The Operating System Q & A pt 2

May 31, 2014 at 2:00 pm 3 comments

“I am a conduit for universal energy”: Part 2 of an interview with Lynne DeSilva-Johnson of The Operating System


DeSilva-Johnson leads a panel discussion as part of Print! Document::Exhibit A, an exhibition of work from the Operating System’s Print! Document chapbook series.

Check out Part One of the interview here: “A morphing, responsive organism which is in continuous conversation with the contemporary creative environment”

4) When you follow the link “About the OS” on your website, the text it leads you to is as much about business and entrepreneurialism as it is about art or writing. You write, “I want you to not only MAKE, I want you to THRIVE. One often finds, however, that the available ways of SUPPORTING our expression, without having to lead double lives in other jobs or being destitute, are often non sustainable. What if we could shift our bad habits, and model new ones for ourselves and each other?” Can you elaborate on that? In what ways is the OS involved in teaching artists and creators to become self-sustaining economic entities?


I’ve learned a great deal from many years of engagement in the social technology and entrepreneurship communities, and there is a bounty of language and methodology there which creative practitioners could learn so much from. In particular, the idea of a “Peer to Peer” network, and of  “Open Source” practice is at the heart of The Operating System’s design: how can we pool our resources and maximize the value of the work we’re already doing to make ourselves more effective and efficient, both individually and as a community?

I’m a systems thinker, and I think a lot about both individuals and communities organically, like organisms. I consider energy expenditure a lot, and the ways in which our systems are inefficient energetically; for instance, redundancy: how many people are making the same mistakes in operating a press, running a magazine, in using social media, in buying materials, in submitting to magazines, et cetera. Where are there spaces to model for each other effective behaviors, by sharing the mistakes we’ve made? That’s what I was asking when I designed the platform.

A lot of our problems are self-perpetuating, and much of it comes from how we label ourselves. We say, “I am a writer” or “I am a publisher,” but really we’re all entrepreneurs, and much of what we need to learn to create the space for ourselves to be a better writer or artist or publisher is practical. I nerd out on the regular reading Fast Company, Inc., and Wired, but I know this isn’t standard practice in our community – there’s long been a sort of conceptual Church and State divide between the creative person as “creator” who is somehow sullied by intellectual involvement in monetary matters, which I think is damaging us enormously.

There is a huge lack in our academic standards for practical decision making and best business practices in our creative professions, and part of the reason I was not as heartbroken as I thought I would be when I left a decade of service teaching at CCNY has been because I see myself, through the OS, as teaching more than ever. Much of our learning has always gone on outside the institutional setting, but as the structure of our institutions struggles to support a highly networked culture – and with student loan financing at an absurdist peak – now we’re really seeing the efficacy of many of our pedagogical traditions blown wide open, and much more acceptance of learning via other venues as a legitimate option. We often host organizations and individuals in the practice of offering options to traditional education, and hope to continue to serve as a conduit for this shift.

Last year I curated a show at LaunchPad in Brooklyn, “Exhibit A: Re/Production and Re/Representation,” around which we organized a panel of practitioners, entitled “Strategies for Resilience for the Artist as Accidental Entrepreneur” – a phrase I coined also quite by accident at the time, which has become very much a touchstone for all the OS’s projects. For Exhibit A, we reproduced images of two and three dimensional visual art, stills from multimedia art, and text from artists and writers in our community – creating highly branded, aesthetically uniform posters in a variety of scales, postcards, and a giant range of branded, printed commercial products (tshirts, mugs, onesies, flasks, etc) via an online store – basically everything you’d see in a museum shop. In essence, it begged the question: who is “allowed” to prosper via commercial reproduction? Why do we judge so harshly – and/or see as less “pure” or “high” art practice those who create commercial products from or via their work?

Whether or not this concept is changing – or being more securely hammered in via cultural divisions in:re participants in Etsy, Threadless, Society6, or similar – was very much a hot topic. Our roundtable discussion was incredibly lively – these are issues at the core of our practice, with which we struggle constantly, as we work multiple jobs, finance materials, and handle complex tax hurdles, not to mention all those life issues that everyone deals with. Especially in a city like New York, it’s often said, perhaps because there is so much money visible, and because the dream of having some of that shift in your direction to support your practice is so near.

I find that creative practitioners struggle with Open Source modelling because, ultimately, it requires a mental shift as regards “ownership” of our ideas, and deeply engrained fears about the scarcity economy — and, really, about other people. There is often an underlying hostility bred of exhaustion and desperation that presents itself in the guise of self-preservation, in commonly held practices regarding intellectual property and exploitation of our work.

Which is understandable – but not a permanent condition, I’m happy to report.

Part of the OS’s goal is to show how our fears and common practices are related to an outdated, conditioned, very much culturally specific relationship to money, and to introduce creative practitioners to not only theoretical but also practical alternatives. We saw a huge shift, even if the media downplays it, with self-actualized networks via the Occupy Movement, who continue to have an enormous impact – take Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, for example – and we want to give our audience the tools to make similar shifts happen for themselves and their personal networks. You’ll see links to contemporary public intellectuals like David Graeber and Charles Eisenstein in our editorials, because of the potential utility there.

Money can be understood simply as another form of energy input – something we trade for the ability to work less in other hours of the day, something that can be exchanged for goods or food or other inputs. Nearly all of our choices as creative practitioners – and often the choice of whether or not to participate in creative practice at all – are directly affected by our relationship to money, and our fears surrounding it. There’s often been a real spiritual dampening in the cultural mores regarding the artist as “selfish” or otherwise not “productive” – and it’s incredible to really see from the outside the powerful, illusory, hold of these norms once you’ve escaped this particular rabbit hole (how I spent my last decade, the memoir).

I’m interested in this as the heart of the matter – the impact on all of our work that a real shift regarding sustainable economic practices and models (as well as a new emotional relationship to art as service) would have is astounding, if you think about it. Once we start feeling like we’re not being irresponsible, but rather quite the opposite, by engaging in this work, then we can start thinking and talking about color and light and language again, like a breath of fresh air.


5) For me, one of the most exciting things about the OS’s web presence as well as its print publications is the wide variety of styles of art, music, and writing that you offer to your readers. Can you say a little bit about how an organisation/publication like the OS can avoid falling into the kind of homogeneity that can result from over-curation or a too-close association with a “scene”?


Not to repeat myself but one of the central intentions of the Operating System is the encouragement of creative play via a reconsideration of our narrative: a frank, humble, good-humored evaluation of the way we label ourselves and others, and how greatly we often delimit our possibilities by doing this. I don’t think anyone intends to get stuck in a scene, or in a creative rut representative of the stylistic preferences of a scene, but I do think that many people are lonely, scared, and exhausted… and will take support and a feeling of community wherever they can find it. We’re often very defensive until someone proves to us that we’re not going to get hurt or taken advantage of.

I don’t care what you look like or how old you are or how many accolades you’ve received or what medium(s) you choose to express yourself via, what I do care about is that you choose to express yourself creatively – I want to strip us down to this commonality, which really is a very courageous and awesome choice that all of us are making. The more that we can see this choice as a place for connection, rather than “protecting” ourselves by subjecting eachother to a litany of judgements based on association, aesthetics, and so on, the better off we’ll be.

Creative affinity happens in the strangest and least expected places – perhaps with someone who doesn’t speak your language, or someone 30 years your senior, or someone who dresses in a way you absolutely abhor. But the point is this: we’re conditioned for so many reasons to behave this way – I’m not exerting judgement on us for doing so, I just believe deeply that there is a better alternative. So I work to model and encourage an alternative, by creating opportunities for (and making visible) collaborations between unexpected groups of people, across disciplinary boundaries, and in unusual spaces. By being able to demonstrate this parallel mode of creating and collaborating, the OS practices what it preaches – and prove its viability. The more positive experiences people have with our publications, within our workshops, and participating in our various series, the more courage they have to behave in a manner perhaps previously unfamiliar, encouraged by the lack of negative outcome.

Breaking away from stylistic homogeneity or from a limiting association with a scene is tricky – and also contextual dependent. I don’t think homogeneity or scene affinity is necessarily bad – as long as its intentional on the part of an editorial staff, and not a side-effect of dependency and/or fear. The fear that breaking away from a proven formula will lead to a drop in popularity/success is pervasive in our culture, and it’s no surprise – how many examples can you think of wherein a person, organization, or group took a risk and changed careers, mediums, aesthetics, approach, and got roundly slapped in the face by the media as well as in several billion personal conversations? “Stick to what you know, bro” seems to be the standard chide, so it’s not shocking that organizations and individuals hungry for recognition have trouble leaving a safe zone of acceptance to branch out in new or unexpected ways. A general attitude of encouragement and a transparent acceptance of certain foibles as par for the course goes a long way: people will often treat you the way you treat them. Reach out to all sorts of people who interest you from all sorts of scenes and engage — tell them you think their work is great, and mean it. You’d be surprised how far genuine interest, attention, and intention goes.


6) Say a little bit about the OS’s relationship to collaboration. What are some of the ways that artists and writers who might be interested in what the OS does can get involved with the project?


From the outset, an atmosphere of collaboration has been essential to the OS. In part, this has been a response to the impersonal, unsatisfying relationship all of the founding members have had to the submission process – where even an acceptance can have minimal human contact. We want creative practitioners to feel freedom and human connection within our community, and that they have our support in all ideas brought our way: that we will offer frank and practical guidance, a forum, a platform, and connection to others with similar practices/agendas to the best of our abilities. My business card says, “I am a conduit for universal energy,” and I take this very seriously indeed.

Whenever possible, we have created opportunities for engagement and collaboration among contributors both online and off; for instance, we’ve hosted a live Collaborative Content salon to which all accepted PRINT contributors (past and current) were invited in order to encourage them to cross-pollinate, connect, and create collaborative pieces together. Our last cover was created collaboratively, live online via a “layer volley” between two designers in Colorado . Our launches, too, often include a workshop, game, or craft of some sort so that audience members and participants alike are truly engaged and encouraged to become (and remain) involved community members.

There is tremendous possibility within the many projects and platforms of The Operating System for creative people of every type. If something we’re working on strikes your fancy, if you have work you’d like to host on our site, if you’d like to submit to our upcoming issue, if you want to connect us up to similarly minded folks, if you want us to do a workshop or salon with or at your venue, if you want to talk about publishing your project (or my goodness if you’d like to fund us because you think this work is important) please do not hesitate to email me at



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3 Comments Add your own

  • […] The Operating System Q & A pt 2 | Book Culture Blog. […]

  • 2. The Operating System Q & A pt 1 | Book Culture Blog  |  June 2, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    […] “I am a conduit for universal energy”: Tune in next week for Part 2, in which the OS meditates on art, entrepreneurship, and collaborative openness. […]

  • 3. Lynne DeSilva-Johnson  |  June 3, 2014 at 8:12 am

    Thanks to Book Culture for this wonderful opportunity!

    Just wanted to give full credit to the wonderful participants in our Exhibit A: Re/Production and Re/Presentation Panel, pictured at top without a caption: L-R: Fr. Frank Sabatte, Michael Berube, and Keena Gonzales (all Openings Collective, NYC), Jacob Perkins and Matt Nelson (Mellow Pages Library), me, Georgia Elrod (Painter, Heliopolis Project Space), Shana Maurizi (Filmmaker, WORK ONLY), Montana Ray (BLT Salon, Poets House Fellow), and the feet of Kevin William Reed (Drive By Press), and Seldon Yuan (SSCY, Center for Book Arts); at LaunchPad, Brooklyn, June 2013.

    The magazines at center are PRINT Vol. 2 (Exit Strata) and PRINT Vol. 3 (The Operating System); with cover art by Carey Maxon (L) and Eric Meyer/Aaron Liechty (R).

    The collaged picture midway through includes PRINT:DOCUMENT Series I Chapbook Poets (L-R at bottom: Alexis Quinlan, Tony Hoffman, Bill Considine, Lancelot Runge and John Kropa; w/ myself at top); at their reading at Mellow Pages Library in Brooklyn, April 2013.

    Gratitude and great respect, for an independent bookstore we love, and to all the creators – and work – pictured here.



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