Raqs Media Collective

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OPUS, 2001

Technologies: Apache, GD, ImageMagick, Linux, MySQL, PHP, Smarty

Keywords: appropriation, collaboration, interface, open source

OPUS (Open Platform for Unlimited Signification) is an online digital commons for sharing creative work, and an example of an important genre of New Media art?projects that create an environment where artists submit their work and, in doing so, contribute to a larger gesamtkunstwerk of sorts. A complex and ambitious project with utopian aspirations, OPUS encourages artists and authors to upload their own original source files to appropriate media objects found within the system (including images, video, audio, text, and software code). Participants may then produce what Raqs Media Collective calls Rescensions by remixing or otherwise altering these found sources and contributing their new works back into the OPUS system. Each media object is tagged in an online database with extensive metadata, such as keywords and descriptions, that facilitate search and retrieval. Although much of this information is displayed as text, OPUS also includes a visualization feature that represents media objects as color-coded icons connected by arcs and circles showing the relationships between objects. Raqs uses genetic inheritance as a metaphor to describe how source files ("parents") and derivative works ("children") are related. As they write on the OPUS Web site, "A Rescension is neither a clone, nor an authorised or pirated copy nor an improved or deteriorated version, of a pre-existing text, just as a child is neither a clone, nor an authorised or pirated copy, nor an improved or deteriorated version of its parents."

With its emphasis on appropriation, collaboration, and sharing, OPUS is modeled after open source software development, in which source code is made freely available to programmers who collabortively author software on a share-and-share-alike basis. This approach to cultural practice, known as open source culture or free culture, has been on the rise since the early 20th century, driven in part by the proliferation of technologies of mechanical and digital reproduction and distribution. From Dada to Pop, and from found footage film to hip hop, appropriation has become an increasingly important strategy for artists of all stripes.

Raqs is based in India, where the high-tech industry had become an important engine of economic development by the early 21st century. Within the continuum of South Asian art history, the OPUS project is evocative of the multiple points of view in Mughal paintings. The name Raqs can be read in two ways: it is a word used in Persian, Arabic, and Urdu to describe the frantic state experienced by dervishes as they dance, and it suggests the English acronym FAQ, for "frequently asked questions"? although, as new media curator Steve Dietz points out, "rarely asked questions" could more accurately describe Raqs' mode of critical inquiry.

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