With / in Limits

This entry is part of rosa's Ecofeminist Dictionary from the project A Traversal Network of Feminist Servers (ATNOFS) and is based on two conversations with Wendy Van Wynsberghe, Élodie Mugrefya, and Martino Morandi of Constant. 1.

Constant works with many terms, they have a habit of collecting words, of thinking in multiplicities. True to this, yet working with / in limits, they settled on three words that were part of their vocabulary already, and revisited them to see how they relate to environmental concerns. Environmental and social issues are so interconnected, and to me it’s interesting to see how taking care of small scale infrastructure in a thoughtful way has positive impacts across the board. Constant is thinking more and more in terms of these interconnections. When it comes to online content for instance, they aim to stay within the limits of the space they have on the server. They decided not to grow this space but to stick to what they already have. When they reach the maximum, they remove or downsize files. Constant has a long memory — they keep content from their entire history online and available — but this long presence is cheap in terms of space, because the older content is so small in comparison to content produced today. The more current practices are the problematic ones. Even though they max out their disk space occasionally, their system administrator will warn them in advance, giving them time to decide what to do instead of fixing it in a panic. They want to turn this into a protocol, into a regular practice.

Linking environmental questions solely to CO~2~ emissions and electricity use pushes us into a small corner of metrics and narrow ways of engaging with alternative practices. Constant prefers a more holistic approach, because the most efficient forces are the ones that divert from the “cloud paradigm,” which might be super efficient, but propagates the narrative of unlimited and eternal use of services and storage. It pushes you to consume more. Constant is maybe less efficient but more aware of conditions of use, not pushing for more but working with / in limits.

Speculative Libre Intersectional Technologies

In the coming years, Constant will focus their work through this acronym: SPLINT, which stands for Speculative Libre Intersectional Technologies.

"Speculative Libre Intersectional Technologies is a term invented to signal Constant's commitment to answer the question: What could/should free and intersectional technologies do? More specifically, what kinds of devices and practices could address and counteract the systemic discriminations, oppressions and exclusions at play in today's technologies? SPLINT explores the potential of technology for artistic practice and vice versa, at the intersection of intersectional feminism and open source software. SPLINT investigates the discriminations and structural problems inherent in technology, and nurtures the imagination and imaginative capacity of techno-realities that can contribute to an open, experimental and equitable digital art field."

The overarching aim is paying attention to where violence and oppression happen in society. They don't want to define this word too much yet because it is a striving, a goal for the coming years, it has yet to develop. I do love the acronym, something that allows mending something broken by temporarily supporting the structures around it. One clear environmental focus is interspecies relationships. This theme will be the main focus during one year but they aim to carry the sensitivity of this focus throughout the whole five year period. Another clearly environmental focus is techno-disobedience, which relates to the question of resource use and e-waste. The term stems from Ernesto Oroza's research on Cuban repair culture and the creative repurposing of old devices out of necessity and relates to making do with what is already there 2.

Possible ongoingness

“Possible ongoingness” is the third term Constant felt resonated with their practice. It came up in a conversation between science and technology studies scholar Donna Haraway and professor Carry Wolfe, and captures this striving to support and nourish practices that involve feeling responsible towards others and the world, to work towards something common in the midst of political polarization and climate catastrophe.

Carry Wolfe: "Let’s start with a problem that we all agree we share."

Donna Harraway: "We all share this problem, and we all have very different ideas about what to do about it. That’s already hard enough. That does not mean the science is not settled on climate change, or that relativism reigns; it does mean learning to compose possible ongoingness inside relentlessly diffracting worlds. And we need resolutely to keep cosmopolitical practices going here, focusing on those practices that can build a common-enough world." 3

One way Constant practices this is through the sharing of their infrastructure with others. Etherpad, for instance, is shared with many organizations and people. Sometimes they find out that people encounter Constant uniquely through their etherpad service and only later find out they are an actual organization that does other things too. Big Blue Button (BBB) followed a similar pattern. At first it became a necessity for Constant itself because of the first lockdown. They needed it and had the resources to set it up. They decided to share it. Everyone who wanted to use it could book a timeslot in the agenda. This resulted in a large diversity of groups and individuals making use of it, from activist groups to students and more. They have an archive of the reservations, which has become potential evidence to show to those who refuse to consider alternatives to big tech. It demonstrates that it works and that there is a real need and interest. Environmentally, it is a great idea to share resources — not everyone needs to have their own server with BBB and etherpad. Besides, this sharing also strengthens relations between people and organizations, building networks of care and trust.

There is an element of care in the way they treat these shared services. Etherpads that are not used for a year are turned static, colors are removed, as well as the history of all edits of the page, which together save a lot of space. These space-saving methods were a result of the database growing too much. These seemingly small and practical gestures could have a big impact if they were practised more widely; if we refused to grow storage space and instead looked for ways to stay with / in limits.

  1. Constant is an association for arts and media run by artists, designers, researchers, and hackers based in Brussels, Belgium. Constant works to systematically create collaborative situations that engage with the challenges of contemporary techno-life. At Constant, they develop projects at the intersections of art and technology in which, for them, it is important to make connections between intersectional feminisms, free software, and copyleft approaches. Together, these allow them to imagine webs of interdependencies, infrastructures of solidarity, poetic algorithms, conflicted data processing practices, and principles for multi- and/or fuzzy authorship. For them, generating puzzling questions is a strategy that offers openings for profound, complex, and playful research. These questions are stumbling blocks that help them realize that the technologies they are interested in are not about fluency, smoothness, optimization, and efficiency, but are instead full of assumptions and problems that demand our continuous attention. Mugrefya, É.M. and P. and Westenberg, P. (2022) Constant: Study, Practice and Proximate Critique, MARCH. Available at: https://march.international/constant-study-practice-and-proximate-critique/ (Accessed: 1 May 2023).
  2. Oroza, E. (2009) Rikimbili. Une étude sur la désobéissance technologique et quelques formes de réinvention. Saint-Étienne: Presses universitaires de Saint-Étienne. Oroza, E. (2016) ‘Technological Disobedience: From the Revolution to Revolico.com’, Technological Disobedience Archive. Available at: https://www.technologicaldisobedience.com/2016/03/30/technological-disobedience-from-the-revolution-to-revolico-com/
  3. Haraway, D.J. (2016) ‘Companions in Conversation’, in D.J. Haraway and C. Wolfe (eds) Manifestly Haraway. University of Minnesota Press, p. 0. Available at: https://doi.org/10.5749/minnesota/9780816650477.003.0003.