There is an elephant in the roomEr staat een olifant in de kamerIl y a un éléphant dans la pièce

This version of the ‘Elephant letter’ was distributed in the Fair Arts Almanac 2019. In August 2020 Constant made an update in the context of education going on-line.

It has been a while now that Constant is trying to address cultural institutions (that we love and respect!) about their use of commercial platforms and proprietary technology. It is always awkward to bring these things up, because it can easily feel like blaming and also Constant cannot but actually does not want to solve these issues for others. So how then to communicate the urgency for change, to talk about the potential but also the responsibility of institutions to do things differently? How to do that in a generous and maybe even poetic way? We started writing this letter, imagining that it can be completed, copied, changed and sent by other people with the same concerns. It is far from perfect, but this is how far we got. We’ll keep on trying!

All the best,


“Dear cultural institution,

There is an elephant in the room! You and many of your colleagues confided your institutions’ networked communication, some of your digital archives and also your collaboration tools to tech giants. You rely more and more on so-called ‘free’ services provided by Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook. You know already that these tools and platforms are infused with capitalist values, modernist ideas of progress and dreams of seamlessness. You are of course aware that the Terms of Use you once signed do not give you any agency over your data, let alone over the organising logic of the infrastructure. It raises issues of institutional framing and sustainability. What does it mean that you communicate through commercial platforms? What would become of your documents if Dropbox / YouTube / Google Drive / Facebook / WhatsApp … radically changed its terms of service?

By ignoring the elephant in the room, you seem to accept that your computational practice depends on the fortunes of Sillicon Valley billiardaires. You allow tech giants to embed themselves into institutional life, into publicly funded cultural initiatives, including ones that are dedicated to transformation, political love and commoning. You pull your public, your participants, your co-workers, your students deeper into the intricate webs of commercial agencies that weave themselves into and around us. By continuing to unstate the presence of the GAFAM corporations at work in your institution, you contribute to the proliferation of personal and professional practices that constrain the possibilities of life, in order for everyone to be always available, optimised and surveyed, to provide ever more data, more quantifiable outcomes.

This is not just about replacing one toolset with ‘fairer’ ones, although it is part of it obviously. It is first of all about taking time to foreground processes that tech-giants want us to stay out of sight. To learn together how to experience technology differently, to develop convivial and critical relationships that foreground vulnerability, mutual dependency and care-taking. It means to study, to discuss and to experiment. Collectively, we can develop other imaginations for what technology could mean. It is a process of transition: from expecting efficiency to allowing curiosity; from scarcity to multiplicity and from solution to possibility.

It can be as simple as taking a moment to read the terms of use. Or to sit together with your team and discuss what could be different in your workflow. You can start using community-run decentralised services offered by one of the organisations listed below. Maybe you replace some of your proprietary software by Free, Libre and Open Source tools. Or install non-proprietary operating systems like Ubuntu on your office machines. You can start using an independent mailservice, share files through services hosted on your own server or on the servers of neighbouring organisations. You can quit Facebook, or cancel your Google accounts. You can report bugs, and collaborate with developer teams to give valuable feedback about the tools you use in or need for your institution. Of course someone has to take care of these processes, and sustain them. But you can collaborate with other organisations to make this happen.

This is where you as a cultural institution present an opportunity. A beginning of a transition towards affective infrastructures of people, tools, protocols, platforms, and practices.”

Discussions, campaigns, further reading:


  • Mastodon, community-owned, ad-free social media platform
  • seenthis, short-blogging platform
  • Ubuntu, open source software operating system
  • LibreOffice, office suite (docs, spreadsheets, presentations)
  • f-droid, installable catalogue of Free and Open Source Software applications for the Android platform
  • duckduckgo, privacy enhanced search engine

Providers of Free, Libre and Open Source on-line services:

  • Framasoft, association promoting digital freedoms by providing on-line tools and services
  • April, association for the promotion of F/Loss with Chapril
  • Domaine Public, Hébergeur indépendant et autogéré (Brussels)
  • Nubo, cooperative that wants to provide trustworthy services that will allow one to live a digital life with confidence, with an ethical basis (Belgium)
  •, collective of independant, transparent, open, neutral and ethical hosters providing FLOSS-based online services (France)
  • Libre hosters &

Some recent attempts and responses

Des tentatives et réponses récentes