byline: Chris Clarke is a critic and curator of education and collections at Lewis Glucksman Gallery, University College Cork, Ireland
author: Chris Clarke and others
I’ve been invited to respond to Circa magazine’s recent issue on Criticism and Criticality and, as a result, I’m interested in addressing the implications of the online forum as a space for producing and distributing art writing.
Working from Suzanne van der Lingen’s essay ‘Critical Masses’ in Circa issue 131, I would prefer to initiate a discussion about this shift into online publishing (through this invitation to yourselves as artists, curators and critics), employing the inherently discursive properties of the internet as opposed to a static, lecture-based essay (downloadable as a PDF to boot!).
Incidentally, Circa’s re-establishment as an online journal, while utilising some of the rhetoric of openness and ‘freedom’ that accompanies such transitions, also disguises the financial circumstances that made such a move necessary.
I’m intrigued as to how this change in medium affects critical writing from the point of view of the writer, how one takes on (or disavows) the potentiality of the internet as a space for engagement, what difficulties may arise and how such a development might affect criticism as a whole.
With this is mind, I would be very appreciative to hear your thoughts on the subject and to open the space of Circa’s online journal to a plurality of perspectives. Your responses will be printed in the finished (if that’s the right term) text and open to the comments page from its wider readership.
Thanking you in advance and hoping to hear from you soon!
(Sent via Facebook, 6 November 2010)
Ohad Ben Shimon:
I would like to respond to the questions and issues at hand by referring to a conceptual framework of artistic practices that became prevalent in Israel during the 1960s and continued into the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s. This conceptual framework may be compared to minimalist and post-minimalist practices in ‘the West’ but its local character had a lot to do with economic, political and religious power relations, that I believe stemmed from a desire to engage in a process of material lack and not from a kind of anti-surplus or anti-excess approach as a reactive tool.
In direct translation, the term for this conceptual framework would be ‘Paucity of Material’. The main ‘agenda’ of the framework and the artists involved in it was to bring under questioning and into a skeptical dialogue the mythical constructions of institutional zionism and the kind of double-bind nature of capitalism, art and politics in the local setting of the Middle East. Whether or not the roots of this framework can be traced as originating from a certain source does not interest me. What does interest me is the mode of production and the implications such a framework had to work through in order to become visible and in a sense constitute an interesting, sensitive and inspiring discourse.
The reason I start with this kind of chronological genealogy is to remind myself, and perhaps potential readers of this article, that by no means reductions or cuts in art funds and grants will ever be able to entirely diminish the range of artistic practices, thinking processes and modes of exchange that are already constituted widely in different, more or less open circles and structures, wherever the word ‘art’ means something to the group of people gathered together or apart.
The critical writer in this constellation is not really a writer but a kind of guard, a pseudo-specialist, a backbone which the entire structure is dependent upon and looks to for answers.
It is therefore in my impression not a crisis or shortcoming of the system if such art writing and criticism becomes more ephemeral. On the contrary. The lack of a physical focal / fixation point in the form of a printed-matter publication, the physical body of the writer or the vertically designed column can only encourage the attentive viewer or reader to construct his or her own point of view of the subject in question and by doing so to add to the already expanding field of art ‘experts’ and critics.
The word ‘critic’ in Hebrew has two meanings. One is the normal western definition of the critic. The other meaning is – visitor. Perhaps the art critic and art criticism can become less a concentrated point which invites a static and fetishistic fixation, a resident in the so-called ‘institution of art’, and more a kind of transitional figure passing through the room art creates, a visitor in a new and more open configuration, which takes whatever new space opens up as a possible zone of transition to pass through and come across.
On a serendipitous note I am today at the CHArt conference in London where there have been presentations this morning about digital art journals in relation to old-style printed art journals and most of the questions concerned future preservation / upgrading to new systems without losing content in the process. A doctoral student at Northumbria University, Carla Cesare, has been trying to launch a new e-journal, Portfolio, which would accept video and audio and photographic content. Though her journal isn’t out yet, she has some definite opinions on how the process is different in this self-publishing online world (see http://projects.beyondtext.ac.uk/StudentLedInitiatives/index.php).
The other experience I could draw on is my recent blogging for the Guggenheim for their YouTubePlay project (The blog is called The Take) – where our submissions as writers were limited to 400 words and went through very rigourous editorial before they were posted, causing an enormous timelag between writing and feedback – not something you’d normally think of as a problem with the web, but something that is a given for printed work (that it might be peer reviewed, that it would be copyedited by other people, that it might be checked for content by an editor, or in this case, by a corporate body – YouTube – or a legal team – for copyright questions). I also had to, of course, sign and send back a contract / agreement to the Guggenheim and my blog post was treated as a piece of writing as though it were for an exhibition catalogue.
Lastly, I find it deeply, deeply weird to be having this discussion on this platform – Facebook – as I associate critical writing online with the mailing list I run (CRUMB) and therefore in my e-mail account not on my social networking site!
Kathy Rae Huffman:
I want to recall the Telepolis journal, which was launched in 1995 as one of the first online journals, where the online environment was the main topic of all writing. For this journal, Margarete Jahrmann and I wrote the column ‘PopTarts’, which for several years was the multi-media column that discussed what was to become ‘new media’, with all female references. It was not a feminist discourse; we simply used female voices to substantiate all the interviews, works and theories at that time. This was, of course, a bit ‘before’ the current wave of online curators and critics – and Telepolis (albeit mostly in German) set a sort of standard for online journalism (with links, images, sound, video and other new ways of telling what was happening in the digital net world).
For Margarete and me, it was important to bring new information to the journal, and artists who had moved from more traditional media into the online world. Some of our co-writing (we built up the texts collaboratively in English and German) is still available online. Armin Medosch and Florian Roetzer were editors. Armin has since left the Telepolis family, and I’m not sure about Florian. We were paid, our research travels were paid, and we were given tons of technical support to upload and create our column.
Telepolis started in ’97, after Nettime (which started in ’95), and at about the same time that the FACES list started (which was initially a response to Nettime‘s dominant male voice regarding things ‘net’) and also at about the same time as the now long forgotten Syndicate list, which was a mailing list forum for artists in Eastern Europe to connect, communicate and collaborate, coordinated by V2 in Rotterdam.
This was all when being online was very new, very exciting, the ‘cowboy’ days of organizing: anything goes (there were net etiquette rules of course, even then). IRL meetings along with net discussion were always important.1
Of course, a lot has been accomplished since this time, but it is really sad that these early, massive communities of people have been overwhelmed by Facebook and other controlled mailing lists that attempt to keep people to topic! One of the early guiding principles of the Net was that to attempt to control it was to commit net suicide.
Selected excerpts from Collaborative Futures
Collaborative Futures has developed over two intensive book sprints. January 2010 in Berlin, Adam Hyde (Founder, FLOSS Manuals), Mike Linksvayer (Vice President, Creative Commons), Michael Mandiberg (Assistant Professor, College of Staten Island / CUNY), Marta Peirano (Author), Mushon Zer-Aviv (Resident, Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology), and Alan Toner (Filmmaker) wrote the first edition in five days under the aegis of transmediale festival‘s parcours series. June 2010, the book was rewritten at Eyebeam’s Re:Group exhibition in NYC with the original six and three new contributors: kanarinka (artist and founder, The Institute for Infinitely Small Things), Sissu Tarka (artist and researcher), and Astra Taylor (filmmaker). The full book is available to read and to write at www.collaborative-futures.org.
First Things First
Information technology informs and structures the language of networked collaboration. Terms like “sharing”, “openness”, “user generated content” and “participation” have become so ubiquitous that too often they tend to be conflated and misused. In attempting to avoid this misuse with the term “collaboration” we will try to examine what constitutes collaboration in digital networks and how it maps to our previous understanding of the term.
Sharing is the First Step
User Generated Content and social media create the tendency for confusion between sharing and collaboration. Sharing of content alone does not directly lead to collaboration. A common paradigm in many web services couples identity and content. Examples of this include blogging, micro-blogging, video and photo sharing, which effectively say: “This is who I am. This is what I did.” The content is the social object, and the author is directly attributed with it. This work is a singularity, even if it is shared with the world via these platforms, and even if it has a free culture license on it. This body of work stands alone, and, alone, this work is not collaborative.
In contrast, the strongly collaborative Wikipedia de-emphasizes the tight content-author link. While the attribution of each contribution made by each author is logged on the history tab of each page, attribution is primarily used as a moderation and accountability tool. While most User Generated Content platforms offer a one to many relationship, where one user produces and uploads many different entries or media, wikis and centralized code versioning systems offer a many to many relationship, where many different users can be associated with many different entries or projects.
Adding a second layer
Social media platforms can become collaborative when they add an additional layer of coordination. On a micro-blogging platform like Twitter, this layer might take the form of an instruction to “use the #iranelections hashtag on your tweets” or on a photo sharing platform, it might be an invitation to “post your photos to the LOLcats group.” These mechanisms aggregate the content into a new social object. The new social object includes the metadata of each of its constituent objects; the author’s name is the most important of this metadata. This creates two layers of content. Each shared individual unit is included in a cluster of shared units. A single shared video is part of an aggregation of demonstration documentation. A single shared bookmark is included in an aggregation of the “inspiration” tag on delicious. A single blog post takes its place in a blogosphere discussion, etc.
This seems similar to a single “commit” to a FLOSS project or a single edit of a Wikipedia article, but these instances do not maintain the shared unit / collaborative cluster balance. For software in a code versioning system, or a page on Wikipedia, the single unit loses its integrity outside the collaborative context and is indeed created to only function as a part of the larger collaborative social object.
This basic conception of creativity as individual leaves the legal framework ill-equipped to deal with contemporary forms of wide-scale cooperative production. Collectivity is inscribed in both their form and architecture, from the discursive and serial nature of problem solving in forums, to the version control histories of software and wikis. These practices are confronted with a legal framework unable to respond to their needs. This explains why so many have turned to alternative forms of copyright licensing which change copyright’s defaults so as to facilitate or even encourage free collaboration, such as the GPL and (later) Creative Commons.
In addition to these artifacts native to the digital context, online activity generates copious amounts of documentary evidence of the collective nature of design and execution in every other field. As creative practices become more explicitly derivative and collaborative, the legal stability of copyright’s categories are being strained past breaking point. Movements in all fields of the arts had foreshadowed these tensions. Practices of montage, recycling of footage in cinema, collage, the cut-up in writing, re-photography all reflected the fact that in an age of ubiquitous media, creative reinterpretation would necessarily take the form of recombining, ‘appropriating’ pre-existing elements. Courts struggled incoherently with these challenges, ruling inconsistently and inventing progressively more peculiar distinctions. These practices were clearly not about ‘piracy’, but were in direct contradiction to the claims of original genius of the ‘romantic author’. The result was chaos, but as long as access to the technology was restricted by high entry costs, it affected only a discrete group.
The spread of the personal computer and software for media manipulation in the 1990s, followed by the arrival of high-speed domestic connectivity, washed away the final flood wall. Doctrines developed to regulate industrial cultural producers are in crisis, confronted by a public itself now equipped with the tools of production and distribution.
I am responding to Circa’s change in format and this request whilst sitting in a wanna-be-office-room-thingy of my home in the mountains of Tyrol and working on inter/national exhibitions, specific projects in photography, and identities and projects for different websites (business and social-wise).
This work list (or better: work load) is common among freelance curators and it is more or less unpaid, silent, and unseen work. Thus the internet or online-work is of an ambivalent assistance here: on one side it is hiding personal circumstances and contributing to a precarious working and private situation (often for women), but on the other side it fosters a highly supportive network and platform, based on websites, postings or blogs which identify you nowadays as what you do, no matter where you are, and make your work be seen. Getting in touch with professionals regarding projects is something of immediate matter and can be followed up with fewer hazards.
Independent curators have naturally less financial support, which at least contributes to a more ecological behaviour: I can speak of entire rainforests I have already helped to save by not printing off everything I receive or am working on. I cannot afford to travel and meet up with people as I used to or to buy loads of art magazines, but I am in touch with more people than ever via social networks and I do read articles online. Projects seem to happen more quickly, which in return saves me a lot of money to be used for a new netbook. ‘Language’ is less of a problem: I can easily translate thanks to online dictionaries and can even listen for the accurate pronunciation.
I am back to Austria, after having worked in the UK for two and a half years, but I am still a participant in what is going on there. I miss all the people I have been working with, but social networking works better than ever. Critical discourse has to continue, of course, but why not in this more democratic way? “Breaking through the grand wall of silence, with the use of the internet.”- Liu Xiaobo.
Ohad Ben Shimon is an artist and writer based in The Hague, Netherlands.
Sarah Cook is a curator and writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, and co-author with Beryl Graham of the book Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media (MIT Press). She is currently a research fellow at the University of Sunderland where she co-founded and co-edits CRUMB, the online resource for curators of new media art, and teaches on the MA Curating course.
Kathy Rae Huffman is an independent curator, currently based between Berlin and Los Angeles. She is curator for InterSpace, Sofia, Bulgaria for the project TRANSITLAND: Video Art from Central and Eastern Europe 1989-2009, which is currently on tour internationally, and is also lead curator for EXCHANGE AND EVOLUTION: Worldwide Video Long Beach 1974-1999, a project for Pacific Standard Time, coordinated by The Getty Foundation.
Sissu Tarka is an artist and researcher with an interest in the criticality of emerging practices and economies of media art. Her work addresses themes of non-linearity, modes of resistance, and articulations of democratic, active work. Tarka was born in Helsinki and lives in London. She is currently affiliated with CRUMB Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss.
Tereza Kotyk is an independent curator, cultural producer and Director of The Soap Room in Innsbruck, Austria. Recent exhibitions include Personal Tempest (2011) at UH Galleries, Hatfield, UK; Chosil Kil: The Stage, in Order of Appearance (2010 / 11) at The Soap Room, Innsbruck; and The Art of Design (2010) at freiraum INTERNATIONAL, MuseumsQuartier, Vienna.