neil cummings

More things can happen..

Transcript: More things can happen than will, or have

Chelsea Centenary 2063:  Neil Cummings, Platform Lecture, June14

Well, I’m so, sorry that I can't be there with you tonight, Chris probably explained, I’m having some upgrades fitted. I can’t even connect with you. I thought the only thing to do, would be to record a diarydoc. So, here I am.

Thanks so much for Chris and Marsha for inviting me to contribute to the centenary celebrations. Chris suggested, given my age, and my long, long involvement with Chelsea, that I perform a live-thread recall. I’m a little out of practice, but I’ll do my best. So, I’m going to disconnect from Composite now.


And, in keeping with the ‘old-school’ nostalgia of these face-2-face centenary celebrations, I’d like to invite you, to do the same too. Could you all just, also, disconnect. Thanks.

Well, you’ll appreciate as with all live-thread recalls, this will be partial and flawed. The thread I’ll be re-running - again it’s Chris’ suggestion - is the recent development of the Chelsea Cluster. I thought a good place to start, well, as good as any, would be in 2'06, when the - then - Chelsea College of Art and Design relocated.



So Chelsea College of Art and Design moved into the former Army Medical College, next to Tate Britain, on Millbank, in London. The logic was to condense previously scattered sites – design, fine art, post-graduates,,... textiles - into one location. The move was messy, nothing seemed to work, but we settled.

Although now, now, now, I remember the college immediately clustered with Wimbledon and Camberwell College of Arts, in south London, as (CCW). So we seemed to concentrate, and then immediately....... dissipate.

And it was only about two years earlier, in 2'04, that Chelsea had been one of the five constituent colleges of the newly formed University of the Arts London (UAL). The University had, I think, morphed from the London Institute, into the largest Arts University, probably, in the world.


Well, there were some dramatic changes. Maybe one of the most dramatic, was in 2'12, in January, the UK government increased university tuition fees to £9,000 Old UK Pounds a year. Overnight, it transformed public universities into private institutions.They were hollowed out. I could never have afforded to study, so much for social mobility.  Conflicts seemed to concentrate in education, especially creative education.


Next, next I can recall, well, after years, really years, of debate and lobbying - I could probably thread back to 1972 and the Tobin Tax proposal, our first EU Transaction Tax was finally implemented. I remember the date because it was Basia's birthday, we were in Asturias, it was the 17th August 2’15, she was 26.

The (then) European Commission, a network of Central Banks, and the International Monetary Fund, introduced a blanket 0.5% micro-tax on speculative financial transactions. Instantly, it curbed the volatility of high-volume, feral, short-term trading.  Arcane financial instruments were re-purposed to be socially
productive, and revenue began to flow from private speculation, into state  treasuries.

Neil Cummings

It’s the beginning of our fantastically well-resourced Public Museums, Galleries and Cultural Assemblies, Public education benefited too.


Although, to be honest, we really began to be hyper-resourced in 2’17, a year after the -Art Auction Transaction Tax (AATT) was introduced.

AATT was a boutique, secondary art-market micro-tax. Monies raised from the booming resale-market for - well, principally paintings, but other art-artifacts too, were used to resource primary sites of creativity; creative education, not-for profit assemblies, and emerging art practices. Skimming profit was just, well, a price we could no longer afford. We really needed to nurture the ecology

From a % 0.1 tax , something like 875 million Old- UK Pounds were raised in the first year, more than double the Arts Council budget. It was cruel, because almost at the same time Arts Council England was disbanded. The last straw, was probably the unwinding of the 13 billion overspend of the 2'12 London Olympics. The government was embarking on a round of pre-election cuts. I guess it was inevitable.


Well, of you will recall that in 2’17, Chelsea College of Arts, devolved from the UAL. It wasn't easy, but, administrative and ideological strains were increasingly difficult to reconcile.

AATT funds enabled the College to regain independent status, and offer free - at the point of access - truly creative education for all. We quickly partnered with Open School East, the Papered Parlour - to benefit from their mentoring and development programme, some of the London FabLabs, to work with their maker technologies, the MayDay Rooms, and......... I think, the Showroom too? Oh, and with Foundacion Gallery Lafayette, in Paris.

We started to move away from producing market assets, or celebrating the accumulation of attention, and began to re-imagine creative practice. Yeah, we also began to experiment with our organisational, and administrative protocols. We learnt a lot from Critical Practice, on how to become a creative institution.

Courses dissolved, pathways too, and the strange year structure. Research vectors developed, in Cultures of Resilience, GNUcraft, I remember......... into mnemonic practice too. And exhibitionary networks.


Clearly, a key event in the emerging 'Chelsea Arts Cluster', was in 2’18 when we co-produced, with the ICA and Canonical, a reanimated Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition. It marked the radical expansion in Chelsea’s interest in - what was then called - ‘digital arts’, or networked cultures. And we queried the source; the legendary Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition on its 50th anniversary.

The 68’ iteration is recalled as the first encounter between machine assemblies and exhibited creativity. The original curator, Jasia Reichardt,  phwoow,....... she was about 85 then, but still very sprightly, opened the year-long research project. Machine assemblies, processes: both analogue and digital, were emulated through a variety of media ecologies. What was remarkable, really remarkable, was that the project, wasn't simply historical, or even archival, it was productive and creative, generative even.

Cybernetic Serendipity initiated a whole new strand of recursive research that I guess, even this live thread recall is part of.


Some of the more enhanced of you might remember, I think, probably inspired by the distributed assemblies of old-Spain’s 15-M movement in 2’09, and various Occupy initiatives; Occupy cities, democracy, finance, debt. Occupy education, museums, oh, and even happiness. And a network of events, often recalled as an ‘Arab spring’, a broad coalition of over 20,000 social enterprises, Labour and non- governmental organizations, from over 47 countries, began to network, into what became by 2’19, the Multitude.

They associated in Madrid. It was the first major, global, civil society coalition. And scalable.


It was only a year later. Really? A year later? That the Multitude laid the foundation for iCommons - one of the sources for composite. iCommons began as an index of all resources currently protected by the GPL, or its derivatives - the GPL you might remember, had evolved from protecting FLOSS software in the 1980’s – protecting it from property and enclosure.

Anyway, iCommons soon aggregated all Free University, academy and college curricula, all publically funded law, science, and medical research. Art and Design research too. All plant, animal and bodily knowledge, indigenous knowledge, Open Access publishing, the vast copyright and patent expired resources.

Some enlightened public Museums, Libraries and Galleries participated too - British Library, Library of Congress, National Archives, etc.

They opened their collections, their archives and databases. I recall the Chelsea Cluster had foundation status. We began to assemble and protect a vast cultural commons. Creativity was nurtured, and, outside of property restrictions, and some economies of attention, unleashed on a scale previously unimagined.

Abundance and generosity, began to overwrite scarcity and restriction in the political economy of creativity.


Although, in complete contrast, In 2’22 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation - with Barclays Capital Management, issued the first Singularity Art Bond. Additive manufacturing was developing at an extraordinary speed, you could glimpse the future of nano technologies, and wearables too.

The Bond was issued in response to private investor demand. Demand for greater access to singularity. Greater security. Singularity was dissipating. The Guggenheim Foundation, the Gazprom - Hermitage Museum, in Moscow, the Azco-La Caixa Collection, along with other Tier One private museums, designated specific artworks in their collections as singular, and guarantee they will never be imaged, scanned, recorded, exhibited, reproduced or loaned.

The market was soon linked to 125 collections, with some 12.2 billion Old_US dollars, in play. In the first quarter, the Bonds easily outperformed Treasury base. Private investment, and Sovereign Wealth funds piled in.


Oh, but this, this was terrible. Two years of drought. In June 2'23 the Food Price Index spiked at 300 points, violent protests spread across sub-Saharan Africa, in South Central Asia, and even in Europe.

First, problems arose in the market for cereals - wheat and barley - although soon, rice and maize were affected. Food security was exposed to extreme price volatility, similarly energy, and, in Spain, even water. Dark-pools were having terrible effects on the global precariat. So, an index of prime resources was prepared by the UN_Multitude - I think we participated in the cultural goods commission - and firewalled from speculative trading technologies. Commodities markets were limited to distribution, they were separated from speculation.

I recall that, The Nutritional Commons was founded soon after.


If I remember rightly, It was in September, September 2’25 at the iCommons Governance Summit in São Paulo, Brazil – that looked like such a fun summit. It was Carnival, right?

Marsha and Claire, from the Chelsea Cluster participated in drafting guidelines on Radical Transparency. Radical Transparency, aimed to install accountability in governance, and administration in the operating systems of public institutions. Through processes, we completely take for granted now:  participatory assemblies, local working groups, public agendas, published minutes; open budgets – for full financial disclosure, resilience accounting, and so on.

Previously, there had been a lot-of lip-service paid to ‘openness’ and ‘participation’, although usually this meant increasing numbers of customers, students, voters or or visitors. The Radical Transparency guidelines formalized core values and again, I'm proud to say, we were at root. True participation, is transformational.


Transformational! Like the the legendary Ex Habere: The Practice of Exhibition in, hmmm I think it 2’25. A three-year research project. We uncompressed the Latinate root of exhibition, ex habere, to reveal the intention of ‘holding out’ or ‘showing’ evidence in a legal court. Implicit in the genealogy of ‘exhibition’ is the desire to show, display and share with others.

By cleverly grafting this ancient drive, to contemporary desires for creative co-production, to source, exchange and share, to generate non-rivalous resources, these values became vital to the constitution of resilient public institutions.

Ex Habere reaffirmed 'exhibition' as core to the Chelsea Cluster’s aspirations. And those aspirations were amplified through-out the iCommons meshwork, they replicated at an astonishing speed, throughout civil society.


In contrast, in complete contrast, the market for contemporary art, was struggling. Well no, not really struggling, like always, it was buoyant at the top end, but prone to asset bubbles.

The truth was, they had a dwindling supply of new Asset Backed Securities, especially singular assets, to originate, diversify and trade. The Frieze Art Academy had opened in Shanghai, was it Shanghai?  No, no it was Beijing in 2'21. To address the lack, the lack of resources. There were conflicts of interest, firewalls installed, and a 'light touch' regulatory structure, but no one seemed to mind.

The Frieze Art Academy merged with University of the Arts: Asia in in about 2'24, although a couple of years later they were both subsumed by the giant Christies Group.


Anyway, I digress, the thing was, Ex Habere produced a whole new temporary community. We started working with regional institutions, the New Economics Foundation, Midlands Contemporary, with Rachel at Common Gound, and we began a self-reflexive critique of the 19th-century exhibitionary model.

Of course, a model we did so much to initiate, replicate and develop. This 19thC exhibitionary - model, and its 20 th C intensification, was obviously unsustainable.

It was a corporate model of a museum, gallery, or academy. Institutions had to constantly expand, commission signature buildings, evolve huge administrative hierarchies for: Exhibition, Risk Management, Health and Safety, Widening Participation... and Education, Quality Assessment, Research Ethics, Development, Sustainability, Enterprise, and so on, and so on. To grow, exponentially.

So in 2’26, the Cluster resolved to institute, in the ancient sense of the word, of founding and supporting, creative practices. We began to re-think ourselves as a creative institution, more fluid, porous, nimble, embedded...... lateral, less spectacular.

We began to play, risk, co-operate, research and rapidly prototype – not only through research exhibitions like Ex Habere - but also with our organisational structure. Some heritage values were lost – like nested committee structures, or line management - and others produced, nurtured and cherished. Like when working with Intermediæ in Madrid, we learnt to invest, long-term, without regard to an interested return.

We obviously devolved locally, and also began to networked globally, with new partners;  the National Museums of the Americas in Brazil, Ker Thiossane in Dakar, Senegal, - on the AfroPixel project, and at the Sarai Centre for Organic Architecture, at Ranchi, in the fledgling Indian multitude.


Our new partners, they really enriched the cluster. For example, I recall, with Sarai, that a team, led by Judy, ....Judy, Judy Armitage, and Dil Ballal they assembled a self-aware intelligent agent.

The first organic-synthetic assembly. The assembly was able to sense, self-direct, to learn, and act upon its environment. The research was unveiled at the Knowledge Exchange on NanoAssemblies in October - just before my birthday - in 2'28, that we co-convened with Sarai. We were all stunned, but, the implications were clear.


We had to rethink our practices, we began to recognized ourselves as an assembly of complex social process, and that creativity was inherent in every conceivable transaction producing those processes, at whatever the intensity, and regardless of scale.

The huge challenge for everyone, was to attend to the lines of force, the transactions, and not be dazzled by the subjects, objects or institutions they produced. Transactional Aesthetics, enabled artists’ to merge with other creative forces aggregated by the Chelsea Cluster. Into relations of mutual co-production. Immanent, immanent to the logic of networks.


Neil Cummings


And then, in 2'31, in the blink of an eye, the spectacular roller-coaster ride of the Guggenheim Foundation was over. The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the cluster in New York, Venice, Bilbao and the Deutsche - Guggenheim in Berlin, together with the unfinished projects in Shanghai, Rio and Moscow, were all, taken into UN-Multitude stewardship.

The demise of the Guggenheim, the collapse of the Singularity market , forced other private museums into stewardship. They all filed for Chapter 12 protection.

It was a spectacular reverse of resource flows, tens of thousands of art works poured into public collections from previously private institutions. An ethic of public generosity was re-animated, even encouraged. Everyone benefited.

At about the same time, maybe a bit later, I think, about 2'33, Hydrocarbon use peaked, at something like, ..... 42.7 Gigatons. Disinvestment in the teens, the Ethical Rating Agencies, they really had an affect.


Phww, talking of affects, Larissa,...... oh, Larissa, she said to me “ We need to enact. To be more agent than immanent.” Larissa was the Cluster’s fixed term executive, that phrase stuck in my mind, its from when she inaugurated the exhibitionary phase of Operating System: Governance.

A two-year research thread into exhibition as a technology, and immanence as an institutional logic. When the project concluded, we realised the Chelsea Cluster needed radical revision. We needed to add an executable function, to our research and exhibitionary core.


It was also Larissa, who nurtured our sensitivity to trust. Trust, circulating through logistical systems of attention; systems of capture, accumulation, and distribution were producing new ecologies of value.

Attention is a vector, a force and a medium, and nothing moves outside of its sphere of influence. To attend is to invest. Its to invest in values not yet known; future, fugitive, contingent values.

Private interests, and residual retail culture strive to capture attention. They thrive on minimum, short-term, quantified, calculated investment. Any long-term investment of attention, of trust and creativity, of love and generosity are always at risk. Skirmishes break out, often escalating into local conflicts for the social currencies at play.

And no exchange no matter how small, bodily and intimate, or vast in volume and scale is possible without trust. We command and redistribute trust and attention. There's a responsibility in the cluster, and I think here, right here, we began to develop an ethics of attention.

Oh, this was great, Oh, this was really great. We co-hosted part of the the bicentenary celebration of the1835 Select Committee of Arts and Manufactures,  with the V&A. You can probably recall, that, that Committee set in motion public creative education through a network of Government Schools of Design.

And, at the same time, they initiated local, public museum collections to ‘educate’ visitors to be more discerning consumers. I think, uhhhm.. .I think........Henry Cole was involved...........? It was part of the recursive programming thread. Imagine, two perfect institutions to support the 19thC Free Trade ideal.

I loved the way the original committee was re-staged, as a live-event, refracted through each of the clusters nodes. It was more than nostalgia, much more it was like running emulated source code, through a super-new assembly.


It reminds me of how we reverse engineered spectatorship, spectatorship. In the past, being a spectator meant looking at a spectacle. It was like being a member of an audience - like the experience you're recuperating today. And the act of spectatorship, looking - ha, I remember the lazy term ‘viewer’ was endemic to art education, like an eye on a stick. And not even a desiring eye.

It's the opposite of knowing or doing, it’s a state without any power of intervention. No agency. Being a spectator means being passive, and it had dominated education, even creative education, and exhibitionary practice , for much of our recent history.

By 2’37, the affect of the Cluster’s co-produced exhibitionary networks, like Operating System: Governance, our embodiment of the Radical Transparency guidelines, access to the iCommons meshwork, they all, produced a tipping point. Spectatorship was largely overwritten by agency and engagement. And in turn, representation was replaced by co-presence.

Oh and this! This! This I remember locally, its hard wired. Even the date. It’s a seismic event. The 6th February at the Ferguson Research cluster at the Manchester Open University, an organic-synthetic assembly participated in the legendary Turing Test.

In an examination that lasted, like,........... three and a half hours? A panel of human judges couldn't agree on which of the participants was a human subject. For the first time, an organic-synthetic assembly was credited with human-like intelligence.

An evolutionary firewall was breached


I went to Brazil, it was my first time. It was so hot, hot and really humid. In October, yes, I think it was October. I went to visit the first in our series of Simpatia Buildings, in downtown Fortaleza, in the Ceará region.

Of course, it nestles sensitively in the local permaculture - it used a lot of upcycled additive manufacturing techniques - like cococrete, an adobe and coconut fibre composite.  But what was memorable for me, was that the building pioneered biotic responsiveness. It senses emotional exchanges within and between visitors, and responds.

It was amazing, I remember an intense discussion with Carmen over the impact of urban farms, and the building responded. Emotionally choreographed I'd say, although I'm not entirely sure how...


Well, what a great party, thanks!

Many of you were there, for the Jubilee Celebration of my involvement with Chelsea, I’d given my first lecture, to what were then called undergraduates, half a century ago. It was in Manresa Rd, in the lecture theatre, and it was probably about the parallel history of the public museum and the department store, or something like that. There were probably about 10 people there.

Anyway, there was an Art History Department then, staffed by mathematicians, poets, artists........ philosophers.


Hmmm.... I guess, traditional, academic philosophers presuppose, an already constituted subject. A conscious, self-present, sovereign individual in possession of private property, anterior to communal relations.

When we initiated Almost Real: Composite Consciousness - in 2’47. It was an exploration of logistical, distributed, or networked contemporary self-presence. Composite consciousness constituted the social identity of those present, and those not. And in this gap in presence, between those present, and those not is the object, image, audio, archive, collection, database and meta-data of memory. Shifting self-presence into the future, or re- collecting the past into the present.


I was only tangentially involved in Almost Real. But it probably lead me to be involved as advisor in 2’49, to the Chelsea Agent cluster. We lobbied for a new Article to be added to the UN-Multitude Declaration of Human Rights.

According to Article 6 of the UN-MDHR, all humans are persons under the law. But there is a philosophical and legal distinction between humans and persons. Humans are those that fall within the biological classification Homo sapiens, whereas a person refers to those with certain traits or characteristics.

I think it was Locke, was it John Locke.............?

Anyway, organic-synthetic assemblies were approaching person-hood, yet were clearly unable to enter the biological classification Homo sapiens. The cluster petitioned to add a 39th article to the UN-MDHR, extending human rights to appropriate organic-synthetic assemblies.


Oh, oh, no. I see time is running out, so I don’t have time to recount Chelsea’s part in the bicentenary of the Great Exhibition. Anyway, many of you there will have participated.......


Well, you all know, our Composite meshwork went live in 2’54. All common data, information and knowledge, every common archive, database, collection, and DNA storage device is accessible live and in real time.

Extended by, and assembled by composite, our desires, investments, and attentions produce new logistical populations, arrayed in myriad networks of association, and concentrated in multiple locations – of persons, institutions, assemblies, technologies, and geographies.


Well, most of you would have been there. What a great achievement for Chelsea. What an achievement. It could be our defining moment. So, you don’t need me to remind you,...... but I will;

On the 19th October, our Cluster sponsored Article 39 of the UN_MDHR extending rights to organic-synthetic assemblies,  was approved. And set in motion.

What an achievement. Historic. You all deserve huge, huge, congratulations


Ok, that’s it! Sorry, I'm out of time. The local thread I’ve been running is out of time, its a good place to stop, and, I'm exhausted. We’re more or less up to date.

Oh, I'm sure to have missed so much out..............

But today, throughout the Cluster, in all our intensities, we’re celebrating. Thank you so much for your attention. We can look forward, with real anticipation, to the next fifty years. Please feel free to reconnect to Composite.

Enjoy the rest of the celebrations, I think there are drinks waiting for you, and I hope to see you all soon.

Hasta luego.

Chelsea College of Art















See the original CompDoc 25-96473fz36-3541, or the beautiful accompanying publication More things can happen than will, or have designed by Metod Blejec, it contains the narrative architecture.

More Things was inspired by Industrialtownfuturism, and generated some of the architecture of Self Portrait: Arnolfini


51.4902, -0.1283

Chelsea College of Arts
16 John Islip Street
United Kingdom

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