Today we’re publishing the Are.na Annual 2023, which you can find in the shop. To give you an idea of what’s inside, we’re running the editor’s letter below.
On a bright Berlin evening last June, I biked to a project space called P! to attend a talk. Afterwards, as people lingered in the space and spilled outside onto the sidewalk, I started talking to David Reinfurt (who designed and contributed writing to the first Are.na Annual) about potential themes for this year’s open call. Over the noisy din of conversation, I brought up the Notes app on my phone and rattled off a list of ideas: “path, arrangement, synchronicity, surface…” “I like service,” David said immediately, and although it wasn’t one of the words I’d just said, I had to agree. Service is specific, but can also be understood in several different ways. It’s both a verb and a noun: service, as in to help, supply, repair, or maintain; a meeting for worship, a place to refuel. Software as a service. In this case, mishearing as a service — the list was thrown out, we had our theme.
Like the mass “mondegreen” mishearings that can change the entire meaning of a song, that brief misunderstanding significantly shaped the publication you now hold in your hands. What other seemingly small or casual contributions helped make up the book? This year, after we put out a call for submissions, we also made an open channel called “Are.na Annual: Service (ideas),” which people filled with text, links, and images that could serve as ideas for what to submit. Some of the blocks manifested as individual pitches, but mostly these contributions together provided a kind of general repository of thoughts for the taking (a place to refuel). They influenced, in broad strokes, the main threads that ended up running through the book: labor and maintenance; feeding and teaching; protection, attention, and devotion.
I think that communal net of ideas that started the book also influenced the content in subtler ways. Several of the pieces you’ll read nod to the inherent collectivity that goes into making something. Some seek to surface unnamed people behind the final output. “How glad I am that it is ours,” writes Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, one of our most esteemed contributors, in a letter to his patron Nadezhda von Meck. “Would it ever have been finished but for you?” Maxwell Neely-Cohen worked with over a decade of Tchaikovsky and Meck’s letters to assemble a story, told in their own words, about the support, friendship, and patronage that went into making a famous symphony. Just before Max’s piece is a conversation between Jo Suk and Miaoye Que about romantic relationships, and artists who are influenced and assisted by their partners. “When we see how involved these people are in their partners’ craft,'' Jo notes in the piece, “the term ‘non-artist’ reveals itself to be a misnomer.”
In her essay “House-WI-FI-zation,” Stephanie Marie Cedeño writes about the maintenance workers who often go unseen and unacknowledged, likening the expectation that a city will be “reset” overnight—with little regard to who does the resetting—to the software updates that happen while we sleep. She pulls her title from Marxist feminist theorist Maria Mies’ 1986 term housewifization, which describes the division of labor that relegates women to the role of housewife, but also extends beyond gender, to encompass anyone who works outside of labor protection laws. The topic of labor resurfaces again in two different writings about teaching, and one on labor as pleasure. In Molly Soda’s piece “My Productive Morning Routine *REALISTIC,*” she talks about the labor of TikTokers filming their morning routine, a ritual that forever restarts—that is, until the introduction of “a different kind of performance: the refusal” (read: goblin mode).
Rituals of another sort come up in Zander Abranowicz’s “Séance for the Ghost Bird,” an essay in which Zander stalks a probably-extinct bird through tabs, folders, forums, and files, “cultivating a sense of communion with the ivory-bill chasers of the past.” In Tiger Dingsun’s essay about fan shrines, a similar sense of communion and devotion can be found on Stan Twitter. For Tiger, digital fan communities, which are “built up by the accumulation of online cultural production and engagement,” lie in the fourth dimension—existing in time, rather than space. In a conversation with Carolyn Li-Madeo about Wikipedia editing, Sharon Park notes that “it’s rare that digital spaces require stewardship, and fewer ask us to do so collectively.”
The digital accumulation and stewardship that began this publication reminds me that publishing is at its best a generative process, where ideas and references are shared and put in dialogue with each other in the hopes of producing something new—or at least, something that’s ours. Publishing can be a service, but it also relies on the service of others. Nearing the end of the process of creating the Annual, we asked people what else could be considered as a service, creating a website and channel to collect the responses that now run as an index in the back of the book. As usual, the people of Are.na provided.
Thank you Jessi Haley for editing this letter.
Learn about how people use Are.na to do work and pursue personal projects through case studies, interviews, and highlights.