The Operating System
[IMPORTANT CLARIFICATION: Bookshop "storefronts" are not managed or representative of the organizations that create them. In this case, the OS is an affiliate of Bookshop, so if you buy online through here (as opposed to through other ethically bereft online competitors) Bookshop passes a small percentage (10%, before fees) to us. In early 2020, the OS stopped all direct sales beyond preorders. This is not the OS store, but it benefits us more than purchases made elsewhere, and Bookshop itself is a B-Corp and a climate neutral company, so the profit going to them supports positive change as well.]
About the OS + Liminal Lab:
The Operating System is an experiment in system change taking the form of a radical, open source, queer/TGNC run arts organization with an archive-and-access-facing publication program dedicating to amplifying and exhuming innovative creative and critical projects.
Our projects focus on underrepresented voices, mixed-genre, avant-garde, and politically critical work, as well as on infrastructure building, open source resource development and dissemination, and archival documentation across creative disciplines. We have produced over 100 print:documents on a creative commons license since our first print:document series of four titles in 2013, and hosted hundreds of events in cities across the US. Our goal is to not only build but model and facilitate sustainable, horizontal organizational strategy that is both replicable and scalable for creative practitioners everywhere. You can find ALL our titles on our open access library for free PDF download, here.
We describe our work as 'archive-facing' in its organizational practices as well as in its mission. While other arts organizations that support publications (and especially publishers) perhaps are primarily considering the economic viability or potential popularity of these documents within the current market, we document both end media as well as / alongside process material explicitly in consideration of how it changes the time / market / field / canon ahead, in years to come. The question we ask is: what persists in the narrative of creative individual and organizational practice, not only now but later, thinking specifically about the unique challenges of the first period of human history wherein so much of our output is born-digital. Scholarship often relies on archives to rebuild and counter-correct the records / narrative of human output in historical periods after the fact, as media representation and visibility is biased and reliant on countless economic, political, and other factors. But now, many materials that might have traditionally made their way into hard-copy archives are born and die on digital platforms. Even those digital archives with which care has been taken exist on media whose future it is impossible to predict but with obsolescence cycling so quickly through hardware and software, the most consistently reliable media to keep as an archive remains hard copy. With funding in the arts diminishing, but DIY, avant-garde activity continuing to flourish, radical interdisciplinary practice often happens in ephemeral settings with short institutional memory: considering the field from a systems viewpoint, we seek out both recuperative and ongoing points of entry. We work with organizations to archive their intelligence, with artists to document their process, and so on, with a goal of not only making individual documents but in the interest of creating open source materials to use to model strategy for these processes, so that others may add value in the same way, both immediately and for future archival purposes.
We aren’t thinking about our publications or projects as capitalist objects for purchase and short-term consumption, nor are we primarily driven by popularity or feasibility within an industry or market. Our publishing initiative is often something we describe as “archive-facing,” meaning that we are interested in changing the landscape of work available both in print and online, both now and in the future.
In part, this project considers what creative output we want to make sure secures a place in the record—perhaps to enjoy deserved consideration and acclaim at a later date, but moreso to ensure that a more accurate range of humans and projects makes it into the archive at all than what the institutions and hierarchical structures ordinarily allow.
In keeping with this, we believe it is important to publish these works with archival, scholarly intention: knowing that a future reader may not have access to accurate contextual or biographical information for each creative practitioner, we encourage them to tell their own story, thereby writing their own narrative rather than potentially falling into false erasure, invention, or other creative hagiography around the life of the practitioner responsible for the making of the work, as we’ve seen happen so many times in the past.