Free Association is a volunteer-run platform for workshops, public programming and publishing through the expanded fields of fiction, poetry, critical theory, philosophy, art and art criticism.

TEAM

Founder, Programming and Development: Anita Spooner
Producer: Chantelle Mitchell
Media and Communications: Jordana Bragg
Adviser: Josephine Mead
Resident Astrologer and Fantasy Worker: Angelita Biscotti
Designer: Alex Margetic
Web developer: Xavier Connelly

CONTACT

hello@freeassociation.com.au

We acknowledge the custodians of the land on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and pay respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging.

subscribe
Sign up for the occasional newsletter

Upcoming

6

Past

5
4
3
2
1
Intrusive thoughts: the internal monologue of a stressed singularity led by Sam Leiblich

Techno-futurists believe “The Singularity”—when human and artificial intelligence combines to form a world-spanning super-intelligence—is the inevitable next step in the evolution of life on Earth; but what happens when the worldwide super-mind starts spiralling? And what if the singularity is already here and it’s literally just obsessing over whether we’ve all bought toilet paper this week?

 

This series of workshops will introduce attendees to the thought of John C. Lilley, Ray Kurzweil, and other outsiders and futurists, whom we will read through the work of Jacques Lacan and Sigmund Freud. After establishing a theoretical grounding we will use state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms, and a set of especially adapted writing exercises, to learn to listen—to ourselves and to the algorithm—so that we might predict what comes next. What will it be like when the internet scrolls us? Get ready to see Siri stress the fuck out!

Local and international writing and technology enthusiasts are encouraged to apply.

Application deadline: Midnight, April 9, 2021

Supported by Darebin City Council.

Sam Lieblich is a writer, psychiatrist, and neuroscientist interested in how humans orient themselves in the world, in the poetics of brain-based explanations for human Being, and in our algorithmic selves. He has been published in the Lifted Brow, Overland, Tectonic, the British Journal of Psychiatry, The Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Neurology, No More Poetry, and others. He developed an AI chatbot for the recent ACCAopen exhibition with dancer and choreographer Amrita Hepi. He has also contributed chapters to neuropsychiatry textbooks and teaches at the University of Melbourne.

Think of a mobile: suspended and unsettled, an ending is a beginning. Digital poetry operates like a mobile, a mobile moves like a gif. When we write digital poetry, we are are constructing something that moves across the screen. We want it to loop back over itself, to spin in circles, to end up where it started. Digital poetry is a mobile is a gif.

 

Making Mobiles is a two-hour gif-making workshop that suspends and loops digital poems. The workshop will equip participants with the skills to bridge poetry and the moving image. The first hour will consist of a presentation on digital mediums, design basics, how to make a gif, and implementing poetry into the moving image. The second hour will put the presentation into practice, asking participants to turn a pre-written poem into a looped gif.

We will present these gif poems across a digital exhibition, inviting you into a room full of mobiles.

Poets from any state or territory in Australia are encouraged to apply.

APPLY

Application deadline: Midnight, Sunday August 9, 2020
Supported by the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grants.

Lujayn Hourani is a digital writer, editor and arts worker based in Naarm. Their practice focuses heavily on digital literature – writing it, editing it, and talking about it. Their digital writing has appeared in Meanjin, Overland, The Lifted Brow, Voiceworks, Emerging Writers Festival and Going Down Swinging, among others. They are Online Editor at Voiceworks, work at Next Wave and were previous Online Editor at The Lifted Brow.

This workshop will consider the role of critical art writing in the broader political project of imagining the world otherwise. The workshop understands ‘art’ in its most expanded sense, encompassing both cultural texts and the aesthetic dimension of political experience and subjectivity. Taking Ashon Crawley’s phrase ‘otherwise possibilities’ as a departure point, the three sessions will engage in close readings of recent criticism that reads alongside or through a work of art in order to think about how to transform ways of seeing, being, organising, and resisting.

 

The sessions will focus on the how political subjectivity is shaped (by race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, (dis)ability; by access to or distance from networks of care; vulnerability to or protection from the law) and how art is one way of studying the affects and effects associated with becoming a political subject. Close readings will be accompanied by writing exercises that explore different registers and styles and that consider how critical writing can be particularly responsive to the world moment we find ourselves in. The first session will focus on ‘reading’ as an expanded practice that informs writing; the second session will examine ‘writing’ and the process through which an argument emerges through the act of drafting; the final session will look at ‘editing’ and how to edit both one’s own and other people’s writing. Examples of readings include work by Fred Moten, Saidiya Hartman, Evelyn Araluen, Helen Hughes, Andrew Brooks, and Kay Gabriel.

Writers from any state or territory in Australia are encouraged to apply.

APPLY

Application deadline: Midnight, Sunday August 2, 2020.

Supported by the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grants.

 

Astrid Lorange is a writer, artist, and editor who lives and works on unceded Wangal land. She lectures in contemporary theory at UNSW Art & Design. She is one-half of the critical art collective Snack Syndicate and a member of the publishing collective Rosa Press. Her research examines reading as a critical generative practice that offers transformative possibilities for (re)thinking everyday life. In her scholarly and creative work, she analyses modern and contemporary literature and art, and the relationship between cultural texts and social and political structures (gender and sexuality; settler-colonialism and the nation-state; legal and economic systems; infrastructure; labour). Recent publications include Labour and Other Poems (Cordite Books, 2020) and Homework (forthcoming from Discipline).

In a time marked by rage and mourning over recent tragic deaths and ongoing police and state violence against Black and Indigenous people both at home and abroad, this is a writing program for Indigenous poets of Naarm to take stock and respond through the activism of poetry. It is a time for the language of immediacy and urgency; a time to ask: If not now – then when? And, if not you – then who?

 

The dawn is at hand – Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Three writing workshops will study historical and contemporary examples of poetry of protest and activism ranging from the personal (activism on the home-front, body politics, black bodies, queer bodies and their intersections) to big picture public activism and protest. The curriculum will cover the radical writing of Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Lionel Fogarty, Romaine Moreton, Jack Davis as well as contemporary poets Ellen van Neerven, Alison Whittaker, Evelyn Araleun, Samuel Wagan Watson and more. In this violent rupture we will draw connections across space and time through a reckoning of history; and deconstruction of the colonial mythscape of peaceful settlement and the united nation through the dismantling of colonial relics and a harbouring of future refusals and resistance. From the storytellers and song-makers of ancestry to contemporary protest language, we will look at how activist poetry is deeply localised, personal and highly political, at once.

Twelve First Nations writers will be paid $300 fees to develop a piece of poetry for digital publication on BLINDSIDE and Free Association’s websites.

The program:
Three poetry workshops led by Jeanine Leane covering theory, discussion and practical workshopping
A meeting with a Wurundjeri Elder
An online residency with BLINDSIDE from 22 July – 8 August with editorial support from Jeanine Leane
An online presentation of readings and work in development

This program will take place on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We recognise that sovereignty was never ceded – this land is stolen land. We pay respects to Wurundjeri Elders, past, present and emerging, to the Elders from other communities and to any other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders who might encounter or participate in the program.

First Nations writers and artists from any state or territory are encouraged to apply.

Co-presented by Free Association and BLINDSIDE

The annual BLINDSIDE First Nations Project is supported by the Victorian Government through the City of Melbourne through their Triennial Grants Program. This project is proudly supported by Creative Victoria, the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grants and Darebin City Council.

Jeanine Leane is a Wiradjuri writer, poet, essayist and academic from southwest New South Wales. Her poetry, short stories and essays have been published in Hecate: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Women’s Liberation, The Journal for the Association European Studies of Australia, Australian Poetry Journal, Antipodes, Sydney Review of Books, Best Australian Poems, Overland and the Australian Book Review. Jeanine has published widely in the area of Aboriginal literature, poetry, writing otherness and creative non-fiction. Her research interests concern the political nature of literary representation, cultural appropriation of minority voices and stories and writing identity and difference.

Time, After Time: A Reenactment Workshop is a free series of lectures, discussions and practical workshops presented by Camila Galaz. Workshop participants will develop new reperformance works to present as part of Channels Festival, the International Biennial of Video Art. Open to emerging artists, writers and filmmakers, participants will consider how reperformance of historical events and reproductions of archival documents can be used to address ideas of cultural memory, inherited trauma, and the complexities of truth-telling.

 

Exploring the techniques and ethics of moving from the archival to the contemporary, the course will examine the theoretical landscape of historical reperformance, discuss works by video and installation artists such as Renata Poljak, Silvia Kolbowski, Yoshua Okón, and Petrit Halilaj, and develop new reperformance works for public presentation.

Camila Galaz is a visual artist whose practice uses video, drawing, and installation to explore intimate connections to history and resistance. Recent exhibitions include you are the magnet and I am the metal (slowly magnitizdat’, C3 Art Space (2018), Reparar Means to Repair, Blindside (2018); and You Transform Everything into a Boat, Kings Artist Run (2017). In 2018 she presented online projects with Sister Gallery and The Digital Writers’ Festival. She is the recipient of the 2018 MECCA M-Power Scholarship from the National Gallery of Victoria and the 2019-2020 Australia Council EMPAC New York Residency. In 2019 she presented a Writing & Concepts lecture at the NGV entitled Questioning Existence with the Subjunctive (Spanish Demystified). She is also a founding member of the performance art collective The Band Presents (TBP), and co-ran the TBPHQ Art Space in Docklands, Melbourne from 2017-19.

Two headed banner

The Two-Headed Bird: A Surrealist Writing Workshop seeks to unearth the creative potential of the unconscious for the purpose of composition and publication. Presented by Manisha Anjali, the course consists of a series of lectures, discussions and practical exercises on dream work, automatic writing, psychoanalysis and mythology. Students will examine existing surrealist works like William Blake's nightmarish visions, blues folklore, Yoko Ono's instructional pieces, Alejandro Jodorowsky's cinematic lucid dreams and the spiritual revolt of Butoh: a surrealist way to move.

 

Dream control, psychic automatism and cut-up are tools of illumination. By extracting narratives from the unconscious mind, students will not only be able to maintain a continuous state of inspiration but also evade psychological traps that inhibit creativity like writer’s block, self-criticism and creative boundaries established by traditional forms of composition and editing.

Manisha Anjali is a writer and artist. Her practice is rooted in the language of dreams and exile. Manisha is the author of Electric Lotus (Incendium Radical Library Press, 2019). She has been a recipient of BLINDSIDE’s Regional Arts & Research Residency, a Writer-in-Residence at Incendium Radical Library and a Hot Desk Fellow at The Wheeler Centre. Manisha is the producer of Neptune, an archive of dreams, hallucinations and visions.

Upcoming

Past

Presented by Chantelle Mitchell with readings and performance by Amaara Raheem, Eva Birch and Indiah Money, alongside calligraphy and embroidery tutorials by Angie Pai and family.

Breath Poetics introduces projectvisim as a poetics of embodiment - as a tool for writing the body through the materiality of text. Projective poetry traditions emerged from the Black Mountain School, and were inscribed by Charles Olson in his pamphlet ‘Projective Verse’ from 1951. This public program introduces Projective Verse traditions and practices, and explores the significance of text and language as a poetics of breath, as ‘a high-energy construct and an energy discharge’ and in presenting methodologies to consider and untangle the relation of body to language, and the relation of language to the page.

Smart work

Audrey Pfister

Hey so um 👉 👈  there’s this monkey meme and it um kinda ends up being a perfect allegory for life under surveillance capitalism. In this image a diagram shows a monkey sitting in a ‘Restraint chair’, with a ‘Response bar’, ‘Juice reward mechanism’, a ‘Stimulus screen’, and head plugged into a ‘Recording electrode’. Read with the caption ‘how you look when you say your work gives free snacks’, the picture offers an image of the worker, and the ways in which our mental and physical input is fed back to us in morsels of reward, distraction, survival, and sustenance.

Take for example the way a workplace emails a meeting agenda – first dot point – ‘R U OK? Day campaign’ – second dot point – ‘EOIs open: Second round voluntary redundancy program’.

The monkey in restraint chair indexes something further about our everyday technologies, that is, the totalising data-veillance embedded into our software, and the very means of escaping it feeling steadily unthinkable. We feel this on almost all platforms, whether their core function is the workplace or the social. You feed the platform your data, your behaviour patterns, which in turn produces your ‘feed’ and shapes and reshapes your behaviour. An endless generative feedback loop of controlled input and output. Does this Monkey offer a possible vision of the framework of working under techno-capitalism, and the kinds of complicated binds of mental and physical labour we find ourselves labouring in and out from?

Response bar

Let’s take an obvious example: Instagram discovery feeds and advertisements. The application’s backend reveals that every few seconds Instagram sends signals back to the software reporting exactly what you’re doing. It monitors how much time you hover and gaze at a post before scrolling forward, whether you click and expand open an image on the discovery feed, who you’re sliding into the DMs with, who they’re following and what content they’re looking at, what links you click on. It makes predictions based on all of this. Your data is disassembled, broken down, filtered, re-assembled, re-packaged and sold. As Mckenzie Wark notes, when using technologies that are experienced as “free’ –  it is us who are being sold.”[1]

Digital surveillance is often pardoned under the rubric of an enhanced user experience; for example, an algorithmically generated playlist curated just for you. Technology is foundationally designed on a popular illusion of complete access to unlimited information, connection, and distribution, and an obfuscation of its political imperatives as it presents as neutral. But the network is incredibly good at maintaining homeostasis, centralising power and control, and commodifying time, connection, and information flows.

Juice reward mechanism

Under this digital and self-surveillance people are encouraged and incentivised to internalise behavioural standards and learn to order their bodies. James Bridle writes “The ability to record every aspect of our daily lives settles ultimately onto the very surface of our bodies, persuading us that we too can be optimised and upgraded like our devices.[2] People become profiles, avatars, data doubles, building images of themselves, filling a demand to be legible for machine reading, legible for companies, for algorithms to boost them into the mainstream.

We can see this in the way influencer culture has exploded. Take for example Honeyhouse, an ‘adult TikTok house’, in which four couples live together. Their video what we do for work introduces each resident: a YouTuber; fitness trainer and actor; mindset, meditation and motivation coach; model; brand strategist and e-com expert. Their freely available content shows the influencers perform challenges like ‘voting on who does the dishes’, who can reply to a text first, hopscotch jumping in rhythm, book page turning, and candle blowing competitions. As McKenzie Wark writes: “Reduced to nothing but users, and our actions forced into the commodity form, our collective work and play produces a world over and against us…collective human labor made a world for a ruling class that keeps making not only itself but us in its image.”[3]

Restraint Chair

We aren’t solely regulated by the disciplinarity of old institutions like the school, factory, and so on anymore. As Paul B. Preciado puts it, we are also regulated “by a set of biomolecular technologies that enter into the body by way of microprostheses and technologies of digital surveillance subtler and more insidious than anything Deleuze envisioned in his famous prognostications about the society of control.”[4] Preciado reminds us how Hugh Hefner became a ‘horizontal worker’ on his rotating circle bed in the Playboy mansion, signaling a new kind of ultra-connected pharmacopornographic disciplinary subject. Preciado draws a connection here between this horizontal worker, and where many of us found ourselves in this current pandemic moment. That is, under widespread surveillance and digital biopolitical management, completely entangled and interconnected confinement to the home or to the device.

Recording electrode

The technologies we’re using already have leaky privacy conditions, listening devices, spying cameras, biometric recognition and other data-tracking processes. As with most popular technologies we use, the algorithmic processes are purposefully opaque: we’re denied the right to see into and understand the machine, articulate its processes, and understand our data flows.

Platforms such as Microsoft Office Teams and Slack already built in the ability for management to functionally snoop in, to view private conversations and teams. It’s becoming increasingly commonplace for software to allow management to be alerted by or to uncover ‘underperforming’ workers or unionising employees. We’re now seeing how automation has reshaped more than just work processes; it also creates conditions in which the space, time, and means of forming solidarity are foreclosed.[5]

Stimulus screen

Uncanny in its speculative forecasting of facial analysis computation, us+ (2013) by Lauren Lee McCarthy and Kyle McDonald shows us a sociality implicated by algorithmic improvement and observation. The work imitated a promotional video for a new Google Hangout app that analyses speech and facial expressions to optimise and improve conversation. The app uses pop up notifications with suggestions for changing tone or mood, or it takes direct action such as auto-muting a user speaking. 

This kind of AI offers a form of objectivity, distancing, and standardisation which becomes attractive to platforms and to the workplace. But such ‘smart’ technology becomes increasingly appealing in its ability to collect more and more granular information about our movements and behaviour, meanwhile we are automated to self-monitor and change our actions.

This murky atmosphere of power, technology, and labour are brought to the forefront by Kynan Tan’s works Computer Learns Automation (2020) and Production (smart phone assembly) (2019). The more recent Computer Learns Automation uses generative AI and video to animate three scenes – the rideshare, drone strike, and robot factory arm. The later work Production shows looping simulated scenes of a smartphone production factory assembly line with faceless workers. When read in tandem these artworks speak to the tensions between increasingly commonplace artificial intelligence and machine learning with the very real abstracted and separated human labour power and resource extraction behind the scenes.

Kynan Tan, Production (smart phone assembly) (2019)

In each of these instances we see regimes of assessment, prediction, and analysis, where the world we inhabit is understood as a vast field of data awaiting abstraction and possession. So-called smart devices that constantly watch us and record us, harvest information – every activity captured and extracted is a direct extension and expansion of colonisation.[6]

Tan’s scenes of drone strikes, robotics, and ride sharing transport us to a machinic vision that is prosthetic, distant, and mediated through screens and interfaces. This optical paradigm is reductive, gamified, simulated – revealing what is commonly rendered invisible or abstracted (military violence, the distribution of goods, and human labour). It reminds us how algorithms serve a political function that benefits those in positions of power; the state and the boss. This is precisely because of the ability for them to defer responsibility for the actions of algorithms, and because of the illusionary belief of apolitical and objective algorithmic processes.

Computer Learns Automation, Kynan Tan, 3 artificial intelligence agents: 3ch HD video, 2ch sound, generative. 2020

Harney and Moten say that to work today is “to be asked, more and more, to do without thinking, to feel without emotion, to move without friction, to adapt without question, to translate without pause, to desire without purpose, to connect without interruption.” Capitalism and algorithmic surveillance intersect to create a system that is less visible, less understood, but more violent, and more totalising.

In danger of restraining ourselves to the ‘chair’ – or of thinking the job is 💯  because free snacks – we might consider ways to steal back time, ‘our groove, our pulse, our swing… that never belonged to anyone. It’s what we share.’[7]

This piece was originally written in August 2020.

[1] Wark, M, ‘Capital is Dead. Is this Something worse?’, Verso, 2019

[2] Bridle, J. ‘The new Dark Age. Technology and the End of the Future.’, Verso, 2018

[3] Wark, M, ‘Capital is Dead. Is this Something worse?’, Verso Books, 2019

[4] Preciado, P. ‘Learning from the virus’, Artforumhttps://www.artforum.com/print/202005/paul-b-preciado-82823, 2020

[5] Banks, D. ‘Automatic for the bosses’, https://reallifemag.com/automatic-for-the-bosses/Real Life, 2020

[6] Mbembe, A. ‘Thoughts on the planetary: an interview with achille mbembe.’,  https://www.newframe.com/thoughts-on-the-planetary-an-interview-with-achille-mbembe/new frame, 2018

[7] Moten, F. Harney, S. ‘The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study’, Autonomedia, 2013

Audrey Pfister (sometimes-) writes, curates, edits, makes mixes, and works in the arts. They spend most of their time across Gadigal lands and waters, and grew up on Thawaral land. They've written for Runway Conversations, RunningDog, Overland, Circle Square Paper, Flower Books and Framework journal. Audrey holds a Bachelor of Art Theory from UNSW Art & Design, and is doing Arts Honours in Media, Culture, Technology. Audrey has collaboratively produced projects such as Precarity and Possibility; a forum on labour and the arts and collectivity, Fatal Crush reading series, Kudos Live: Intimate Circulations, and Anti-Annual: Trails. @eggeplant on insta @beanartillery on Discord/Twitter