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Wednesday, April 12. 2017
recently i participated in a wikipedia edit-a-thon. this was part of the Art+Feminism project, which aims to improve the representation of women artists on wikipedia. it was the first time such an event had been organised in munich, and there was a very good turn-out, with about 20 participants and 4-5 people from Wikipedia Mŭnchen.
i have been a small-time wikipedia editor since 2008, when i discovered that someone unknown to me had created an article for cyberformance, which had then been flagged for deletion due to not being important or verified enough. this was quite a bruising introduction to the world of wikipedia editing. it's one thing to make text edits on an article, and quite another to navigate the circular paths of guidelines and pedantic admin users. it seemed that the fundamental strategy of wikipedia admins is to drive new editors to frustration, breakdown even, so that we eventually simply give up on trying to correct whatever article has been slated for deletion. i am pretty persistent, but i was nearly at my wit's end trying to meet the complex requirements. it took hours of my time and left me feeling exhausted, disrespected and as if i was trying to perpetrate a crime against knowledge.
i had a similar experience a few years later, when someone, again unknown to me, created an article about me as a student project; apparently their class was given an assignment to create a wikipedia article about an artist they admired, and this student chose me. naturally, the student subsequently forgot about this assignment and never maintained the article once it was created (i wonder if the teacher proposing this assignment included the need to remain responsible for their articles FOREVER ...); probably they forgot how to access their wikipedia account, and no longer have the university email address that they used for it. so the admired artists' articles languished, incomplete and out of date. when, purely wishing to set the record straight, i edited it, the problems began. like sharks attracted by the blood of a wounded fish, wikipedia editors with nothing better to do delight in slapping notifications on such pages; not enough verifiable sources! someone close to the subject is a major contributor! or, most demeaning, this person is NOT NOTABLE ENOUGH!
who decides when someone is "notable enough" or not? and notable to whom? wikipedia prides itself on being "neutral", on sticking to facts and written in a neutral tone; the project "strive[s] for articles that document and explain major points of view, giving due weight with respect to their prominence in an impartial tone." but - "major points of view" from whose perspective??? when you click on the "major points of view" link, it brings you to an article about "neutral point of view", which is something entirely different. a "neutral" point of view is one that sticks to simple verifiable facts, without expressing an opinion, whereas a "major" point of view is presumably one that is shared by a majority. that doesn't mean it's neutral - in fact more often than not it is anything but neutral.
since wikipedia was initiated by well-resourced white men living in the developed world, it is inherently biased to the point of view of privileged white men. it's no wonder that women are underrepresented, since we have long been underrepresented in patriarchal history and are still so in the contemporary patriarchial world. the "major points of view" that are documented and explained on wikipedia are predominantly the points of view of privileged white men. Their "neutral" is not the same as mine, which is not the same as billions of people in different parts of the world. the munich edit-a-thon had begun with a lengthy panel discussion featuring a selection of interesting women invited to give their opinions about why women are underrepresented on wikipedia - which struck me as being rather a waste of time. we were there because we already knew this to be a fact, and wanted to change it, not talk about it; the "why" is obvious - we live in a patriarchy and wikipedia is a part of that too. no need to discuss it anymore, let's get on with changing it!
most of the other participants at the edit-a-thon had never edited a wikipedia article before and didn't have log-ins. while they were logging in and learning the basics, i and a few others got stuck in to editing. i created a page for the digital artist and researcher Gretta Louw, and after a couple of hours work i published it - only to be immediately slapped with a copyright violation. it hadn't occurred to me that using slightly altered text from Louw's own artistic statement would constitute a violation of copyright; however as the text was on the web (on her own website), the copyright-checking bot found it immediately, and deemed my slight editing of it insufficient. never mind that the artist had herself given me permission to use it! so, i deleted the offending text and followed the necessary protocol and the copyright violation was removed - to be replaced almost immediately with demands for more citations.
how many citations do you need? wikipedia has "no rules", just guidelines. so, if you are a living woman artist, it would appear that 15 citations (of which six are the artist's own website or publications, and nine are from third party sources) is not enough. if you're a living male artist, on the other hand, a single reference will suffice (here's one example - at the time of writing with just one reference - no reflection or judgement on the artist himself).
another participant at the edit-a-thon offered to help bring the article about me up to standard, and she made quite a bit of progress, but the tags haven't yet been removed. meanwhile others were also discovering that their work was attracting criticisms. it's somewhat ironic that wikipedia has a page in its guidelines titled "Please do not bite the newcomers", encouraging experienced wikipedians to be gentle with newcomers and assume that they are in good faith. the article warns that nothing scares newcomers away faster than hostility. yet several of us left the wikipedia edit-a-thon feeling deeply frustrated, having voluntarily contributed hours of our time and energy only to have it thrown back at us, be told it's not good enough, and expected to devote even more time to improving it.
attempting to get involved with wikipedia feels like putting yourself through some kind of bootcamp initiation where you don't know the rules because there are none, and the guidelines are designed to confuse and exclude. i can't help but wonder how differently a women's wikipedia might operate ...
and yet: wikipedia exists, our information is there, and if we don't participate we can't complain about underrepresentation or incorrect/poor information. the edit-a-thons are raising awareness, bringing more women into the project, and providing opportunities for upskilling and collaboration.
Saturday, April 8. 2017
having not posted since october last year, and being an irregular blogger at the best of times, i do have to ask myself what is the point of this blog? i am sure that nobody reads it, except myself when i need to remember when i did something or a link that i know i posted here. so if the only real function of this blog is a personal memory aid, then i have no responsibility to anyone but myself for the regularity or not of my posts. or even the accuracy.
so, for my own personal record, since i last posted, "Magdalena München - In Between" has been and gone, and overall was pretty successful. the performances were great, everyone who participated was for the most part happy and inspired, and the group is continuing with further plans (more on that in another post). there were a few points where the organisation could have been better, and our publicity and audience numbers could have been better - but there is always room for improvement.
i had a couple of weeks to tie up the loose ends and finances from the magdalena event and then i was off to coventry for "We have a situation, Coventry!" which you can read about by following that link. this was the first time i'd lead a "situation" in a university context, which had its advantages and challenges. after the cyberformance and networked discussion event on 24th november, i went with three Coventry staff members to the "In Dialogue" conference in mottingham, where we gave a presentation about the project. In Dialogue is a biennial conference around arts and research projects that are based on dialogic practice, and it brings together some really interesting artists, researchers and projects. i'm now writing a book chapter with katherine wimpenny from the Disruptive Media Learning Lab which was the part of the university responsible for "We have a situation, Coventry!", using it as an example of disruptive pedagogies and learning possibilities in online environments.
so with these two projects, october and november were pretty intense. but i didn't have much time to catch up after them because in mid-december i flew to new zealand. yes, this was a holiday, and at least the first couple of weeks - spending christmas and new year with family, in the cool quiet of the deep south, was relaxing. but my trip was a fairly hectic schedule of visiting friends and family all over new zealand and australia, with very little down time and the added work of selling my beloved car. when i moved to munich in 2010 i didn't want to sell lucy the valiant, and didn't have to as i managed to find a little car museum who was willing to take care of her for me. every couple of years i went home, took her out of the museum, and had a wonderful road trip around new zealand. however, as the years stretched on, it became hard to justify the cost of keeping a classic car on one side of the world when i lived on the other, and only used her every couple of years. i was aware that things like rust needed regular attention, and while the museum people were great and did get some things done, obviously my car wasn't their top priority and they had a lot of other vehicles to maintain and work to do. i had to accept that lucy needed to be with someone who would drive her regularly and be able to keep on top of the maintenance that she needs. so during 2016 i began to prepare myself for the emotional wrench of selling her.
i know that one of my faults is that i let myself get emotionally attached to things like cars (i cried when i learned that the young guys who bought rosie, a 1964 morris 1100, from me had smashed her up); but lucy the valiant wasn't an ordinary car. i bought her in 1993, moved from dunedin to wellington in her a month or so later, and travelled around much of the country in her during various trips over the years, accompanied by different friends and family. she very rarely had any mechanical problems, and she was really a pleasure to drive (as long as it wasn't raining - i never managed to discover the source of a leak on the front passenger side). it was with mixed emotions that i listed her on trademe. almost immediately i began to get enquiries about her, and the number of views went up and up and up. in the end, two possible buyers came to look at her, and one of them offered me the price i was asking without any haggling. and so she was sold. the new owner kindly agreed to me holding onto her for a further two weeks in order to do a planned trip to visit my brother in gisborne, and on 26 january after a perfect road trip from welllington - via otaki, levin, gisborne and ohope - i delivered lucy to her new home. on the flight from taupo to auckland i felt a bit teary and expected that i'd feel sad and regretful the next day - but i didn't; i woke up feeling fine, sure that i'd done the right thing. letting go is hard, but it's amazingly liberating. i really must do it more often!
my antipodean journey lasted nearly three months and took me around new zealand then to australia, where i visited friends and family in brisbane then met up with andy in sydney. we stayed with my aunt, and went to the blue mountains for two days with my cousin gina and her daughter ashley; andy and i hadn't seen them since they'd been in munich two years earlier for borelliosis treatment, and it was amazing to see how much better ashley is. gina has been busy writing a submission to an australian senate inquiry into borelliosis, which will hopefully accept that the disease exists in australia and make it possible for other sufferers to get the diagnosis and treatment that ashley should have had years ago. in the blue mountains we stayed at rostherne, the wonderful old holiday house belonging to family friends. the house has been in that family for over 100 years, and our families have been friends for most of that time, so it's a place rich in memory and history. we did touristy things like going on the scenic railway and bush walks. andy and i also went to coffs harbour for a few days to visit family there, and had a weekend in melbourne with friends before heading back to new zealand for the last two weeks of our holiday.
i had little time for work while travelling, but i did do the final bits of reporting for the magdalena münchen weekend, taught an UpStage workshop at the university of south wales, and kept on top of emails as best i could. now back in munich, i've punged into organising things for the next magdalena münchen event, looking for opportunities for "Unaussprechbarlich", researching and buying a new Linux computer (finally! i was given money towards this at my birthday in july last year, but hadn't managed to make a decision about it), quite a lot of work on the magdalena project site, and quite a lot of wikipedia editing - more about that in a separate post. and many other things, social and networking and work and home stuff, like getting the balcony garden going again.
i feel about ready for a holiday already ...
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