Interview with Andrew Gryf Paterson (Living Non-Fictions)

Andrew Gryf Paterson has been an integral part of Pixelache for many years, especially during his coordination of Pixelversity from 2011-2014. This year, he'll be leading the Living Non-Fictions working group, which will attempt to capture the other activities of the festival through unconventional and subjective means. We asked Andrew a few questions about his approach to culture production and the dissemination of experience.

Pixelache: You've been involved with Pixelache for over a decade, and have a been a very strong influence over the direction of our activities. A lot of the responsiblity for the documentation of these activities, particularly Pixelversity, has fallen on your shoulders. Thus, we thought it would be great to have you facilitate a workshop that relieved some of the pressure of traditional documentary roles, and encouraged more experimental forms of expression. But this raises the question: what do you think this responsibility is? As an artist and/or cultural organiser, what parts of the process are obligatory, and what do we risk by veering into uncharted territory?

Andrew Paterson: You are right that for a long period, especially in duration of the Pixelversity process, the around-the-year peer-learning programme that ran from 2011-2014, I was the one responsible for communicating, arranging and gathering together documentations of what happened as it developed organically. Practically this meant making blog- and social-media posts or events upfront of the event taking place, and gathering afterwards whatever media was made or gathered in the process. It also involved organising and telling narratives about the different thematics that emerged over the years, with an unspoken obligation to treat each strand or weave of activities similarly. While in the first year there was 10-12 events, during later years there were more and more, sometimes up to 50 events in the year. It became increasingly challenging to process and manage all the documentation of these events equally. Furthermore, some activities demanded more post-production work than others due to the project's ambition or reporting demands; also event collaborators had different expectations of what would be accessible about what happened after the event passed. In the end, the annual Pixelache reports, compiled in the winter months of the year, finally gathered together an overview that might not have been seen before. And then these were not always promoted or viewed much publicly. 

Inviting participants and creating an ongoing informal social space to sharing, learning and exchange was a core objective of the Pixelversity programme (and also the Camp Pixelache events during the annual Festivals). We aimed to diversify and include new people in Pixelache activities in the Eastern Baltic Sea eco-geographic region, but we didn't necessarily focus on also diversifying who documented and created narratives about what happened during the events. We had the pleasure of consistency in Antti Ahonen being our regular 'official' photographer, although on many occasions he was supplemented by media shared by other participants. However, it was still mostly the same persons (myself included as facilitator and coordinator) telling or writing about what happened using those photos, or occasionally video-clip documentations gathered by others.

We recognise the contradictory issue of encouraging diversity, but not actively facilitating diverse narratives. We did widen the re-presenters of Pixelache abroad though our 'ambassadors' acknowledgement, and supported members to represent our activities in other festivals instead of just 'staff'. We also devised a 'narratives' project which would ideally interview and encourage past participants and organisers to narrate their impressions of what was important to them in Pixelache over the years. Unfortunately, it was a still-born ambition. The sharing of responsibility to tell about what is personally valuable and important hasn't yet happened. In the Living Non-Fictions workshop there is a renewed opportunity to experiment and to try again to kick-start this ambition.

A decentralised responsibility to 'show and tell' about what happens in the festival obliges that those who actively take part – or indeed if they are observers, listeners or lurkers – to share what they do or witness during the Festival in some form of narration. It can take whichever representational form that suits the person doing it. The increased popularity of mediated subjectivity – mobile or micro-reportage and personal data broadcasting via social media and apps – is a fermenting space for this approach. However, we really do wish to encourage perspectives and mediums that are less utilised, and not so easily incorporated or exploited, including writing, drawing, notebook scans, and non-digitised data. 

As facilitator of the Living Non-Fictions workshop, I proposed that we create a regular performance or presentation space at MadHouse (at the beginning of the Pixelache Club and Kino 43 events each evening Friday 25. - Sunday 27.9.) to share something of what happened in that festival day or the day before. It could be drawings, spoken narrative or anecdotes, one or more objects, a text or media files that represent an unique festival experience. Most likely these will be narrative 'sketches' or drafts. We don't expect final results. The risk we face in the decentralised festival with decentralised documentation is a triple-dose Fear Of Missing Out (#FoMO): Not being there; Not having any record of what happened; Not being able to understand or appreciate what happened. But as we cannot be in every place at all times, and we cannot guarantee there will always be an audience or participants, we also have to accept that we can't stand in exactly the same place as another. With these positions in mind, we have the potential for a myriad of new voices and ways of telling or sharing.

Andrew Paterson in Meet To Delete: The Weight of Information, 2014. Photo: Antti Ahonen.

How do you feel about the cumulative knowledge gained through years of Pixelache festivals, Pixelversity events, and other cultural experiences? And specifically, how this knowledge has been shared to outsiders?

The accumulation of personal experience, friends and contacts, as well as knowledge gained through years of Pixelache festivals and Pixelversity is one which I appreciate and value very highly. I believe others feel the same. The intimacy and scale of past Pixelache festivals have helped to create significant experiences and impressions that spread beyond our official documentations, through word of mouth, including professional legends, good and thoughtful critique, awe-inspiring atmospheres, experimental prototype projects, intense connections, empathy-induced tiredness, funny or rough stories, and a whole host of anecdotes. Although it may have been difficult for outsiders who haven't attended to appreciate or understand what has gone on at times, the above non-structured forms of knowledge have attracted many to get involved or attend over the years. They pass on experience and some form of knowledge that is gained or learned in the process. Occasionally the festival and association has attracted researchers from the academic community, and led to interviews or research projects with Pixelache members or the community being proposed as partners. This is great, but there is still much potential for more rigorous or in-depth investigations and reflections on what has been done over the years. Insider and outsider perspectives are welcome!

Another point to mention is that the community around the Pixelache festivals and association has gradually changed over the years. The accumulated knowledge gathered and shared has been challenged by key members moving on to do other things, not to mention also changing assistant producers, event organisers and volunteers. In addition, the different web platforms over the year have also taken a toll, despite intensive archival efforts. Loss and picking up again has been part of the process, as well as an incentive for new energy. Our recent completion and publishing of the Pixelache Network Open-Sourcing Festivals project made transparent as much as possible about how recent festivals (Camp Pixelache 2014 in Helsinki, and Do It Anyway Festival 2015 in Sheffield) were made, and the knowledge and experience that may be transferred beyond the staff and members in a more structured manner. 

Though you are no stranger to academia, you work deals specifically with alternative or non-traditional formats of education and interaction. Obviously we take pleasure in the freedom and experimentation that is possible with organisations such as Pixelache, but is there really such a difference? How defined (or blurry) is the line between academic institutions and pedagogically-focused cultural associations? Is the content really that different, or more the administration and organising process? 

I think it is rare to be able to engage in educational processes that are informal, unstructured and organically-developed over a long time without the need to institutionalize what is learned in the process. Without further reflection and mapping out the connecting strands of individuals, organisations and institutions involved, as well as what has emerged personally for individuals and project-wise as a result of being involved, it is hard to state its value. I believe there is latent potential loaded into associational learning. First, the content explored as informal education in cultural associations are those that are not necessarily fully-formed, or clear about what the potential knowledge gained might be good for. It is backed up however by others who share the same curiousity about the emergent interest, and wish to learn together at the same time, and this is a strength that carries it onwards.

In Living Non-Fictions, we will hopefully deal with some very personal, subjective, narrative-based recounting of the festival. Do you feel that this approach to (for lack of a better term, let's just say) 'documentation' eschews discipline and accountability?

No, I don't think it has to eschew discipline and accountability. Naturally, I believe there is value in sharing subjective and narrative-based stories. In our rapid one-click publishing era it certainly can take a form of discipline (and maybe courage) to commit to turning that experience or witnessing into something that you are willing to physically stand in front of others and share. The delay of sharing later in the evening, or maybe the next day may not help at all. It gives you a chance to reflect upon what is important, not just at the impulsive moment of click and send. That person is accountable not only to themselves, but also to the individual, group or community of others who they may represent in their narrative.

From the organisation's point of view, we (Pixelache) are accountable, in recognising the narrative work (labour) that many people do already when attending festivals, as part of their telling about their experiences or highlights to others, in person or via their media/info-sharing practice. So this year, we focus upon it and invite further experiments, and hope to learn from the experience.

Andrew at Camp Pixleache 2011. Photo: Antti Ahonen.

We're trying to follow a motif of 'decentralisation' this year, and this workshop will hopefully decentralise the viewpoint of the chronicler, if that makes any sense. Yet information feels, at least to me, like it's becoming more centralised. We rely on Wikipedia and Google as our one-stop shop for facts, and rarely dig deeper to seek alternatives. With our digital identities constantly pushed, prodded and poked by market research and statistical analysis, do you feel that there is an increased need for subjective, personal takes? For example, is it more important to write a personal blog post expressing our own feelings about a topic, than it used to be?

Let me take another angle on this centralising of information or media. One issue is of course the dominance of certain social media platforms in aggregating our attention to one place. Many people are already involved in sharing personal opinions and subjectivities online, however often these are masked in simple semi-passive acts which amplify what others have shared, rather than initiating their own source or opinion. In this way I agree that a personal or unique statement on a topic or experience is meaningful. Be real! Do we still have the ability, practice and experience to do this still face to face? Can we actually give attention again in another way, to listen in physical, corporeal space, to what other people have experienced and witnessed? Our Living Non-Fictions workshop is a little test within the Festival format.

We decided to call this workshop Living Non-Fictions to play off the Living Fictions workshop, as a counterpoint of sorts. But do you feel strongly about the line between fiction and non-fiction? Are you concerned in the slightest about 'truth' and conveying such in the workshop's output?

Like many people who have immigrated to and lived in Finland, I appreciate the honesty that exists as a common base value in society. At the same time, there is a great creative imagination which blurs the space between the magical and the brutal. The only truth we need to strive for in the workshop is that people are honest with themselves and their experience with others, respecting that others might see, hear and understand things differently.

What does 'Living Spaces' mean to you?

Somewhere that combines the material, physical infrastructure that keeps us alive, sheltered, warm, watered and fed; inhabited with persons, human and non-humans that give and take care; plus something magic we can't see, but take for granted and hope is there.