Ruminating Relearn

Ruminating Relearn

Last edited: 2019-09-25 18:25:10
Revisions: 6417


This text appears out of order. Not only because of how we’ve organised it, but because we are writing about a collective learning experiment called Relearn, almost two years after it took place. The documentation of Relearn 2017 is of interest on its own, but it is also ressurected as part of the Network of One’s Own: Three Takes on Taking Care publication made at Varia.

As part of the collection of Networks of One’s Own editions, we want to document a network of people shaped by multiple editions of Relearn, a week-long collective learning experiment that has been taking place since 2013 mainly during the summer; a recurring moment for us to meet new or known free software curious peers.

The following text’s choral voice comes from the reactivated core of people who initiated and organised Relearn back in 2017. We are Manetta Berends, Cristina Cochior, Silvio Lorusso and Colm O’Neill, but instrumental to organising Relearn 2017 were a lot more people, including Giulia de Giovanelli, Max Franklin, Roel Roscam Abbing, and the members of the Poortgebouw residency in Rotterdam. And let us not forget of the remaining 30 participants. This text, however, is written from our point of view and as a consequence does not reflect all of the opinions and outcomes of the session itself. We don’t want to see this as a shortcoming. Instead, we deliberately decided to embrace the act of documenting an event in fragments, which might be the only way to reveal what Relearn 2017 as a whole was.

The group of Relearn 2017.
The group of Relearn 2017.

In the early months of 2017, the idea to bring Relearn to the city we live(d) in sparked up. Why organise it at all? Looking back, we never once stopped to ask this question. It seemed self-evident that there was a collective desire, if not a need, for previous encounters to continue happening. We became excited at the idea of organising an edition as a way to give something back to the Relearn community, but also to bring it to Rotterdam for the first time, to connect it to people around us, and to contribute to the shape Relearn could take.

This process of documentation is less about reporting and sharing files—although we’ve selected a representative collection of images and files—than it is about reflecting about what was sucessful and what wasn’t, particularly in regard to the new format that Relearn has adopted in 2019.

We began this documentation with one of the first texts that was collectively written: the call for tracks. It became our first point of interest as it actually introduces a lot of Relearn notions. We began annotating this call and realised how the comments alone produced a different understanding of the text. This vernacular Relearn glossary has come to be populated with history, context and opinions, so it is our point of departure.

We spent some time reflecting on what it means to actively document Relearn 2017, thinking of ourselves as ruminants. Next, we detailed how we responded to the proposals that were sent following the call for tracks. In the publication itself, we’re interlacing elements of the documents produced at Relearn such as contextual images. We’ve chosen to manipulate this documentation with a few tools that we’ve created, modified or extended (more about this in the colophon) to serve the purpose of re-entering a relearn way of thinking.

We end this text by pointing to the current experiments that are taking place in 2019 while Relearn is travelling on its curve between Rotterdam, Brussels, Paris and wherever else there’s enthusiastic relearners.

Our aim with this publication is not to focus on tools and methods, as Relearn usually would, but instead to emphasise the experiments we tried in 2017 in relation to Relearn’s overarching patterns and the contextual influences that arose from organising this week in Rotterdam.

Last edited: 2019-09-25 20:29:22
Revisions: 275

Methods of active documentation

What’s the active part of documenting Relearn? What does it mean to re-activate a collection of files? Does it mean to execute them again? To read them again? To simply look at them again? Does the material change while we observe it? Do we change while observing the material?

Relearn is intentionally self-reflective. Almost every year there have been attempts to re-examine and revise it. 2017 was no exception. In the Networked Archive track of that year, the word rumination came up a lot. The track participants had the image of a cow’s stomach in their minds, with the four different chambers that it consists of: Rumen, Reticulum, Omasum, Abomasum. The first two chambers are the major site of microbial activity that break down the material. After the cud is regurgitated, then swallowed again, until completely mixed (or activated) with saliva, it is then sent to the omasum, where it’s broken down into the smallest elements possible to be pushed into the abomasum, the ‘real’ stomach of the cow. Further digestion takes place here. If Relearn were a ruminant, what would these chambers look like? Would the material ever reach the ‘real’ stomach? Is there any ‘real’, ‘final’ stomach? Do we ever finish digesting what happens during Relearn or are we stuck in a kind of gastric purgatory?

The messages on the  group chat are piling up.
The messages on the group chat are piling up.

The files and traces that are left after every Relearn could be seen as extensions of a collective memory: notes that were taken in passing are now the only marks left of the thoughts that passed through, snippets of code that lay dormant in the repository, pictures of unidentified gestures which now seem alien, or group photos reminding of who was there. They sit in different hard drives: the hard drive of the server hosting the Gitlab repository and the hard drives of the participants’ day-to-day computers. They are in that sense not passive at all. But you could say that they’re not active either, as nobody is paying attention to them or remembers that they exist.

How to approach the Relearn 2017 dump of images, scripts, etherpad traces and more? We are in a kind of chicken-and-egg situation: how to introduce Relearn while taking into account what Relearn is, or better yet, how Relearn works, in the very way of doing this? Our intuition is that a lack of ‘essence’ might be a defining feature of Relearn. As the diversity among the various editions demonstrates, Relearn can be seen as a process more than as a ‘thing’. A radical anti-essentialist approach to Relearn can be formulated as a question: what’s the process of describing a process?

With this question in mind, we started looking at the traces left in various hard drives, servers, and online pages… We took an investigative, forensic approach. We started tagging, looking at metadata and producing more of it, conscious that while the material is unable to speak for itself, it is also a trigger for us to recall memories stored somewhere in our wetware hard drives.

One of the consequences of activating a previous event is that we spend time together again. Reading the call for tracks is a way for us to pick up conversations where we left them off in 2017, thus reframing the question of learning/relearning in a collective setting. It turns it into a reroam-over-time (where reroam has been a recurring name for moments of meta-reflection on Relearn, during Relearn). What were the motivations, curiosities or urgencies that led us to organising and initiating Relearn in 2017? Are they still the same? How different are they now?

Relearn participants giving advice to each other via XMPP.
Relearn participants giving advice to each other via XMPP.

Activation can also be an act of mediation. An important element of Relearn is its temporality: short bursts of togetherness anticipated by longer periods of organisational work. There is no stable institution or structure behind Relearn to mediate between people or over time. When there is no one to organise, the spam emails grow in numbers, like wild weeds in an unkept garden. We hope that activating and mediating Relearn through this document format enables thinking about it in a perspective of years instead of one of weeks. By writing about a previous edition of Relearn we hope to continue the conversation around collective practices, of which rumination is one.

There are three kinds of addressees for this document. First, diving into the files lets us take into account what permeated Relearn before 2017 and what was passed on afterwards. We hope this will reignite the subjects within our own networks, including the Relearn network.

Second, we revisited the Relearn 2017 conversations and inscribed them into a document that could speak to people with similar affinities, who may decide to organise their own experiment.

Last but not least, one of the constants of many editions is the difference in the way participants experience this time together. As it happens when someone joins a new group, for first-time relearners it can be a bit intimidating, a bit awkward, to decipher the habits of Relearn and to share their process with someone else. We hope that this document might feel like having a conversation with a previous relearner, while being outside in the sun, feet in the weeds.

Last edited: 2019-09-25 20:12:03
Revisions: 499

Call for Tracks1 introduction

Relearn2 relearn is a collective learning experiment3 experiment with as many teachers as it has participants4 participant-as-teacher. It is motivated by the possibility to displace parameters of/for research, studying and learning. During the week of Relearn, we5 we work with a set of case-studies, observations, questions or stacks of study material that we call “tracks6 tracks. Relearn outlines the idea of resetting thinking modes, for a diverse set of approaches that we can reconsider, that come out of the development of our cultures towards and through digital entities.

While Relearn is an experiment in collective learning, it grows from an interest in Free / Libre Open Source Software culture and practices7 F/LOSS as a way to address and acknowledge the production processes and frameworks8 software-as-critique involving technology and culture.

For the upcoming Relearn, we are looking for people that are willing to research together by initiating a track around a specific subject, methodology or issue they/you are currently working on or would like to investigate during this week. A key element for this experiment is that tracks need not be fully determined9 programme, and a concrete end-product is not required at all.

This year’s Relearn is loosely connected to the possibilities to reconsider forms of organisation10 varia and to create co-autonomies11 thinking-autonomy in regard to both machinic systems12 local-networks and social formations. We hope to make use of the proposed tracks as a looking glass to reconstruct notions of agency13 agency and consider forms of maintaining them. Particularly within the current political and economic vortex, we would like to discover ways in which co-autonomies can be re-explored, re-shared and re-created from many different angles14 collective-practices.

We’re allowing ourselves to prefix this word, co-autonomies, because the idea of autonomy alone doesn’t emphasise the cross-seeding aspects we hope to stimulate. We mean co-autonomy as the conscious collective need for multiple autonomous systems and practices, that may also be alternative, simultaneous, off grid, self-standing or self-defining, but not operating inside a vacuum closed off to social, political and economical relations.

Feel free to get in touch with us to discuss ideas or possible forms of contribution to Relearn this year. We are looking forward to create a collective study moment in the summer of 2017 in Rotterdam!

Practical info
Relearn will take place between Tuesday the 29th of August and will end on Saturday the 2nd of September15 summer-school. We are currently working with the community at Poortgebouw16 poortgebouw to see if this could be our Relearn location of this year. Following a tradition from previous years, we will try to arrange a hosting network17 hosting-network in the city and find a place to stay for each participant. Depending on our subsidy requests, we aim for the lowest participation fee possible for the week, with a strong preference for none18 finances.

How to submit a track
The reader is invited to submit a proposal around a subject they have been investigating or would like to pursue in a collective setting. In order to propose a track, please send an email to with a short text where you informally describe the subject you would like to investigate during Relearn. Please send your proposals before the 15th of June, we will reply at the 25th of June the latest.

Resources & contact
→ email:
→ subscribe to the Relearn mailinglist
→ Relearn’s gitlab repository
→ IRC channel: #relearn on Freenode
→ Photographs of previous Relearn editions can be found in Constant’s gallery

  1. introduction This text is the Call for Tracks of Relearn 2017. The text sometimes includes some ‘stiff’, convoluted terminology, which perhaps does not very well represent the informal setting of Relearn, nor does it properly reflect the conviviality and enjoyment of writing this text as a group. Rereading it after a couple of years, we ask ourselves “why did we write it like this?”. We recognize a tendency not to define, not to close-off, sometimes at the expense of clarity. Is vagueness just the result of collective writing or a strategic means to welcome different strands of thoughts? Maybe an open call text acquires its full meaning only in hindsight. Because of time constraints, the discussions we had were taking place while writing the text, and not before. More than the expression of a fully formed concept, the open call functioned as a window into an unraveling process. Furthermore, it was also always complicated to write a text that proposed an experiment to an undefined group of actors, all the while channeling the voice of a network with a history. Looking back at the text after two years allows us to rethink its mode of address, and the way it guided the developments of the event itself.
    A preview of the Call for Tracks how it appeared on the website.

    A preview of the Call for Tracks how it appeared on the website.

  2. relearn Relearn is an experiment in self-organised education that started as a summer school in 2013, originally organised by the Open Source Publishing group in Brussels, thereafter taking care of by Constant again in Brussels and later in 2016 organised in Calafou. Relearn takes place each time someone finds the resources and collaborators to make it happen. Since 2013 and up to 2017, there have been week-long editions each year, each time organised by someone different. The work we, the annotators here present, did was to facilitate the organisation of Relearn Rotterdam in 2017. To start the process, to make sure the mailing list was informed of the newest developments, that no email was left unanswered, to get in contact with catering groups, to find a space and make sure it was equipped to welcome Relearners. Further than that, the organisation was shared with participants and track initiators alike in regards to the content and caring for the space. This is also why we may refer to Relearn as an action by using the verb relearn, each edition is another opportunity to relearn what Relearn is. We’ve also been referring to it by saying: Relearn editions, Relearn issues, Relearn iterations, Relearn years, Relearn instances, Relearn sessions; often a mix of nouns and rarely a standalone.
    A gallery page of the photographs taken during Relearn, generated with Distribusi.

    Third morning together in the Versioning the Networked Archive track.

  3. experiment There are several horizontal educational experiments out there, various critical summer schools or self-organised festivals. Relearn 2017 is influenced by several of these experiments, such as the Anti-University festival in England, Scuola Open Source in Italy or the traveling Parallel School, but it tries to apply what it knows to the local conditions in which it operates. Relearn is considered an experiment because it understands education as an experimental process. It is perhaps not a coincidence that many of the attendants have a background in teaching. Some aspects of the ethos which have guided the relearning experiments until now are:

    - a decision to move away from the teacher - student model and replace those terms with participant and, in some editions, track initiators participant-as-teacher
    - an attitude towards organisational tasks, where we share the day-to-day roles and care/use of the spaces
    - an emphasis on process over outcome. This may not be as important in the later iterations of Relearn but in the earlier years, it was important to make clear that Relearn did not have to produce any tactile objects. We originally felt that using the words ‘workshop’ or ‘summer school’ summer-school meant (text/book/object) production sprint (the hackathon model). This perspective was questioned because it does not allow time for researching and probing (production) processes, which for us became the focus.

    Questions that drive Relearn as an experiment:
    - How does the group steer this learning situation collectively ?
    - What does re-learning depend on in terms of group dynamics ?

  4. participant-as-teacher One of the foundational aims of Relearn is to erase the duality of learners and teachers and create a space where pedagogy is exercised as a group, where hierarchies are frequently restructured.

  5. we “We” is intended here both as the whole Relearn 2017 group, and as a smaller group that organised Relearn 2017. Finally, there is the “we” that is writing this documentation. “We” is also used as a collective noun, meant to be all inclusive and inviting to attendants old and new. While that current “we” wrote the call and invitation, that group was in no way static. We mean to invite people in by calling ourselves with a pronoun that includes the reader, however it is never meant to be understood as a monolithic voice speaking for the entirety of the Relearn network.

  6. tracks Whatever might be going on during Relearn, we tend to focus on processes over outcomes. However, research thematics are important to provide entry points into collective research. Thematic tracks (usually simply called tracks) are subject proposals which are put forwards during the week in different ways, some more technical, some more discursive, some more exploratory. → Read further
    An etherpad page that was made to link to the different pads for each track.

    Thomas describing the experiments of the Random Headlessness in the Design of Language group.

  7. F/LOSS From the beginning of the Relearn editions, F/LOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) has been an underlying principle of the sessions. Inspired by the F/LOSS community, we rely on free software to carry out our experiments and to set up the infrastructure that makes self-organisation possible. In the same spirit, we release and make public the findings, discussions and code that emerged during the week and try to encourage multiplication through the distribution of materials.

  8. software-as-critique Relearners see software not only as a tool or a medium, but as a large web of organisations, protocols, people and machinic agents. In this sense, software is more an environment than a thing. From this perspective, using and inhabiting software means taking a stance, often critical, sometimes radical, towards default decisions.

  9. programme Relearn started with the recurring Install Yourself Into Relearn session, where introductory tables to XMPP, Etherpad, Local Network and Collective Practices were set up. Participants could join a different table each round to find out about the ways in which we were using these practices. This was followed by another table carousel, where the four tracks were introduced: Ransom Headlessnesss in the Design of Language was looking at the interplay between design and (programming) languages; Versioning the Networked Archive was exploring the link between networked communities and archives starting from practical examples; Not-So-Utopian Open-Source Pedagogies was combining a critical examination of utopian conceptions in open source software with constructive methods for the organisation of groups; Collective Care Transmission Forms worked with forms of networked collectivity that emerge around certain health situations. The tracks are usually a starting point for the week to unfold. During the time we spend together, other paths are taken. For example, alongside these groups, other types of gatherings took place as well, from impromptu skill-sharing sessions during which chargers were fixed, to one-day satellite workshops, evenings of short presentations of the participants’ work, to eetcafe dinners organised by the Poortgebouw. Everyone is encouraged to use their time at Relearn as they see fit.
    An etherpad page that was made to link to the different pads for each track.
  10. varia Parallel to the conversations about organising and hosting an edition of Relearn in Rotterdam, some of us were actively involved in finding a space in the city for Varia, soon to become a center for collective approaches to everyday technology, which was founded in Charlois a few months later (October 2017). Varia focuses on the combination of self-organizing in the digital and non-digital . Currently, Varia is exploring how self-organized spaces can gain agency agency over their digital infastructure (amongst other things). At the time of Relearn, this was something that we wanted to discuss and also to put into practice.

  11. thinking-autonomy The term ‘co-autonomy’ emerged from the unease we felt to talk about autonomy-as-independence and autonomy-as-full-agency when our own conditions were entangled with those of others, exemplified by the fact that we were guests of Poortgebouw, we had to apply for a small local fund to partly cover costs of catering and the electronics needed to have a functioning local infrastructure, etc. All of these elements made us shift focus towards relational agencies: observing and acknowledging the ties that create the fabric of our self-determined associations. The word autonomy, especially in relationship to the digital, hasn’t left our minds, since it brings with itself a baggage of emancipatory traditions. Under the umbrella of Varia or Constant, some of us are still working on it and collecting other terms and expressions that can help capture the entanglement of being related to something, while preserving one’s own position.

  12. local-networks Relearn is also a moment to experiment with the communication tools that we use. In 2013, git, a software for tracking changes in code during development, was a focus, whereas in 2014, the group of Relearners used the IRC protocol to communicate with one another. In 2015, a local network was set up. In 2016, unfortunately none of the members of this text’s writing group was able to go to Calafou. The following year, we continued using Etherpad software for collaborative note taking, next to which we set up XMPP multi-user chatrooms and used XMPP bots to send messages to the whole group or to print content that would be displayed on a physical wall in Poortgebouw. Each edition an attempt is made to rethink the infrastructure on which we rely on, not to fall into defaults, or if we do, to fall consciously.
    Local network carousel introductions on the first day.

    Local network carousel introductions on the first day.

  13. agency When discussing this text in 2019, we realised that “agency” does not have a direct translation in many of our native languages. Perhaps the closest to the meaning to the English version is “zelfzeggenschap”, “agentschap”, “autogestione” or “autodeterminare”. Furthermore, depending on the field, agency can mean “the capacity of an actor to act in a given environment” (philosophy), or “the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices” (sociology). Whereas the emphasis is on the capacity to act, doing so independently might be the very limit to it.

  14. collective-practices Digital processes allow us to intervene into a practice in many ways and at different moments. A case in point is this very text: it is being written collectively, in real time. Collective writing reflects Relearn’s urge to preserve a multiplicity of voices. Live (online) and collaborative text editors are often a tool of choice as they let us think, read and write together, and keep trace of oral conversations. This collective practice is not easy, it requires some daring, some testing and the vulnerability to show others how one’s writing is produced. Collaborative working methods are a point of interest for Relearn because they let us rethink digital practices that are made for ‘the user’. Practicing together brings context to the foreground.
    A collective initiative was taken to start writing a “not-so-index” page that could guide outsiders through the multiple pads that were made.
  15. summer-school The ‘summer school’ attribute of Relearn has been under discussion in multiple editions. As a result, the 2019 iteration of Relearn started from breaking up the week of activities into concise moments of 2-3 days that could be distributed throughout a longer period of time and across different geographies. The goal was to make Relearn accessible for participants who cannot afford to take a whole week off, but this was also partly an attempt to move away from the summer school format, which has been coopted as another form of commodifying education and device for professional positioning. As Francisco Laranjo puts it, “design summer schools are overpriced tourism gatherings with good weather and a nice view […] Working on a laptop on Indesign overlooking a lake is not a spiritual retreat to charge creative batteries, it’s just privileged illusion” (from A Brief History of the Design Summer School). Most of the people who make up the Relearn network are based in Western Europe, where summer schools are often inaccessible because of their high fees and in the worst cases become extensions of institutionalised pedagogy lacking self reflection. Relearn emphasises the leisurely, the conviviality and the slow-paced tempo that is generally associated with summer. It puts forward the critical engagement with the social, political and technical structures that make it possible (sometimes to a narcissistic extreme), as an attempt to reimagine what education could mean at a small scale. In 2017, we referred to it as a ‘collective learning experiment’ in order to open up to new formats.

  16. poortgebouw The Poortgebouw is a Dutch monument built in 1879. After being in a limbo of non-use, it was squatted by a group in 1980 as a protest against an increasing housing shortage. Despite the relatively short duration of this period (only two years), the group managed to organise legally as an association in 1984, and since then has been hosting cultural activities and a co-living community of around 30 people. The space self-organises food-on-donation eetcafes, clothesswap days, alternative music nights, info evenings by activist organisations, among many different do-it-yourself projects and events. The building particularly resonated with the topic of co-autonomy, as can be seen in the archival project that Giulia de Giovanelli & Max Franklin, 2017 co-organisers, coordinated together with others in and around Poortgebouw; it was taken as a case-study for the Versioning the Networked Archive track.

  17. hosting-network The hosting network is one of the tactics that re-appeared in all of the editions: volunteer local participants are matched with visiting participants in order to ensure a place for them to stay during the week. On the one hand, this is a practical solution that helps us keep costs down and on the other, it is a more welcoming introduction to the city and to the group.

  18. finances The process of organising Relearn in 2017 started out as a voluntary task. We applied for a local fund to cover the catering expenses during the week (breakfasts, lunches and two dinners) and some equipment needed for the local network and the care taking of the Poortgebouw. Being dependent on a grant proposal meant that we didn’t know until very late if we would receive the funding - when we did, all of it was spent on lunches. We also asked for a €50 participation fee to cover the most basic needs of the space. After the week was over, the sum that was left was split among three of five continuous organizers, who received a fee of €300 each. The remaining two waived the payment for having a stable income.

Last edited: 2019-09-25 19:56:23
Revisions: 11405


Whatever might be going on during Relearn, we tend to focus on processes over outcomes1. However, research themes are important to provide entry points into collective research. Thematic tracks (usually simply called tracks) are subject proposals which are put forward during the week in different ways, some more technical, some more discursive, some more exploratory.

Tracks is a deliberately loose word used for a subject, an approach or a set of material allowing participants to influence and orient the direction of collective work. A track is the word that has been used to ensure that everyone involved realises that diversions are encouraged and that one can decide to take alternative routes. Tracks in that sense is meant to resonate with tracks or pathways in a forest. Some of those tracks are more close to being roads and even appear on the map, but others are more serendipitously created as people start to follow the same path more often, pushing the leaves and branches on the floor to the side. They start to leave a trace and create a track for others to follow. Others are less visible, but marked with signages that indicate direction. Some of these tracks carry histories with them, while others are yet to be discovered, thus defined. As such, the strive for this kind of learning can be interpreted as a walk we undertake together, that is short-lived, but whose discoveries are potentially continued in different places, traversing into the day-to-day lives of the walkers.

We start suggesting this metaphorical use of the term track while writing about the 2017 edition. The term has been used since the first edition, but has never been explicitly described. It became a transversal element of Relearn without a fixed understanding of what it could be.

Tracks are prepared in advance. Most Relearn iterations involved an open call for tracks. In some cases these tracks were proposed by people coordinating Relearn itself, but more often than not, track submissions came from people beginning research into a topic and wanting to bring the topic to a wider group of people to develop the subject further. Track organisers are typically asked to bring enough material to make their questions understood, but no more than that. By using the word track instead of workshop, we try to call for proposals of subjects, attitudes or techniques, that can be collectively explored. During Relearn some tracks (borrowing from versioning software vocabulary) have been forked, signifying a split, a deliberate change in direction, a disambiguation or a deeper exploration of a sub-topic.

This openness for input/take-overs from others directly relates to the wish of displacing roles of the teacher and learner (see notes expanding the call for tracks text). A secondary, yet key ongoing experiment, is the idea of track travelling: encouraging participants to take part in tracks and then visit other tracks. It emphasises not only the lack of focus on production, but other aspects too: active documentation, sharing of topics and giving participants a chance to benefit from all the subjects being researched at Relearn. An expression of this—and something that has been done deliberately—is when a track initiator leaves the track they originally started, to join a different one.

Various moments of sharing spring up throughout the length of Relearn. They assist in communicating to the rest of the groups what each track traveler is busy with and become an invitation for external questions. These moments help track travelers move to other focuses, or take ideas and processes from other groups. It is notable that these sharing moments are not scheduled and do not happen regularly. They also tend to happen organically, often the sharing of updates happens throughout meals and breaks.

Reroam discussion on Friday morning.
Reroam discussion on Friday morning.

Relearn 2017 hosted a new type of experiment related to tracks; to put track proposals in conversation with one another and see what type of situation it would yield. As a response to the open call, we received thirteen proposals, of which five were eventually unable to join the week. The remaining eight were at different points in their development. In an attempt not to exclude any tracks, we discussed each proposal at length and noticed some common interests or similitudes in approaches. We then reached out to initiators and asked for their permission—and interest—to being put into dialogue with other initiators.

The motivation to do this was manifold: to provide the space to all those who had submitted a research initiative to find collaborators and to follow curiosities alongside each other, intersecting or multiplying; to make the track preparation process less solitary; to open up some of the research strands in order for more people to be able to join; to already form connections between participants; or serendipitous research encounters. Indirectly, we were also influenced by the notion that we had put forward in the call: co-autonomies, but this was more of a reaction to the topics that were proposed, not a planned move to enact the term.

We aimed to create an open conversational space where the experiences of those involved could inform the directions of the week. To break open the teacher-student duality by learning about your track partner’s practice. Instead of a merge, the idea of having research questions be shaped by each other was a means to open up the organisational work and destabilise norms of knowledge production. This involved some risk taking: different ideas on how to lead the tracks had to be negotiated and the combination could have possibly diluted the focus of the original proposals. Time was also an important constraint; to be able to devote a week to re-learning is already a significant luxury, but to find moments to plan and plot outside of this frame was not as easy for everyone. Collaboration requires togetherness and agendas mirroring each other, and it is rarely free of frictions. In this sense, combining tracks came with more work for everyone involved in the organisation of the week.

We went one step further in this attempt: once we had received approval from all parties in the new partnerships, we opened an etherpad document2 for each collaboration. In each pad, we included the proposals from each party and proceeded to include our observations and explanations of why we felt it appropriate to join the topics. Our proposal was for the track initiators to use that space to collaborate synchronously or asynchronously on the cross-sections of their subjects.

Four tracks resulted:

  • Ransom Headlessnesss in the Design of Language looked at the interplay between design and programming languages.

  • Versioning the Networked Archive explored the link between networked communities and archives starting from practical examples such as the Poortgebouw archive, or the Github archive.

  • Not-So-Utopian Open-Source Pedagogies combined a critical examination of utopian conceptions in open source software with constructive methods for the organisation of groups.

  • Collective Care Transmission Forms dealt with healing in cyberspace from a critical feminist materialist perspective, communal care in digital environments and the transferral of aural thoughts and expression.

The outcomes were less ambivalent, we felt: bridging the tracks meant that the organizers had to gain an in-depth understanding of their intentions through the collaboration and to have an oversight on the connections as well as on the digressions of the two topics.

A later, further risk was taken from these resulting tracks (and their pads): the tracks pads, containing track proposals and new information from the established contacts, were made public and used to invite participants to contribute in the secondary call for participation. Those considering to respond to the open call for participation would be able to see the topics in their latest version, and even, if they so wished, to already propose corresponding questions or contribute material. The ideal scenario we were trying to create here was a collective research environment that could traverse the fixed time of collectivity by extending the discussion to before and after.

An observation from the specific track attempts from 2017 is that it was easier to create discussion points between individuals than among groups. Some track proposals were submitted by groups of people. In those instances, the collaborative work done by the initial group was more complex to bridge into a new, bigger group, no doubt due to the already complicated work done in multiple people proposing a single track. Frictions also arose when discussing their common grounds. It is also notable that we were not always able to consider these frictions as points of interest, opportunities to observe collaborative practices. These, as well as the extra quantity of work and coordination it implied, makes us wonder if these experiments worked. Looking back, we would procede with more caution and be more hesitant about pairing up individuals with / and / or groups of multiples without providing a dedicated space (beyond an online editor) for that. Dedicating a full week in the summer to Relearn is complicated enough as it is, investing extra time in preparing a track together can be too exhausting.

When Relearn 2017 ended, no time beyond the practical disassembly of the spaces we used was planned or budgeted. We, as a group of organisers debriefed lightly, took time to publish (problematically ! cfr. a-little-too-active-documentation notes) the etherdumps and information from the local server on shared text & code versioning platforms, but not much beyond that. Relearn 2017 happened on the first week of September, so the traditional September rush ensued.

The Rotterdam edition of Relearn also marked five consecutive years of the summer research project, after which there was a year of silence. Meanwhile, Varia—as an idea, as a group and later, as a space—, was in full development, and various previous Relearners were meeting in multiple different contexts, Barcelona, 35c3, Computer Grrrls, Constant worksessions, etc.

Relearn 2019 was re-initiated with experiences from previous years in mind. A desire not to continue the format, but to address the time and energy requirements to organise an iteration. Relearn 2019 was re-initiated as a curve of short two to three day sessions, spanning several cities, over a longer period of time.

  1. The goal of Relearn is not to be collectively productive, instead it is left up to each participant to determine the rhythms and patterns in which they want to operate. The session attempts to construct a playful space where if something like work happens, it is for the sake of curiosity and does not require the participants to perform acts of closure, finitude or functionality. The motivation for this can be found in Relearn’s history: one of the reasons for starting it in 2013 was a reaction to those work sprints that go under the name of workshops. Open Source Publishing (OSP – mentioned here as the initiators of Relearn 2013) was and is often invited to give workshops in various art and design schools, but one reoccurring condition of these workshops is the desire to produce objects, often in print form: publications, posters or collections. This partially comes from the need to be able to grade and score students’ work, but it has become clear that working to these end goals hinders the focus on research questions. Later, this became an idea to address during Relearn. Clearly stating that making finalised things is not a requirement at Relearn lets participants spend their time exactly where they desire, not constrained by conditions imposed by production.

  2. Etherpad is web-based software that allows for multi-handed collaborative writing and editing of texts in real time. The software is heavly adopted by Relearn and many of its supporting organisations, Varia, Constant, OSP. The consistent use of etherpad stimulated two Relearn transversal projects: Ethertoff, developed for and used during Relearn 2013) to turn etherpad into a writing interface for a wiki-type website; and Etherdump a converting and archiving tool of all pads in an etherpad installation.

Last edited: 2019-09-25 20:42:39
Revisions: 1601


Written and designed by Colm O’Neill, Silvio Lorusso, Cristina Cochior and Manetta Berends — June, July, September 2019 — Rotterdam (NL), Carlow (IE).

Relearn 2017 participants included Roel Roscam Abbing, Max Franklin, Giulia de Giovanelli, Amelie Dumont, Annet Dekker, Julie Boschat Thorez, Ruben van de Ven, Gijs de Heij, Thomas Buxó, Quentin Jumelin, Quentin Astié, Hans Lammerant, Cristina Cochior, Manetta Berends, Silvio Lorusso, Colm O’Neill, Marcel Goethals, Miglena Minkova, Kym Ward, Karisa Senavitis (remote), Amy Pickles, Vasiliki Zioga, Desiree Kerklaan, Anita Burato, Dick Reckard, Émile Greis, Adelina Tsagkari, Anne Laforet, Javier Lloret, Dušan Barok, Joca van der Horst, Claudia Roeck, Jim Wraith, Léna Robin, Natacha Roussel, Máté Pacsika, Jeremy Olson.

General Relearn documents can be found at:
Relearn 2017 Etherdump (static archive of the note taking / writing pads):

Quote on one of the doors in Poortgebouw.
Quote on one of the doors in Poortgebouw.


To aid this publication, one tool was created and two existing tools got extended: Etherdump and Distribusi.

  • Distribusi is used to integrate the photographs of Relearn 2017 into the publication. A command line photograph EXIF comment inserter was built to annotate photo files inside the files themselves. The tool also comes with a reader to go through the annotations in the terminal.

  • An EXIF extension has been added to Distribusi that extracts the EXIF ‘Comment’ metadata before building web indexes based on the contents of a directory. This function is activated by the flag ‘-c’ or ‘-captions’. The flag can be used in combination with ‘-nf’ or ‘–no-filenames’ which tells Distribusi not to include image filenames.

  • New pad-to-publication features were added to the Etherdump software (on the publish-vs-nopublish branch) and were used to make this publication. They allow for Etherdumping a selection of pads that include the __RELEARN__ magic word inside them. We used this occassion to fork etherdump into Etherpump, with the idea to stimulate further experimentation with pad-publishing within. You can find the fork and read more about it here:

Fixing chargers and OS installation issues during informal & impromptu skill-sharing sessions.
Fixing chargers and OS installation issues during informal & impromptu skill-sharing sessions.

Last update 2019-09-25 21:15:54.
#! /bin/bash

all: pull publication

# Download the pages that include the __RELEARN__ magic word
	etherpump pull --all --no-raw-ext --publish __RELEARN__ --publish-opt-in --pub publication.sources

# Run the index command to generate the publication
	etherpump publication publication.sources/*.meta.json --title "Ruminating Relearn" --order custom --output Ruminating-Relearn.html