I have always found commissioning to be a very dialogical process. The conversation one starts with an artist (as a curator) can go on for a year or more before anything goes into production. Sometimes things fall into place quickly, but in my experience at least, this does not happen very often.
Especially in relation to variable media... the production phase is also highly dialogical; as various logistics, contexts and ideas shift and develop throughout that process. Very little is rigidly defined by the artist or the curator at the outset. If there is anything I am likely to define (when playing the role of curator), it is context. Though even this is likely to be dynamic. Parameters can change or opportunities arise...
But the point I would like to add to the discussion is really this :-
One can speak of 'buying' an artwork as an end point (some form of consumerist quick fix). But it isn't. The process of accessioning an artwork into a public collection is yet again, another long and involved conversation - between artist, curator and conservator - possibly others are also involved, a gallerist, a legal advisor etc... Variable works in particular, because they may take so many different configurations or otherwise have a range of vulnerabilities and dependencies to work through, require extended discourse.
Each artwork presents a unique situation, so responsibilities are discussed, agreed with the artist (if they are still alive) and detailed in a rigorous process of documentation.
Variable artworks, are by nature unfixed. Displaying or installing a work is often a process of production or re-production, re-staging or re-performance... involving the artist, the curator, art handlers, possibly the audience and increasingly also the conservator. This is where variable media and other forms of live or site specific work inherently blur lines...
Because the process of production is ongoing.
From: Curating digital art - www.crumbweb.org [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Jean Gagnon
Sent: 03 March 2010 12:53
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [NEW-MEDIA-CURATING] Three questions about commissioning variable media
Hi Jon and Richard,
I rarely intervene in this list although I follow it regularly. Here I would like to say a few words concernnig the commissionning of new media works as I did some while I was Curator of Media Arts at the National Gallery of Canada in the 90s and while I was Executive director of the Langlois foundation. Among artists I worked with was Bill Seaman who did a piece called "Red Dice" with the NGC, and David Rokeby who did "Machine for Taking
Time: Boul St.-Laurent" for the Langlois foundation. In both cases, the artist was in total control of the technical aspects, and if he had to collaborate with a programmer, this person was fully recognize in the credit of the piece. In both cases my role was that of a facilitator/fundraiser/coordinator/producer.
There is different kind of commissions. In both of my cases I was involved in dialogue with the artist and the commission was defined with them: the what and the how of the production. With Seaman I proposed him to adapt Malarmé's famous poem "Dice Thrown Never Abolish Chance" because I thought his work, at the time in early to mid 90s, was somewhat inspired by it, Seaman agreed. On top of the roles listed above, I also did work on rewriting the English translation of the actual poem used in the piece. With Rokeby, I really wanted him to do a version of a piece called "Macine for taking time" that had been previously produced at Oakville Galleries in Ontario, so we discussed the relevancy of doing it and finally Rokeby agreed to do the piece that was destined to be installed in the Hall of the cinemas at the Langlois foundation's building in Montreal.
Last point concerning power relations. Depending of your institutional setting you may, as a curator, have more or less so called "power". I find hard to discuss power relations in the abstract. Power is always exercized in an institutional context. And of course being at the National Gallery of Canada or the Langlois foundation is not the same as being in a small artist-run center. But my attitude has always been to give freedom to the artist in the first place as they know more and are the specialist in terms of technology; but it also giving them responsability. The only aspect that always gets in the way is financial ressources. But if you establish the financial framework right off the bat, rarely it is a major problem after.
I hope this contributes somewhat to the discussion
----- Original Message -----
From: "Richard Rinehart" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, March 02, 2010 11:23 PM
Subject: Re: [NEW-MEDIA-CURATING] Three questions about commissioning variable media
> Thanks for starting off the discussion Jon, and to Beryl for inviting
> us and hosting it.
> I'm also looking forward to the reports from DOCAM later in the week,
> and I'm looking forward to hearing everyone's "surgery stories" -
> please send them regardless of what thread we're discussing; real-
> world case studies are a great way to transform theory into practice.
> Now to your provocative questions Jon.
> New media art certainly seems a natural for commissions since there is
> (or was) not such a large body of extant work to "shop" for. And new
> media production is naturally technical, involved, and labor intensive.
> Sometimes the curator or gallery/museum tech staff know as much or
> more about different aspects of the technology as the artist (not
> always, but sometimes). This means that close collaboration is
> necessary, and it also results in the dynamic you mention, where the
> collaborative boundary between curator and artist is blurred.
> On the one hand, this appears to be a good thing; breaking down the
> old curatorial model where the artist is asked politely to drop off
> their work at the loading dock and disappear until opening night (to
> paraphrase Robert Storr). If the curator is more involved in producing
> the work, the artist is conversely more involved in the installation
> and presentation of the work. But, as you also point out; there is a
> power differential here whether or not there is money at stake; the
> curator seems to have an unduly privileged position. This has made me
> a little uncomfortable in the past, but I'm curious about the
> experiences of others here. Is this simply the new mode or a troubling
> by-product of commissioning new media art projects?
> Now allow me to extend this question a little. I've also witnessed new
> media art commissions in which the artist hires a programmer (or Flash
> Developer, or other technical help) in part for labor (truly "work for
> hire") and in part for expertise. The programmer sometimes makes
> critical, fundamental, or creative decisions about the work that
> affect its ultimate look or behavior - and yet their input is often
> not credited in the work (at least not top billed as "artist"). I
> fully realize that artists cannot and should not be expected to know
> every technology or to produce every aspect of their work in order to
> be legitimate (painters don't make their own paints any more) and this
> makes new media inherently more collaborative. But does this create
> another layer in the situation described above with the curator and
> artist? Does it point out a flaw in current standards for documenting
> artwork; standards that favor naming one or two artist-geniuses rather
> than an entire crew? Film production (also technical and
> collaborative) still favors the genius-leader model of the director,
> but at least the documentation standards allow for an expanded
> recognition of roles in production. Worse, does this dynamic help to
> perpetuate the idea of the artist-celebrity who deals in the new art
> world commodity - the concept - without dirtying their hands or problematizing the field of production?
> More soon!
> Richard Rinehart
> Digital Media Director & Adjunct Curator Berkeley Art Museum and
> Pacific Film Archive bampfa.berkeley.edu
> University of California, Berkeley
> 2625 Durant Ave.
> Berkeley, CA, 94720-2250
> On Mar 2, 2010, at 3:16 AM, Jon Ippolito wrote:
>> Thanks, Beryl, for inviting Rick Rinehart and me as guests for this
>> month! Later this week I'll be reporting from the DOCAM conference
>> in Montreal, where we'll unveil the third-generation Variable Media
>> Questionnaire developed by John Bell, and where I expect to learn of
>> other exciting developments culminating from the research that Alain
>> Depocas and the Langlois Foundation have nurtured over the past five
>> years. And I'm looking forward to hearing reports from other
>> correspondents on Friday's BALTIC conference.
>> Rick and I have the distinction, or perhaps more accurately infamy,
>> of having played both roles of artist and curator in various commissions.
>> As a double agent, I see the process as a bit messier than might be
>> visible from the outside. To see if I'm not alone, I'd like to lob
>> some questions at all of you artists, curators, and others who have
>> been, or will soon be, involved in the commission of a variable media work:
>> 1. The process of commissioning offers more give-and-take between
>> artist and curator than just buying work out of a gallery, which is
>> tantamount to shopping at a store for art. But the traditional
>> artistic commission still divides responsibilities according to a
>> consumerist model, this time based on freelance labor: the curator
>> defines the job and hires the artist; the artist makes the work;
>> and, depending on the terms of the agreement, either the artist or
>> the curator inherits the work, along with the sole responsibility to
>> maintain it. I'm interested to know whether the experiences of
>> people on this list have echoed or disrupted this clear division of
>> roles. How involved are curators in the production of the work? How
>> involved are artists in its documentation and preservation? And how
>> subversive can an artwork be if it is "work for hire"?
>> 2. The word "commission" comes from the etymological root "to entrust,"
>> which in medieval Latin became "put into custody." So, from those
>> who've been involved in commissions on this list, I want to know who
>> trusted whom with what, and whether that trust was honored or
>> betrayed. Who got custody of the "child" of this unnatural union
>> between artist and curator? Of the hardware? Of the source code? If
>> the work was created collaboratively, how were the rights and credit
>> apportioned? What did you keep, and what did you let go? Who made out better in the end?
>> 3. How, if at all, did the variability inherent in technological and
>> process-based artwork complicate or enrich your commission? I'm
>> especially interested in any problems you encountered--with an
>> institution, an artist, or a technology--and whether the solution
>> you hit upon was satisfactory.
>> Still Water--what networks need to thrive.