You'll Like This Film Because You're In It
Gondry's whole approach raises difficult questions for me about the role of the facilitator. Gondry is unquestionably in charge, and yet claims to be empowering the community. There is a barely concealed power trip going on in the shift from 'content producer to context producer', where the artist is now in the (arguably far more powerful & potentially manipulative) role of systems designer. The text keeps talking about "my" utopia; "my" system, and borrows from the language of grassroots organising without any of its commitment to a genuine eradication of hierarchy. Very revealing discussion of his first 'system' in which he protected his mother from her addiction by effectively disempowering her: "I had created a system that worked, and my mother was safe, at least for a while" (Gondry, 2008 p.16). (He also later congratulates himself on getting round the awkward union rules that prevented him hiring the actors he wanted.)
"I believe in systems. Well, not the big and vague entity that seems to run the world against everyone. The system to which I am referring is more like an ensemble of imagined rules that allow a participant to achieve a certain outcome. The rules let people focus on a single moment, while simultaneously ensuring that all the efforts produced add up to the desired result. ...I create these systems so that regardless of the success or failure of the finished product, I know that I have at least tried to create something new." (ibid p.15) The question is, in what way do Gondry's systems differ qualititevely from the big system that runs the world against everyone? Who is imagining the imagined rules, and whose 'desired result' is being aimed for?
Thinking about my own projects with Radical X. I agree with Gondry that rules help to create a container, whose limits make something possible. But the question of who sets these limits has always troubled me. I've never resolved it with Radical X, maintaining the role of curator who accepts or rejects work. I began to move away from this with Open Sauce, where I opened the wiki to anyone and didn't intervene in the battles that ensued. So then you have the conflict between process and content: the process was beautifully open; the resulting content was pretty poor. Hence why consensus trainers recommend that this process only works in small groups who trust each other.
Thinking about the distributed archive project - matching up censored images with people who are willing to physically host them. Annette Decker kept asking me: what is my stance? Where do I draw the line in terms of what I will & won't include in this archive (child porn, etc etc)? And I think the problem is not so much that I don't have a firm position on this, as that I am a central node with filtering power - and thus my opinion becomes important.
On the one hand I aspire to the 'pure', unbiased facilitation that I use in a community context - facilitator as neutral servant to the group, taking care of process only and not content. On the other, I can see where Gondry is coming from: the whole point of having an artist there is to introduce certain constraints, or share something. And with Radical X I'm stuck in this awkward half-way point. Designing, constraining, curating - yet also somehow trying to not be a dictator; giving people a platform to share their work and being very careful not to appropriate it as my own. Also, using open licenses so that I don't have a monopoly on re-using the work in the future. I give certain constraints which seem to successfully help people generate work; then anyone can use it however they like. I think this is a nice compromise: you get the good side of setting limits (encouraging imaginative new work), without the negative side-effects of monopoly and a power trip. So Gondry's approach is helpful insofar as it articulates a way to do the first part (adapt 'pure' facilitation into something more structured) - though the second part I don't think is adequately addressed by him.
- Gondry, M (2008) You'll Like This Film Because You're In It: The Be Kind Rewind Protocol (PictureBox).