The second in a series of conversations about the transiency of FoAM bxl. We asked ourselves what it might be like to have FoAM bxl become a nomadic or migratory organisation/network without a fixed studio.

Examples from our experience

Migrating birds in Lithuania: a network of Lithuanian émigrés who meet once a year in a 1-week workshop, for the rest online communication and updates, using the network as a resource to find collaborators; emails are sporadic, sometimes amn increase in volume for a few days, then nothing for months. It has a clear and simple purpose and doesn’t require much from its members

Farmersmanual: a pan-european disturbance conglomerate (aka laptop band). After giving up their studio in Vienna and moving to other European countries, they began working from lounge rooms, performance venues and/or bars (whatever’s available). Online communication became more important. Collaboration happened based around shared interests and opportunities. working together primarily centred around performances and events (fixing logistics, designing performances, finding spaces to work and perform interspersed with ecstatic tinkering). Note that collaboration reduced as members dispersed (causation? corrolation?).

(a few other listserv-centric networks were mentioned. primary communication online, occasional subgroup coordination IRL)

FoAM already functions as a nomadic meeting place for people who aren’t core team members: drop in, stay and/or work for a while, catch up with people and move on. In our case this still needs a group of people to be more or less sedentary to maintain a space that others can move in and out of. Would it still work if we didn’t have the studio, nor means to house people?

Some other examples mentioned in nomadic studios include The Unknown Fields Division, Boat Magazine

What could it be like?

  • A Network for Speculative Culture: A (fluid) collection of people who want to work on something together, not imposed externally with the primacy of a shared set of interests.
  • A Temporary Autonomous Zone It emerges and dissolves when needed (e.g. like a TAZ). Periods of intensive collective work (e.g. on a ship, mountain retreat or in the wilderness) are interspersed with periods where we only meet online. The feeling in a TAZ is that nothing happens from obligation but rather from interest and connections and collaborations will naturally emerge. Most of the time people work wherever and whenever they want, with whomever makes sense, yet having periodic meeting moments and places where the benefit of a network is continuously refreshed and reaffirmed.
  • Sedentary & Migratory nodes: Several places around the world act as stable nodes (e.g. studios or houses run by FoAM people or others who’d welcome our temporary 'occupation'), while some members function as migratory connectors between the nodes. These people would function connective tissue between interesting people and places - think itinerant storytellers/journeyers connecting interests, places and people with each other. The itinerants adapt to local communities, absorb their stories, move on, meet other communities, share and collect stories - acting as 'pollinators' in 'open space technology' terminology.
  • Stamtisch / stamkroeg / estaminet : Working individually or in small project-centric groups, meeting regularly but informally, perhaps keeping a quiet place where we could meet and have our library. A quiet cafe for example where we could sit and work, eat and drink, knowing that other foamies might be there as well. We could partner with a cafe who could benefit from having FoAM present and have a way to share profits (that we could invest in our yearly retreats)
  • A secret society: e.g. a 'Foundation of Federated Futurist Republics' - not a Bohemian Salon of self-centred individuals, but not a 'collective' either: a group of people who share the same principles, have occasional private meetings, support each other professionally etc. (note: expand the diff. w. bohemian salon. does this FFFR sound like a 'cooperative'? a 'baseline communist' regime?)
  • FoAM network as a project itself: a project for distributed prototyping of alternate realities/worlds (including social, cultural, professional, scientific, technological (…) aspects);

What are the benefits of a nomadic network?

  • The energy that is now spent on maintaining infrastructure would be used to maintain the network (relationships, projects, exchanges…)
  • A sense of freedom
  • Being able to be more open to new things as they arise (no fixed yearly programmes)
  • It’s a more flexible and potentially more resilient structure (if it doesn’t dissipate)
  • Opportunity to travel and work around the world
  • It’s a good filter to find people who have a mutually beneficial relationship to the network; connections are based on shared interests and affinity rather than obligation; Working with a changing group of people (based on their skills and interests rather than just because they’re around); commitments are more fluid and project-based

What would be required?

* independent means for each member, with a shared pool of money to finance joint activities

  • clearer 'purpose' (e.g. to know when what I’m doing is or isn’t a part of the network)
  • online communication and sharing would become much more important (for co-ordination, sharing and professional discussions); we would need a strong online infrastructure and commitment to using it
  • regular informal f2f gatherings like aperos/meetups for local members (and their visitors), yearly retreats for the network
  • a distributed and decentralised infrastructure (communication, governance, finances…)
  • explicit knowledge about people’s skills and interests - with possibly a facilitator/knitter of connections
  • (temporary) physical spaces for f2f gatherings of the network; for working spaces we could use an existing co-working space and become members
  • outsourcing of things we don’t want to do to capable 'others' (accountants, system administrators, virtual PAs, cafe owners…) to make the overhead lighter

What are the dangers?

  • It can be unclear what the benefits are of having a nomadic FoAM network
  • Financial independence of the members isn’t a given at the moment and willingness to invest in the network is uncertain
  • The network might dissipate
  • The effort to keep the network together might fall back on the same people and become too heavy again
  • The mental overhead of having to search for places to meet and work might be quite high
  • Building things would become more difficult
  • What would happen to the library? The various valuable collections might have to be taken apart and distributed, which would be a pity

Where do we go from here?

  • We agree that we see a potential in having a migratory or nomadic structure, but there are still quite a few question marks and doubts. We’re planning to:
    • Do a full scenario exercise (including external drivers etc.) to get a clearer picture of what the nomadic network structure could look like. Particularly focusing on critical uncertainties like financial means and (temporary) space (working, accommodation..)
  • From the scenario exercise design individual prehearsals and test them out in 2016