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26 Risky Business

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As part of the 10th edition of The HTMlles Festival, produced by Studio XX, the Festival and .dpi worked together to present a special double issue (25 and 26) in addition to a limited edition print of a collection of texts to supplement .dpi 26. This anniversary is an occasion for us to create resonances: between the propositions of the Festival and that of .dpi; between the mandate of Studio XX and the laboratory of The HTMlles; between local concerns and current struggles elsewhere in the world. Do you hear the rumbling?

By simply invoking or imagining the future, one immediately engages in risky behaviours. Anything and everything can become risky… While risk is all around us, it is far from trivial. The only questions of importance are how, and for whom. In a world where financialization, indebtedness, tariffing, privatization, commodification, recovery, technologization of the self, surveillance, profiling, standardization, litigiousness and criminalization are processes that truly rule over our lives in the capitalist society we live in, we must urgently re-appropriate the notion of risk.

How does the language of risk articulate itself today?
What is at risk today?
How can one take risks today?
What are the different levels of risk in our various (trans)actions?
What is the relationship between risk, technology and power?
How is risk both managed and created? How is it distributed?
Since when does one “invest” in one’s future and what does it actually mean?
Do “crises” serve to pacify the communities being affected by these “crises”?
Who are they?
What do artists have to say about these so-called risks and crises?
How is making art risky today?
Who speaks? To whom and in the name of what?

Artists and collaborators taking part in the 10th edition of The HTMlles 10: RISKY BUSINESS certainly do not all claim to know the answers. As artists, critical thinkers and activists, their work invites us to delve deeper and genuinely experience - though fleetingly - a life that differs from the one we think we must lead. Their work effectively describes this risk as offering potential, an opening on something different. Whether the discussion involves intellectual property or biometric profiling, financial capitalism or state violence, consumer society or heteropatriarchy, property development or computer viruses as well as “risky” behaviours and “at risk” populations, RISKY BUSINESS offers propositions that bear witness to the polysemy of risk as well as the insight of its collaborators in relation to it.

The concept of a “risk society” reminds us that a society whose effective functioning is dependent on future planning is not “natural” given that past western societies were able to evolve without caring about the future. In this limited introduction, this is what we’ll stick with: risk is created for it results from decisions. Knowing this, it becomes possible for us to analyze an economy of risk (rather than a market of risk). In other words, we can calculate risk from power relations. It goes without saying that not everyone is equal before risk! This is but the inkling of a critical distance relating to the notion of risk.

Our entire life is dedicated to another life: our future life. Graduating from school, building our career, getting insurance, maintaining a good credit score - following the rules to earn a respectable status and avoid harassment by the police (and its multiple equivalents). Modern society is said to be “reflective” 1 - perhaps because it is oblivious to the head-on collision it is directly headed for due to constantly looking at itself and projecting itself in the future.

Let’s speak of the risk entailed in putting together a feminist festival of media arts and digital culture, or any other festival for that matter. It has become the norm - and even acceptable - for cultural work to be precarious (along with all the other kinds of work that do not seek to create value through the exchange of money). The “art world” - at last in part - has morphed into a fertile ground for innovations relating to the exploitation of so-called immaterial, affective and symbolic labour. It is the avant-garde of post-industrial global capitalism. Who, other than artists, cultural workers and “creative industries” freelancers, would willingly work for less than minimal wages, often through the night, to apply for this, to submit that? What can be said about the risk of having a meltdown when dealing with colleagues or resorting to the impulse to control everything, thus alienating them in either case? There is also the paradox of aligning oneself with underground and illegal organizations (who value the preservation of freedom), allowing us to take risks that are in fact positive, and perpetually running the risk of “losing” them due to police intervention. It’s all interconnected... Must we live in a state of precarity (attempting to escape mercantile logic) to truly be free? “Do more with less!” Trading services over here, partnering up over there... We get a certain sense of pride from it. Yet we are constantly aware of the risks at play and of the looming danger knowing that we’ll have to do even more with even less next time around.

To risk: to gain or to lose (it is uncertain), to expose oneself to a possibility… Risk is a potential. Whether used positively or negatively, the idea of risk implies that of evaluation, action and distribution, and thus, power. Let’s talk about resistance. The feminist approach of The HTMlles 10 is both critical and pragmatic, meaning that it is based on a wish to share risk through and in between our vulnerabilities while strengthening budding alliances. The HTMlles 10 value a feminism that lies at the intersection of praxis, anti-racism and anti-colonialism, sex worker solidarity, as well as queer and trans politics. The HTMlles 10 support the convergence and merging of solidarities as well as artistic and social innovations.

The 10th edition of The HTMlles was made possible thanks to the volunteer work of Anne Rose Maarleveld, Katja Melzer, Sarah Eve Tousignant, Tracy Valcarcel Rodriguez, Michelle Dobrovolny, Alice Tomaz de Carvalho, Yves Chaput, Thien V., the Programming Committee, as well as the countless hours of unpaid overtime put in by members of The HTMlles team, of Studio XX and partner organizations, and - last but not least – the gift of artists and collaborators. Thank you.

[1] Beck, Ulrich (1992). Risk Society: Toward a New Modernity. Londres : Sage Publications.

Sophie Le-Phat Ho is a researcher and cultural organiser from Montreal. An archivist by trade, she has also completed an MA in Anthropology of Health and the Body in the 21st Century at Goldsmiths College (University of London) in the UK, following her studies at McGill University. She has held positions at Studio XX, the Canada Council for the Arts, as well as The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology. She currently serves as the Artistic Director for the 10th edition of the The HTMlles Festival (RISKY BUSINESS) put on by Studio XX. As a cofounder of the Artivistic collective (, she works at the intersection of art, science and activism.