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<eyebeam><blast> monumentality

replying to Steve Kurtz's "Item 2" on monumentality:

>Having attended more digital and electronic media arts festivals than I
>care to remember, I am quite shocked at the entrenchment of the
>monumental as a primary criterion in deciding the value of a given
>project. A project has to be big; it has to be overwhelming; it has to
>be global, and if one isn't doing a BIG project, it is somehow an
>insult to computer capability, hypertextuality, and nonlinearity.If the
>project does not possess monumental scale or volume, it's considered
>just the work of a common user. This attitude is supported by the
>structure of festivals which all want the biggest attractions, by the
>prize system in which big is a necessity just for entry, and by the
>granting system, which seems to function in accordance with
>monumentality regardless of whether the judges are specialists or
>nonspecialists. This prejudice in favor of scale is evidently a trace
>of the traditional art world replicating itself in a new territory.
I agree 100%!!! I am an artist working with electronic media. For many
years (from the late 70's through to the late 80's) I worked more or
less alone, or within the safety of academic institutions, and was able
to let my ideas lead the work, and not worry too much about the
economics of what I did. In the late 80's I changed strategy. I didn't
want to teach anymore, fearing burn out, and so chose to place my
primary economic burden on my work. Luckily, in some ways, I succeeded
in that crossover. These days my work pays for itself, pays the
mortgage, my lifestyle, etc. But what was the price?

Festivals (like you I have been to so many I am surprised we have never
met) like projects to be big (but on a tight budget). Museums like them
even bigger and are a little more generous with funds. City councils
like them massive, and if they believe in you then they have a lot of
money to throw away. Funders like things even bigger, and are so
concerned with their related identity as to be almost psychotic (I hope
some of my funders are reading this), but if they trust you then they
will come up with significant amounts of money (in the UK, that means
gambling money). Sponsors demand the world. The whole economy of
consumption (at the level of expenditure) of art, and seemingly of media
art in particular, revolves around scale. Everybody expects things to be
very visible. The more money they spend the more visibility they want.

Media art tends to be a little expensive, although I am not sure that is
that much more expensive than traditional art forms. More likely, media
art is a bit trendy and people want to be on the band wagon. That means
the wagon has to make money. Bigger projects make money.

Personally I miss the days when I could just do my projects without
concern to a mass (or mess) of strategy meetings with funders, curators
and sponsors. I would rather not work to deadlines and PR agendas. I
would rather not have to be concerned with budgets that from my point of
view seem ridiculuously inflated (not that I personally ever see much of
the money). The inflation is built into the system. Producers look to
maximise turnover on projects, so that funders then feel that they have
been successful at end of year audits. Bigger projects=bigger
budgets=happier funders. Strange world. So long as the PR goes well then
everyone is happy. Except perhaps the artist.

There is the rub.

Artists are allowed to be ambitious in their ideas. That does not imply
scale, but it does imply work and labour and skill. These things cost
money...even more than the physical scale (who will pay for you to be
buried for a year in some arcane coding problem?). Artists can also be
allowed to contemplate the idea of making a living off what they do.
This is how the figures break down for an artist like myself. I am sure
there are many others in the same boat, and I am sure that like me they
are uneasy with their situations, but cannot see another way.

The artist can expect to make about 10% to 15% of project budgets as
personal income (before taxes and personal expenses). Funders will not
consider a greater proportion of a budget going to the artist, and at
least in the UK the funders run the game. So, you figure what you need
to live decently in a city like London per annum. It isn't a cheap city,
but you have to live here for professional reasons. Multiply that number
by 10. So, that is what your turnover has to be. In US Dollars that
implies a figure of about $500,000 per annum. Not a small amount of
money. So, this forces the artist into big projects.

Is there another way? I have thought about this long. I can see that if
I decided to go the route of the private gallery system, producing works
for sale, then I could expect 40% back on total turnover, thus reducing
the size of the budgets I need to work with. The irony here is that if,
like me, you come out of the 70's rejection of the commercial gallery
system and wish to work in the public sector then you actually need to
make more money. Nevertheless, the private gallery route offers overall
lower turnover and thus perhaps (and I stress perhaps) more artistic
freedom (isn't that very ironic).

Well, I am not so sure about this. The private system feeds on the star
system. That involves masses of money and even more distortion of the
artists intent. I do not speak from outside...I did work within the
gallery system for some years before I rejected it, retreating to
academia for safety.

So, where is the solution? I would really like to know, if anyone on
this list has any working model (aside from dropping out or radical down
sizing, which are not attractive). Perhaps in the end the artist has to
live in the real world and work with the real economics of what they do.
It just isn't easy. But do not blame the artists for evry facet of their
work. They work in a context and are not in control. It would be nice if
they were, but then again....

The point is that the system is entrenched, as Steve points out. But it
is not entrenched only by the artists. The funders, critics, sponsors,
dealers, curators, etc all require this so as to have the economy of
scale that pays all their salaries. The money has to come from
somewhere. Even in academia it is not safe, as you would know if you
have taught in the UK or the USA over the past 10 years and seen the
demands made on departments and the agendas presented to students. It is
seen as a business, and nothing else.

Is revolution as option? Maybe some here think so, from what I have
read. I also feel (even, I know) that such a revolution would mean the
end of reasonably comfortable lives for most subscribed to this list,
and that they know it. Hypocrisy is everywhere I guess.

Nothing personal intended.


Simon Biggs
London GB

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