n.e.w.s. is a collective online platform for the analysis and development of art-related activity, drawing upon contributions from around the globe, bringing together different voices, accents and outlooks from the North, East, West and South. | Read more..

Shadow Search Platform (SSP)

In October 2009 n.e.w.s. had organised an open call for proposals which looked at implementing the Shadow Search ideas, developing an algorithm that would find off-the-radar or stealth activities. The winner and 4 shortlisted proposals answered our initial query but also led to more questioning regarding the nature of search and its future potentials and well as pitfalls.

We are now working on developing the Shadow Search Platform (SSP), a platform for rapid prototypings and a fleamarket for shadowy search algorithms. It will also look at retrieval systems as filters. What we are planning to develop at this meeting is the backstory, the backend of what the concept of 'search' envelops. This search project (SSP) intends to go beyond interface design.

n.e.w.s. would like to continue with the second competition of the Shadow Search Platform(SSP) by putting forth an open call this summer with something that might be entitled ''(Re)search'. Now we have all this information how do we find what we are looking for?

Here is our loosing proposal we submitted to Digitale Pioniers (with a few omissions and changes) open call 'Vrije Staat. This is the basis for starting the discussion on May 15, 2010 at CIS in Bangalore and via Skype.

Project Description (test model)

Shadow Search Platform (SSP) is a FLOSS meta-platform for clustering together knowledge about deep search in a way which allows rapid prototypes of concepts and paradigms. SSP would be tested and demonstrated by the focus on a specific area of knowledge that presently has a clearly limited quantum and range of information accessible. The specific area is focused on the contemporary unseen and lesser visible (shadow) information about artistic, potentially off-the-radar, stealth activities in The Netherlands. It will be tested by comparing this to a limited set of data: the past events, political interventions and ‘shadow art practices’ of the Dutch Provo, Kabouter and Kraker movements. .

This project will involve three structural parts: crawl and index information about the cultural practices along with openly available meta-data about its popularity and visibility, develop an extensible query interface which by the means of the retrieval plugins displays the results to the user and opens up the platform, and the plugins for wider use and development by the means of an API.

Crawling and indexing will be done by engaging with a specific user community (Dutch cultural sector) that is working with an investigative focus (artistic shadow practices) to help in indexing as well as in training and targeting the crawler. They will do this through a distributed system that they can configure, tweak and deploy within their own networks. SSP will offer the user-community ways to customize the manner in which information (customized retrieval protocols) from the index is retrieved. These plugins will enable the users of the project to devise their own ways of interpreting and prioritizing parameters of visibility important to them.

The target audience, or user community, and the contributors to the index of SSP will be the arts community of The Netherlands: artists, curators, alternative media, collaborative social groups and activists, researchers, students at national art academies, scholars and cultural adventurers (museums, institutions, artists initiatives). The USER community will help the project in determining the level at which the project is successful in probing into the shadows of our area of civil engagement. SSP will offer the USERS a unique way to dive deeper (read search) into a specific period of their shared history, to visualise the undisclosed areas and find ways of connecting them to the contemporary flux of social engagement. The rich activist and shadow practice history of The Netherlands is, consciously or not, being sustained and evolved via these communities, organisations, and events and SSP attempts to shed light upon precisely these cultural dark areas.

The project will reach the USER community by direct invitation, partial remuneration but also through hackathons, unconferences, and other such engagements at media art festivals, along with conferences and community events of the free software and networked arts communities. Therefore we include not only the ‘established’ or ‘institutionalised’ artistic sphere but people that currently congregate around such cultural platforms: Streaming festival in The Hague, events organised by gogbot.nl, Mediamatic, strp.nl, v2.nl, hack in the box (.org..), goto10, Hacking at Random, IMPAKT, WORM, Utrecht's Festival of Games, Institute of Network Cultures, etc.

The USERS will be continually involved through regular releases of a well-documented code, an updated wiki, a manual and a bug-tracker where USERS can get involved with the development process by filing bugs that they come across. The USERS will help in consolidating the unique contributions of the SSP into electronic publications which can be shared widely and which can demonstrate the feasibility of the SSP. The project will be publicized and promoted through social media such as twitter, delicious, blogs and presentations on Internet radio stations dealing with critical digital media. We will also be organizing a forum at the n.e.w.s website and a 'hackathon' and 'unconference' at to-be-determined physical venues which will bring together the leading thinkers and developers in the field of deep search who will be invited to critique and give feedback to the SSP.

The Shadow Search Platform will be based on the Django framework which uses Python general language-processing and natural-language possibilities, the search features of Django and Python search modules like Woosh and Sphinx. The software stack will be developed on a Linux, Apache and MySql platform. Additionally, the project aims to add an extra translation layer in the API that makes possible the interaction between different platforms and programming languages.


Panopticon 2.0

In the spirit of May...  I have some pretty serious reservations about the fundamental assumptions of the SSP. Is there not some kind of embedded assumption that the shadow practices the SSP hopes to bring to light are being unfairly relegated to the shadows by the attention economy, which was somehow excluding them? My reading of our political and art-historical moment is that they are doing their damnedest to stay in the shadows. "SSP attempts to shed light upon precisely these cultural dark areas": that self-description makes the SSP seem uncannily similar to the sorts of initiatives that would appeal to counter-insurgency operatives in our State intelligence agencies. With a perverse twist of the thumbscrew, I must say, because the so-called user-community is being asked to "devise their own ways of interpreting and prioritizing parameters of visibility" -- to some extent, that is, to "out" their peers who for reasons which, in our proto-fascist biopolitical moment, are perfectly legitimate, prefer to impair their coefficient of visibility. For them, the big-Other is a given, but they seek to keep the big-Other as an unknowing witness, playing incognito just beneath his nose.

It is interesting to know what is going on in the shadows for sure. But yielding to the scopic drive to "shed light on them" is a fancy way of colonizing yet another, fragile and marginal part of the lifeworld -- bringing the artefacts into the purview of the general gaze -- and pushing the shadows still further into the infrathin. This is not just a logical paradox; given the reasons for going underground, it is an ethical contradiction.

Thus SSP has thus only one problem: its bearings are off by 180°. Shouldn't the emphasis be on aiding a proliferation of conversations between small-others and abetting them in their desire to sustain their invisibility in the face of predatory searchlights?




I think there is nothing in the projects that aims to shed light on those that which to remain un-illuminated, but more so to introduce a means by which buried or un-indexed content can rise to the surface, can be found, or otherwise re-attributed if desired, not a mere turning around of the current logic effectively commercializing them. Everything has always been a dance between mainstream and underground, between destruction, balance and creation; the one cannot exist without the other. This project is not about those you are referring to, although it is important to keep in mind that not everything needs to be indexed. The new indexes will be made by and with people who are part of the networks that will be included (be it particular art movements or others such as the Amsterdam squatter movement), projects that are not hiding for the searchlight but who are unfortunately out of the crude trajectory of those searchlights as a result of elements such as ranking based on popularity. Other then indexing these non-indexed content, I believe a big part of the project also aims to explore the means by which one can search/browse/explore/surf within these sets of data, not necessarily hooking them up to some sort of evil capitalist mainframe but exploring alternative means of search within the sets, giving users/content owners the freedom to choose their level of exposure.