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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  November 2013

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING November 2013

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Subject:

Re: Art History Online - A partial reflection...

From:

Sarah Cook <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Sarah Cook <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 7 Nov 2013 10:34:51 +0000

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Thanks so much to Charlotte for instigating and hosting such a good and satisfying discussion on the question of "the histories of digital and new media art forms, the spaces and practices of online art contextualisation - or perhaps rather digital art historiography."

I've been quiet this month (adjusting to my new commuting life) but reading along, on trains and planes. There are two things which have come to mind as I reflect on Charlotte's reflection, born of my own recent experiences of thinking about the art history of new media art - and what's been brought up by this theme's inadvertent but telling emphasis on the history of mailing list art/culture.

The first is that trove of art recently found in Munich. Yesterday I mentioned in a talk to colleagues from the sciences and engineering at the University that, "in my field" - meaning media art - we don't stand a chance of that ever happening to us. That is to say, it seems to me highly unlikely that 70+ years from now someone will happen across a server full of early net art and be able to sort it out - identify it, know the artists who made it, value it and exhibit it [art that the museums didn't want to show because it wasn't to their taste at the time (please know I don't mean to address the politics of a government's agenda labelling some work and some artists as acceptable and some not… but there is an undercurrent there).]
I was surprised that colleagues (from the department of computing) disagreed with me. They suggested I was underestimating peoples' personal hard drive stashes (I had said one part of the problem was that artists were hosting work on corporately controlled servers). They said files are always readable/retrievable. An art conservator said he often came across troves of reel-to-reel tapes of audio and video art, or performance documentation, and was still able to watch, listen, and digitise them. And perhaps some of what has been said on this suggests as much. What do people think? I think there might be a parallel here to, to Charlotte's query about the work of Hasan - how do you compile a case study of the death of an art historian who worked entirely online? We must have more than a few of those living art historians in our midsts. Would their hard drive stashes tell us something about the art or about how the art was historicised?

The second thing is that Grayson Perry mentioned the work of Jon Thomson & Alison Craighead, and Sherrie Rabinovitch and Kit Galloway's Hole in Space, in his third Reith lecture (for those of you not in the UK who missed this series of lectures, you can download the podcasts, and transcripts of the talks, here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/reith). In part thanks to Charlie Gere who pointed him in that direction. This was exciting (I and CRUMB colleague Axel Lapp have just opened a show of Thomson & Craighead's work at MEWO Kunsthalle in Memmingen, and edited a new book on their work published together with Dundee Contemporary Arts)… and also a bit frustrating, because Grayson Perry made the point that artists can't compete with technology. Sigh. They're not trying! That seems to me the wrong metric, isn't it? He noted that "in the past artists were the real innovators of technology, they had often quite prophetic interventions" - and then he described Hole in Space as the precursor to Skype. Yes, but…. ? I was encouraged that he noted that "technology … is so amazingly quick and brilliant it changes the way we look at art, certain sorts of art" -- but I would have loved him to have said that the point of artists working with technology is that they can change the way you look at technology too. On one hand, it is not the most important thing what a 'cross dressing potter' as he calls himself, naively but generously says about the media art field. On the other hand the audience for those lectures is huge, and they will become a teaching tool, and the hashtag trended on Twitter… and…

Both incidences made me think harder about my, and our shared responsibility towards art history of the present. I still would love to discuss further some tactics (okay, call them methodologies if you want) for this - from curating, to writing/publishing (academic or not), and lecturing/teaching.

Sarah




On 7 Nov 2013, at 07:54, Charlotte Frost <[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>> wrote:



I'll be honest, this has been a very strange month (when I say month, I'm
really talking about October but of course it's now November and I wouldn't
discount the last few days from that strangeness.).

When I approached Beryl and Sarah to host October's discussion I had certain
hopes or aims for the month, some of which I've achieved, some of which I've
had to discard and some of which I've failed at. For example, I intended to
spend the first week talking about mailing list culture itself, filling in
the gaps in my knowledge and considering the way lists are valuable art
historical archives. But, when everyone was so generous in sharing their own
list experiences and the initial topic spread beyond the first week I had to
take stock. Do I move onto the next writers or do I keep with this. Of
course a list can contain many threads of discussion, but you have to get a
balance - and for the first time I was learning exactly what it's like to be
a list moderator who has to make such decisions. Colleagues at my new
university suggested I step back and let the discussions play out. And I was
inclined to agree. After all, I really needed observe not just what people
thought about the history of lists, but also how lists are used now. It was
therefore every bit as important to me to learn who used what list and when,
as to discover that some people still really understand the list space while
others have sworn off lists for eternity or migrated to different platforms.
Plus, the initial success of October saw a rush of people unsubscribing.

A corollary of that was that it suddenly seemed wrong to share drafts of
what I'd written about list culture. I suppose this is an ethnographic
issue. How do you measure the impact you're having on what you observe? So
instead, I continued to speak to people off list about how they might
contribute (discussions that had been happening for some months as I was
keen to find a way to build a resource that might parallel or oppose the
book I'm writing with lots of voices.) Many people had told me in the months
before the discussion that they either didn't have the time required for
list discussion or they didn't like the format any more. Fair enough, I
thought, I'll pass on bites of the rest of the web and the discussion can
sprawl across different platforms as it sees fit. I was surprised to
discover, for example, that my Facebook page could host one of the most
successful discussion threads of the month - where I asked about Luther
Blissett and NN and got deluged with comments. I even got many private
messages and emails helping me build a better picture of what these entities
had done and meant at the time - and was given very useful advice on how to
proceed with due care and attention to those hurt by such actions.

This was extremely interesting for me not least because, during the month I
also did an interview on my own research practices with a PhD student at
UCL. I was invited to explain how I gather and protect material and even how
I work with topics where the histories are complex and or more oral. This
was the perfect example of trying to piece together a history I didn't
witness which effectively destroyed some of the archives that were recording
it. Not an easy thing to research and analyse, but here I was hosting a
discussion that was not only giving me the information I needed, but showing
me some definite methods for gathering that material and making me even more
aware of the politics of gathering such data. Indeed this also came out when
I discussed whether lists could be archived. I was planning on putting in a
funding application to make a test case and see whether data could be
restored tided up a bit. I had this vision of creating a way to keyword and
categorise list content so that newcomers could access long-buried texts.
But already I could see from people's comments that this was going to be too
divisive - if not too difficult a task.

One of the things that really struck me during the month was how much people
were talking about lists again - particularly off-list - and the way this
had partly performed a re-archivisation. Much of the history of lists is
actually stored in people. It's a very oral history. Although we have the
archives of texts, lists were built on human connections, face-to-face
meetings and discussions. Many people emailed me off list to tell me how
they'd been  reminiscing and this made me think about how, by
re-articulating that history, it was being taken forward anyway. OK, so we
don't end up with a more accessible archive, as such, but we do end up with
the relevant stories being passed on and that's more than a start.

On top of the challenge of the different topics I'd set out to discuss
(which, I noted, many thought were too broad for focused discussion), then
there was also a problem with getting different tribes of people to talk in
the same space. I tried desperately to get people like Paddy Johnston (from
artfcity fame) to talk about her own history as an art critical blogger, but
to no avail. I also tried to get the art history blogging community to talk
but this discussion thread suffered a very different and tragic fate (which
I'll come back to). People were telling me in email, on Facebook message and
via Twitter direct message that they didn't feel comfortable talking on a
list. Some of them said that all the reminiscing that had gone on - and
which was extremely useful to me for my research - had made them feel
excluded. They didn't see how their own online art writing connected
somehow. And then I brought in fabulous - or so I thought - examples of work
that examine everything from art-focsed discussion lists to Twitter and it
didn't really get picked up on. For example, for me, Lori Waxman's 60wrd/min
art critic is a fascinating project that makes art critical labour visible,
asks after the acceleration of all things art world (from faster writing to
faster viewing) and considers how writing contributes meaning and value to
works. By this point, having decided not to share my own rough drafts, I was
left second-guessing how to proceed. If Waxman's work isn't being discussed
would mine?

And then, in the worst case imaginable of directly experiencing an aspect of
list/online life, I was knocked for six by losing an online collaborator.
Just as people had reminisced about the strong connections they'd made
online, through lists, a man I've written publicly and privately to and with
for several years passed away suddenly. By this point I found I was directly
experiencing what it's like to moderate (great research for the book), how
lists are still a complex and contested territory (great research for the
book) and then how intertwined our on and offline lives are (great research
for the......[insert collapsing on the floor emoticon here])

In fact, the death of Hasan Niyazi has gone on to become something I could
never have imagined. Firstly he was the gracious gatekeeper to the art
history blog camp. He'd surveyed the activities of some 30 or so art history
bloggers and we were working on a paper together. If I ever had any hope of
getting art history bloggers to talk about their work on this list it would
be through him. And so he passed just hours after writing a blog post to
them all asking them to join in. So not only did nobody ever take up his
call (actually that's not true, a few people did) but by the time we'd all
heard the news, we were onto more important things. Then I went AWOL from
this discussion, not just because I was grieving for a man I've never met
but because we - the community of people who had worked alongside him online
- were suddenly implicated in considering the legacy of his work. I'll be
honest, his work is waaaaaay off topic for me, and I did tease him about his
prose style and formal approach but I knew that as an outsider art
historian, he always saw such formal behaviour as the key to the door.
Anyway, not only are there his online projects to consider (and thankfully
he'd once thought to give his partner all his passwords) but then there's
the unfinished work - things he was working on with me and others and the
entire case study of the death of an art historian who works entirely
online. So while I was supposed to be talking to all of you, I was actually
in a Google Doc with the network of people brought even closer together by
Hasan's death, trying to work out a way forwards. Asking who would take on
which resource and ifwe could form a committee to agree on whether I can use
material we were producing together and indeed if everyone will permit me -
sometime in the future - to write about this curious and painful case study
in digital art history and online art discussion.

There is a wealth of information in this month's discussion that I've barely
scratched the surface of and I'd like to thank everyone who shared on-list
and off because you've provided more than I could have hoped  for (both in
terms of content and experience). I also hope you'll be willing to speak to
me privately in the coming months as I work through these links and ideas
and have more questions.

But for now I wish you all the unicorn chasing and cat herding your heart
desiresS

Charlotte




===

Dr. Sarah Cook
Reader / Dundee Fellow
Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design
University of Dundee
13 Perth Road DD1 4HT

phone: 01382 385247
email: [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>





The University of Dundee is a registered Scottish Charity, No: SC015096

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