Decolonial Hacker critically examines cultural institutions, their alliances, interests and behaviour. Born of a desire to entrench more consistent and collective engagement with institutional critique, Decolonial Hacker operates through a web browser extension that “hacks” institutions’ URLs with commissioned criticism, and an online platform that archives these texts. The extension activates when a user logs onto an institution’s website, dissolving their webpage to reveal an article that analyses certain problematics of that place informed by decolonial politics at large – for instance, pillaged colonial objects, funding sources and labour conditions.
By intervening in the digital territory of institutions and building a dedicated space where discussions about their actions can exist, we hope for more people to actively imagine and posit better alternatives for institutional governance. Here, at the beginning, it’s difficult to be doctrinal as to what Decolonial Hacker will do in its lifetime, for we are certainly open to deviations along the way. Decolonial Hacker is at its core a community driven initiative, and we aspire to join the growing chorus of people acting and thinking in good faith to conceive of what a “better institution” might look like, in an industry that is constantly reproducing systems of domination (to paraphrase the words of filmmaker, writer and theorist Trinh Minh Ha).
Many advocate for the annihilation of cultural institutions in their present form, or rather, invoke an Afropessimist logic to pave the fabled alternative: destruction as an act of creation. Others may reject this negation and take a reformist stance that detoxifies the institutional body and infuses it, instead, with different kinds of corrective politics. There are others, too, whose alignments are more akin to a compromise between these camps, which is perhaps the clearest way one might locate the starting position of Decolonial Hacker. In other words, we see the idea of an “annihilated institution” as aspirational, while remaining conscious of, and receptive to, the various hurdles that stand in the way of this. In other words, we aren’t interested in defending arguments in favour of the fundamental existence of institutions, nor do we seek their return to a “state of innocence.” Our contributors might help us enunciate, nuance and sublimate the distance between destruction and reformation, both of which are, nevertheless, products of a generative discontent with places bestowed the responsibility of representing “culture.”
As founding editor, I have wondered whether this project is worth embarking on at all – that is, whether this project is but a mere reflection of some elemental naivety for a “better world.” But is there dignity in resignation? In a time where so many reactionaries are afflicted by, and platformed for, some kind of fashionable jadedness or fatalism with our institutions writ large, it appears more noble to seize the purported impossibility of change and work toward a foundational shift. Who will shoulder this burden? The old adage “if not us, then who” only feels trite here because it’s true. And indeed, herein lies an act of doing, one in pursuit of that something else along the way.
Decolonial Hacker is now accepting pitches for texts – on any cultural institution in the world – between 2000–3000 words for the first publication period between now and September 2021. The fee for each text is $500AUD funded by the Australia Council for the Arts. Please submit pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org by 2 April 2021. If possible, please include a writing sample.
Decolonial Hacker is made possible by the indefatigable efforts of visual designer and web developer Joan Shin, and developer Caspian Baska. I owe Joan and Caspian my deepest thanks for their ongoing spiritedness, collaboration and work. I must thank Sanja Grozdanić, Miranda Samuels, Emerald Dunn Frost and Kai Wasikowski, who have been so generous in sharing their intelligence and kindness to make this project feel all the more viable. I am grateful to Soo-Min Shim, Jazz Money, Naomi Riddle, Michael Fitzgerald and Lisa Long for their friendship in all steps of this project. And finally, Decolonial Hacker owes thanks to numerous peers for their sharp and thorough feedback on the user experience and design.
2021 and beyond
In line with the Government’s COVID-19 roadmap to re-opening the country, the doors open on 17 May 2021.
Almost all of the Barbican’s casual staff don’t show up for front-of-house shifts. They have moved out of London or found employment in places that value them more. The Barbican’s creative upper class have to become hosts and invigilators to open the centre.
Barbican Stories is published.
Barbican employees are shocked at the stories and recollections of racism in the book. They can’t believe that this is all true and so they dive into their minority workforce to find out for themselves, once and for all. Unconvinced and under mounting public pressure, the Barbican hires an external consultant (a friend of a director) to publish a public race report that concludes that whilst the Barbican could do better, there is no systemic issue.
2,000 workers across London’s cultural sector create a picket line in solidarity with Barbican workers. The demands of the protest are impossible and necessary.
During the Barbican’s opening concert, as the conductor enters the stage to fill the auditorium with music, it is instead filled with the sound of 400 people standing up and leaving the orchestra on stage with no audience. A violinist cries.
All the employees of colour evacuate and the Barbican is left with a purely white workforce. There is a palpable sigh of collective relief: If there’s no one but white people, then we can’t be racist!
Artists stop aligning themselves with backward institutions so cultural producers at the Barbican have to become artists to fill the programme.
Whiteness clings to the walls like moisture. Visitors are too ashamed to cross the picket line.
Coffees go undrunk, B R U T A L tote bags collect cobwebs, the conservatory grows wild. The ducks leave the lake in solidarity. Old Barbican guides litter the foyer. The orange carpet turns grey with dirt.
Eventually, audiences don’t need a picket to stop them from coming to the centre. A primed and ready-to-pay cultural audience now reflects the fastest growing demographic in London. Now, these younger and more diverse audiences that make up the city’s landscape find different and better cultural spaces that actually care about them and reflect their lives without skirting around the ugly facts. Why see another token diversity event when there are now whole institutions dedicated to the complexity of the diaspora?
One by one, lights are cut from the Barbican’s many rooms and offices, as they grow dusty in the absence of people. Moss grows between the cracks in the concrete.
The only room that remains open is the directorate office.
The directors maintain a throne of old catalogues, leaflets and newspaper clippings, in a never-ending meeting where the only thing on the agenda is to dust.
One unremarkable day, the Barbican ruins collapses in on itself. The debris blows away to reveal an ON SALE sign.
The only thing worth anything at the Barbican is the land it used to occupy (and even that won’t cover the debt left behind by the brutal beast).
Blitz Property Developers find EC2Y 8DS and they love a bargain.
Once again, the site is raised by the Blitz.