Open Garden is a durational participatory performance by Resident Artist Alice Yuan Zhang, experimenting with the potentiality of our online attention and the labor of digital sovereignty. Streaming on solar power through the decentralized web, a garden plot awaits visitors to generate instructions together that will be carried out each week, providing a neutral substrate for active reflection on digital commoning, responsibility, and governance.
In digital marketing, Facebook and Google are known as walled gardens. By aggressively centralizing and guarding vast amounts of audience data behind closed doors, they secure the bulk of the attention economy. The valued commodity behind these walls is us — habituated, surveilled, weary-eyed. Can we begin to decommodify our attention and reclaim digital agency? Where might we direct that attention, and what grows from it? How do we negotiate individual instincts with collective responsibility? What does it mean to govern ourselves in consideration of pace, place, and perspective?
The public was invited to add and negotiate requests for the garden with others online, to be implemented live by the artist each Sunday for a few months. Accessible through a decentralized browser called Beaker, the website needed existing visitors to co-host, or "seed", in order to be transmitted to new visitors without a traditional centralized host. Bhavik Singh contributed a technical overview of the peer-to-peer ethos and implementation process of Open Garden, written in plain language for public consideration.
Over the weeks, instructions surfaced for sky poems, snail structures, soil migration, native and non-native places, buried secrets, dancing, water and worms. Some were debated, others erased or re-written. The garden also received mail in the form of sunflower seeds and seaweed compost. When on the site, each visitor's presence would appear as a live cursor. Attention appeared lively early on and dwindled quietly over time.
Open Garden was developed within the Residency Program and presented as a part of Re-Fest 2021.
Alice Yuan Zhang – Lead Artist, Performer, Web Designer
Tong Wu – Web Developer
Bhavik Singh – Decentralized Web Developer
Alexander Babbitt – Sound Designer