choreographic scores which become sources for my live coding performances. This technique follows the concept of esoteric programming languages, aka. esolangs, mostly used when writing software integrating a new grammar into an existing one.

Another hybrid in my practice lays in the notions of performance and performativity [By the performativity of code I mean its ability to act and perform in terms of speech act theory. See more about this concept in the lectures on How to Do Things With Words John Langshaw Austin at Harvard University in 1955]. Live coding became the most obvious translation of my interest in fusing methods from the sphere of choreography with the one of code. As well as my quest for understanding language as performative, alive, breathing and embodied. All in all I tend to think of these as hybrid writing tools.

For the workshop, Rebekka and I wanted to introduce Johanna Drucker’s text as it triggers further thinking on the sensible [“page”] and the text as an “provocation to perception” as “field of (…) forces and energies in dynamic suspension, acting on each other (…)”. We were also interested in the social space[-time \ movement] within/out the text; personally I am very inspired by dance scores and how they envision new forms of collectivity: “We practice these commons; relationality (transformative potential of the in-between), language (permeable for life), knowledge (unfolding of latent knowledge 

as/from a collective pool), relation to potentiality in a transversal trans-individual relational space of the between where transindividual production of subjectivity is possible and can become the basis of not only poetics but also of a new politics.” [Mala Kine: Foaming Forever: On what scores can do. ScoreScapes (pp.33-34) at Bubble Score: the relation between writing and performance. Brussels: Apass. 2016].

A question for the Reading Room Crew: how do you see individual and collective forms of embodiment as part of the Reading Room Sessions and Relay Conversations/ present-future formats?

JR: Thanks Joana. I guess I’ll go first. Something I observed implicitly during the workshop, at least within the group of artists I was working with, was the subjective difference between silent reading and reading out loud. The interesting realization for us was that the ‘inner voice’ of silent reading is a disembodied one, and one whose habituation we rarely interrogate. What does it sound like? At what rhythm does it trace over the syllables? Does it sing? Does it drone? Reading out loud on the other hand was limited precisely because it is so acutely

articulated through the bodily intelligence of the larynx . But it is also a powerful force of collective energy, as we saw in the workshop where so many of the presentations and performances created choruses and crowds, human microphones of spoken text.

The Reading Room has always been a project about collective study. We emphasize presence, a flavor of embodiment. And in the past have had discussions about whether or not we should livestream the sessions, and, at least in those discussions, decided against it because of the importance of relating, avoiding the creation of low-dimensional transmission lines. What I think your workshop brought to light for me was how much an understanding of a text can come from simply being with it, in a very physical way. It’s the same as with learning to write a programming language, at first you need to become accustomed to the materiality of the language, it’s syntactical flex and bend, its rhythms and the spaces inhabited by its symbols. In your workshop we were crumpling paper print-outs of passages and trying to re-read them via whatever bits and pieces are available on the new landscape of the page, or chanting the printed words in a mantra-like fashion. These kinds of activities engage a primal literariness that I think loosens up certain boundaries towards understanding,

it shakes up the soil, and you feel closer to the text then, you can start to hold it. These are strategies I would like to explore more in The Reading Room.

ST: I think the workshop has changed The Reading Room forever! Something definitely changed for me. I have always been very adamant about close-reading the texts we choose together with the participants in The Reading Room, rather than having loosely connected thematic discussions. I think this desire to close-read in a way had to do with understanding the materiality of the text – to dissect its form, context and meaning, and understand what it’s made of. I think the workshop really brought something into the mix for me, which is a way of exploring what this materiality might be, through modes of understanding that are perhaps beyond the analytical/linguistic realm. The text by Johanna Drucker was so perfectly chosen for this purpose in the workshop, because the text was forcing you to deal with this ‘performative materiality’ of reading – it hits you in the second paragraph! Drucker takes out the spaces between the words, in an incremental fashion, which presents itself as a hermetically closed block of text that hits you rightinthe beginningofthetext. Youareforcedintothe –materialityinaverydirectway! I loved the way the text presented its meaning through its graphic form, which was then what the workshop further 

explored, through all these playful approaches in dissecting the text, as Jon referred to above. I think perhaps we have been a bit stuck in this ‘right’ way of studying text, which I have learned from University. I am not saying that we will do away with that at all, but I thought the combination of a more ‘traditional’ Reading Room format that we had on the first day, and the more playful, open approach of the workshop opened up a different understanding of the theme. I am excited about our December cluster, in which we will invite artist Aurélie Lierman and writer Amelia Groom to explore the theme of non-human voices and language in a similar way, both through analytic study and embodied study.

Rebekka, you and Joana were creating social situations around the text, with the exercises you asked the group to do: we would stand with our eyes closed, listening to different reading voices buzzing around us from the others in the group, we would crawl around on the floor crumbling papers, some were even tasting the papers a bit. And we were asked to create performative keys as assignments in groups. What does the social mean to you in the act of reading/studying together, and in what way does it differ (and linger in the body, in a way) from the more ‘traditional’ reading activity we had on the 10th?

(…) exploring the different {performative} outcomes across media and how conditions change through affective interfac{ing} of bodies and technologies.

RK: Dear Sissel, dear all, thank you for your thoughts and question(s). I am very glad to hear that you think about what we did on the 11th not as some sort of silly play (maybe fun but still not really “useful”), but as an extension (on purpose I don’t say “opposition to”) of the “’right’ way of studying text,” learned at University. I think that we can agree upon reading together always being a social undertaking of some sort. But this alone does not say anything about the specificity of the sociality that is  created through and determined by this common undertaking. In situations like the reading room on the 10th it often does not take long for subliminally present hierarchies, ambitions, characters to manifest and petrify. The reading room on the 10th heavily depended on verbal expression and intellectual apprehension, they determined the sphere of reading, response and discourse and the direction a discussion took: there were the (so called) “shy” ones – the ones that maybe didn’t feel comfortable with verbal expression or the ones that were dominated by louder voices, the ones that are slower to articulate a thought or the ones, who feel comfortable with being quiet – there were the ones that talk a lot and say nothing, and the ones that had to distinguish themselves with what they thought of as “smart” questions, etc. Often enough the sociality that manifests on occasions like these is a somewhat competitive one, not embracing differences in expression, pace and so on.

I think that this mainly is due to that – even in undertakings that declare their position as democratic – the frames and patterns of thought that have produced these notions, the prevailing modes of addressing and evaluation in the first place remain unquestioned and uncontested. Binary conditions, value systems and academic edifices of thought constructed through a mainly Western theoretisation and experience of modernity and their adjacent paradigms, categorisations and typologisations in fact often enough constitute the frameworks through which we pose our questions and build our claims; and they remain the frames that constitute and determine our aims, ambitions and socialities, and cause us to seek recognition from the very systems that we aim to confront. Think, for example, of the many individuals and institutions adopting social agendas and putting forward narratives and postures focused on making and doing on behalf of a “common good,” a “public interest” or to achieve “social impact”. Doing so under the pretext of practicability and communicability to a public perceived as pre-existing; an undisputable political entity. Social and economic questions are oversimplified, and the potentially critical originality of the concerned gesture is abandoned and surrendered to normalization and domestication by neoliberal “discourses”.

So against this background we might understand the workshop on the 11th not solely as an opportunity to acknowledge the

importance of physical experience, of sensing, listening, tasting; and to see the values of the things that, as you say, Sissel, “linger” – in the body, the mind, in between – instead of only considering as true, right or existing what is quantifiable, measurable, and verbally expressible. This might help us to start questioning what is commonly accepted as ways of creating, receiving and distributing knowledge through reading. The experiences on the 11th might furthermore help us to challenge the patterns by which we read, understand, absorb and come to terms with a text in a group, the underlying value systems and tropes, the temporalities, orientation grids, or ideas of what it means to be present/active in a discussion.

The exercise on the 11th thus might also be understood as a self-reflexive undertaking for thinking about, experiencing and discussing what reading as co-production or as a “social space of study” – a reference to Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study that Sissel made in one of her very first emails explaining the ideas behind The Reading Room –  practically might mean, which formats and supporting (infra)structures it might request. In terms of Moten and Harney: “So, we enter into the social world of study, which is one in which you start to lose track of your debts and begin to see that the whole point is to lose track of them and just build them in a way that allows for everyone to feel that she or he can contribute or not contribute to being in a space.

(…) the text is one way for that kind of insistence on study to be an open insistence, to be one that doesn’t have to be about authority or ongoing leadership or anything like that, but a kind of invitation for other people to pick stuff up. I’ve been thinking more and more of study as something not where everybody dissolves into the student, but where people sort of take turns doing things for each other or for the others, and where you allow yourself to be possessed by others as they do something. That also is a kind of dispossession of what you might otherwise have been holding onto, and that possession is released in a certain way voluntarily, and then some other possession occurs by others.”

It can also be embraced as an opportunity to question and negotiate one’s own position, liabilities and functioning within and in relation to the text, within and in relation to the many interwoven systems that constitute the materiality of the text, and the socalities that emerge through experiencing something with, within and apart from the other participants of this exercise.

To summarize that lengthy response, I’d like to refer to Moten and Harney again: The “togetherness” they talk about in the The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study is something to be born out of coalition of thinking-together for those who 

recognize themselves not as a kind of ‘subjectivity’ or togetherness per-se, but in their shared separation from accepted forms of knowledge production. In brief they acknowledge the undercommons as a site constituted by a shared debt that sits both with and against the various institutions and technologies of the modern world. Their acknowledgement does not result in an immediate action, an opposition or upheaval, but is nourished by an immanent dissensus and generic distrust directed against the totalizing power of hegemonic systems, and driven by the sheer potentiality of a subtraction from these apparatuses, which is yet to come. They write “Can this being together in homelessness, this interplay of the refusal of what has been refused, this undercommon appositionality, be a place from which emerges neither self-consciousness nor knowledge of the other but an improvisation that proceeds from somewhere on the other side of an unasked question?”. An improvisation that starts from a place in between, that negotiates its terms and conditions every time anew. Maybe it’s just a glimpse of that homelessness, a being together and apart, that we experienced and shared during the reading room session on the 11th and in which we felt strangely at home?

Can and should we thus through reading and publishing create more of these sites of “together and apart,” of dispossession 

and possession, of friction and negotiation? Or, as Joana wrote in her response to Florian, referencing to Mala Kine: can we – with and through reading and studying – “practice these commons; relationality (transformative potential of the in-between), language (permeable for life), knowledge (unfolding of latent knowledge as/from a collective pool), relation to potentiality in a transversal trans-individual relational space of the between where transindividual production of subjectivity is possible and can become the basis of not only poetics but also of a new politics.”?

And if yes, dear Alessandro, how and where? (additional question: is maybe the term post-digital also some sort of a ground for starting to distrust, for questioning and negotiating the conditions and terms contemporary academia rests upon?)

AL: Dear Rebekka (and all), although I was only around shortly for the workshop, I could perceive the liberating collective aspects of what you and Joana were doing. I find particularly interesting what Rebekka defined as “transversal trans-individual relational space” and its relationship with the “post-digital” concept, which, if still of any use, can be potentially turned into a practical one, more than an oppositional one.

I’ve been thinking more and more of study as something not where everybody dissolves into the student, but where people sort of take turns doing things for each other or for the others.

I personally see collective practices, especially contained in small groups, as an essential opportunity for constructing commons and activating shared social values. These activities counterbalance the scale of overwhelming solicitation generated by a compelling and constant globalist view, which seems to be the standard background noise of mass communication now. A manageable scale, instead, and the relational space that it creates, is the threshold to enable both engaging and performative experiences. The negotiable “temporary” nature of experiences like The Reading Room and your workshop grant a higher scale of freedom to the participants, without affecting their present and medium-term commitment and focus. The combination of scale and temporary nature allows the subjects involved to still be attached to their subjectivity, maintaining it even in continuous negotiations with other subjects, reconfiguring groups and goals at will.

As Foucault would remark, personal experiences, the ones “one comes out of transformed”, “must be capable of being linked in some measure to a collective practice” [Foucault, M. (2000b) ‘Interview with Michel Foucault’, pp. 239-97 in M. Foucault Power: Essential Works of Michel Foucault Vol. III. New York: The New Press]. So, performative reading and writing (like that implemented in the workshop space) might possibly carry forward a practice of reading as a choice, opposing the mandated and addictive engagement

of social media and writing as an instantaneous task.

Reformulating the core forms of reading and writing might inspire small groups to collectively enjoy and share content. This would mean taking further steps towards a re-appropriation of our personal dimension, and, in time of our (virtual) spaces and the culture emerging in-between them. The connections that can be socially triggered might eventually also inspire new temporary collectives, further implementing these practices.

I believe that the hybridisation of space (by the way, the term “hybrid” has been overused in academia and now it is mostly avoided) should be done with a specific purpose, and not merely driven by technological fascination. Or better, we should explore ways of shielding, at will, our social space from unnecessary digital extensions and intrusions, still keeping open the “windows” we like. The production (writing/publishing) and the consumption/sharing (reading) of culture would then benefit from a mostly horizontal and functional/sympathetic infrastructure, rendering a potential vast galaxy of temporary social spaces, constituted by flexible human networks, ideally also mindful the preservation of their cultures.

Finally, after having exhausting the newness of “post-digital”, we can follow the path of plenty of other post-[something] definitions (“post-capitalism” seems

one of the most popular now), and rethink of it as a potentially useful tool.

As it will likely keep floating around for a while in the general discourse, as the obsolete “new media art” still is. It can become a shared formula which can still evoke the tension between the two words it originally was intended to describe, and create an urge to act upon systems, for example, considering the above-mentioned practices as a way to break and exploit the social media digital-broadcasting communication monolith.

If back in 2012 “post-digital” was reflecting the desegregation of the threshold between physical and digital, now it might still be associated with the rising potential of a ‘distributed’ and naturalized digital infrastructure. It would be a tool towards fulfilling a never completely disregarded promise of horizontal collective networks: the creation of liquid spaces that can juxtapose and reconfigure themselves at will, sharing whatever resource and content is needed. So if the post-digital term could also reflect a technical and conceptual shift to the ‘distributed’ (opposed to centralised) online infrastructure, then it would still make sense. This structurally new dimension should include a fundamental scalability and an intrinsic temporary nature, increasing, even more, the chances of the small galaxy of collectives to multiply and create, share and flourish specific, and sometimes endangered, cultures.

Joana, you mentioned the use of software during a performance, and how live coding should be a natural attitude in certain contexts. I particularly appreciated your performance “A Webpage in Two Acts” in Lisbon when your intervention towards the machine was different, but deeply correlating the visible choreography and the embedded coding. How do you see the parallel communication channels of the software/machine producing readable text on one side and the body producing more ancestral signs on the other? Would you locate them respectively in the screen and the stage, or do you think that then these two spaces fuse with the audience projecting itself in, as you also enter the audience space at some point? What kind of “reading” is in place then?

JC:Thank you Alessandro. In my live coding performances I see reading and writing as transversal, moving together almost indistinctly. There is no active/passive role in reading/writing. In body language, computer or natural language reading/writing are always active/activate one another.

For me the audience is never acting passive. Even though my hands are typing, the code execution happens at various and distributed levels: ‘a myriad of intra-active entities’

from the response of the search engine, to the browser, the internet protocols of where we are to the breathing bod{ies} in the room and the social bod{ies} of code{s}. These constitute the spatio-temporal experience of the performance. Being present, our presence [and absence] produces common {algo}rhythms. Language as written, spoken, the choreographic score and the programming script making us {humans-non-humans} dance together.

A question to you, Flora. How do you imagine the stage \ staging \ and re-staging of bodies of text and acts of reading/writing in the future of The Reading Room and your trace-collecting activities?

FR: One thing that captivated me from the workshop you and Rebekka proposed was the playfulness the exercises facilitated. There was a certain loss of seriousness for a moment, the possibility of not understanding everything but at the same time not letting go of the engagement of ourselves, our bodies, with the body of the text. In the less successful moments of previous Reading Room sessions this connection would become lost and with it the effort of making sense. Many times I suspect it had to do with going somewhere else where we felt confident, comfortable, less confronted by the text and the task of actually building something collectively. But this time we were engaged with the text 

all the time, we were tackling it from many different angles, with many different abilities. 

It’s like we became fragmented and multiple, not only a head and a mouth and two ears, but a body with multiple parts and in tight relation to others, plus imagination, plus time… this multiplication actually helped us focus instead of distracting us. And the same goes for the text: because it was fragmented it was also multiplied, in terms of meanings, it was more open, it had more entry points, it offered more ways in which it could be apprehended. In this sense I think the eventfulness of what happened was something very close to what I understand by event in a theoretical level: the explosion of the continuum of time and place in a myriad of possibilities.

So to really answer your question, I think there’s a clear direction we can follow. We should carefully curate the encounter with the text as a staging that opens up the possibility of not one reading, but multiple performances. The encounter should contain some practical embodied and playful exercises that take us out of the habit of believing that we think only with our heads, that we must extract the meaning of a text as a mining machine extracts oil from the ground. This is too linear and does not allow for a collective creation of meanings that may take the text as a starting point, but that definitely aims to go beyond that.

Being present, our presence [and absence] produces common {algo}rhythms. Language as written, spoken, the choreographic score and the programming script making us {humans-non-humans} dance together.

And it might also be a way to ritually make our goals explicit: that this is not a series of lectures, it is a project of collective study, and that the only way in which that can happen is if people participate in some way. But then we need to facilitate different ways of participating – not only by talking, for example.

I think it is important also to keep stressing the “manageable scale” (taking Alessandro’s words) of our reading room sessions. This is something I think we have been doing right and we should not lose sight of. I think we should keep on encouraging the “isolated” reading, that moment of solitude in which each of us reads – at home, on a bus, in a cafe. But perhaps we should find ways to stress the tense relationship of that instance with the collective one: not as opposed and not as a continuum either. What I mean is that the reading room could be a good instance in a movement between 2 (perhaps more) terms in tension, which are never pure, never completely achieved and definitely not pre-existing: individuality and community.

There is one more relevant issue that I can think of for the staging of the Reading Room in the future regarding language, and it is a question that for me is still very unresolved. So I’ll pass it on to Rebekka, to see what she thinks about this.

Dear Rebekka, I enjoy reading you. There is a sort of drift in your style, sometimes it even provokes a dizziness that I personally feel comfortable with.

There is a direction in your discourse, but you are not exactly direct. You do not take the short way. I imagine you accumulate terms as if none of them were sufficient to fully contain what you are trying to say, but perhaps by putting them in connection, something breaths through. Clarity is not one of your discourse’s main features – and I hope you don’t take this as an insult: I suspect clarity is overvalued, and what’s even worse, a “simple” way of putting things can sometimes lead to the violent situation in which it is assumed that we all understand what we are talking about when it’s not necessarily the case. And perhaps it is not even about “understanding”, but more about making sense together, and therefore discourse can benefit from a certain openness. But this is something that many people would find a flaw. It may be difficult for someone that doesn’t have an academic background or even a specific knowledge of the specific discussions and traditions you are addressing. It might even be irritating and expelling for some.

I wonder, is it wrong that reading/writing demands effort? Taking into account the performativity of language, how much care do you think we should take when we use language in this way? What purposes does it serve, and which other goals it might hinder? I am thinking about both the complexities of the democratic discourse, and in a smaller scale, of a project of collective study like the Reading Room, that aims to bring in people with different backgrounds so as

to enrich and diversify the discussion, and tries to be as open as possible but at the same time needs to be conscious its limitations.  

RK: Dear Flora, your words are not an insult at all -on the contrary: thanks for holding a mirror up to me! Actually it’s something that I have been confronted with – alternately as merit or flaw – since early school years. What was perceived as language virtuosity and rewarded with excellent marks, was turned into a flaw, when the German teacher I had in the last year of secondary school overheard me saying that I wanted to become a journalist – a profession that, so she said, would require an utmost clarity of my writing. She found a means to “stimulate” my loyalty for the dos and don’ts of German phrasing in the dramatic lowering of my marks, which I stubbornly (and somewhat arrogantly) countered with even more adventurous writing antics. Maybe me getting into journalism after university in some weird way also was a matter of having the last say on the journalism topic.

I’m used to adapting my language to the public I am addressing. The “dizzying” language I employ in certain contexts, the accumulation of (seemingly) almost identical terms and the intricateness might be on one hand the result of my usage of writing as means for “coming to terms” with and as a way of putting things that I care about up for discussion, as for me writing is everything else than a solitary act.

I write my texts iteratively, externalizing thoughts, ordering, perpetually reworking, boiling things down – in fact, sometimes it almost feels as if all my texts were versions of one and the same “ur-text”. So what you called “need of making everybody understand” is also a need of making myself understandable for myself. Sometimes my way of working means that I have not fully understood, nor elaborated, nor theoretically contextualized an issue I am thinking about, in the moment a text is published (a moment of suspension within a still ongoing process of coming to terms). I also suspect that my thinking lacks a certain accuracy, that of course translates into speaking and writing. This I find very annoying at times. Not having followed a formal academic career trajectory and the lack of any “artistic strike” (and a non-verbal way to express myself) – I sometimes end up in a strange in-between position in the areas I work, lacking the appropriate lingo, the terminologies, the reference systems and short-cuts, etc.

All in all: I nourish a deep love and an equally deep distrust for language, its power, abundance, its versatility, and its obstinacy. I don’t trust the easily explainable, the buzzwords, the slick, the formalistic, the convenient, the too eloquent. There is a very thin line between simplifying and dumbing down, between making information accessible and censorship, between being eloquent and sharp and being an animated speaker and a phrasemonger.

I am convinced that language as such cannot be democratic: writing and reading – and all the pertaining structures, functions and activities – are not democratic, nor is the creation, exchange and accessibility of knowledge democratic (also democracy as it is established now has never been democratic, but this is another topic). Something like “the public” as a predisposed totality does not exist. In order to make a public you have to address it. In the case of our workshop, the public – through its location, prior reading rooms and many other factors – was a more or less pre-existing entity: a white, middle age, middle class crowd of artists and intellectuals, all of them fluent English speakers, etc. Only because of this relative “uniformity” could we lead a “discourse as a way of making sense together,” by means other than the environments we (as more or less uniform participants) usually move in might afford: we “open ourselves” up beyond the spoken and written language, perturbing the faith in the reliability of the written, and the necessity of intellectual apprehension, and allowing maybe also even the ones who do “not have an academic background or even a specific knowledge of the specific discussions and traditions you are addressing” to engage too.

Language alone is not enough to make something more open. But I still think that an awareness of the possibilities and the shortcomings of language is a crucial aspect. The use but also the reception of language comes with a self-conscious and reflected responsibility:

what you say to whom, which languages you use or are used to address you, to whom you speak and by who you are addressed and how, and in which contexts. Taking on this responsibility maybe is one of the “efforts” that writing and reading (and organizing events around writing and reading) might demand.

Connected to this and your question about prospects of The Reading Room: I think that experimental publishers (understood in the broadest sense, since also you, as Reading Room crew, are publishers) may reconsider their roles and responsibilities as administrators. Whereas administration commonly is understood as a way of managing, controlling and directing something in accordance to prevailing (market) conventions and needs, the focus might instead be on notions of assistance, support, enabling (caring for). The publisher’s task might be understood as one of radical administrative caretaking (or joyful administration -a wonderful term my friend Rosario Talevi came up with lately-) for a topic, for the environments and ways in which it is negotiated and mediated. This task is underlined by a certain immanent distrust, a generic unwillingness to accept the common and convenient and established mediating forces. It not only implies a questioning of the conventions, premises, laws and protocols by which content is produced, mediated/published and received, but also asks that you attempt to expose and challenge the frames of thought that have produced these conventions, premises, laws and protocols in the first place.

The publisher’s task might be understood as one of radical administrative caretaking (or joyful administration -a wonderful term my friend Rosario Talevi came up with lately-) for a topic, for the environments and ways in which it is negotiated and mediated.

According to this consideration, publishers may “administer” and care for “alternative” frames, spaces (and atmospheres), and activities that allow for imagining and enacting more open and diversified ways of discussing, understanding, negotiating, creating, receiving and distributing knowledge through writing and reading; and support the according actions, infrastructures, technologies and formats to emerge. Also the notion of “administration” as care rather than control might support a shift in the understanding of the publication as a “result” of a work (from static and secluded to open-ended and processual, from commodity to source), the reader (from consumer to co-producer) and the author or editor (from authority and proprietor to provider of a source).

All in all I think it’s not about discussing these topics with everybody who takes part in The Reading Room sessions, but about the atmospheres, situations and time-spaces of study created through your awareness and unceasing “administrative caretaking”; a joy in experimentation and exploration

rather than grim purposefulness (the first is not necessary less serious than the second). An atmosphere from which, as you say, “different ways of participating -not only by talking” can emerge – with every Reading Room anew. I think that was the most beautiful thing during The Reading Room #28: That people – without grasping the whole theoretical “superstructure” – felt at ease, and leaped into the unknown, unfamiliar and uncertain together. I really love this passage from your email, dear Flora: “But this time we were engaged with the text all the time, we were tackling it from many different angles, with many different abilities. It’s like we became fragmented and multiple, not only a head and a mouth and two ears, but a body with multiple parts”. And maybe it’s exactly this what Moten and Harney write in relation to their idea of “space of study”: “I’ve been thinking more and more of study as something not where everybody dissolves into the student, but where people sort of take turns doing things for each other or for the others, and where you allow yourself to be possessed by others as they do something. That also is a kind of dispossession of what you might otherwise have been holding onto,

and that possession is released in a certain way voluntarily, and then some other possession occurs by others”.

Florian, there’s this specter of “the ethical” – alluded to by many talking about publishing, but pinned down by few. Of what can an ethical agenda in publishing, writing and reading generate, what kind of ethical behavior and trajectories can be produced through publishing? And how?

FC: This strikes me as an accurate description for a concept and practice of publishing that has detached itself from “publishing” in the way it is being understood in the (still existing, traditional) publishing industry. It may seem easy for us, as people in contemporary arts and working with experimental settings, to state this as present reality of publishing (in this broad cultural, social and technical sense). But this is far from being widely accepted. There’s an ongoing backlash against such a broad understanding of publishing, based paradoxically enough on a narrow understanding of material practices

in relation to book culture, and a resulting fetishization of the print book as an artifact. In other words, while the term “postdigital publishing” attempted to describe an ecology of different media, practices and technologies that overcame the “old” and “new” media, digital and analog, electronic and print dichotomy, there are now voices that throw the baby out of the bathwater.

The most paradoxical articulation can be found in the recently published scholarly volume “Book Presence in the Digital Age” which resulted from a research project “Back to the Book” at Utrecht University. Core contributions to this volume reduce the complexity of the matter to a print vs. digital dichotomy – in other words, the 1990s new media and electronic literature discourse just turned upside down. Conversely, it includes contributors like the conceptual poet Hannes Bajohr who denounces “the, often regressive, luddism of a ‘post-digital’ return to older printing and publishing technologies” (p. 84), again reducing the complexity of the matter to a simple dichotomy.

In the same piece, Bajohr takes up the term of the “publishing gesture” from Alessandro Ludovico’s “Post-Digital Print”, but with a conservative-institutional twist: 

in his (mis)reading, the “publishing gesture” is the institutional blessing of a publication through a publisher, or its enactment. Bajohr calls the publishing gesture, in this interpretation, “a minimum requirement for partaking in literature as a social system” which even “remains necessary” in the Internet: “The status of a PDF file available on a private website changes considerably once the very same file has been ‘published’ on the website of a ‘publisher’.”  This is almost the exact opposite of what Alessandro Ludovico covered in his chapter of the “publishing gesture”, where – building on previous writers such as the curator Nat Muller and the political activist Bifo Berardi – he looks at the performative aspects of publishing practices such as spreading leaflets in the streets; in other words, the breaking-up of publishing as an institution and industry into a larger performative practice as described in Rebekka’s paragraph.

During the Reading Room session, Alessandro and I stressed that the use of the word “post-digital” (which we took from a subcurrent of early-2000s electronic music) for the title of his book was a last-minute decision in the editorial process, and meant to describe emergent practices and attitudes in contemporary arts and design.

It was never meant to be a scholarly term; since on a strict semantic or technological level, “post-digital” makes no sense. 

What Rebekka describes in her paragraph could also be called “material practices”, in the context of the new materialism that grew out of the philosophies of Donna Haraway, Karen Barad and many others. When the notion of “material” gets reduced to tangible objecthood like in the preface of “Book Presence in the Digital Age” (similar to the way the notion of “object” in Object-Oriented-Ontology got reduced to sculptural objects in contemporary art), the term might make no more sense on the long run either.

Given such blatant misreadings, a broad understanding of publishing as social and performative practice needs to be explained, enacted and defended again and again. It is the same uphill battle that, since the 1960s, had (and still has) to be fought for extended and performative notions and practices of art against their white-cubization and curatorialization (as it happened, for example, in “Relational Aesthetics”). For this uphill battle, terms are expendable.


Rebekka Kiesewetter studied art history, economics and modern history, and is active as a writer, editor, lecturer, curator and researcher. Her works in critical theory, practice and making as critique evolve at the intersections of experimental publishing, socially engaged design and architecture, artistic research, humanities and cultural sciences.. She experiments with methods and formats of investigation, intervention, representation and publication that might generate understandings and potential for multiple iterations by means other than those academic and artistic research and creative composition typically afford.

Joana Chicau is a designer, coder, researcher – with a background dance. Her transdisciplinary project interweaves media design and web environments with choreographic practices. Chicau has been researching the intersection of the body with the constructed, designed, programmed environment, aiming at in widening the ways in which digital sciences is presented and made accessible to the public. She has been actively participating and organizing events with performances involving multi-location collaborative algorithmic improvisation, open discussions on gender equality and activism.

Florian Cramer, reader in 21st Century Visual Culture/Autonomous Art & Design Practices at Willem de Kooning Academy and Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam. Recent publications include the YouTube lecture “Meme Wars: Internet culture and the ‘alt right’ “, the zine ‘The Moral of the Xerox’ (in collaboration with Clara Balaguer) and the book “Pattern Discrimination” (in collaboration with Clemens Apprich, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Hito Steyerl, forthcoming at Minnesota University Press). He also serves as a board member for De Player and PrintRoom, Rotterdam.

Alessandro Ludovico is a researcher, artist and chief editor of Neural magazine since 1993. He received his Ph.D. degree in English and Media from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge (UK). He is Associate Professor at the Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton and Lecturer at Parsons Paris – The New School. He has published and edited several books, and has lectured worldwide. He also served as an advisor for the Documenta 12’s Magazine Project. He is one of the authors of the award-winning Hacking Monopolism trilogy of artworks (Google Will Eat Itself), Amazon Noir), Face to Facebook).

Jonathan Reus is an American musician, researcher and curator whose work blends machine aesthetics with free improvisation. His broader research is into instruments and instrumentations, and their potential to bring new insight into knowing the world. Jonathan is associate lecturer of Computing and Coded Culture at the Institute for Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media in Leuphana University, Lüneburg, where he has created teaching methods for hybrid coursework blending science, mathematics and cultural studies. He is also a lecturer in performative sound art at the ArtEZ academy of art in Arnhem.

Flora Reznik is an Argentinian artist based in The Netherlands. She studied in Universidad del Cine (FUC), obtained a diploma in Philosophy (University of Buenos Aires), while she worked as a video editor in film and TV, and co-funded the contemporary arts magazine “CIA”. In The Netherlands she graduated from the ArtScience Interfaculty department, in The Royal Academy of Art, and currently co-curates the artist initiative Platform for Thought in Motion, while she develops her work as an artist in the fields of video, performance, installation and text.

Sissel Marie Tonn is a Danish artist living in The Hague. She works with multi-media installation, textiles and writing, and her processual approach is driven by a great deal of curiosity and the possibilities of building relationships across fields. Her work revolves around an interest in structures of attention and perception within ecologies undergoing subtle or profound changes. Within this discourse her work explores these environmental (often humanly induced) changes, extending the public debates towards epistemological issues connecting these events to the body and its sensing of presence. She completed a master in Artistic Research at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague in 2015 and will be a resident at the Jan van Eyck Akademie in Maastricht in 2017.

From the organizers of the Reading Room: Thank you again to Rebekka Kiesewetter, Joana Chicau, Florian Cramer and Alessandro Ludovico for their insights both in The Reading Room and in this piece! We hope to welcome you both back in Den Haag. And special thanks to all the participants that joined in this gathering.