Utopian Tendencies on #ds106radio

Empathy, science fiction and small files. In this first episode, Jim Groom and I discuss Jonas Staal’s ‘Comrades in Deep Future’ (2019) and Hito Steyerl’s ‘In Defence of the Poor Image’ (2009).

1 hour 7 mins (May 6 2020)

A few months back I asked Jim Groom if he’d be willing to chat every now and then under the guise of mentorship. Luckily for me he agreed and since then we’ve been meeting regularly to discuss wide ranging topics.

This past Wednesday Jim and I hopped on ds106radio to chat for an hour. A week or so before this I had sent Jim links to two art essays that give me hope by crystallising ways of thinking about the value of art, culture and humanity. The first is Jonas Staal‘s ‘Comrades in Deep Future’ which directly relates to something that had previously come up in conversation related to utopias and means of imagining new ways of doing things. The second is Hito Steyerl‘s ‘In Defence of the Poor Image’ which is just one of the many writings of Steyerl’s that I return to again and again, but I knew would be of interest to Jim based on his love of film, media formats and copyright sidestepping.

I’ve found myself linking a couple of different people to Jonas Staal’s ‘Comrades in Deep Future’ since I first read it. It’s a gentle meandering reminder that it’s productive to imagine other ways of being, of the necessity of empathy, and it draws me back to why I love sci-fi literature and film.

Before we got on the air it hadn’t clicked with me that we’d be discussing these texts directly. Right now I’m trying to take a d.o.t.s approach to life, so I just knew we would be loosely chatting around the idea of utopias. We were meeting in the middle of my working day and at lunch I had collected together a small stack of books that give me hope or clarity on how art, media and information infrastructures operate in our current moment – with the idea that the sight of them would jog my memory as we talked. But I was really glad with how much Jim was taken with the two texts and happy for an excuse to discuss them further, especially when it turns out Jim had dug in and found more links and ideas to discuss that resonated with him on first reading.

Short list of things discussed: extractivism, Blue Origin, Space-X, Phillip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, Octavia E. Butler‘s Earthseed, Donna Haraway’s ideas on propaganda and ‘Staying With The Trouble’, Silent Running (1972), High Life (2018), Tim Bray quitting AWS, Immanuel Wallerstein’s world-systems theory, McKenzie Wark’s Capital Is Dead, Douglas Murphy’s Last Futures, Next Generation Digital Learning Environment x data extraction, privatisation and piracy, gifs don’t get copyright strikes, Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Julio García Espinosa’s ‘For an Imperfect Cinema’, Reclaim Video, Hito Steyerl’s Politics of the Archive.

Tanya Elias also linked us on twitter to Small File Media Festival at Simon Fraser University, Canada, which I need to check out.

Jim published a blog post yesterday which collects together the further readings he mentioned on the radio – go read it if you haven’t already.

When I started writing this post I thought I’d want to do a similar approach to Jim – linking to further references I made or fleshing out the ideas we discussed. But now that I’m sat here typing the main thing this brought up for me is how easy and joyful this conversation felt. Listening back I realised that I hold all these kinds of ideas in my head but never really get an opportunity to discuss and pick them apart (and it’s amusing listening back to me trying to piece ideas together in realtime). Also, at different points Jim’s mic was dropping out for me so I didn’t hear all of what he said, so I got to fill in the blanks by listening back – and this also explains a little the moments where I don’t quite link in my points to his as I’m sometimes riffing on half a sentence that came through.

I also love Jim’s blog post title “Utopian Tendencies” which is officially now the title for this ds106radio/tv show if we get on the air again, and I stole the name to title this post. Even if no one is listening it’s a “what if” utopian break away space to think about how things could be or to discuss the things that make us tick. Hopefully someone somewhere listening gets a little bit of joy out of it too. I already have some ideas in mind for texts and media for future shows so hopefully we make it back on the air soon.

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