Moray Bresnihan@ Mutantspace | Yuk Hui@DOXA
YH: Can you explain to us what does mutantspace do?
MB: What mutantspace does is give people free support in the production of their arts event and projects. We dont differentiate between the artist or non artist, professional or amateur, we just want people to play, create, make, experiment and fail. We do this primarily through our skills bank which is divided into: CREATIVE, PRODUCTION, MANAGEMENT, MARKETING sections. In other words all the areas people need in order to produce their work.
We are a non-monetary economy running everything on the gift economy principal – people join up by giving a skill into the bank. They can then use the bank as often as they like. Twice a year I do a call out to all members asking them if they wish to take part in our bi-annual diy festival called THE TRASH CULTURE REVUE. We put on everything there is no barrier – it is a collective action and the festival is dependent on the work of the co-operative. The next festival is on from Thursday 5th – 8th May. The entire festival is run on a zero budget and all aspects of it from performances to exhibitions, PR to design, volunteering to documenting are done through our bank. Members get together from all over the place bringing the online co-operative into a real world community
YH: What do you mean by ‘people join up by giving a skill to the bank’? how does it work?
MB: If you want to use the resources of mutantspace you simply register. Part of the registration process is to submit a skill, amount of time youre willing to give to another member, experience you have, description of your skill and where you live. Once that is done you can use the bank for whatever you need and whenever you need it. i.e. if you are a musician you might need a graphic designer to design an album cover or a gig poster. You go into the graphic design section or put your area and graphic design into the search bar and a list will come up. You look through the list and can directly email that person through the site. I use this method for all design work for our festival. You can use it for anything: a venue, a van, a set designer, lighting engineer, painter, dancer, artist, marketing expert, web programmer, etc…
Every member of mutantspace has given a skill into the bank. They have given their time into the co-operative. This means that the more people join the stronger we become. Currently we have over 1500 skills in the bank and members use them for all sorts of things
YH: Do members actively exchange skills through the platform?
MB: Yes is the short answer as mutantspace provides a CONTACT tab on every skill so that you can directly email a fellow member – it is the only way to contact a member and it ensures privacy. However as it is a gift economy you only give when asked. It is not a barter system. There is no value put on any skills and so the skills bank is run completely on trust. Our festival, The Trash Culture Revue is a clear example of how it works. The programme is made up of members, the posters are designed by members, the pr and marketing is done by members. The accommodation is given by members
YH: How do you sustain these projects, for example, financially? the motivation of the contributors? etc..
MB: Finance doesn’t come into it. The projects are sustainable because all the members want to be involved in creative action and have to make an active decision to join because either:
a) they want to use the bank to reduce their production costs
b) they believe in co-operation and the commons. Mutantspace is about making creativity accessible to everyone and making the act of making and producing more sustainable. Mutantspace itself (the website) is run on no money and was not intended to make money – the idea is to create an alternative creative economy that is run by people for people. An economy that is non bureaucratic, has no red tape and is purely there to support creative action. Everything we do is run through our skills bank so there is no financial cost
People can make money through the site in that they can create an event using mutantspace resources and charge at the venue, etc but thats their own business. Mutantspace is solely concerned with people producing creative actions.
As for peoples motivation. Producing creative projects can be expensive and mutantspace alleviates this problem because everything is for free – so the motivation is often a self interested one.
Mutantspace also provides a space for people to meet others from different backgrounds, ages, and so on, so it opens up people to new experiences and gives them the opportunity to learn more about the world around them.
We have pensioners making films and writing in our blog, students involved in protests over the commercialisation of universities, community activists involved in spoken word and slam poetry in pretty grim inner city areas, designers and lawyers and architects and blacksmith and carpenters who just want to help – all sorts of people who can and want to contribute to the cultural life of their place. The state does not encourage this form of activity. Mutantspace provides the alternative
YH: I find your emphasis on gift economy as in contrast to a barter system quite interesting, it reminds me very much of the work of Marcel Mauss, which to some extent rejects the textbook economic history, did you take it from there or what is your understanding of it?
MB: The first time I consciously thought about the gift economy was when i was working in a large arts company dealing with other artists and groups, schools, community groups from different disciplines, ages, backgrounds, etc. Resources were always limited but skills were not. The most practical solution to solving these problems of lack of resources and money was to share our skills ‘you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours’. It just made economic sense
The second time was when i witnessed the gift economy in action on a large scale at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada. A festival in which over 50,000 came together for a festival in the middle of the desert. To literally survive there everyone had to share and gift things to each other (you cant buy anything there) in order for the festival to work and for everyone to have a great time. Without people, without a commons and without a sense of collaborative consumption there would have been nothing there but dirt
The third was a book called ‘The Gift, How The Creative Spirit Transforms The World’ by Douglas Hyde who advocates the notion of the gift in society and the power of creativity to transform society. He saw the gift as non – reciprocal. In other words you do not have an expectation of the gift being returned to you.
My view on this is that we ‘gift’ all the time in small ways whether it be having a dinner party for our friends, shopping for someone, opening the door for them, giving someone a cigarette, etc…so a gift economy is just an extension of that social fabric. I have many skills (as all of us do) I may not regard them as useful or as particularly important however someone else might. So why not offer them to others. My return is that i get satisfaction in the knowledge that someone needs my help and that i get to make new connections with other people in my locality, community. And it costs nothing but a little time and effort. It makes complete sense.
YH: What is your understanding of ‘commons’ and what role does it play in your project? Or more precisely how do you situate the ‘commons’ within the gift economy?
MB: Well, more complicated now – I feel a rant coming on! Hope this makes some sense. The commons was traditionally an area for all people to graze their livestock, grow vegetables, etc until private landlords put an end to it by fencing in the land and charging rent. This monetization of public property, of ‘things’ is something I feel strongly about. The commons is where cultural activity lives however that is, yet again, being fenced in and monetized by capitalist organisations and the state (our landlords). They now call this space ‘The Cultural Economy’. Mutantspace was developed to oppose this outright and absolutely.
By creating an alternative, open, non – hierarchical, non – monetary system of creative production I hope all members of our co-operative can, eventually, free themselves of this status quo as the current system is destroying the creativity of all people, all society and turning it into a bland, generic product.
Mutantspace is a commons, it is inclusive, it is opposed to privatization, to monetization. Everybody shares their skills freely and which in turn empowers them to do things they may never have thought possible before.
In general terms I’ve only seen the benefits of a commons however I do realise that there will always be issues with copyright etc however I think thats just a matter of time i.e. the creative commons license.
Much of the time its a point of view.
We simply have to stop obsessing over things, hyper – consumption has driven us all mad and is increasingly destroying the planet and societies all over the world. Sharing what we have and perhaps taking a step back is the right way to go forward.