Embroidered Digital Commons, 2009 - 2012

An embroidery of the text 'A Concise Lexicon of/for the Digital Commons' by the Raqs Media Collective (2003)

The notion of the Digital Commons, where the digital is common, or rather what is digital is common to all. Not common as in popular, but commonly owned, commonly accessed or available. Like the common grazing lands, or the common good, the commons has become synonymous with digital media through the discourse surrounding free and open source software and creative commons licensing. The Digital Commons is a response to the inherent 'copy n paste' reproducibility of digital codes, scripts and files, and the cultural forms that they support. Instead of trying to claim ground or restrict access, the Digital Commons invite open participation in the production of ideas and culture. Where culture is not something you buy, but something you do.

The 'Embroidered Digital Commons' is based on the beautifully crafted language of the Concise Lexicon of/for the Digital Commons (Sarai, 2003) written by the Raqs Media Collective. The full lexicon is an A-Z of the interrelationship between social, digital and material space. It weaves together an evolving language of the commons which is both poetic and informative. The use of metaphor to explain technological concepts was expertly developed by Ada Lovelace in her letters and notes accompanying the Analytical Engine. Her love of “poetical science” combined the influences of her father, Lord Byron, and her mathematical mother, Lady Lovelace. Ada Lovelace gave us the metaphorical concepts of code and programming in the 1830s, informed by the binary puch card programming of the Jacquard Loom and Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine. In her notes to the Engine, Ada famously wrote: “We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard Loom weaves flowers and Leaves.” (Morrison and Morrison, 1961)

The 'Embroidered Digital Commons' is an artwork faciltiated by Ele Carpenter as part of the Open Source Embroidery project, utilising social and digital connectivity. This distributed embroidery aims to collectively stitch terms from the Lexicon as a practical way of close-reading and discusing the text and it's current meaning. Each term is chosen in relation to the specific context of its production through group workshops, conferences and events. The terms of the lexicon are: Access, Bandwidth, Code, Data, Ensemble, Fractal, Gift, Heterogeneous, Iteration, Kernal, Liminal, Meme, Nodes, Orbit, Portability, Quotidian, Rescension, Site, Tools, Ubiquity, Vector, Web, Xenophilly, Yarn, and Zone. (click here for the full lexicon)

The project started with the definition of YARN, discussed at the HUMlab Syjunta and Open Source Embroidery Fika workshops at HUMlab Digital Humanities research lab at the University of Umea, Sweden. Many of the researchers in the lab have a background in languages and literature, others work within the visual arts, history, archeology and digital research. Ele suggested a collective embroidery of the definition of the term 'Yarn' as a way to explore the relationship between the stories embedded within yarn threads and digital communication. The text describes the characteristics of yarn or thread in terms of the transmission of data and information; as a poetic, material and metaphorical thread of communication over time and across disciplines. The 25 individually or collaboratively stitched squares of fabric come together to form a thread of an argument that weaves together the linguistic/literary and digital scholarship. The embroidery of the text was exhibited in the Open Source Embroidery exhibition at Bildmuseet in Umea, and the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco, 2009-10. Charlene C. Lam handmade a book of the final work for each of the participating stitchers, and Sophie McDonald is has made a digital film of the work. The plan is to exhibit the complete Lexicon through a set of digital films of the embroidery in HUMlab in 2012, in partnerhsip with Bildmuseet.



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