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Re: <eyebeam><blast> Other

Finding an entry point into these discussions is not an easy thing,
since they tend to have the easy informality of email, a hypertext-like
associativity, a kind of structured unstructuring that has enabled
interveners to move fluidly between the personal and the theoretical,
from the formalism of structured thought to the tentative, untried
thought spoken as an aside, and from idea to thing and often so
engagingly to place.  It reminds me a bit of seventeenth century English
prose style, practiced by Donne, Thomas Browne, which literary scholars
call baroque.  I realize that "baroque" is not exactly the suit of
clothes most of us see ourselves in standing here on the dock at Cape
Canaveral waiting to launch into the 21st century.  It's not entirely
irrelevant that McLuhan was first of all a literary man, himself a
baroque stylist, rooted in early modernism, which looked back through
Eliot to the metaphysical (or baroque) poetry of Donne and his
followers, in whose work Eliot found the unity of thought and feeling
that he (and McLuhan) felt was missing in the world that they had
inherited.  So, even if baroque seems a bit too "other", take comfort in
the fact that the culture of the net seems to have encouraged a prose
style which reflects more of ourselves, of our totality, than the more
linear conventions of print.

This question of style interests me because I am, was, or spent a large
part of my life as a literary scholar and a poet, essentially abandoning
a flourishing academic/literary career at the age of 50 in order to be
that other, the visual artist, that I had foregone as an adolescent and
to which I began to give a hesitant voice in my early forties, for a
long time not daring to think of it as a true voice because unable to
speak in it fluently.  Perhaps this is the underlying reason why I chose
"Other" as my entry point into these discussions.   

There's been a good deal of comment, much of it from Latin Americans,
about socio-political otherness, some it very moving. And Tim Jordan
(2/23) makes the demographic point that the "net's self" is 
"overwhelmingly white, highly educated, highly paid and aged 25-35."
These figures accord me another kind of otherness, the otherness of age,
into which I had an amusing personal insight when a small article
appeared in "Wired News" last summer on a Web piece I was developing
under a program called "Deep Web" at the Banff Centre for the Arts.  The
project, "Sea-Changes",  is directed at artists over 50 who submit
biographical material to a common database from which they later
construct a "fictional" or "meta" biography, using the materials of the
other contributors.  The hook for Wired News" was age, and the reporter
quoted one of the administrators at Banff as saying that my project was
supported in part because of how unusual it was to find a person over 60
involved in the Internet and, moreover, with technical skills.  Ah, so
it wasn't my great ideas and my exhibition record!  Affirmative action.
. .

"Sea-Changes" was originally aimed at people 60 and over, thinking about
Friedan's "Fountain of Age", how people as they age tend to transcend
power, role, gender boundaries, a topic befitting the web with its
putative trans-national, trans-cultural, trans-etc., communalizing
character.  I quickly dropped the age to 50, and still there is a
question of how well or whether the project will succeed.  [See: 

But the "otherness" which most concerns me is that of the net itself. 
To a greater extent than any other medium which has preceded it, perhaps
unlike any other, it is a medium by diversion and a descendant of the
ready-made. The technologies of the traditional media were in the
service of the arts--tempera, oil paints developed for making paintings,
etc.  Perhaps video is a close relation because it inherits a technology
that is in the service not only of making tapes but of advertising,
commerce, surveillance. But (surveillance aside) the making of tapes,
whatever their content, is essential to its function. This is not true
of art for the Web. Making art, and then art for the Web, is something
else that computers and networks can do but certainly not essential to
their function.  Traditional media allowed for the illusion that the
tool was an extension not only of the hand but of sensibility and
aesthetic consciousness.  But with computers we must be guarded, we
cannot give ourselves over to this new lover, who might absorb us and
make us an extension of itself.  Much brilliant energy in these last few
weeks has gone into worrying in one way or another about this
problem--Olu Oguibe, Brian Adams, Katherine Hayles, Andreas Broeckmann,
to name a few.  And it is a worry.

And the worry is not only socio-political.  It involves the way we want
to appear to the world and the control we want to have over the medium. 
A number of people have spoken about the part played by software.  After
all, everything we do is potentially an ad for Microsoft or Netscape.
When I first started doing multi-media computer work, there was no
packaged multi-media software, and I had to teach myself to program
graphics at the systems level for DOS.  The downside is that I had to
invent the wheel, so that when I finished two years later, multi-media
software was available and doing things I hadn't done.  The upside was
that my screen and my interface didn't look anything like anyone else's
and that I wasn't part of a corporate marketing strategy,  an expression
of someone else's thought.  For this, artists have to achieve a "mastery
of the network as an artistic medium"(Olu Oguibe); they have to "take
their technical means of production and reproduction into their own
hands, write code, build the hardware" (Andreas Broekmann).  But what
this means is that we must be ready to be technical amateurs in order to
be professional artists. 

Myron Turner
"live safely in cyberspace"

Myron Turner
Coordinator, Manitoba Visual Arts Network
Senior Scholar, English / Professor, School of Art
University College, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg MB R3T 2N2
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