About the OS: A System Anticipating Other Systems' Collapse

Since its inception, the Operating System has used language like “experiment” and “ecosystem” to describe this attempt at iterating a archive-and-access facing model for documentation and distribution that could withstand the ecological and economic futures ahead. Envisioned as an artist/writer/community led horizontal collective where all members distribute resources of labor, support, and skill sharing, the OS proposal has always been, in fact, that of an Operating System — a scaleable, replicable infrastructure that isn’t reliant on either top-down institutional or wealthy donor support, which removes entirely the notion of the “administrator.” The proposal also refuses the negative-reinforcing exploitation model of the submission or contest fee, which has never been charged in the project’s history. Ultimately, this means, it seeks a sustainable, circular, agile economics — the intention of which is primarily to shift the story both by changing the record and by permission granting for projects and creators that might otherwise not find a home in a climate prioritizing market value.

In 2013, at the birth of the OS, artists, writers, and community organizers from our earliest print experiments (many of who I’d curated for inclusion in the “Exhibit A: Re/production and Re/presentation” gallery show produced at Launchpad Brooklyn) joined me for a roundtable discussion on “The Artist as Accidental Entrepreneur,” speaking exactly to what it meant to strategically take on administration of our personal practices, our archives, our documentation and publication, our galleries, our libraries, our collective spaces of exhibit and performance. This, and the earliest OS seedlings, grew out of a pitch for a brick and mortar artists/poets coop I’d made at Occupy Library events in the years prior — the blueprints for which are still visible as Heroes and Hobos, here.

Over the last decade of beta-testing the possibilities of how a system like this could operate, we were faced with the standard challenges of attempting to create and sustain an ultimately anarchist system within capitalism — and, in particular, without personal reserves of capital to supplement the lack of institutional funding. It was after a great deal of encouragement around the possibility of accepting institutional funding to solidify the foundation of the infrastructure, framed as a sort of fugitive practice, that the decision was made in 2018 to become a nonprofit — a costly mistake in both labor and resources, as our radical commitment to often unquantifiable, hybrid, open access systems has proved quite difficult to fund, unless we were willing to compromise our principles, change our language, and go through the denaturing process that besets so many nonprofits born DIY that ossify and die a neoliberal death.

The last few years have seen a return to the central commitments of the experiment itself. This pivot has been charted in “In Solidarity and Possibility,” (March 2020), “Open Access for Abolition: Autonomy, Liminal Lab, and Beyond the Book Object,” (July 2020), in the announcement of a new, increasingly autonomous cohort model for 2021, and then further evolution for the Autonomous Mechanics Field Cohort experiment in 2022.

Now, with the completion of the OS catalog’s archiving in the Open Access Library, and soon the revamping of the Open Resource Hub (and in particular, the concretization of a full set of OS Open Project Tools), the intention of building an Operating System, open to all and available to all to use, circulate, learn from, build on, and replicate is closer to the vision than ever — just like the open source code initiatives that inspired its development and name.

Rarely in the years of the OS has the work felt as aligned with the project’s objectives as now. In the interim, it has often suffered from what many unfamiliar systems do that pose a risk to our already seemingly tenuous relationship with “success”: enthusiasm without buy-in. The idea of a collective is much more attractive than what it actually requires, and no matter how explicit the documentation (or even the community / membership agreement) on the ground this has often looked like the opposite of the story: one or a few people doing administrative work / service for others, rather than the exchange this experiment ultimately requires to survive.

However, if it’s understood that the Operating System project at its core has been a system all along, that attempted to do a beta-test run of that system in the form of an organization operating using that system, then we can see that the project of developing and documenting the infrastructure of that system itself, to offer to not only current participants but everyone and anyone, has ultimately been a great success. Print/documentation, as an act of archival recording and dissemination of creative ideas, personal and collective histories and tools, is one of our most enduring human technologies, and a hugely critical one to understand and wield across both digital and analog technologies as we face unprecedented ecological and other system collapse. It is my hope that the tools developed and shared here can serve countless people now and in these futures.

In solidarity and possibility,
Elæ Moss

WHAT OUR COMMUNITY MEMBERS SAY ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCE WORKING WITH THE OPERATING SYSTEM:

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“In a world of disrupt and competition and polar dichotomies,
The Operating System crucially widens space for what is possible.”

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 “A revelation…what publishing should be but rarely is”

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“Here is an organization that accepts no boundaries between forms, and views literature as inseparable from the rest of the arts,… a rarity, a potent force in lineage with the great art-book publishers of the past.”

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 “Working with The OS is like coming home.”

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