Journal of Aesthetics & protest

Conversations and Theory in
practice. go post-money!!!

issue 7

Clump Camp, Real World and the Web 2.0 Social Remix

tobias c. van Veen, Kate Rich and Kayle Brandon in an excerpted conversation.

Cube Cola
Cube Cinema Bar
Feral Trade Network
Fugitive Philosophy

Editors Note: The participants were asked to have a conversation involving questions of contemporary social space in light of web 2.0. Editors were interested in the roll of digital and social organizing technology in contemporary life and movements.

Of particular interest was the ways that digital networks may have affected lived social space.

Tobias kicked off the conversation, and Kate and Kayle responded. An exchange occurred, though it seemed difficult for the participants to find common discursive ground.


tobias: May I suggest we are a clump camp -- the necessarily incomplete clumping of all that needs to become to be.

It is tempting to say: there is no 'web 2.0', which is only a diversion, a rebranding of the accelerated incorporation of intelligence data-gathering within the open-arms of 'social networking'. What there might be, however, is such a banal, neverending dumping that the 'web' becomes nothing less than a giant electron heap (posting pictures of every this & that, blogging about nothing that is of particular meaning to anyone, adding 'friends' that exist as pixels as much as porn). In short, the web is asking us to come & come, to pour such excess into its filters that the whole bloody thing might just jam up. We can only hope.

We both have a practice that sometime was considered as a digital practice... but we both now work in the flesh-world. How would it be possible not to exist offline?

Decomposing bodies melting into sweaty armchairs -- such a state is hardly the way to embody change. Give us flesh! The more I engage, the less time I desire to sit in front of a screen, to theorize the comings and goings of it all, to speak and 'chat' with them or you, and finally, at the end of a long day, to view art or a film or to mindlessly game on the same bloody machine ruled by QWERTY.

I am not a Luddite -- give me machines, give me the caress of a turntable or the twist of a knob! -- but also give me flesh.

It is not only that a computer interface and the real-world breast-to-breast might have shared qualities, we must remember that our species invented both artifices -- the face and the computer, both of which we attribute signification to, both of which are black holes of the soul, yes? From AI to those pits in our skulls, we look for meaning staring at something, searching for something in response that will overwhelm our own nothingness, will give our lives meaning, finally.

I'd rather throw my lot in with the clumping.


Kate: I don't have a direct response for Tobias but here are scattered thoughts

I have not been a big subscriber to anything much 2.0, or art that trades in metaphors.

Personally I moved into the world of grocery products - cube-cola which is a collaboration with Kayle, and feral trade, a sole trader grocery business run along social networks - specifically to get out of the physical world of computers & screens.

The attractions of trade & manufacture are tactile & aromatic. hands on products. for example, every month or so Kayle & I meet in the Cube Cinema Bar (, get our ingredients (essential oils, gum arabic, a vat of caramel colouring, powdered caffeiene bag), make tea and whip up another batch of cola concentrate. It's a sociable process. We printed the full recipe onto a teatowel so we don't even need to go online to remember the measurements.

Part of what we are enjoying is the struggle with insurgent ingredients - caramel spills, or the citric acid solution going cloudy for no apparant reason.

Feral Trade, which preceded Facebook btw ('03) disapproves the aggregation of social networks, the idea that these can be massified or cybernetically manipulated via digital means. When you're sending actual materials over social networks, you test the load-bearing capacity of email-based relationships, their capacity to handle actual freight, via the reality of who is willing to cart for example 10 bags of coffee from point A to B.

Anyway back to cube-cola: with this project we chose to augment our own reality with a hyper-real product, so a generic daily item - cola - goes from being very background (what you drink whilst using a computer or whatever) to having a whole cosmology of human/plant relationships, half-comprehended chemistry knowledge, DIY and cookery principles and network relationships, embedded in it.

The internet is integral to the project - we found the original open cola recipe on the internet & republished our upgraded Cube-Cola recipe there, we also sell a fair amount of cola concentrate to random people around the world via email & paypal, but then the postal & walking systems are equally important in making this happen.

Cube-Cola is radical in that it's an open-source recipe, but i think it less illuminates open source software than it iterates points around public property and knowledge that are entirely pre-digital and actually pre-industrial.

tobias: If I may ruminate a bit, it seems to me that the Cube-Cola and Feral Trade projects play a very subtle trick on the perception of 'social networks' by embodying what is often seen as 'metaphorical'. When we think of social networks, the common idea is of an *online* network, disembodied, pixellated, that nonetheless 'connects' actual flesh relationships as well as extends them ('Facebook friends'). What you are doing is grounding the internets, embodying relationships that are perceived as digital, and testing them with the density of being, its physicality, its weight: how much can email (relationship) carry?

Of course we have to realise how utterly backwards this perception is in the context of human history, which is why Cube-Cola plays such a trick: why should we be at all surprised that the artificial relationships that constitute social networking are -- of course! -- drawn from the artifice of the breast-to-breast?

At the same time, the project of 'grounding' the internets demonstrates how utterly banal the concept of 'social networking' is -- or rather, the hype around Web 2.0 -- insofar as it has claimed to invent what is rather the basic means of human relationships to begin with. Is this a sign of the general impoverishment of digitally-bound cultures that they revel in the weightless re-creation of what is nearly a lost sense of communitas?

To the end that the net demands its 'weight', or rather its test of weightlessness -- and contra to much of the virtual-life, disembodied experience theories of the '90s -- the Cube Cola and Feral Trade projects tap into the Locative Media projects, a few of which I was associated with, through work with Wilfred Hou Je Bek [dot.walk], Marc Tuters [locative @ RIXC] and the MDCN [Mobile Digital Commons Network - Sonic Scene Project]. These projects often sought to localize the broad expanses of the internets in specific spaces.


Kate: Cube-Cola is a platform specific drink, the platform is the Cube Cinema (, an all-volunteer run cinema, music and event space in Bristol England where kayle and i used to manage the bar - we both still volunteer there in other areas.

The Cube has a private landlord and runs as a business. It's an untypically autonomous setup in a country where cultural institutions are more or less welded to a public arts funding system. It costs nothing to work there, otherwise it's is a cash-based economy: all events, drinks etc have their price.

The Cube has run an inhouse linux computer network for over 10 years now - Cube-Cola was partly an initiative to bring the bar stock in line with the aesthetics and strategies of the rest of the venue. Definitely it liberated us from the need to stock other major label cola drinks such as Coke. It was the same practical question that started the Feral Trade project: how to secure supply of a popular commodity not via the open market.