Jane Frances Dunlop performs 'Speculative and Palimpsestic Documents' for 'Documents of the Future: Invitation to Edit.'

Jane Frances Dunlop performs 'Speculative and Palimpsestic Documents' for 'Documents of the Future: Invitation to Edit.' (Courtesy of the artist)

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For many — myself included — Google Docs is more than just an online word processing platform, it’s a way of life. Why save files to a clunky old hard drive when you can access your documents from something as wonderfully nebulous as a cloud? Why send a Microsoft Word document back and forth with a coworker when you can collaborate on a piece of writing in real time, adorably finishing each other’s sentences?

In the back of our minds, diehard Docs users wonder if we should be worried about Google having all-seeing access to our words, thoughts and vital pieces of information. Probably, but it’s just so darn convenient, you know?

Even for those who believe wholeheartedly in the software’s claim to “bring documents to life,” Google Docs remains for the most part a working space, a place for orderly rows of facts and figures on a white piece of digital paper.

Frances Fleetwood participates in 'Performance Document Working Group' for 'Documents of the Future: Invitation to Edit.'
Frances Fleetwood participates in ‘Performance Document Working Group’ for ‘Documents of the Future: Invitation to Edit.’ (Courtesy of the artist)

But artists are here to challenge that conventional use — and, let’s be honest, all conventions — with a knowing nod to the document’s inherent power. Documents of the Future: Invitation to Edit, a one-night-only event on Sept. 9 at Oakland’s CTRL+SHFT Collective, presents individual performances (some on-site, some live streaming) and one collaborative performance all addressing the “unstable and transformative nature of documents.”

Most exciting of these is the Performance Document Working Group, which turns a shared Google Doc into a platform for conversation, co-writing, editing and experimentation for seven artists sitting at computers all over the world.

Frances Fleetwood, an Oakland-based curator and producer — and one of the seven — took part in a previous incarnation of the Google Doc as shared canvas. “We had no idea how it would develop,” she says. “Over three hours, the doc took on a life of its own. It grew from 1 page to 80 pages.”

The archived version of that performance, A Work in Progress, resembles something like a Geocities site crossed with the early days of Facebook, when writing on a friend’s wall meant you could edit all previous messages left on its surface. (See it, in Google Docs, here.) “Is anyone else feeling FOMO about other convos happening elsewhere in the document?” a participant writes at one point, hinting at the chaos unfolding within the doc’s headers, footnotes and pages of super-sized text. Even in its static archived form, the meandering, multi-hued conversation — free of authorship or organization and punctuated by screenshots of itself — is still completely exciting.

Caroline Sinders performs 'Emotional Data' on site at CTRL+SHFT' for 'Documents of the Future: Invitation to Edit.'
Caroline Sinders performs ‘Emotional Data’ on site at CTRL+SHFT’ for ‘Documents of the Future: Invitation to Edit.’ (Courtesy of the artist)

The good news is you too can feel the FOMO from within Saturday’s Performance Document Working Group. “When you think about it, documents really are condensations of power,” Fleetwood says. “And this is a dispersal of that power. Anyone who’s interested is invited to edit.”

Want to participate? Simply email hello@inter-val.org for an advance invitation to the doc. A screen of Performance Document Working Group will be projected live within the CTRL+SHFT space, but viewers with access and their own laptops or smartphones can scroll freely throughout the document, visiting the performative conversations evolving within its ever-expanding digital pages.

Presented by New York and Melbourne-based arts organization Interval as part of Australia’s Channels Festival (a biennial dedicated to new contemporary moving images), this weekend’s Documents of the Future also, wonderfully, takes place in the actual future: in the form of a simultaneous event at Melbourne’s Australian Center for Moving Image on Sunday, Sept. 10.

Maybe don’t think too hard on that one. Just accept the invitation to edit.

‘Documents of the Future: Invitation to Edit’ takes place 7:30-9:30pm, Saturday, Sept. 9 at CTRL+SHFT (1430 34th St., Oakland). For more information, click here.

Meet Me in the Google Doc For, Uh… a Performance? 6 September,2017Sarah Hotchkiss


Sarah Hotchkiss

Sarah Hotchkiss is KQED Arts’ Visual Arts Editor and a San Francisco-based artist. She watches a lot of science fiction, which she reviews in a semi-regular publication called Sci-Fi Sundays. Follow her at @sahotchkiss.