[ISEA2010] Paper: James Wallbank – Life on the Trailing Edge: Ten Years Exploring Trash Technology


At ISEA98 I proposed that artists should engage with recycled, “trailing edge” technology combined with free, open source software as an antidote to the commercialism and exclusivity of digital media. The project that emerged from that proposal, Access Space, has proven to be a robust model for public engagement with networked digital media and has influenced numerous local initiatives. It is now the longest running open access media lab in the UK.

In 1998 open source was seen as marginal. Now the cultural significance of the free software movement is recognised and proprietary software and formats have become marginal for many artists, activists and commentators. Yet proprietary formats, software and practices (which provide convenience at the expense of autonomy) still dominate the mainstream and some artists remain uncritical digital cheerleaders.

Digital technologies tend to manifest as a centralising force: concentrating knowledge, power, skill, information, money, opportunities, resources, and (with the advent of social networking) even friends. If digital media artists only engage at the level, “Hey, this is cool!” they fail to challenge the figuratively toxic social and literally toxic physical effects of an industry which both creates and accelerates the premature redundancy of the tools of their trade.

  • James Wallbank (UK) is an artist, free technology advocate, and CEO of Access Space, the UK’s longest running free media lab. He hasn’t bought any hardware or software for ten years. Now Access Space is developing a research hub investigating sustainable strategies for community digital empowerment.

Full text (PDF) p.  188-189