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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  March 2009

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING March 2009

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Subject:

Re: February 09 Theme: Lab/Time-based residencies and Environmental Response

From:

Sarah Cook <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Sarah Cook <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 17 Mar 2009 13:15:43 +0000

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Hi CRUMB list lurkers

I wanted to write again on this theme to follow up on Heather's post  
having now been to FACT to see the Climate for Change  
"experiment" (not "exhibition") in person (http:// 
climateforchange.fact.co.uk/). At the Artist's Breakfast discussion  
some points were raised about what it means to turn a gallery into a  
lab for the usual duration of an exhibition and to 'generate' a show  
from lab-based activity. My thoughts are long and rambling, so  
apologies in advance. And this post couldn't hope to discuss or  
describe all of the projects and parternships which have made up  
Climate for Change, so do look online or go to FACT for more info.

On 2 Mar 2009, at 15:55, Heather Corcoran wrote:

> The main gallery uses the ‘social centre’ as a model, inviting  
> Liverpool groups to use FACT’s space and resources to host their  
> own events and workshops. [...] hosting multiple residencies, labs,  
> discussions, workshops. Underneath this will be a number of artist  
> residencies, where the strategies we're taking relate to this  
> discussion. In particular its worth highlighting our partnership  
> with Eyebeam, where they are sending over three of their senior  
> fellows - Steve Lambert, Jeff Crouse and Hans-Christoph Steiner –  
> each in residence for a week to 10 days throughout the exhibition.  
> We're calling their participation the Sustainability Road Show  
> (after their Sustainability Research Group and the Road Show model  
> their Eyebeam fellows have come up with, also relevant to this  
> discussion but I'll let them elaborate if they like). This is a bit  
> different from what has been discussed here already in that it’s an  
> exchange supported by one organisation/institution (Eyebeam) to  
> another (FACT), rather than the individual artists coming to work  
> in residence with us themselves (though we’re doing some of that  
> too in the show, with N55 and the Ghana Think Tank project) [...]

I'll try and tease out my (curatorial) impressions of this at FACT  
and how it might work from the brief morning I spent there (train  
delays meant I missed the opening event), listing my impressions in  
no particular order:

Firstly the use of the space and FACT's resources: While I very much  
like the idea of having artists in the gallery making works and  
interacting with the public in week long residencies alongside local  
groups, on viewing the "experiment" I couldn't help but feel things  
had been divided up and separated out when there might have been more  
friction if they'd been jumbled together a bit more. It's early days,  
and time will tell how the community groups use the space and how  
much of what results gets added to the walls or put on the projection  
screen.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/slambert/3359424383/
But in terms of set-up from FACT's curatorial side of things, for  
instance, the N55 project is a kind of swap shop which is in the  
front medialounge space, while across from that in the lobby is the  
great Ghana Think Tank project, which takes the form of a video  
interview booth, or vox pop space with suggestion box and bulletin  
board (visitors are invited to leave their problems about climate  
change and life in Liverpool, and these ideas will be farmed out to a  
think tank of community activists in Ghana to solve, reversing the so- 
called first world third world knowledge and resource exchange). This  
project is great and would have benefitted from having more space to  
breathe if it were installed in the main gallery 1 (or in the  
medialounge if sound bleed were a problem) whereas the N55 swap shop  
would have brought another layer of activism and engagement into the  
gallery space.

Upstairs in Gallery 2 there is a slightly odd assortment of projects  
installed to look more like a traditional art exhibition focused on  
the topic of utopian and distopian views of the future as affected by  
our current conditions of "peak oil and "peak credit": a sculpture by  
Nik Kosmas and Daniel Keller (AIDS 3D), a video by Melanie Gilligan  
("Crisis in the Credit System"), and a copy of the spoof New York  
Times Special Edition produced by the Yes Men, the Anti-Advertising  
Agency and other collaborators in New York. While the sculpture/ 
installation needs a dramatically lit space and is very much a do-not- 
touch work, and thus justifies its placement in gallery 2 rather than  
in the messy lab/studio downstairs, I'm not sure what it actually  
adds to the theme and debate of the show (it feels a little bit like  
an odd-work out). The newspaper which was an inherently social- 
network led project has been 'museumified' by its installation,  
appearing as a rare object of art rather than something to use and  
think with. It might have been better downstairs in Gallery 1 where  
people could really lounge out and read it (rather than feel like  
they are the performer/object on show if they sit and read it  
upstairs), and documentation of its production could have been  
included alongside (as a kind of activist how-to). All the more as  
downstairs there is an entire library of zines and self-published  
material, and a video documentary about the zine scene in Portland as  
well as Stefan Szczelkun's Survival Scrapbooks (pages from these  
published manuals from the 1970s are projected on a big screen). By  
contrast Gilligan's fictional film work is amusing and clever, very  
much art, and makes sense installed in its own space, but probably  
could have held gallery 2 on its own. In short, a lot more, or a lot  
less, finished art works on the thematic topic would have  
strengthened the presentation in my opinion. (Interestingly, these  
works are not mentioned much in reviews of the Climate for Change  
experiment, suggesting the emphasis in the project on action rather  
than art:
http://www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/liverpool-life-features/liverpool- 
arts/2009/03/12/liverpool-s-gallery-1-takes-natural-approach-to- 
art-92534-23127880/)

> [...] part of our gallery space is a residency/office space for all  
> the artists and community groups, and I've earmarked myself a desk  
> space in there so I can spend as much time as possible doing this.

The problematic thing about this is that the desk spaces allocated  
for resident artists are up on a custom-built mezzanine level in the  
gallery, not accessible to the public (this is also where TenantSpin  
have their studio, producing programs for FACT.TV). So it is possible  
to be at the desk and see what is going on below, but not be seen or  
actually have to engage with the public (useful for artists to take a  
break from being on-show all the time). I'd be interested to hear  
from Heather as to how much time she manages to spend in the gallery,  
and whether it is at the big tables down in the 'lab/studio' or up on  
the mezzanine.

> Perhaps a minor point here but one of the strategies we've come up  
> with is having, alongside the fellows coming into residence, also  
> inviting Eyebeam's technician (Jamie O'Shea) to be in residence  
> leading up to the show, helping to install - working with our  
> technicians to set things up, where they share skills and knowledge  
> between them that will hopefully help integrate the artist  
> residents into our community. Its going to be interesting to have a  
> different type of residency alongside the more typical artist-in- 
> residence.

I applaud this idea and saw it work really well at Eyebeam when  
Laboral sent their technician Gustavo to participate in Interactivos?  
organised in partnership with Medialab Prado. The Interactivos? art  
works would not have been finished and gone up on show without  
Gustavo there. From what I could tell FACT had most things in hand  
technically, knew the installation/lay-out plans well in advance,  
meaning Jamie spent his time in Liverpool collaborating with the  
Eyebeam artists on how their projects would be best presented in the  
space. Hopefully there was some local knowledge exchanged in the  
process.

> In early discussions with Eyebeam this was high on the list - how  
> do we get the fellows working well in a Liverpool context? A large  
> part of this we hope will be solved by the cross pollination local  
> self-organized groups working in the gallery at the same time as  
> out-of-town artist residents. Its a shared studio - they're using  
> the same space and resources so will ideally share information  
> almost accidentally. No doubt this shared space could also become a  
> source of (potentially useful?) conflict. One of the projects  
> they're proposing is a Liverpool city wiki, so will require lots of  
> talking and socializing [...]

The difficulty with this is how to explain to audiences walking in  
off the street that this is what is happening in Gallery 1, and who  
is making, or has made, what. FACT know their audiences better than I  
do so Heather and the others can comment on this directly. But I know  
that at the opening event and the following morning there were  
comments made about why FACT was taking on lab-residency based  
activity, with a direct social/government agenda (climate change),  
which other organisations might be better resourced and more  
appropriately positioned to fulfill. What I mean is that it is great  
to have put a window through from the gallery to the lobby so that  
people coming to the cafe or cinema know there is a gallery there and  
are more inclined to see what's on, but that it is a shame that one  
of the few (only?) venues in the UK well equipped to show media art  
in all its forms has to give up a precious slot on its exhibition  
schedule to present activity which could be equally well shown in the  
cafe, the cinema, the lobby, the shop, the street and in a community  
centre/hall/office down the street. I think FACT knows this, as its  
community notice board is not in Gallery 1 but in the cafe (although  
slightly inaccessible behind tables). What are the actual resources  
that FACT is bringing to this exchange? Furniture (plywood again! but  
at least apparently leftover building materials from Liverpool's  
Capital of Culture programme) and a large meeting space with free  
wifi and projection (amphitheatre-style seating), but more  
importantly, the local expertise and connections of its fantastic  
collaboration program staff and the (unsustainable) airline tickets  
to bring in the artists they have for the residencies they've  
arranged. All of these are very relevant.

But what are we losing in exchange? At the Artist's Breakfast  
comments were made by the artists that their activist work was about  
changing cultures of consumption. For instance, by working with Hans  
Christoph Steiner and learning how to jailbreak or unlock an ipod's  
operating system and load Linux and PD on it, participants are  
introduced to the idea that culture isn't something which has to be  
made by someone else for us to consume, but can be something made by  
us (the same ethos on view at the MakerFaire at the Newcastle Science  
Festival this past weekend). That's fair enough in my book. But when  
Steve Lambert then commented that if it weren't for punk music he  
might not have gotten involved in community radio and learned those  
crucial skills for creating his own culture it occurred to me that  
_someone_ had to promote that punk band, someone had to play them on  
the radio, book their gig, go out of their way to hold up the band as  
the best punk band out there, so Steve could learn how to discern  
quality from the quantity, or learn at least what he liked. Which is  
where the role of the curator and the arts venue comes in. If venues  
like FACT change their mandates and agendas from showcasing/showing/ 
exhibiting/commissioning world-class art works to bringing in the  
community to create culture together we've lost a part of the useful  
filtering system which promotes the education of audiences to discern  
the best from the rest, and we've lost the segment of the audience  
that is engaged with art, with art history, with media history, with  
theory, with craft, with technique, style, skill, with narrative,  
with storytelling, with 'evocative objects', with aesthetically  
transporting experience, with witnessing (all the things that the  
three works installed in Gallery 2 aim to engage viewers with).

I know I sound like an elitist, but please just take this as an angle  
on an argument, not necessarily a fully-formed opinion. At Eyebeam I  
often argued with Steve that art didn't always have to be useful and  
itself directly change the world, but had to at least change how the  
world looked to the people who had viewed the art. Similarly, at the  
Artist's Breakfast discussion Graham Harwood (of Mongrel) pointed out  
that it is exactly within the realm of art that the really gnarly and  
thorny issues of living in a mediated world can be discussed, can be  
laid out with all their problematics, can be reflected upon. So more  
art I say!
[This of course ties in to all the debates we've been having about  
open culture, open source, user-generated content, etc. Perhaps in  
May we can talk about the Montreal Biennial, which seeks to directly  
address these issues.]

There is no doubt that, in Heather's words, "these self-organized  
groups, through practicing new governance systems, DIY strategies and  
alternative politics, have a key role to play in sustainability  
debates." And there is no doubt the world is a better place through  
having exposure to the work of these 'groups', through sharing  
strategies between artists and activists. FACT highlights that its  
exhibition team "recognises the need to take a distinctive and  
challenging position regarding the work that it commissions and  
exhibits, working with artists whose practice clearly illustrates a  
commitment to critical investigation of media art forms" but  
unfortunately, from my point of view, any discussion of form here has  
been lost to community-led conversation about the issues facing  
Liverpool today. I am all for making research public, opening out the  
process of art's production and presentation, but I would equally  
love to see a kind of retrospective of the projects resulting from  
FACT's collaboration programme over the years... a chance to see how  
artists have engaged with the local context and how their works have  
changed the perspective of people living in Liverpool in ways that  
only art work can. Then I could take a critical view on artists' uses  
of media. I think this is what we were aiming for with the SCANZ  
residency and exhibition at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. The  
residency/lab space was in the University, the art works were being  
made collaboratively all over Tanaraki, and the results, from both  
this residency, and the one two years prior were installed in the  
gallery. It wasn't without its problems, but it had the potential to  
become a useful model without diluting the Govett-Brewster's mission  
to showcase contemporary art. It gave the gallery's audience a chance  
to discuss the many forms that new media art takes today, and the  
range of issues of interest to artists working with new technologies.

I've rambled long enough... I look forward to ongoing discussion  
about any and all of this... and being pulled up on any points I've  
grossly misrepresented!

yours,
sarah

P.S. I hope that Regine or Sascha from we-make-money-not-art reports  
on Climate-for-change, as I'd love to hear other comments and  
feedback about it and how it develops over time.

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