The internationally renowned digital arts festival, FutureEverything, will be celebrating co-operation as part of it’s annual conference this week.
At first glance; the co-operative movement and digital media may not seem to have much in common. However Drew Hemment, the Founder and Director of FutureEverything, argues that they are more alike than people might think.
He explained: “On the one hand you’ve got a tradition in the co-operative movement that dates to 1844 and has given rise to these values that everyone understands. Then you have this much newer phenomenon, with which it has so much in common and I think that’s quite remarkable.
“I don’t assume that they’re the same but I think that there’s something deep in the DNA of each one, and there’s some real commonalities.”
Drew could easily be described as a bit of a geek, with his Jarvis Cocker-esque glasses and bubbling enthusiasm about the subject at hand. He has worked in digital culture for over 15 years and admits himself that ten years ago it was “a world of a few geeks".
Digital culture has moved on since then, with platforms like Twitter and huge political upheavals such as Occupy and the Arab Spring, it has firmly found its place in the mainstream.
This year the theme of the festival is FutureEverybody and has taken the International Year of Co-operatives as one of it’s influences.
Drew has always seen a link between the co-operative movement and what he describes as open source culture, a term used for people co-operating and sharing ideas online. One of the most prominent examples of the success of open source culture is the computer operating software Linux.
Drew noted: “It was a new way of working, a new way of co-operation which started from the premise; if I open up what I do and I share, in this case my source code, other people can build on it, fix it, change it, improve it.”
He explained that open source software is now used by big corporations such as IBM, Google and even Microsoft: “It’s been proven that the model of co-operation and collaboration works. It’s better.”
FutureEverything will be taking place between 16–21 May and will include art exhibitions, mass participatory events, music, digital arts games and the annual conference with speakers: Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who will speak on the Icelandic modern media initiative, and Mark Robinson-Field from the Co-operative Group's membership department, among others.
Drew believes that the nature of co-operation has changed in the post internet world. He said that before when the movement came into being, the world was organised into “big homogenous blocks”.
He added: “Today society doesn’t work like that, you still do have these big entities but the way that people co-operate isn’t solely mediated or channeled through these big entities. What tends to happen is you get individuals coming together and co-operating and collaborating on a much more ad hoc basis.
“I think that really cuts to a real key distinction in the character of co-operation today and you get both wonderful politically powerful moments coming from that, but also you’re less able to co-ordinate as a block.”
The festival will see a number of events based on co-operation and mass participation over the seven days.
From Wednesday, 8,000 additional commuters will be joining the morning rush in a project called Human Resources by Lawrence Epps. The commuters will be miniature hand made ceramic figurines and will be placed in surprise locations around Manchester.
The project is sponsored by the Co-operative Group and people are being encouraged to take the figures with them and create their own story using video or photographs. Epps has done this once before and the figurines have ended up as far away as Canada and Australia.
Other events include Handmade, at the Victoria baths, looking at the new maker culture connecting traditional skills with digital production and techniques and Voices & Fanfare, by SuperCritical Mass, a huge sound performance installation where the audience can interact by moving about or sitting and absorbing.
The festival will also be celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Mass Observation Movement, which along with the Co-operative Movement also comes from Manchester.
Drew says it feels good to be holding the festival where these two important movements began: “I think it’s fair to say it’s a source of pride to us, that we share a home with Manchester that gave rise to these traditions.”
The festival began in Manchester in 1995, under the name Futuresonic, it strives to look at how digital media is changing the world and how we can bring the future to the present. It is one of the longest running digital media festivals in the world.
• More details about the festival can be found at: www.futureeverything.org