[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

<eyebeam><blast> CLOSING SUMMARY 7

<eyebeam><blast> artistic practice in the network 


Olu Oguibe wrote that at no time was the art media ever more influential
in determining the fate of artistic careers and shaping the contours of
mainstream taste.  Today "a new crop of independent curators seem to
drive the art business, mercurial and loose, undermining the critic as
the ethical precepts that governed curator-artist-critic relationships
in the past collapse under their own inherent inconsistency." Olu asked
Matthew Slotover -- as "founder of one of the most influential
contemporary art organs in the nineties" -- what his opinions were for
the implications of the net for art publishing, criticism, and the art
media in general.

Robert Atkins wrote that power in the art world is balanced among
curators, critics, dealers, and collectors - never artists - and that
those power relationships are constantly shifting in accordance with the
zeitgeist. He mentions that art magazines are struggling to survive,
implying ever-closer editorial/advertising collusion. He states that for
him the net has offered far more in the way of discourse. 

Matthew replied that art magazines are really just part of the whole
system of making and breaking artists. No artist can be made or broke by
just one artworld element; you need consensus. He mentioned Greenberg
and the power he wielded, and asked what that did for the artists in the
end (for example, where is Jules Olitski now?).  Matthew's position is
that "the more information there is, the more people will need reliable
filters for that information. Magazines provide filters at the moment by
directing readers to writers and artists. The more writers and artists
there are publishing on the web, the more the public will need a site or
print publication" to direct them. "The success or failure of the filter
will depend on whether the editors (and writers) get it right for enough

Ricardo Basbaum wrote that after conceptual art, we cannot understand
contemporary art without the mediation of "art circuit" or "system of
art," with all the institutions and the roles of dealers, curators,
critics, and media such as magazines.  The values of the work are added
to the work in its dislocation through art circuit. Ricardo points out
"the Foucaultian conception of 'savoir-pouvoir,' that shows how the
meaning of the artwork is constructed at the same time it is being
appropriated by institutions, following its particular path through the
politics of art. So 'power' in the art market means developing and
selling certain interpretations and meanings attached to the artworks."
Managing "savoir-pouvoir" permits artists to deal better with the
potential their work may have at particular times and contexts, since it
is a technological tool that helps in bringing the "cultural values"
closer to artist's projects -- and, consequently, "closer to reception,
making a shortcut through art circuit."

Many more thoughts were posted on these issues, as Michael Goldhaber
introduced his concept of the "attention economy." 

To begin, Michael takes the concern over the issue of corporate power.
He suggests that this concern "is based on an extremely widely held
assumption that the basic outlines of the industrial, money-based
economy will continue largely unchanged as the Internet comes
increasingly to dominate life." Instead, Michael sees the Internet as
the setting of a new kind of economy -- a post-material economy. He sees
this new kind of economy as centered not on information, as most writers
have suggested, but on attention, which is what putting forth
information might get you.

Michael continues by saying that, unlike information, which is only
artificially scarce under current circumstances, attention is
intrinsically scarce. There is only so much of it to go around.
"Attention paid by one person and received by another is of course a
different way of describing intersubjectivity. For attention to be
exchanged, there must be a meeting of minds, or at least the feeling of
such a meeting." Whatever else it does, "every work of art to be
successful must succeed in focussing attention, pulling it in." Michael
suggests that we might consider the ability to do that as the very
essence of art in the contemporary world. "If the scarcity of attention
and attempts to capture large amounts of it have become the central
features of the post-material economy, then the attempt to create art is
an increasingly central type of activity, whatever the medium used. One
gets attention less by what may be called production, in the sense of
routine production of standardized objects, but by performance, doing
something original, and somehow in the (or a) public eye."

In this new economy, where attention is wealth, having attention is
having a kind of possession or property. To gain the most attention, one
generally wants one's work, or word of it, to be widely disseminated.
"But how then do you prevent someone from simply claiming your work as
their own? The simple answer is to arrange to have witnesses as early as
possible to every project you engage in." All of life to some degree
becomes part of one's art, one's performance. "One gets most attention
by having nothing to hide, or rather choosing to hide nothing. Thus
success in any kind of activity depends upon a performance ability, and
innate and possibly deliberate artistry revealed in that activity."

Michael writes that equality in this economy is not possible or
desirable. "Those who are successful end up with far more than their
'fair' share of attention, others with far less." 

Robert Atkins immediately responded with a question. "In the new,
attention-economy world order, what differentiates art (or anything else
for that matter) from advertising?"

Matthew Slotover wrote that Michael had a very good point, and said that
this is why artists shouldn't blame the viewers for not being able to
understand them. "All artists need a keen sense of how their work comes
across to other people if, that is, they want attention. Many artists I
know would never admit to catering in any way to an audience;
nevertheless, they have a good instinct about when their work is
communicating and when it isn't." Matthew writes that this is part of a
debate that is central to the work being made by young artists in
Britain. Their work is accessible to a wide public - anyone remotely
interested could go into a gallery and get something out of it. Matthew
writes that this is really what has worked for the majority of young
artists in Britain. "It works for the art world and it works for the
real world. It has critical, commercial and public appeal." Matthew says
that "many artists working with new media would do well to take note."

Ben Williams writes that since the implicit assumption here seems to be
that the best works of art are those that draw the most attention, then
"Baywatch" would "represent the apex of postmodern artistic

Daniel Palmer writes that attention is not wealth - it is "only valuable
as a process of temporarily commanding viewers/consumers' focus on an
object (art or commodity) and thereby investing that *object* with value
(in a speedy world of commodified time)."  As Robert and Ben indicated,
Daniel writes, the logic of advertising has to be the model here.

Regarding the issue of the "post-material" economy, he adds "considering
the Internet post-material serves not only to confuse, but is in
principle dangerous." He refers us to the earlier contributions in the
forum on embodiment by Katherine Hayles and Margaret Morse.

Simon Biggs felt that traditional discourse in the art world has not yet
begun to address the implications of computer-based art.  Digital art,
at its best, he says, is not only a distinct media form but also a
distinct art form. Ursula Biemann disagreed with this last assertion.
Art practices on the web, she wrote, are no more just another discipline
as cultural studies are. They both have an impact on all disciplines or
make disciplines somewhat obsolete.  Brian Holmes remarked that the
value of cultural studies seemed to be in its mode of questioning. It
demands a recognition of multiple value-perspectives, and that every
practitioner of a discipline ask questions and make decisions about his
or her own uses of the given discipline, and about the uses others might
make of it. He asks, who will question the uses of digital art?  

Ursula replied that "cultural studies scholars may stick to their
disciplines and apply a critical self-reflection providing useful
instructions for a critique of our practice in the net." As cultural
(visual) producers, we draw on all these theories.  Ursula remarks that
cultural studies brought fundamental changes into art production which
go somewhat unrecognized.

While the cultural landscape changed, "art continued to refer to art
history as its main canon and sought recognition in art defined spaces.
Art has a tendency to assimilate everything that runs through its
discourse and to classify it neatly into mediums." Ursula finds it a
problem that practices that relate to a notion of cultural production
which draws on the extended field of critical inquiry of cultural
studies, crop up in art magazines as "new public art" or as "the
information aesthetic" and the like. "But there is little evidence of
institutions who attempt to develop a visual program that would
correspond consistently to the content and methods of cultural studies.
Why are there still art historians filling curatorial positions in
institutions when there could be urban planners, postcolonial critics,
gender theoreticians, media analysts and net critics? Why didn't museums
ever bother to buy satellite time? Art as an industry has a strong
tendency to resist structural changes."

Ursula writes that in terms of the Internet, an important question would
be: "How could the net influence art as an institution structurally in
turn? Does it make sense that we show computers running digital projects
in the art space (appropriating it as yet another medium) or to continue
to do individual aesthetic productions on the net and develop a proper
digital art discourse (but remaining marginal if not irrelevant to the
public affairs)?"

Network practices, for Ursula, are not just about using the computer to
its fullest, but about "creating a different social environment with new
services and institutions, employments, built realities, real estate and

Greg Ulmer writes that he is interested in how the Internet "might be
developed as a support for a more holistic collaborative approach to
knowledge and problem-solving across the practices of specialization."

Saul Anton asked, "why is 'art' communication? What does art
communicate?" The idea seems to him unexamined, today and in conceptual
art practices and discourses that believed they could dissolve the art
object into the discursive matrix of the artist and the viewer.

Olu Oguibe wrote, responding to Ursula's message, that he is "not sure
whether people get it at all when they talk about art, that it is a
profession too, like medicine or banking, something that pays mortgages
and places food on the table and therefore needs predictable
institutions and structures and dedicated 'curates.'" Olu writes that,
irrespective of whatever anyone thinks, a good and efficient curate/or
of art must have a deep grounding in art history. He writes "it is very
easy for those who do not have to make a living from making art to
romanticize the industry and indulge in inordinate leaps of fantasy in
the name of vision. I sincerely have no idea what a media analyst would
be doing curating art for a museum." 

Michael Rees wrote that, as a practicing artist, "I look forward to the
time when I can pay people as opposed to beg and borrow. I would then
participate in a larger economy. A little bit of my money would go to
other people and help them pay a bill, enjoy a moment, raise their
children, experience life and art."

Ursula Biemann replied to Olu Oguibe that she strongly feels it
necessary that art continues to be involved in a critical engagement
with the symbolic production of other professions because she sees the
danger of art leaving terrain to other, less critical symbolic
producers. She gives two examples: Jeff Wall mentions the example of
activist art in the 20s leaving the field of the symbolic image
production unoccupied and thus easily appropriated by the Fascists; and
Benjamin Buchloh makes "the focus on identity politics and subjectivity
in the eighties responsible for leaving the public sphere gratuitously
to grand speculations of the capitalist media and real estate
conglomerates." Ursula feels that those two strategies shouldn't be
played out against one another but the consequences of placing the focus
on one or the other have to be taken seriously.

Ursula doesn't see the significance of art in "those administrative/
preserving activities that provide jobs for many graduates."  In Europe,
at least, the most interesting art activities are taking place outside
of established art institutions, building their own networks, and Ursula
is concerned that institutions are not able to adjust to major changes
in the symbolic economy. She imagines an institution that would develop
a visual program that corresponds structurally and in terms of content
more rigorously to the methods of cultural studies. 

Hans Ulrich Obrist gave two examples of curators whose work he felt was
pioneering - Felix Feneon and Alexander Dorner.  Each "contributed to
the mutation of existing museums and exhibition structures but also
pushed the boundaries and towards the invention of new interdisciplinary
structures." The importance of Dorner, Hans Ulrich writes, lies in the
fact that he anticipated very early the urgency of issues such as: "the
museum in permanent transformation within dynamic parameters...the
museum as an oscillation between object and process...the
multi-identarian museum...the museum on the move...the museum as a
risk-taking pioneer: to act and not to wait!...the museum as a locus of
crossings of art and life...the museum as a laboratory...the museum as a
relative and not an absolute truth...the elastic museum, which means:
both elastic display and elastic building." Hans Ulrich cites an
expression by Willem Sandberg, the former director of the Stedelijk
Museum in Amsterdam: "With the courage of the unacademic and the
radical, according to the necessities of contemporary art."

Alan Sondheim writes that a great deal depends on the demographics, and
asks how can one intervene on this level. "In the United States, the
museums are more popular than ever, in part due to the production of
spectacles and accompanying connoisseurship that began in the 1980s. As
a result, viewers might know, say, about King Tut, but nothing else
about Egypt."

Carlos Basualdo responded to Hans Ulrich's post that "this leads us to
the urgency of developing a institutional model that could be adjusted
to the conditions of both the countries of the center and the
peripheries. I would like to suggest here that the exhibition as a model
of understanding of art production should probably be emancipated from
the museum and be considered an institution of its own." Carlos suggests
that in order to realize Dorner's vision "the museum as an institution
would have to become the exhibition as a temporary (urban) museum."
Hans Ulrich reported that, during a panel discussion on Museums of
Modern Art in the Twenty-first Century which took place in 1996, Rem
Koolhaas pointed out that he sees the museum less as an issue of
architecture and more as an issue of urbanity. "I think rather than
architecture which always induces enormous anxiety in its either/or
logic -- since architecture is, just like MoMA ... about exclusion --
the urban is the ideal medium, combining the unpredictable with a degree
of organisation. Because a city of course never preempts what is going
to happen; rather it offers the latent potential for things to happen...
in a kind of related way."

Carlos Basualdo writes that such a museum might be based and constructed
upon the instability of the archive. He reports on a recent article on
the structural instability of digital archives.  Carlos remarks that we
may be losing a lot, but he does not think we are losing much. "Eternity
is the ultimate dream of authority, perfect wholeness for ever. The
traditional museum relies of this dream -- or nightmare." The challenge,
Carlos suggests, is to conceive a museum that is structured on
transience and not to attempt to reform the Museum of the Eternal.  The
issue of memory then becomes fundamental. Carlos likes Koolhaus's
suggestion that the museological and the urban can become the same.
Carlos writes that when he mentioned the possibility of replacing the
institution of the museum with the exhibition as an institution, he
realizes that it would "rely entirely on the city as the privileged
reservoir of memory. Not only memory as information, but memory as lived
memory, a know-how of everyday life, memory as inscribed in the body."
Lygia Clark's therapy provides us with a model of this kind of memory,
Carlos suggests, "a model that could potentially be related to an
archeology of the urban." 

Paul Miller pointed out the extreme unwillingness of the Western art
hierarchy to look at examples that have already been at work in the
European and American contexts for the last several centuries.  Paul
writes that outsider artists like Sam Doyle and Bill Traylor, operating
from the late 19th century up until the mid 20th, provided a visual
archive referencing blues and jazz as vessels for cultural transmission.
Even the Gyspies in Europe, he writes, as one of the few groups to
retain pre-Roman pagan traditions, of course never make it to the
official discourse ("globalization, etc."). "The art world is in a
crisis precisely because of these issues: how an institution based on
Feudal European structures can survive the dissolution of the social
hierarchies that formed it should be the context that these issues are
explored from."

Franklin Sirmans wrote that not only is the Western Art Hierarchy
unwilling or slow to look at such examples that already have been at
work, "they're pretty slow just to realize that it isn't all still white
and male." There is a place for recontextualized museum space, Franklin
writes. Somewhere, and not only on the Internet.

Simon Biggs brought up encoded mnemonics in the context of Frances
Yates's book "The Art of Memory." According to Simon, her thesis is that
in many cultures memory was seen as important and as artful as logic or
poetics. Carlos pointed out that the notion of memory engraved in the
city comes from mnemonics, of course, but is also evident everywhere.
"The old section of Rome is one of the best examples for me of a city
where the urban equals memory equals art." Carlos proposes Lygia Clark's
work as a model of embodied memory, and mentions that a parallel with de
Certeau could be established.  

Brian Holmes elaborated on the technique in Frances Yates's book: the
association in one's mind of the images of specific places - palaces,
rooms, streets, theaters - with important bits of knowledge and
narrative sequences. He explains that "The idea was to select an
architectural environment, often one with niches, and to use it
literally as a 'topos,' a palpable place in which to organize a more
far-ranging cultural memory. It was a self-fashioning technique, or what
Foucault calls a process of subjectivation, intimately connected to the
collective dimension of experience because of the use of architecture as
a mnemonic support, but at the same time, seemingly a much more fluid
and personal way to build one's self than by subjection to the tightly
delimited structure of the authorized book (which ultimately replaced
the ars memoria as the primary technique of self-fashioning in bourgeois
Western cultures)."

Brian writes that the relation between determinate urban space and a
fluid individual-collective use of memory is something that surges up
with every social revolution, when artistic practice really gets out
into the streets. He wonders how computer memory could be used to
further such individual-collective self-fashioning processes - "in
experiments which at once recognize the binding weight of historical
reality and yet aim toward material and symbolic transformation of it." 

Steven Kurtz of Critical Art Ensemble brings up the issue of digital and
electronic media festivals, which might be thought as contemporary
parallels to the museum structures discussed here (as well as in
Carlos's "exhibition as an institution.") Steve is "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." Steve explains
that 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. He feels that "this prejudice
in favor of scale is evidently a trace of the traditional art world
replicating itself in a new territory. In order to intervene in art
history, monumentalism has always been a good tactic, but in the case of
electronic media it has come to become the only tactic."

Coco Fusco stated that it might be useful to contemplate patterns in the
production and institutionalization of art practices.  She wrote that
artists, arts institutions and writers are now "cashing in on corporate
advertising's euphoric presentation of an imminent cultural future
orchestrated by electronic devices and artificial intelligence. Those
who raise an eyebrow over such prospects, arguing that intellectuals and
artists might also eventually be 'phased out' by the techno-supported
'downsizing' are usually written off as paranoid." 

We will end with Coco's items, quoted verbatim.

1. Global exhibitions: In the 1980s biennials in so-called "peripheral"
sites were instituted as a response to exclusionary definitions of
internationalism, and to the continuation of tendencies from early
modernism to relegate "non-western" art to the status of catalyst or
appendage to western tradition. Today the art world map is quite
different. The governments and financial elites of several once
peripheral countries seek to achieve status as art world power brokers,
to modernize the image using contemporary art as window dressing, and to
draw more sophisticated forms of tourism.  Artists working in most parts
of the world recognize that there is premium placed on having ones work
in many places at once (another version of the promise of digital
disembodiment), rather than immersing oneself in the specificity of a
particular site. Art centers struggling to stay afloat in age of endless
budget cuts turn to web art as an easy way to avoid the costs of
managing material goods. A limited number of art professionals circle
the earth continuously travelling from show to show, transforming
"sampling" into a curatorial gesture; curators create their own version
of global culture that stress the power to maintain a "total view" or
world art in which "difference" is either rejected extra-artistic or
restricted to style.  This trend helps to make "global culture" a
self-fulfilling prophecy.

2. Commodification of the ephemeral: At the end of the 1980s Rosalind
Krauss noted that a characteristic of culture in the age of
multinational capital was that commodification processes were
successfully penetrating domains of leisure and ephemeral experience. In
the 90s, we have witnessed a change in the theorization and economic
underpinnings of video/film installation. These endeavors were in the
1960s and 70s part of the project of the dematerialization of art
object, forming a critique of art market commodification. The period in
which experimental artists flirted with engineering, now at times
heralded as the "origin" of cyberculture's marriage of art and science,
was actually severely curtailed by artists' disenchantment with
technology due to massive destruction wrought by the Vietnam War. These
days, video installation is considered easily commodifiable, and
increased production within the genre relates to increased museum and
collector demand, the decline of classical academic training in many art
schools. In addition its transportability makes it ideal for global

3. The use of artists as inventors and technology testers by
corporations: Remember that photoshop was developed by an artist and now
generates lots of money for Adobe. Artists have always depended on some
form of patronage, and that relationship has always affected the
character and content of cultural production. That artists and museums
working with new technologies are extremely dependent on support from
the telecommunications industry might partially explain why so much work
fetishizes individuals' relationships with the machines, estheticizing
the interface that multinationals seek to naturalize in order to
increase their profits. 

3. Experiments in artificial intelligence: If experiments with AI have
already proven that animal instincts are simulatable through computer
programs, the possibility of simulating creative acts is probably
already being toyed with. Cage's experiments with allowing chance and
random phenomena enter into the creative process are already being
recast with computers that can generate and run programs that appear to
articulate "randomness" - what's next?

a critical forum for artistic practice in the network
texts are the property of individual authors
to unsubscribe, send email to eyebeam@list.thing.net
with the following single line in the message body:
unsubscribe eyebeam-list
information and archive at http://www.eyebeam.org
Eyebeam Atelier/X Art Foundation http://www.blast.org