In approaching this distributed symposium I sought a term that would be as politically and socially complicated as the field we are trying to define. In doing so, and likely against my better judgement, I landed on “public.” Derived, in part, from the Latin publicus, meaning “of the people; of the state; done for the state,” it can be used to refer to a difficult-to-define group of “ordinary” people or to enact or perceive something in open view. From my perspective at Serpentine, a public contemporary art organisation physically located in London in a post-Brexit UK, but networked with individuals and organisations internationally, I feel an obligation in the Arts Technologies department to developing twenty-first century cultural infrastructure: the systems that support art and advanced technologies as a whole, and respond to a broader societal agenda.1 To invoke our relationship to anything that can be qualified as “public” is to consider (and rethink) how we can and should operate in order to sustain and support creative practice. From the assumptions about the general public as our institutional “audience” to the ability for any artist or organisation to access public funding for vital cultural endeavours, the nuances of how we operate for and with the public sits at the heart of any institutional framework when developing a mission, values, and capabilities. How these evolve in the context of the art and advanced technologies ecosystem in the next five to ten years is at the forefront of our ongoing work. The development, evolution and increasingly widespread adoption of technologies like AI, blockchain and game engines have altered the fabric of everyday “public” infrastructure and legacy organizational forms, for better or worse. Technologies will continue to complicate this notion of “publicness” when private and commercial companies are building the next generation of tools as public goods. Decentralized technologies enable systems that can exist beyond traditional jurisdictions of law, and blockchain (when public and permissionless) embeds a complex form of transparency into its fabric. In addition, forms of community are built via video games and Web3 projects around particular interests and concerns. We need to continue to cultivate space for collaboration, experimentation, convening. We need funding bodies to support public interest in art and culture for the continued interrogation of advanced technologies in dialogue with these emerging spaces and forms. Therefore, “public” is a word that is used frequently across the sprawling worlds of art and technology. Yet, I feel, it’s not actually used enough. In the end, perhaps what I am asking for is clarity and transparency when we invoke the “public” so that we can really start to build hybrid worlds.
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