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?
Digital Media Director & Adjunct Curator
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
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.