Writing about the ephemeral – Calculating ”Danmark”
As others have already pointed out, this is a very interesting theme and as a newcomer to the list it is also quite a challenge to comment on. A lot of directions of thought are opened… And this will be a long ramble on a recent work by Danish artist Linda Hilfling and myself.
Catching on to the original post, mentioning the “press review” in the list of things “particularly important for ephemeral, live or broadcastworks” - I’d like to try and build on this in relation to a work I’ve just shown in an exhibition at the National Gallery in Denmark. This is a work in which I take part as an artist rather than a curator, but which consists of a work which is typical for new media work in that it in itself is generative and tries to set up a space for thought rather than a conclusive statement. The tricky part is that it tries to set up this “ephemeral” space through a very concrete calculating operation, and this immediately confounds critics and spectators. The work is functional, but this function is at the same time an aesthetical act which points to the virtuality of what is being calculated.
I actually think that this rupture between the material function of a processual work and its meaning and ephemerality is quite common to new media works in general. Considering that many new media works consists of a re-routing of ongoing information processes.
So to briefly explain the piece itself and the reaction to it. In the installation, an old office calculator sits at a table and from it extends a mess of cables in different colours, making it clear that this machine has been hacked. The display continuously adds numbers together and these are printed by the machine on a receipt roll which spills over the floor. The calculator is scraping data off the online statistics of Linden Lab, the Californian company behind Second Life. It then calculates how much money (in Danish crowns) an average Danish SL user would earn on average in SL during the exhibition period’s two weeks. The result is a very small number (32 crowns), but 160 meters of paper spilling on the floor. The whole work is a comment to the Danish Ministry of Taxes setting up an island of their own in SL last year, naming it “Danmark” and thereby establishing a kind of State presence in SL. The focus of this virtual “Danmark” though is to inform Danish SL users that they should pay taxes on money earnt in SL. This space was set up when the hype of the economic possibilities of SL was at its highest.
As an intervention into “Danmark”, the calculator is also viewable through a webcam “projected” on to a large billboard in the state owned Danish SL.
What I’d like to focus on is how the Danish “business” media reacted to this piece. Having caught on to the results of the calculation they proceeded to publish a number of articles, stating the depressing state of the Danish side of the SL economy. Obviously, there were a lot of Danish SL entrepreneurs who objected to this, and started to comment on the online editions of the articles. In retrospect, I wonder what was lost in this treatment of the work, which was meant to project an image of control and the virtuality of capital flow, rather than as an instrumental tool for monitoring the actual amount of earned money. Of course, statistics in some way always “lie” and the official statistics of Linden Lab could probably be read and critically analysed in a number of alternative ways. Yet, what is more at stake here is the aesthetical value of such online information and the political implications of creating a generative work out of this data – connecting imagined locality (the national state of Denmark and its virtual “Danmark”) with global business and service providers (SL).
So it seems to me a purely functional evaluation of such a work completely misses the point – at the same time as the work would not “function” on its ephemeral level without this concrete dimension. So are we back in a dialectical relationship here…? Well, at least I hope to inspire to some more considerations on this rupture between functionality and ephemerality, which is necessary but without excluding the one or the other.
>>> Maeve Connolly <[log in to unmask]> 08-02-05 20:42 >>>
Thanks to Beryl and Verina for inviting me to contribute to the
discussion. I'm interested in Ken's comments on the re-viewing of moving
image works and also Verina's point about the social conditions under
which something is written. So here are some initial thoughts...
My research focuses on artists' film and video and I'm currently writing
about a series of works where questions of site or place are central,
and often integral to the commissioning and/or production process. I
have seen all of this work in public exhibition contexts (galleries,
site-specific installations, screenings) and reviewed some of it. But as
some time has passed since my first viewing, I'm also referring to
documentation in DVD form.
Some of the works I'm writing about have been widely distributed but
others circulate within the gallery system so as I view these DVDs in my
own space (as opposed to in an archive) I am acutely aware of two
issues. The first is my economic and social relation to these works,
which varies greatly, and the second is the distance between the
original experience and that of re-viewing.
To some extent this latter issue could just be an effect of the kind of
processes explored by Victor Burgin in The Remembered Film. But I
suspect that my first encounter with these works was always already
coloured by a strong sense of the ephemeral. In my memories (and in my
written records) of the exhibited works, the acoustics of the space, the
design of the installation, the journey through the exhibition
environment etc seem to take precedence. These elements are generally
absent, or obscured, in gallery documentation yet the act of re-viewing
seems to heighten the particularity of the first experience, rather than
I haven't read Liam Gillick's intro to Proxemics but his comments - on
being both too close to and too distant from the main protagonists -
seem to describe aspects of my own experience of writing catalogue
essays. I've occasionally written texts that involve a kind of
speculative projection about the form the work might take, rather than
conventional description or contextualisation. This type of writing
seems characterised by 'closeness' - it often involves an investigation
the artist's ideas and interests as well as process. But perhaps it also
produces a certain distance for the reader because it draws upon but
doesn't openly state the conditions of the exchange between artist and
Dr. Maeve Connolly
Lecturer in Film and Animation
School of Creative Arts
Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology
Tel: +353 1 2144927
Email: [log in to unmask]
From: Curating digital art - www.crumbweb.org
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Verina Gfader
Sent: Saturday, February 02, 2008 1:12 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [NEW-MEDIA-CURATING] Writing about the ephemeral... the
insignificant the singular the conditional
Thanks Beryl for introducing the new theme on the list. I want to
briefly pick up on two points written by Liam Gillick in his
introduction to Proxemics. Selected Writings (1988-2006) - which to me
seem interesting to mention in this context.
Although not taking on board the nature and affects of media art as
such, indeed the texts include a wide range of different "categories" of
art (which I'd like to say might be also significant to think
philosophically in terms of pluralities/), the absences and failures
that Liam describes by writing about art, can only as I think, confirm
something that is peculiar to art as such. Whether of not a work is
ephemeral or not, live or not, finite or not.
If the experience of a work could actually be described in one possible
way only then we would not take into account the plurality of the
audience... Is the access to the work, the entrance point, an issue
here? When artists write about their work, their intentions,
instructions, and so on, do these writings reveal the most direct access
to the work? In this case the text would follow the mode of a particular
practice most straight forward.
The artist text versus the descriptive text (e.g. used on a label in an
exhibition space) versus the critical text? But where does the
criticality take place? In the differences of the texts that talk about
the work? In the gaps between these different texts? In the gaps of the
Liam says "I did not write anything of significance, although there are
interesting interviews. [ ] I was too close to the main protagonists,
and yet too distant in terms of understanding their motivations".
Maybe one could say that the work lives and also is preserved precisely
in this "insignificant" utterances.
In my experience as a researcher I did not feel uncomfortable writing
about work without having seen the "original" work, e.g. an early body
art performance by Carolee Schneemann or Gina Pane. I felt more
uncomfortable with reading texts that try to mystify the work in a way
and that were written "too distant" to return to Liam's expression.
New media art is interesting as it distances itself, through
technological progress, by introducing something that appears to be
'new' or not already experienced, seen, read. But moving away from a
technology-oriented analysis the criticality it bears lies in its
affective modes under certain conditions.
Instead of isolating however work and text, what might has been at stake
and continues here to be at stake are the social conditions under which
something is written on something in a particular way (blog, review,
academic essay, interview).
How do other practitioners, artist, curators, writers, approach text,
Rambling notes on a chilly but sunny Saturday afternoon.
----- Original Message -----
From: Beryl Graham <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Friday, February 1, 2008 10:17 am
Subject: [NEW-MEDIA-CURATING] Writing about the ephemeral... Theme Feb
> Theme of the month February 08
> Writing about the ephemeral / the 'live' / the broadcast
> Beyond issues of physical preservation, the written record,
> document or
> press review is particularly important for ephemeral, live or
> broadcastworks. But how does one write about/criticise something
> that's never
> the same twice?
> What are the modes curators use for the documentation of new media
> art?Re-imagination; information; writing that in one way or the other
> transmits the various experiences of the work? Can it be argued that
> the life of a work consists precisely in the ways it departs from its
> initial point/source or concept? And if it does so how do the
> differentafterlives, critiques and vocabularies associated with
> media contribute
> to or resist the work?
> What framing systems emerge with forms of writing other than the
> traditional single-authored critical text (e.g. dialogue based,
> blogging, hypertext)? What framing systems are becoming more
> peripheral(e.g. traditional art criticism)? Does a particular
> work/practice need
> a particular mode of text to be understood or re-enacted? Can a live
> work be re-imagined by certain modes of preserving it? Does the
> archivethe re-broadcast or the re-enactment then become more
> important than
> the work?
> Beryl Graham, Professor of New Media Art
> School of Arts, Design, Media and Culture, University of Sunderland
> Ashburne House,
> Ryhope Road
> SR2 7EE
> Tel: +44 191 515 2896 [log in to unmask]
> CRUMB web resource for new media art curators
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