neil cummings

Relational Machine

A week long working session, part of the Procesos de archivo/ Archivalprocess took place at Intermediæ in Madrid.

Timeline v1.0At the planning meeting on the 23rd December we decide to move the project along and develop the first iteration of the timeline. To develop the timeline into something more playful and sophisticated. We decide to start by making two sample views of the activities of Intermediae.

One is to track a collection of themed projects longitudinally through time, and the other to cut horizontally through a range of activities by choosing a random week of activities in 2009.  We have the idea of 'zooming-in' on a particular set of documents, and experiment with their representation.

Monday 8th February 2010

The various work areas of Intermediae, Programming, Administration, Production, Communication an Mediation have aggregated the requested documents into appropriate folders. So, we begin to collate the documents that will be the basis of the 'zoomed' timeline. We choose one sample work area - Communication, and within that we find and print sample documents of the longitudinal project strand or 'linea de trabajo' Permaculture.

There are masses of documents, so to refine the sample further we select one of the processes that generates Intermediae 'participation' as an exemplar, and we go through the folders Press, Web, Fotos, Diffusion, Grafica, etc, looking for evidence. Its hard, time-consuming and dull  work. We print the documents and lay them out on a table.

A whole day goes by and it feels as though we are going nowhere. There is a lot of discussion. About what we imagine we are doing, what we thought we would be doing, and what we are actually doing. Opinions swirl and collide. There is a tension between wanting to make stories from the documents, to make links and narratives, and following the actual connections the documents suggest themselves.

At the end of a long day, a very long day, we console ourselves with the idea that we have assembled all the documents and tomorrow we can start to play with them.

Tuesday 9th February

We return fresh to the documents, but still struggle to know what to do, and how to proceed. They are not as interesting as we had hoped. After discussion we decide to locate and print a parallel range of documents from the Mediation work area.

Again we track, locate, print and collate, its just as-time consuming as yesterday. We argue about what we think we are doing, we loose sight of why we are doing this experiment, and what is it for. None of us are interested in document management. And the material is so dull there is nothing to play with, nothing to exhibit or experiment upon. Our exciting 'zoomed' view of intermedie is a table of printed letters, emails, images and publicity drafts.

In desperation we draw a timeline of Permaculture and stick names on it, names of people who have participated within this Linea de Trabajo.

We argue, its pathetic, the timeline is hampering us. Exhausted, stuck and deflated we leave after another long day. On the way home I think we have to abandon the project. I feel guilty, we have wasted so much time and effort. I spend the evening retracing our steps, trying to remember why we are doing this.

We all agree that the timeline is a brilliant interpretive tool, both on-line and off. The timeline will be an intriguing interface to the archive, with its ability to pan and zoom. But the timline is also disciplinary, it organises complex relations into linear contiguity. We need representations that are more sophisticated and layered, we need a 'relational' mapping tool.

Wednesday 10th February 

We review where we are, and restate our intentions - its to find an interface for intermediae. And that this interface should be able to reveal the labour of the institution (through access to the archive of its activities), and that this interface should itself be generative and participatory. We abandon the documents, and start to draw maps. Maps that spacialize (near and far) the relations of participation, and we try to find a graphic equivalent for the intensity of connectedness.

Then we trace the main research themes, the Lineas de Trabajo that Intermediae undertakes - Permaculture, Play, Utopia, Projecciones, Memoria/Archivo and the Ayudas program, and we locate projects on those lines of research. Some projects become like interections where themes merge. We realize these are nodes, and what we are grappling with is a relational map. But we are drawing them badly. Because they are hard to draw. Because we do not have the relevant information.

We need something like a data base that we can call the information from, so that we can plot the points that make up the map.

We go back to our earlier information ecology maps, made with 'experts' Jorge and Miriam and Sue, and reafirm six key categories of information for each project. Lineas de Trabajo, Pricipios, Areas of Work, Ayundas de Creacion, Participants and Platforms (Platforms are like Lineas de Trabajo, but more generative than processual). Every project is assigned the six categories and information -or items- are filed within them. This is done with A4 paper and post-it notes. We pin all 45 projects up on a board and prepare paper for the map.

Then we querry the database.

Relational MachineTo begin with, we decide to map the simple lines of work, the Lineas de Trabajo. So we ask for all the projects in Permaculture, then Play, then Utopia, then Projecciones, then Memoria/Archivo, and finally the Ayudas program. The projects run chronologically and we establish each project on the line, some of the nodes are intersections so lines have to swoop and curve. Its powerful and revelationary. We have a relational map!

We see how projects relate, which function as nodes, and how themes develop and intersect.

We also see that on top of this map, we can produce other representations, using any of the items in any of the six categories.

So we querry the database for participatory projects that specifically, local young people attended. We get our search results and could highlight the projects that contained these terms. We highlit them with colour, and produced a relational field of connections.

Elated, exhausted and excited we went home.

Relational Machine Thursday 11th February

We came back to see if what we thought we had made, was actually what we had made. And it was true. We had a relational machine.

A machine that could produce data to interpret and represent the activities of Intermediae,

We had produced a machine that could represent Intermediae from how it is actually organised and functions, rather than producing second order representations - press releases, mission statements, etc. We also had a machine that was generative, capable of producing new connections and representations.

This machine, could also help structure the activities of Intermediae, enabling those activities to be more sustainable in their practice. Wow!

We put the machine to work again, mapping different relations. Checking if it was true. It was true. We had a very powerful machine.

It needed tweaking. We refined the categories - replaced Ayundas de Creacion with Authors/Artists or Collaborators, and added and retuned the items. We let other people play with it. They also laughed and got excited. The machine worked.

We went home dizzy, drunk with the possibilities of our relational machine.

Friday 12th February

We archive the machine, and the maps it produced.
We discuss how to proceed. The core team will refine the categories, and the items within each. We could also add more as necessary.

By adding an Author or Creator or Collaborator category it will enable us to  build a social network map for each project, Linea de Trabajo or search querry. Who participated in what.

Relational Map We discuss how an online version of the mapping tool could have a value function attached to each item. The value could restrict the contribution of that item to the querry or search request. This would give a subtle grading mechanism.

Offline we discuss installing a relational mapping structure, adjacent to the developing timeline.  We could use the same colour codes, index cards, and they could cross reference. Then visitors could move from a simple interface to something more dynamic and interactive.

Of course, on-line visitors could make their own search terms, and aggregate data and generate representations that match their interests.

Our analogue machine will be digitalised. We thought Jorge would be proud of us.

See how the Procesos de Archivo project developed by reading about the first working session (begining of the mapping) with Jorge Blasco, the second session with Daniel Andujar, the third with Miren Eraso, or the fourth with Sue Breakell.


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28045 Madrid

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