introduction script

introduction script

By and large, graphic design students bring a laptop to school, and create their work using digital tools. This hard- and software represent a technological and cultural heritage that is seldomly questioned, and a potential that goes unexploited. Using free and open source software and engaging in its culture provides an alternative by making a design practice possible with a more intimate and experimental relation to its toolbox.   

Beyond the implications for design practice, the culture of free and open source software challenges traditional education paradigms because knowledge is exchanged outside institutional borders, and participants move between roles easily (teacher, student, developer, user). Following from their series of workshops and «print parties», OSP proposes a summer school experiment. A first try to move across the conventional school model towards a space where the relationship to learning is mediated by graphical software.

Where did it happen?

In the Constant Variable F/LOSS Arts Lab, where OSP has its studio. Variable is a three years long residency, from a proposal of Constant VZW, an association for Arts and  Media, with a focus on free culture and feminism. Variable is a lovely space to meet people, and paths with the other studios sharing the house It’s an experimental workspace for diverse practices working with free software and tools, somewhere between a hackerspace and a co-working space. It is, at times, a classroom, a conference venue, an (ir)regular meeting place, a studio, a residency space, a gallery, a kitchen table and cafeteria

Why a summer school?

The idea of a summerschool raises as a crystallisation of many influences, from the space itself as described previously, to the research focus of OSP, to curiosities arising from previous workshops, also straight from teachers with many experiences inside OSP, to the nascent group of teachers called 80 columns. Amongst other vibrations.

After a year of OSP having installed its main terrain of practice in Constant Variable, after years of squatting spaces everywhere, we realized that having a workspace shifted our way of working into classical studio rhythms and habits which goes against our practice and the logic of the tools we use, which implies mostly the research dimension. So to be back on our tracks, seeking to remain awake and in a constant relearning posture, we decided to revamp the trips, print parties and activities defining OSP: to get back  together. As never alone has become the motto of OSP, learning and  relearning with other people is on top of the many ways of better relearning.

So we do workshops, lots of workshops, various workshops in different places and contexts. Most of them create frictions with the question of the commission we received by the host institutions which mostly implies some sort of outcomes. We are not against outcome; as many people we like to make things. But the process seems quite important to our eyes and it is never tangible enough in our workshops. We started imagining a school where we can rethink the frame, the scale and the process.

As most of us are also teachers in art schools, this school desire, orreflex, is also linked to our teaching experiences. We realized and we noticed how some of the contexts conditions of our practice — can create friction. Most of the problems came from the initial awkward and clumsy positioning of the educator relative to the student. 

If we are teachers, we are also designers. And we feel sometimes absurdely alone working that way. Especially when we discuss with other designers If this need to extend and diffuse our knowledge, to exchange with others through our experiences of workshops, print parties and courses has reached a kind of urgency state, it is because we would like to get out of the exception. We want to be contagious.

And it seems these questions also gather other teachers, particularly in this Libre Graphics network. As an example, we can mention 80c. 80 columns is a reflection group, which exists now through a mailing list. It is defined as a network of artists, musicians and designers using, teaching, learning, writing free software as part of their practice.It took shape from a discussion at the Libre Graphics Research Unit meeting in Madrid in April 2013. And in a way, we hope this Relearn experiment can find an echo in the discussion as an example or as a counterexample, at least a miniature to consider.

Summer school in the context of pedagogy/free software

Teaching with free software/being informed by free software

As a teacher, the “software” of Free software challenges us. Within the context of the Free software project too there is an exchange of knowledge, and it is interesting to us for two reasons. Firstly, this exchange of knowledge takes place largely outside the context of traditional educational institutions and art institutions: on forums, mailing lists, hackathons and developer meetings. Secondly, the participants display a surprising agility in moving between roles. The road to go from a user to a developer on a Free software project is often a gradual one. And the person who is the lead developer on one project will be a helping hand on another project.

That is not to say the culture of Free software is a utopia: it has its own imbalances and blind spots, and while the practioners like to see the culture of Free software as a meritocracy, it is not always friendly to minorities. It lacks the institutional guidelines traditional structures have tried to put in place to guard themselves against their own biases.

Yet as teachers, teaching with Free software still is a great opportunity to share practices from this area. In a context where each project requires its own set of digital skills, Free software’s focus on learning and exchanging beyond institution is invaluable for students to acquire. As teachers, we can integrate this into our classes: not hiding bugs, but using the knowledge of the community when they arrive, and showing how we do that. And also, sharing an attitude in which being a teacher is not an essential position. Rather, it is part of a social contract, in which we imagine it a good role to take on for the moment: tomorrow it could be someone else.

Free software introduction, mailing-lists, attentions, Relearn’s toolset presentation

The culture of free software has its own specific practices for working together (often across a distance) and the tools that go along with it. Software is full of conventions and pre-suppositions: about how you will use it, about what it is meant to do. Changing tools and being attentive of the changing attentions embodied in these new tools is one of the ways in which we expect to relearn.

We will use a website to work together:

This website is a hybrid between two writing models: it is a wiki, using Etherpad as the writing tool.

To share our source code together we use a program called Git. More about git, practical: and with reflection: .

On you can also read about the UNIX command line, which is the way in which we will be accessing git and many of the other tools specific to each worksession. The UNIX command line embodies a history of engineering culture and an interaction model which we think are quite rich to confront oneself with.

During the week, there is also the possibility to file issues on our issue tracker. You can do so by posting a message to the mailing list. An issue tracker comes from the same family as the bug tracker, a database to submit and follow up on bug reports: errors found in the software (more on bugs: ). Basically the issue can be anything you encounter that is of interest across worksessions: especially that which connects to wider issues of pedagogy.

The open content of the worksessions

Its important for us to shift the focus of what we consider to be content. Weve gotten used to the idea that a workshop setup is for a group of people to work together towards a common goal. A production sprint. This, of course, has proven itself to be productive, exciting and quite fun along the way. Some of Relearn will model itself on this, and the setup is very similar, but we want to test out a couple of ideas that we hope will keep this week equally productive and experimental.

If we try and consider that the time spent learning, the processing of this new information, the understanding of it and then what it takes to really get to grips with whatever subjects we will learn about during the school are as valuable as other producing periods. We hope we can find new ways of explaining, new ways of doing. Were are all equal facing the subjects of the worksessions. Some of us have thought more about how to introduce this to one another, but the curriculum so to speak is deliberately open to be rewritten. More precisely, we feel like questioning the typical teacher-student relationship which could be a healthy mindset to find better ways of understanding fields and techniques.

Tools to think with

Todays creation is largely done with software, yet the role of software in this process is not always valued. Art education’s late 20th century focus on concept over execution has led to understating the role of the tool. It goes hand in hand with a certain myth of transparency: Adobe sells its product with the promise that it will not interfere with peoples creativity:

The message from Adobe is clear. The less you think about source code, scripts, links and the web itself, the more creative you are as a web designer. What a lie.
-- Olia Lialina, “Turing Complete User”

For the European research project LGRU, a team of editors led by Alexandre Leray and Stéphanie Vilayphiou created a reader that goes into these exact subjects: .

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