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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  February 2008

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING February 2008

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Subject:

Writing about the ephemeral...

From:

Patricia Zimmermann <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Patricia Zimmermann <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 25 Feb 2008 14:15:37 -0500

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Dear all--

First, thanks to Beryl for convening all of us to ponder and unpack the
idea of "writing about the ephemeral."  Reading over the posts for the
last month, I am struck by the urgency of this issue as it responds to
significant shifts in media arts practices, both digital and analog and in
between that require new theorization, new models. It's a paradigm shift
that throws all of the old ways of deconstructing media texts into new
architectures.

Secondly, in reading through these incredibly insightful and probing posts
from Beryl, Kristoffer, Verina, Maeve, Jorn, Elena, some patterns are
emerging for us to consider as historiographic issues, meaning, questions
about the nature of evidence, the question of abscenes and gaps in
evidence, the explanatory models invoked, and the epistemological claims
about how our explanatory models are structured.  Ephemerality, in many
ways, is not new to new media and performance, but is in fact a central
questions of historiography and archival practices:  as historians, we
assume all is lost and the central historiographic issue is not so simply
an act of recovery, but also an act of imagination of the possibilities in
these very absences.

As Kristoffer notes, Wendy Chun argues that digitality can not so easily
be located as an archival element, but as a degenerative function.  Film
archives, for example, (just to get concrete for a moment...), assume all
material is in a constant state of degeneration and decay--the act of
preservation is not a restoration to an original, but a restoration to
some kind of public recirculation and exhibition.

The original can never be found, can never be retrieved, and in fact, what
is historiographically ethical is to assume that all archival materials
will move forward and take on new lives within new contexts and uses. 
Therefore, as Kristoffer points outs, the issue of how to consider the
"generative" and the "opening up of space for thought rather than a
conclusive statement" is for all intents and purposes the function of the
archival.  When the archival is configured as a place where what is
ephemeral becomes reduced to a holy, sanctified object that replicated
some notion of the "authentic" and the "original", then the disruptive
potential of the migratory inherent in the ephemeral is amputated. Stasis,
fixed objects, fixity, narrativity, conclusive findings--these are the
strategies of confinement.

So this question of the ephemeral raises significant--and urgent,
necessary, and compelling--questions of historiography.  Instead of
thinking of art works, ephemeral media, new media, even films, as fixed
objects, we need to move more towards a notion of the migratory archive,
where all works are in endless circulation, endlessly moving in and out of
different social, economic, reception contexts.

Verina mentioned in one of her posts the idea of "the plurality of
audiences," and the differences between practitioners, artists, curators,
writers, approaching these ephemeral texts. I agree with her, this issues
of plurality is central--what is a radical intervention now is to refuse
monologue, the monological, the fixed, and invoke pluralities.  All of the
above--practitioners, artists, curators, writers--contribute to this
migratory zone for ephemeral works.  I think that Ken Friedman raised an
excellent, consice point in his suggestion that Zen can be helpful in
thinking about the ephemeral--it is not so much about all is lost and
fleeting, but that all objects are located in actions, which are part of
larger flows.

This question of flows, migrations, movements, recirculations from the
initial act --whether performance, locative media, live DJ remixing, and
on and on--can be considered through Kristoffer's points about how new
media works are often about rerouting on-going information processes.  In
this context, then, writing about the ephemeral is, in an epistemological
way, a continuation of this rerouting, and a new pathway into new sets of
social, economic, political, audience relations, which Maeve has suggested
are necessary to consider.

This very exciting question of writing the ephemeral dives deep into the
heart of contemporary debates in critical historiography (writers such as
Chikrabarty, Ankerschmidt, White, Guha, Berkhoffer).  In these debates,
the question for historical writing, which, after all, is behind this
issue of "writing the ephemeral", is about rejecting linear causality,
rejecting any notion of the authentic, and questioning whether any
artifact can be understood without a larger matrix.

These theorists offer instead a model of historiography--history
writing--that instead offers ideas of not of non-linearity (which Jorn
rightly points out is a bit of a misnomer) but of polyvocality and
polyphony, many voices, many layers, at ones, which are multilinear and
spatial.  In place of the "authentic", this school of thought offers the
idea that the archive and the artifact are always in formation, never
finalized, never finished, always a linguistic construct that is
iterative, moving, generative, opening up in its gaps and fissures.  And
in place of the fixity of the artifact, these writers and theorists offer
the idea of sets of relations that are often discounted, as in
Chakrabarty's invocation of ghosts and dreams as historical forces.

As Jorn points out, in his writing about the ephemeral for various
constituencies, description is necessary.  Maeve discusses the textures
and materialities of acoustic, space, journey, design, closeness. Elena
has described in great detail her wonderful projects.  The thread running
through these posts evokes critical ethnography, in the writings of Davd
MacDougall, Faye Ginsburg, George Marcus, Michael Fisher, Michael Taussig,
and going all the way back to Clifford Geertz, is that of thick
description.  Thus, the thickness and specificity of the description
becomes the next iteration, the next platforms, that the performative can
move through and on.

In writing about the ephemeral, those locative media projects, SL
investigations, DJ works, performance pieces, what we might all be engaged
in is a new versioning of critical historiography, where what is an
artifact is now no longer a physical object, but a concept that migrates,
moves, travels--and thus actually forms some new conceptual zones of
action.

Patty Zimmermann
Patricia R. Zimmermann, Ph.D.
Professor
Department of Cinema and Photography
Codirector, Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival
Ithaca College
Ithaca New York 14850 USA
Phone: 607 274 3431    FAX  607 274 7078
http://faculty.ithaca.edu/patty/
http://www.ithaca.edu/fleff

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