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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING  March 2015

NEW-MEDIA-CURATING March 2015

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Subject:

Re: Emerging Ideas: March 2015 Discussion

From:

Suzy <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Suzy <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 23 Mar 2015 12:57:39 +0000

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Hi all,

The final week of our March discussion has begun. I would like to thank the contributors we have had thus far for sharing their thoughts and wide-ranging experiences. I look forward to hearing more this week. ; ) 

Thanks a million Memo for your detailed post, where you have raised some interesting points to add to our discussion. It may have been delayed, but it was certainly worth the wait ; )

Your description of your early and evolving career highlights existing ‘models of production’ for artists and the wider infrastructures available to both young, emerging and more established practitioners in this field, that support the development of art they wish to create.

You identify some key artistic motivations for engaging with industry, such as ‘Artist R&D’. And acknowledge that engaging with industry provides an opportunity to ‘investigate modes of communication that would perhaps otherwise not be possible’ for you. You also articulate some of the motivations that drive those in industry to engage with artists in developing creative work.

It was great to get your insight into the ‘delicate tensions’ that can arise when motivations are not aligned and the impact this can have on relationships and the final outputs. And to learn about the key areas that you feel are important for a successful collaboration; shared vision, short chain of command, creative freedom, a ‘no strings attached’ approach, trust, shared understanding of the exploratory artistic process, valuing the conceptual motivation behind the artwork, a shared language that communicates how each collaborator (arts and business) functions and what they value, and an acknowledgement of cultural differences between the arts and business.

The strategies and approaches that different brands you have engaged with have used to engage artists has also been useful to read about, from Sony to McLaren to Saatchi & Saatchi. And you paint a hopeful picture of how key individuals and a younger, more open minded generation emerging within the commercial world of brands, are making progress from within.

You also provide some tangible examples of how curators can evolve the cultural exchange between the arts and creative digital industries. 

It would be interesting to hear more thoughts on this from the list.

Best wishes,

Suzy


 Suzy O'Hara 
e:[log in to unmask]
t: 07891719319
twitter: @suzy_o_hara

PhD Researcher
www.crumbweb.org
www.intopractice.com

Curator & Arts Producer
Thinking Digital Arts
www.thinkingdigital.co.uk/arts 


On 17 Mar 2015, at 21:34, Memo Akten <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Hi everyone, thanks for the invite Suzy, and apologies for coming to the discussion so late, I've been very tied up these past weeks. In an effort to make up, I wrote all of the below quite quickly in one afternoon almost as a stream of consciousness dump so again apologies if it's a bit long. 
>  
> NB I've actually been on crumb for a few years (since 2009/2010 I think) but I believe this will be my first post.
>  
>  
> I'll talk about my work and experience in context of the primary discussion theme, also reflecting on the themes mentioned so far. There's a lot to be said so I'll try and keep it brief (though I'm sure I'll fail). The text below could perhaps be complemented by a brief talk I gave at Digital Utopias a few months ago, about production models (under the disruptive innovation umbrella http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/jobs-and-conferences/conferences/digital-utopias/ )
>  
>  
> My experience in this field (collaborations between the Arts and Creative Digital Industry sectors) is perhaps a bit different to the partnerships mentioned so far. I have exhibited work and have had work commissioned by partnerships with corporate sponsors. But I've also ridden this wave all the way into the firey pits of hell - working directly with brands and ad agencies - and back.
>  
>  
> -= A brief history of time =-
>  
> First a bit of background information, as this might help shed light on how or why I ended up on this slippery slope. I grew up in Turkey, and completed a degree in Civil Engineering. Not at all something I was interested in, but somehow found myself in due to the education system and my environment etc. (in the late 80s, early 90s). As soon as I finished university I escaped to London, to pursue a life that wouldn't involve being a civil engineer, or going to the army. 
>  
> I was so naïve and ignorant to the models of production available to artists, that I thought the *only* way an artist could make art, is if they found ways of financially supporting it themselves. I most definitely am not a businessman or an entrepreneur, but I found I had no other choice to try and find ways of self-funding my work.
>  
> 
> -= The Mega Super Awesome Visuals Company =-
> So in 2006 I setup The Mega Super Awesome Visuals Company - a micro-studio which consisted of just myself, and was a channel through which I could sell my services, and in return gain experience, skills and of course the funds to develop my own work.
>  
> I did that for quite a few years e.g.
> Commercial work:
> Depeche Mode music video (2009)
> Wombats music video (2010)
> Blaze (2010)
> Cascada (2011)
>  
> The above gave me the time, funds and technical skills to realize personal self-initiated and self-funded work such as
> Body Paint (2009) and Gold (2009) toured with the V&A's Decode exhibition.
> Simple Harmonic Motion #5 (2011 - ongoing) was part of Ron Arad's Curtain Call at the Roundhouse, London
>  
> And publicly funded work such as
> My Secret Heart (2008) premiered at the Royal Festival Hall and won a number of awards.
> Forms (2012) won the Golden Nica at the Prix Ars Electronica.
>  
> Of course these self-initiated / self-funded or publicly funded work also fed back into the commercial work that I was doing. So there was a constant feedback loop supporting itself.
>  
>  
> -= Marshmallow Laser Feast =-
> I had no ambitions of owning or managing a large company, so I didn't try to grow MSA Visuals. At the same time I was thoroughly enjoying collaborating with friends I'd made on this journey. So in 2011, with two friends I setup a new company called Marshmallow Laser Feast. Again we didn't have aims of growing the company. We just wanted to be able to independently do the work that we wanted to do. We wanted to artistically explore new mediums, new ways of expressing ourselves, and not limiting ourselves to any particular genre, output, discipline, medium or context. Whether it be visual, sound, dance, theatre, film, live performance or commercial. This was the ethos I had with MSA Visuals, and now carried on into MLF (and even though I've now left MLF, I still carry to this day).
>  
> Prior to MLF, the commercial work that I was doing on my own was through music labels, event agencies, creative agencies etc. With MLF we slipped into working with ad agencies and even directly with brands, and that opened up the doors to a whole new world of opportunity and pain.
>  
> It's worth mentioning a few inspirations or 'role models' when we were setting up MLF:
> 
> BMW Kinetic Sculpture (2008) by Art+com, commissioned by BMW
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlx-M53dC7M
>  
> Absolut Quartet (2008) by Jeff Lieberman & Dan Paluska, commissioned by Absolut.
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1e9AJVtuCKc
>  
> Giant Xylophone in Forest (2011)  by Drill Inc, commissioned by NTT Docomo
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c84C6YZirzE
>  
>  
> These were examples of what we were hoping to achieve. Ambitious, genre-busting, anti-disciplinary work that were crossing boundaries, reaching large audiences, inspiring others and not compromising their integrity through brand funding (this last point isn't entirely true actually, especially in the BMW / Art+Com case; I’ll talk about this below).
>  
>  
> With MLF we made a lot of work that I am very proud of. Work that - judging by the number of clones they've produced, other works that cite these as references, conferences we've been invited to as a result etc - has had a significant cultural impact.
>  
> Sony Playstation 3 Video Store virals (2011)
> A live projection mapping of a living room.
> http://www.memo.tv/sony-playstation3-video-store/
>  
> Meet Your Creator (2012)
> A live theatrical performance / kinetic light sculpture with quadrotor drones, LEDs, motorized mirrors and moving head spotlights dancing in a joyous robo-ballet celebration of techno-spirituality.
> http://www.memo.tv/meet-your-creator/
>  
> McLaren P1 light Painting (2012)
> A stop-motion, long exposure photography light painting animation, driven by real-life wind tunnel data and motion control rigs.
> http://www.memo.tv/mclaren-p1-light-painting/
>  
> Laser Forest (2013)
> A large interactive musical laser forest
> http://www.memo.tv/laser-forest/
>  
> Just for hits (2013)
> A provocation on creativity, memes, cultural evolution and internet culture; featuring Professor Richard Dawkins.
> http://www.memo.tv/just-for-hits/
>  
>  
> I am very proud of this work. I think we explored interesting new territory - and quite importantly, inspired others. E.g. I know for a fact that the Sony PlayStation videos inspired a lot of work which went on to win many awards. And to me that is much more important than winning awards for my own work.
>  
> But I of course I wouldn't call the Sony Playstation project 'my artwork'. It's a commercial, for Sony Playstation. Likewise with the McLaren P1 video. And the BMW Kinetic Sculpture.
>  
> -= Artistic R&D and motivation =-
> I value projects like the Sony Playstation mapping, McLaren Light Painting etc as *Artistic R&D*. They allow me time, space and facilities to investigate modes of communication that would perhaps otherwise not be possible for me. These investigations operate on many levels: Visual, sonic, physical, interaction, storytelling, technical. I learn from them and will hopefully be able to inject what I've learnt into further work. And like I mentioned above, hopefully these projects are also a stepping stone for *others* to learn from, be inspired by and fuel *their* further work (which in turn will hopefully inspire and fuel *my* further work).
>  
> However where it gets tricky is when motivations are not aligned; and this is the biggest issue I find when working with commercial organizations vs cultural organizations - motivation. Often while *we* are motivated by artistic R&D, commercial commissioners are motivated by something else - getting more hits on youtube, more shares on facebook, selling more products, winning an award, getting a promotion etc. And it can be very tiring trying to pull a project in one direction, while those who are commissioning you are trying to pull it in another direction.
>  
> So there's a delicate tension here. With the Sony PlayStation project, or the McLaren project, on one hand the brand / agency gave us the opportunity, facility and possibilities of exploring what we wanted to explore; but with strings attached in that we had to deliver something which communicated what they wanted us to communicate. We had to have a PlayStation in there, or a McLaren.
>  
> This model works, but it is very tiring.
>  
> But it's not all doom and gloom (more on this in the Learnings section).
>  
> -= Perfection =-
> "Meet Your Creator" was a very different beast. To me that project is perfect. Not that it's perfectly conceptualized or realized. But that as an experience working with a brand (Saatchi & Saatchi) it was in no way compromised. On the contrary - the creative directors at Saatchi & Saatchi Jonathan Santana and Xander Smith; the producer Juliette Larthe; all the way up to the Head of Global Operations Norma Clarke were so absolutely fantastic and aligned in vision with us. They were not only aligned in vision with us, but collaborators, they were pulling the project forward in conceptualization, ideation - and of course production. There were no strings attached, just a shared vision and determination to realize that vision.
>  
> So while this performance is obviously still promoting the brand Saatchi & Saatchi, there isn't a single decision made in the design of the performance, that was made because it suited the brand better. Every single decision was made because we thought it was the right decision for the performance. And S&S realize that in the long run, that was better to promote their brand, than attach strings that would force us to stick their logo in there or some corporate message. Instead they saw the value in simply being able to promote the finished piece as commissioned by S&S. (you wouldn't believe the number of emails we still get from brands wanting us to fly quadrotors in the shape of their logo :/ )
>  
> So in my mind the way that project came about was perfect. The work itself of course is far from perfect, but then again what work is perfect? The outcome is true to our vision, it is perfectly representative of what we set out to achieve, limited of course by what we were technically and financially able to achieve - but at least we were not crippled by having to make compromises due to the brand funding. In my mind it is no different to making a personal artwork.
>  
>  
> -= The End =-
> That project happing in 2011/2012, got me very excited and hopeful about the future. Unfortunately I never experienced that kind of brand relationship again (except for in 2013, again with S&S for the "Just for hits" performance).
>  
> More on this in the Learnings section, but as the years went on I became more and more disillusioned by the work we were doing.
>  
> The last commercial project I worked on with Marshmallow Laser Feast was a U2 music video & super-bowl commercial for Bank of America / RED. A collaboration with legend Mark Romanek (which was probably the highlight of the job for me).
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajVoeX4eqIQ
>  
> This project summed up everything that I was not happy with about the commercial world. We spent about 3-4 weeks pitching (which is actually very short, some pitches can last months, if not years), and then we had 3 week development time (yes, I know that's crazy - especially because it was over christmas / new year). The basic idea ended up being taking what I had done 6 years earlier, and throwing a whole bunch of money at it, to make it BIGGER, and MORE WOW, because BIGGER IS BETTER.
>  
> Over the years this is what I feel I (and MLF) had become. Maker of spectacles. Every day I was receiving emails from some ad agency who wanted the next big thing. It had to be "bigger than before", "never before seen" (at least "never before seen" in the ad-world, it was ok if only a hand-full of people had seen it in an art-context), and a "be there moment" which everyone would want to share on facebook etc. Taking something small and throwing money at it to make it big was a very valid strategy.
>  
> So I resigned from MLF, the company that I'd co-founded 3 years earlier. I stepped down as (co-)director and left the company beginning of 2014. I've now gone back to being an independent artist (and on a side note, started a PhD at Goldsmiths in Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, cognitive science, data dramatization and artistic, expressive human computer interaction).
>  
>  
> -= Learnings =-
> I don't think it's all doom and gloom. But before I talk about that, I want to reflect on a few things.
>  
> -= Budget ~ Strings=-
> An important rule, is that amount of creative freedom is inversely proportional to production budget. Our budgets were growing and growing (our fees weren't necessarily growing, but the production budgets we were dealing with - which were usually handled by the client side - were growing). And as the production budgets grew, amount of strings attached also grew.
>  
> An interesting side point to this, is that the formula that governs the relationship between amount of strings attached and production budget, also takes into account who you are. So Person A might have N amount of strings attached for a budget X, but person B might have M amount of strings attached for the same budget. Negotiating that is all part of the fun (fun if you're a masochist, otherwise it's a major PITA and waste of time).
>  
>  
> -= Chain of Command =-
> Another important factor which I often mention is "chain of command". It's a very simple and obvious rule, but often gets overlooked, and that is the shorter the chain of command, the better the work will be. All of the commercial projects which I'm happy with, had a very short chain of command. I.e. we were in direct communication with the people at the client side who had the authority to sign off on all decisions. Or even if they didn't have the authority to sign off on the decisions themselves, they had to report to one level of superiors, but that was more of a formality, and they were always confident that they could get sign off from their superiors relatively easily. I.e. their superiors had faith in them.
>  
> I've also been involved with a number of projects where we were dealing with a creative director at an agency who had to report to his manager who had to report to the executive creative director who had to report to head of blah who had to report to the other agency who had to report to the boss at blah who had to report to the account manager who had to report to the producer at the client etc. etc. Without exaggerating, sometimes these tiers would be 10 levels deep. Or we'd have "creative meetings" with 10-15 people. Full of people who are fighting for promotion, eager to make their voice heard and their input count. NOTHING WILL EVER COME OF THIS. It's a waste of time.
>  
> Furthermore, linking the above two: the bigger the production budget, the higher the probability of having a longer chain of command. Something to be wary of. 
>  
>  
> -= Trust =-
> Again linked to the above two points, when a client puts in a lot of money, they want to know what they're going to get at the end. This is quite contradictory to the way I work - and I presume most artists. If I knew what I was going to get at the end of an exploratory process, it wouldn't be an exploratory process. It would be just a linear development process. The most successful (and fun) projects I've worked on, are the ones where I (or we) have not had pressure at the start of the project to promise exactly what we would deliver at the end. We've only promised where we'll start, and in what direction(s) we'll explore, and then we've documented our progress.
>  
> That requires a lot of trust from the commissioning body. With cultural organizations, I find this is easier to establish. It's easier because there is more of a personal relationship, that builds over long periods of time, sometimes years. Also the exploratory process is known, it's expected.
>  
> In the commercial world, expectations are different. They're used to seeing storyboards and style-guides at the start; and then everything going according to their plan. Also these long personal relationships are tricky, because the world is so volatile. Even if you manage to build personal relationships, if you have a long chain of command (again that damn chain), it's often not possible to make sure you have a personal relationship with everyone in that chain.
>  
> The one commercial project I've been involved with which I hold as an example of how all brand commissioned art should be (Meet Your Creator) was made possible because we had an existing relationship with the client (Saatchi & Saatchi) from prior work, and they trusted us. And again, quite critically, because the chain of command was so short, we just needed to have this trusted relationship with a very small group of people (Jonathan, Xander, Norma and Juliette - which is the exact same group of people we worked with the year before). If the chain of command is really long, even if you have a solid trusted relationship with some people in the chain, if new people come into the chain who don't have that trust with you or their peers, it all falls apart again. 
> 
> 
> It's also worth pointing out, that having a long-term trusted relationship isn't enough. Neither is having a short chain of command. You need those, but you also need to make sure that the people you're dealing with on the client-side are awesome, and that isn't always the case. 
>  
>  
> -= Danger =-
> The most dangerous situation, is when you start discussions with a client / brand / agency, and at the start it seems like everything is perfect. Motivations are completely aligned, there are no strings attached, chain of command is very short. Everything is awesome. This happens surprisingly often.
>  
> But unfortunately everything is rarely awesome. Only after months of friendly chats and enthusiastic discussions do you realize that even though motivations are completely aligned with the people you're dealing with, perhaps the chain of command isn't as short as you thought, perhaps someone new has been assigned at the client side at the very far side of the chain, perhaps there are more strings than you'd initially realized, perhaps the new person wants to make a teensy weensy change that doesn't really affect the project but actually for you that undermines the whole concept of the work.
>  
> But by this point you've invested so much time into the discussions (perhaps even money), but most critically you've become emotionally engaged with the project, that you find it difficult to let go. In fact sometimes you come to this realization so far down the line, that it's "quicker to swim to the finish than it is to go back". So you just bite the bullet and finish it, trying to make the most of it. I.e. it becomes "artistic R&D" when you'd set out to make "an artwork".
>  
> Learning to assess a commercial opportunity early on is a very valuable skill.
>  
>  
> -= Cultural differences =-
> At the heart of it, the biggest issue is the cultural differences between those who are in the world of art, and those who are in the business of selling products.
>  
> The most obvious difference of course, is that a lot of people in the brand world - especially those in marketing and advertising - just don't care, about anything. They literally don't give a **** about anything other than making money. These stereotypes do exist, and they ruin it for everyone. 
> 
> However I should make it clear that in my experience not everyone in that world is like that. I'd also like to underline the fact that I am most definitely not endorsing the view that "art world == good; corporate world== bad". Both sides are as ignorant and *prejudiced* as each other. Plenty of artists whose work I deeply respect and admire, have said things that frankly quite shock me in their ignorance, naivety and prejudice. There is the assumption (at least amongst many artists I know) that *everyone* in the brand / commercial world is like the above mentioned stereotypes: blindly driven, determined and obsessed to corrupt, destroy and take over the world with their ads and corporate tactics. In fact many of these claims - which I put down to blatant ignorance - are further fuelled when these artists refuse to even engage in discussion with the said evil corporate perpetrators (often due to a moral high ground).
>  
> A lot of the problems arising between the commercial and art world is due to this ignorance. Ignorance to how the other side functions and what they value. (Isn't this the root of ALL problems in the world? - In fact now that I have one foot in academia, I can see the same issues re: academia vs real world).
>  
> There are a lot of people in the commercial world (perhaps even majority) who have genuinely good intentions.
> However they may not possess the language to articulate their intentions in a way that would make them accepted in the art world. In effect, the problem simply becomes one of communication. A tier down from that, they may even show different intentions. But again often these differences can easily be reconciled if caught early on.
>  
>  
> -= Disrupting from within =-
> One interesting point regarding what I've witnessed in the commercial world (e.g. ad agencies), is that those who are younger and more junior, are more likely to be open to learning about how to engage with cultural organizations and artists. They genuinely want to "do good" and instigate change. Unfortunately they often have less power, and access to smaller budgets etc. Those who are older, more experienced, and have more power are often more stubborn and want to do things the old-fashioned way. Just concentrate on making money. Of course this makes complete sense, even from a Darwinian evolutionary point of view (those who are in high power positions are there because they are more interested in doing what it takes to get to a high power position), and unfortunately this makes progress difficult. But if we are patient, and do not give up engaging with the younger, more open minded generation, they will hopefully instigate change from within as they grow within their companies. 
>  
> The 'Rules of engagement' approach is a good starting point, but it isn't enough. There needs to be a deep cultural change in both sides of the debate. The current trends, incubator programs, artist in residence etc are all good initiatives too and helping these cultural shifts to varying degrees, but are still acting on the surface. We need much deeper penetration.
>  
> As Tatiana talks about, disrupting from within is the only real solution. I've been trying to disrupt the commercial world from within for almost a decade. I've now left the front-line of this battle as I'm exhausted from it, and I don't think I'm equipped with the right tools.
>  
> I feel like it's not "artist-in-residence" programs that we need in corporate organizations, but "curator-in-residence" programs. And not for 4-12 weeks, but 4-12 months. I can go and do a residency for a few weeks at some startup in SF, but what good does that *really* do if I'm just focusing on trying to get some work out the door in a few weeks and I'm only liasing with someone from their marketing team, whose only connection to "art" is following a few cool techy blogs (of which there's now more than there are artists in the world probably. And they all copy paste each others posts. We need sites that will rip our work apart, not just copy paste it all over the place - that's a whole other topic, but I think an important part of this cultural shift that we need).
>  
> Besides, most of the tech-artist-in-residence programs attract relatively young, emerging artists (perhaps because they offer very low fees and only "good exposure"?). (Excluding exceptions) these young emerging artists perhaps don't yet have the life-experience or understanding to have an impact on the commercial organizations they are resident in. On the contrary, these commercial organizations may be assimilating the artists in residence more than the artists are assimilating the commercial organizations.
>  
> This should be an added incentive to why we must first let experienced curators - such as yourselves - deep into the commercial world, and try to assimilate them from within. Curators such as yourselves can start sowing the seeds of this cultural exchange. And then you bring in artists-in-residence and engage with them within commercial organizations; you instigate partnership programs with cultural organizations from within, reaching out as opposed to reaching in from outside, or marketing managers trying to do so (and failing to do it properly). Then hopefully the channels of communication between the two worlds will be open, clear and fruitful. And both sides will see more of and  learn how the other side expects to operate. 
>  
>  
> Of course this is not easy. It's going to be hard, and very painful. But if we don't at least aim for it, then it's never going to happen.
>  
> 
> I feel like I've written a lot and perhaps this is a good point to sign off and let the discussion continue.
>  
> P.S. I can't not pay homage to Andy Cameron, who really fought hard to make deep cultural changes in the ad world. And he was making progress. Slow progress - as he was pretty much the only person that deep inside within the walls of an ad agency with his background - but progress was there. So tragic that he went so young.
>  
> 
> Memo Akten
> www.memo.tv
> @memotv
>   
>   

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