Source: original french http://www.samizdat.net
Source: translation http://slash.autonomedia.org
Source: italian http://www.autistici.org/loa/blicero/domande-multitude.txt
A Space of Construction and Deconstruction
Interview with blicero about the experience of the LOA Hacklab in Milan
Q.What is a hacklab? And more specifically, what is the LOA Hacklab in Milan?
A Hacklab is a place where we try to combine the hacker attitude, that is to say the act of understanding the functioning of complex machines in order to deconstruct them and reconstruct them in a non conventional manner, with the ambition of analysing the real. A place of relations where people, brought by a marked interest in the new forms of electronic communication, by the digital and the telematic, can meet to construct a different way of understanding things and intervene in the processes that determine reality. A Hacklab is in some way a meeting place for the various entities and determinations of digital antagonism.
The LOA Hacklab (Mi) specifically is the Hacklab of Milan, born after the hackmeeting 99 which took place at the social center . Last year we were involved in different campaigns run principally, but not only, by all the “realities” (1) of Italian telematic antagonism: open and free access to knowledge and immaterial goods, freedom of expression, courses and seminars, construction of a new server which will be presented during the next hackmeeting, and very many other things. Currently, our internal coordination mailing list numbers 70 subscribers, and we continue to expand our collaborative projects.
Q. Could you present fairly quickly the route that propelled the establishment of the hacklabs in several Italian cities, and particularly the relationship between this dynamic and the occupied social centers?
A. In the beginning there was the hackmeeting. During these self organized occasions telematic activists and hackers from all over Italy (and elsewhere as well) exchanged ideas, opinions, tips, and took advantage of the opportunity to meet physically after having gotten to know one another through the intermediary of the flux of bytes. The first of these meetings was organised in 1998 at the CPA FI-SUD, one of Florences social centers, and it was a success. The second was in Milan in ’99, and many people began to ask themselves why not give some continuity to these moments of exchange and relationships between each hackmeeting. Thus were born the Hacklabs in Florence and Milan, not to forget the Freaknet Medialab that had already been operational for some time. In a period of two years, other hacklabs were created and even today others are being born. At present there are ten and the desire to hack and to change the current context seems not to diminish, but rather the opposite.
The relationship with the social centers has without doubt a historical component; the hackmeetings were born and took place in the social centers of Florence, Milan and Rome, and it was natural that structures having as fundamental objectives, amongst others, to give continuity to the activities taken up by the hackers, started off and found their own space inside structures such as the social centers.
There exist also deeper reasons, tied specifically to the hacker attitude and to its origins, fully convergent with those which inspire the subjects of self-organisation. Two fundamental characteristics of the hacker ethic meet in the wish to give knowledge the widest possible circulation and the desire to understand the functioning of complex mechanisms so as to be able, as a result, to detourn them for one’s own pleasure and desires. If we transpose these characteristics into the ‘non technical’ milieu, it is easy to identify the occupied social centers and the self-managed spaces as clear and obvious attempts at reality hacking. The convergence of these two characteristics (historic and ‘behavioural’) brought the hacklabs and the realities of self-organisation to share spaces and trajectories.
Q. A particularly interesting aspect of the experience of the LOA is in the fact of organising regular ‘courses’ where you try to transmit expertise on the subject of use of UNIX type systems and computer science languages (Perl, HTML, C etc.) to ‘normal users’?
A. Not only to normal users. The courses, in theory, are of differentiated standards for those that already have some knowledge and feel motivated enough to pursue them.
Q. How does that work?
A. We built a class room with i486 PCs and screens recovered from the dumpsters of banks and other offices. We have sixteen work-stations which provide everything necessary to take the course and get hands on the machines. We strove and have succeeded in creating a didactic space which leaves nothing to envy the commercial courses in computer science that presently flourish everywhere, thanks to recovered material, a little reflection and our will to demonstrate that the headlong rush towards a technology which is ever more sophisticated, and always the ‘last word’, is purely and simply a reflex of the capitalist process; the latter necessitating the constant creation of markets to survive. Besides the physical structure, several of us got together to produce didactic material, to put together curriculum for the courses and seminars, transparencies, hand-outs, CDs and so many other things. Lastly, it even occurred to us to produce courses on video, but that seemed a little bit too much…
Q. Who comes to the seminar courses of the LOA?
A. The crowd is rather varied running from students to professionals, passing by the hackers as far as some immigrants who through these courses manage to find a job. The courses and seminars are not only instances of apprenticeship and sharing of knowledge, they are above all and especially moments of relationship. During the classes, our everyday activities find themselves confronted by the presence and ideas of those who come to take the courses and seminars. From a certain point of view, the courses and seminars represent for us what sociality represented for the self-managed experiences of preceding decades.
Q. Do you think that the transmission of knowledge, of expertise in the use of software tools is a matter of high stakes?
A. In this phase, it is for sure a key element in the construction of other perspectives of digital rights and beyond. The digital universe is one of the rare universes where it is really possible to put in everyones hands the means of (immaterial) production and the sharing of this know-how is one of the fundamental elements for allowing everyone to participate in the struggle. Changing reality takes place also through the sharing of the tools to change it, and in the computer science-telematic universe, that is exactly what we are trying to do. It’s no accident if the concepts of ‘private property’ and the ‘limitation on the freedom of circulation’ of knowledge, but also of goods and people, are the elements upon which late capitalism is based. The sharing of knowledge and the availability of immaterial knowledge for the most vulnerable levels of society constitute an important threshold so that the latter can participate in the transformation of the present.
As can be seen in the area of biotechnology, closed Knowledge – with high costs of production but also of accessibility – is the game of those who want globalization to increase their own profits and power even more. Horizontal sharing has been a ‘rebel’ practice since its very origins, which are diametrically opposed to the origins of capital.
Q. The LOA also do software projects. Interesting and surprising things such as OBOE which aim to give the blind access to computer technologies and digital cultures. Where does this type of initiative come from?
A. Acts of ‘intervention’ in software are an innate aspect of the hacker culture, in which the hacklabs trace their roots. In the course of this year and a half of experience, we have touched on different questions – each one of which necessitated a detailed treatment – and each time we tried to confront them with the same seriousness: on the one hand, to construct a critical and analytical discourse of the situation (such as the accessibility of electronic texts and the interests of the large publishers in the Cavazza-Galiano case last autumn) and on the other hand, to provide solutions and hacks to offer alternatives. It is one of the fundamental characteristics of the hacklab, in my view: to try to combine practice and theoretical political analysis. The work of software production (as well as the courses) are the ideal reflection of this will.
Q. What are your projects in progress and those now completed?
A. Numerous things are in progress, few are fully completed. On the one hand, because it is difficult to put the word ‘end’ to a project and on the other because we lack a fundamental resource: time. In progress, we have OBOE, a search engine for eboobs, a project for an encrypted IRC client and especially the completion of an independent server which will allow free rein to our madness… Amongst the things that we have completed (or contributed to their completion) there are the courses and seminars – henceforth active for more than a year – , the previous editions of the hackmeeting, and initiatives on the GNU economy at the level of software and editorial. The copyDown (a system for the electronic exchange of texts which has the future possibility of becoming a sort of Napster for text and which is based upon Gnutella) and many other little things.
Q. You organised a meeting at Bulk on the theme ‘Free Software and No Copyright’ in November 1999, which stressed the right of reproduction and opposition to the European project on software patents. It seems to us that No Copyright – by insisting on the right to copy – is on the side of copyleft put forward by the GNU project and which insists on the right to copy and to modify, based, exactly, on a reversal of ‘copyright’. Don’t you think that it is necessary today to go further than No Copyright?
A. Yes, in fact! Besides, the series of initiatives that we led on the GNU economy was driven by a very complex reasoning and practice on the question of copyright. It is obvious that the model to which we refer is that of copyleft, which has already shown its success in the fields of software and documentation. Likewise, it is clear that a final perspective where everything would be copyleft would be more than desirable, but it is true also that the battle to force the times and the powerful interests relative to the achievement of a free sharing of knowledge passes through the abolition of the laws of copyright and the voluntary withdrawal from laws that one does not share and wishes to eliminate.
A. Thus the phrase ‘No Copyright’. It is certain that to think of a future world in which the spirit of the community renders useless the very concept of copyright is a beautiful reference to dream of, but it remains no less true that our pragmatic tendency makes us choose to first try the most feasible routes, to as a result pile on the pressure to go further. With different times and means: in the first phase, we fight for something that changes the mechanisms, not depending on relationships and people, but effectively compatible with the currently predominant market mechanisms; the second phase, is a much bigger wager but and si that for which we fight every day, as much with words as with concrete actions: seeking to transform the logic of domination into a logic of community, the free market into free sharing, alienation into participation, the fact of delegating into the fact of acting. We are really only at the very beginning, but we live turned towards the future….
1. In Italy, the term realities is often used to indicate the heterogeneity of the occupied social centers and other spaces linked to the social movement. Each space has its own character and often a local specificity.”
TakeDown.NET -> “Hacklabs”