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While writing this newsletter I listened to:
Windy & Carl - 'Drawing of Sound'
Spacemen 3 - 'Playing with Fire'
A.R. Kane - '69'
(I am incapable of typing the word 'spacemen' without instinctively putting a T at the end, so wait for my new solo project, Spacement 1)
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Acedia
week of 18 February 2018
 

So if you’ve been following what I’ve been doing for the past few years, you know that I (with Agnieszka Pokrywka, as always) have been working on building a set of tools to enable experimental culture structures. It's some software, some hardware, and some design patterns and operational philosophies. We ran a place called Temporary for exactly one year - pretty sure I mentioned it here a few times - and now it’s transitioning into a cooperatively-run platform called Kuusi Palaa. While our toolkit (called Biathlon, like the Olympic event going on right now) will be continually developed in practice at Kuusi Palaa, we aren’t ‘running’ the place in any sense of the word - just providing it’s operating system - and furthermore, we’re no longer paying for it all.

We pushed Temporary's idea of decentralised administration a step further and decentralised the financial structure too; amazingly, it seems to be working. The plan was to raise 5000€, using the cooperative legal structure to offer shares (or ‘stakes’, as we call them) to any individual or organisation who wanted to buy one. Or more than one. These stakes come with a nice chunk of the Kuusi Palaa digital token attached, which, similar to Temporary, will allow members to collectively curate the calendar and share the space. 

Of course, a goal of Biathlon is to encourage participation and involvement at all levels of culture production, in a way even seeking to de-professionalise some of the roles. It's not meant to be a straight path from money --> stake --> points --> event; there's an intentional blurring of boundaries, hopefully in the service of producing creative relations between participants.

What I'm saying is that there's been a lot more going into the design of our pseudo-economy this time, especially with a year of data/feedback from Temporary and knowing the problems that were present there. People can also earn the Kuusi Palaa points by attending activities; the challenge has been to create a place where no one needs to spend money to be part of it, but they can if they want to. So how can we make people want to, without being annoying about it? Even those who bought stakes will be unable to organise their own activities without finding at least two other people to pledge support to them; it's all part of the system.

Anyway… in less than a month, we reached and even surpassed the 5000€ goal, which means we will definitely be open for at least four months. It’s been a curious experience, because about half of the 90 stakeholders are unfamiliar to me. The core Temporary regulars, many of whom have taken a role in shaping the direction of Kuusi Palaa, were a given. But surprisingly, there’s been quite a few complete strangers out there who are trusting enough to spend 50€ on something this experimental, created by people who they don’t know, which isn’t even functional yet.

This is further evidence of the inherent trusting nature of Finns; I can’t imagine many other cultures where people would do this. Another curious fact is that the vast majority of the stakes have been bought by individuals. Kuusi Palaa is not ‘against’ public funding, but it’s against having a traditional organisational shape that is driven by a centralised need for funding. Rather than make some dogmatic anti-grant proclamation, the stakes model was conceived as a way that organisations can apply for all of the public funding they want and trickle that down to Kuusi Palaa through stakes, buying what they need in exchange for the resources of KP. Yet the only organisations that have done this are ones with personal connections to Agnieszka and I, at least so far. i’m not sure what to draw from this fact - probably nothing (SAMPLE SIZE TOO SMALL), but I’ll be curious to see how it may evolve.

I’m writing this email to take a break from the nonstop hours I’ve spent in front of the screen over the past week, frantically trying to get everything ready for KP’s 1 March opening. I actually feel under more pressure here than anything I’ve ever done before, and the reason is precisely because of what I wrote above. There’s almost 90 people who put their trust in us, many of whom have no idea who we are. There’s nothing to worry about - we had the basics working well at Temporary so it’s fine-tuning and cosmetics at this point - but it’s my nature to worry too much, so worry I shall! There seems to be an endless list of things to do - making the API endpoints consistent, writing more truffle tests for the blockchain contracts, and tons of front end work; that’s just my part of it. I think when 1 March finally rolls around I’ll probably disappear for a few days in order to recover.

MEDIA INTAKE
Well, there’s not been a lot of time cause of the aforementioned computer work. Most nights I’ve been falling asleep in front of the curling, breaking my rule about watching tape-delayed sport on TV.

At the end of December I pulled out my copy of Pynchon’s Against the Day, blew the dust off it, and started reading it again. The first time was when it came out, over 11 years ago, and it’s the perfect counterpart to the Biathlon work. That work, I like to think, is somewhat about imposing logic onto something inherently chaotic and illogical without being dogmatic; could there be a more Pynchonian theme? I’m reading it when I can, little breaks here and there, and I’m most of the way through it again but it’s slow because it’s immense and I’m also reading along with the annotations on pynchonwiki.com, which make it about twice as long to get through.

But holy wow is it rewarding. Sometimes I find myself filled with a sense of total joy;  it’s hard to believe that the act of reading a book can be so fun. The novel is all about politics and global tension, and it’s set just before the First World War erupted so there’s the feeling of something about to drop throughout, a tremendous weight of modernity that buckles and ruptures through a deliberately scrambled timeline and his usual preoccupations. Assuming that Pynchon started writing this in the 90s, it feels impossible to separate it from the era of its creation - from the Yugoslav wars through the moral turpitude of Bush’s America (even if 9/11 is saved for Bleeding Edge). And for a book so heavily concerned with bilocation, vector mathematics, shadows and obfuscated light, it’s remarkably direct. Pynchon has a reputation for being difficult and irrelevant but he makes no bones about his worldview, which is (almost) easily reduced to a good guys vs bad guys dynamic. 

Beyond that...oh Eris, how I wish I had time to read all of the stuff I want to read. There’s a stack of things piling up that I’ve been dying to start, and a few that I already started. Deciding to re-read Pynchon during one of the busiest times ever in my life was probably unwise; I have more or less abandoned Suah Bae’s Recitation and Rodrigo Fresán’s The Invented Part already, even though both started out great. I’ll get back to them post-AtD and report here for sure. There’s also a new collection of Ann Quin’s miscellaneous writings which I’m super excited about, and I’m happy that there’s currently a renewed interest in her. Berg is great great great, sure, but the one that really blew my mind is her less-heralded Tripticks, a novel which somehow hybridises the vibes of JG Ballard, Christine Brooke-Rose and the Strugatsky brothers, but comparing it to those writers diminishes its singularity so please forget I wrote that. Just read it.

OTHER STUFF
I snuck away yesterday to the ‘Helsinki improv happening’, which featured some friends and some strangers making instant music together in Vapaan Taiteen Tila, a former bomb shelter turned into a space for the experimental arts. I figured it would be a nice time but it was a concert of especially high quality, well curated and presented in a accessible and honest manner. Girilal Baars, a friend from Uppsala, was part of it, performing a solo vocal set and also with the group, and he is always a force of magic and positivity.

Which reminds me that I theoretically have a podcast, which was meant to just extend the name of my old talk show into an audio format whenever someone interesting was around to speak with. But I haven’t recorded one since August of 2016, the last time Girilal was in town, where he was a great guest. Does anyone actually have an interest in listening to me have conversations with people, especially given the glut of podcasts already out there? It’s certainly easy enough to do as an occasional thing, but I just completely forgot it was even possible.

In honour of president’s day, The Intercept just published a list of ‘vicious, ghastly and/or fascinating’ facts about every US president ever, and it’s a good read even if you’re not American: https://theintercept.com/2018/02/18/for-presidents-day-heres-one-vicious-ghastly-andor-fascinating-fact-about-every-u-s-president/

I know I wrote about Joe Frank last time, but this essay on 3QuarksDaily said it far better than I ever could: http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2018/01/joe-frank-an-appreciation.html. Since his passing, I’ve been listening to a lot of Frank’s work, or I should say even more than I usually do, and this essay got me to drag out ‘I’m Not Crazy’ which is a particularly brilliant one, and a great introduction to the more absurd side of his work.

Happy 33rd Birthday to my younger brother, Anthony. He's leading a joyous and beautiful life with a wonderful wife and a 1 year old, and I'm genuinely proud of the person he has become. It looks like he is going to outlive Christ, and that's always an achievement to be proud of.

OK, I’ll call it here. I’ll end with this plug: you can buy a stake in Kuusi Palaa - and help fund season 2 (July - October) - at www.kuusipalaa.fi. We take credit cards!

Best,

John



 
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