Re: [-empyre-] Curating new Media - fwd from Tim Murray

Unstable Ground: Curating New Media

I would like to open these comments on the unstable ground of new media
curating with a quote from a philosopher who has provided me with helpful
intellectual guidance as a curator. Already in 1977, Deleuze linked the
enormous delay of digital instability with the redefinition of the
conventional notion of the ontological subject. In Dialogues with Claire
Parnet, he insisted that "we are always in a zone of intensity or flux which
is common both to our local ventures and to very distant global situations,
to very distant geographical milieu" (Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet,
Dialogues [Paris: Flammarion, 1996 (1st ed., 1997]. Little could this
philosopher of the rhizome have foreseen the intensification of cross-global
identity that has been catalyzed by the internet, that has been resisted by
state and corporate sponsored digital surveillance procedures, and that has
been morphed, manipulated, and mutated by artists of the wired between.
The distinction between the local and the distant, for instance, has been
diminished by the speed of internet communication just as the global
commonality of communicational and artistic flux has increased dramatically
with material and virtual advances in digital technology. Hypertext has
destabilized the local anchorage of textuality while softwares like Flash
and Cosmo have intensified the energetics of visual representation. At the
core of the digital zone, moreover, is rapid access to the global,
informational archive that simultaneously delights and overwhelms any user
who turns to it only for empirical certainty, historical veracity, and
subjective validation. In the zone of the internet, the graphic certitude of
the factual is entwined in the figural play of the fictional, the privacy of
the personal erodes with the interactivity of the social, the patient
quietude of reading is interlaced with the jumpy quickness of surfing, and
the quasi-religious contemplation of textuality and high art becomes newly
energized by the flashy multi-media quacking of art in the electrifying zone
of the internet. All of this happens across the cartographic boundaries of
local space, regional territory, and global extension. All of this,
moreover, creates an energetically shifting terrain for the collaborative
interaction of curator, artist, editor, and user.
While boosting energy, the internet must also be acknowledged to renew the
reality of entropy. With the new celebration of cybersubjectivity (where the
subject is no longer a subject but a rhizome, a cartographic pulse, a Body
without Organs,) comes the intense expansion of remote control and remote
division. Just as individual access to global interlocutors and archival
information enhances the quality of the human experience, so do global media
ventures work to monopolize the internet, to capitalize on its free-spirited
inventions, and to reconfigure local particularity into global universalism.
The profit of global capitalism comes at the expense of those on the wrong
side of the digital divide.
The paradox of the system of remote control is, of course, that it too is
subject to the return of the oppressed in the form of terroristic termites,
the disruptive viruses, virtual threats, commercial parodies, and even
cloning of artistic sites. Viral parody is the new life form of
Net. art celebrates the rhizomatic energy of the digital domain and imagines
the more entropic aspects of what Arthur and Marilouise Kroker call "digital
delirium." "Digital delirium" here includes the pulsating combinations of
futuristic colors and historical artifacts, their eerie dwellings in the
zones of fear and fantasy, their acute contemplation of geography and
enterprise, their libidinal projections of sense and sensation, their
guarded presentations of media and mediation, and their excessively playful,
artistic embodiment of the rhizome, the multiface, the termite, and the
mutating genome.
A massive machinery of proactive supervision and tactical knowledge, art
itself benefits from the transience of the net while also suffering from the
entropic condition of (lack of) capital. has provided artists with
shareware, appropriated imagery and footage, and global interaction with
which to experiment with new multimedia platforms and represent the
vicissitudes of subjective life and the depths of world memory. Yet the
instability of digital commerce contributes to the paradox of the's
freedom. While celebrates its openness to group collaboration,
continual revision, and momentary existence, conditions which are alien to
the archival practice of museum art, to the standards of individual,
artistic genius, and to independence and authority of curatorial oversight, is equally frustrated by its dependence on a new global system of
patronage and surveillance. Perhaps not since the Renaissance has the
representation of art been so indebted to the power of the patron. The
patron, in this instance, is not so much the individual donor who once
provided artists with lodging, sustenance, and materials for the creation of
commissioned art. Now the patrons are the organizational commissions that
provide revenue for webspace and the networks and sites that choose or
choose not provide space and memory to house innovative projects in
While many pieces thrive from ongoing revision and alteration by
their makers, often in response to feedback and collaborations of their
users, others disappear from the zone of the internet having lost their
leases on sponsoring sites (the recent controversy providing a
case in point).
It is in this context that those of us with curatorial access and capital
share the responsibility of "remote control" and should feel compelled to
articulate strategic, if not long-term, responses to these systems of
maintenance and control. In raising these issues, I also want to position
them in relation to the massive shift that has reoriented the curatorial
enterprise thanks to a number of conceptual paradigms deriving from digital
practice: open source coding, extensive collaboration between curators and
artists (young and old), off-site and temporary exhibition, new paradigms of
digital communication, software, and interactivity, and a redefinition of
the curatorial space and relation between traditional "local" objects and
digital "remote" ones. Indeed, to foreground this combination of factors, I
have asked Priamo Lozada and Norie Neumark to join me in a discussion of
both the global and pedagogical expansion of curatorial practice away from
the traditional centers of the dominant museums.

In the context of raising these questions about curatorial agency that I
would like to summarize three recent curatorial projects in which I have
tried, for better or worse, to energize the in-between space of curatorial
Partially in response to the transience of .art on the net, I joined with
Teo Spiller of Ljubljana, Slovenia in an experimental competition that
featured at the INFOS2000 Festival, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in an
"off-line" format ( was for this
curatorial statement of this exhibition, "Free Floating Rhizomes: Off-Line
Net.Art," that I first penned some of the concerns expressed above. The
purpose was not to wrench from its liberational confines, but to
reflect further on the notion of the confine itself, and to prompt
innovative thought about the spontaneous nature of softwares and
projects as they float free of the network specific territory that often has
birthed them. While some artists responded to the call for entries by saying
that such "off-line" birthing meant the literal death of, we
preferred to think of the off-line zone as a new circuit of net.intensity.
The pieces were submitted to us on 2MB files for transfer to an exibition
CD-Rom. Artists were asked to agree to have their works copied at will. The
CD-Rom format of this exhibition permitted its physical transfer
among casual visitors to INFOS 2000 who might not otherwise have the
curatorial information or cultural interest to access these individual
projects on the web. The paradoxical off-line format of this show
also provided the curators with the means to disseminate it to cultural
institutions in locales and regions where high-speed cable is an anomaly.
The CD-Rom was distributed as a supplement of M'ars: Magazine of the Museum
of Modern Art, Ljubljana, and sent for free to international, independent
art centers. In presenting this exhibition in off-line form, we offered it
for use to individuals, public social centers, schools, and libraries in
economically besieged zones that might not have access to the high speed
connections necessary for the ideal presentation of the majority of the projects here presented. While celebrating our selection of artists
who chose to profit from the most complicated of softwares and digital
platforms, we sought to make their work available to users in the most
elementary of digital environments. This gesture we understood as our
commitment to addressing the digital divide while expanding the rhizomatic
frontiers of digital art, remote control, and their energetic flux.
CTHEORY Multimedia ( represents a much
more ambitious project of net publishing. A collaborative curatorial venture
between me and Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, the editors of CTHEORY
( who created the first issue of CTHEORY Multimedia, this
on-line project is a venue for the exhibition and archivization of
projects. Crucial to our aim is the solicitation of finalized projects that
seek to make critical interventions in the areas of digital art and culture,
as reflective of the critical imperatives representative of the Kroker's
print-based journal, CTHEORY. Published by the Cornell University Library,
CTHEORY Multimedia recently has provided a space for critical pause and
reflection on two crucial social issues. Issue # 2 addresses the matter of
"Tech Flesh: The Promise and Perils of the Humane Genome Project" with three
galleries of work by fifteen artists organized around "gene pools" of
"Transgenic Flesh," "Sequential Tracings," and "Recombinant Cells" (this
issue includes a piece by Norie Neumark and her collaborator, Marie Miranda,
who will join us in week # 3). Issue # 3, released this past summer, "Wired
Ruins: Digital Terror and Ethnic Paranoia" includes work by fourteen artists
organized in three databases: "Digital Terror: Ghosting 9-11," "Ethnic
Paranoia, before and beyond," and "Rewiring the Ruins." Each issue also
includes brief curatorial statements, which are jointly penned to voice our
understanding of the conceptual stakes of the issues and their
sub-categories. We are currently designing two new issues on "Net.Noise."
While our own critical positions no doubt shape the issues which come to
fruition as a result of calls for submissions in response to a broad
curatorial paradigm, our understanding of the nature and parameters of each
issue shifts in relation to the materials we receive. Our ultimate
curatorial statements and grouping of pieces are deeply informed and altered
by the artistic conceptual interventions we place on-line. We also work
throughout the planning process with our site's designers to build
interfaces that dialogue artitistically with the work to be accessed. For
Arthur, Marilouise, and me, the interface of design and concept is key to
the realization of the theoretical and political stakes of each issue,
stakes whose depth we come to acknowledge only as a result of the process of
design and publication.
Another key aspect of the CTHEORY Multimedia project is its archivization on
the server provided to us by the Cornell Library. We ask accepted artists to
transfer to us their files for archivization, with the agreement that they
are free to maintain the same files separately for further update, revision,
etc. I should say that our request for transfer of files was so troubling to
one artist who wished to resist our remote control of her files that we were
left in the unfortunate position of having to forego inclusion of her work
in an issue." Just as we understand our commitment to archivization as
providing a crucial memory trace of the social, political, and aesthetic
issues we hope to foreground, we can appreciate the commitment of some
internet artists to their control over the life term of their art.
The pros and cons of off-line curatorial archivization, an issue directly
related to the matter of digital control, is certain also to haunt the new
archival project I have founded at the Cornell University Library. The Rose
Goldsen Archive of New Media Art. Under the bold sponsorship of Cornell
librarians Sarah Thomas, Thomas Hickerson, Elaine Engst, and The Division of
Rare and Manuscript Collections of the Cornell University Library, the
Goldsen Archive is a research repository of new media art, with a current
emphasis on digital interfaces and experimentation by international,
independent artists. Named after the pioneering critic of the
commercialization of mass media, Professor Rose Goldsen who taught at
Cornell University until her death in 1984, the Archive will house art works
produced on CD-Rom, DVD-Rom, and the internet, as well as supporting
materials, such as unpublished manuscripts and designs, catalogues,
monographs, and resource guides to new media art. Emphasizing multimedia
artworks that reflect digital extensions of twentieth-century developments
in cinema, video, installation, photography, and sound, its holdings include
the vast selection of international works exhibited in my earlier
exhibition, Contact Zones: The Art of CD-Rom
( as well as the archived on the
CTHEORY Multimedia site. Communications with interested artists already have
resulted in a broadening and shift of my initial understanding of the scope
of the archive--already in its early days of formation it has become
something of an energetic rhizome. A novel research archive of international
significance, as it is sponsored by The Division of Rare and Manuscript
Collections, the collection complements the Division's important holdings of
illuminated manuscripts and the early modern printed book, and adds to the
breadth of its important collections in human sexuality and Asian Studies.
In material and concept, the Goldsen Archive provides a space for digital
pause and reflection on the rapidly expanding cartography of speeds and
intensities in hopes of providing a fluid and creative middle ground of
electronic patronage and sponsorship.
Our hope is that the critical mass of materials to be assembled in the
archive will result in funding for an engaged research program for the
future digital translation and access of the earlier materials, many burnt
on CD-Rom with programs that soon will be obsolete on new computers. The aim
of the Goldsen Archive is to provide researchers, faculty, and students both
with a better understanding of the transformation wrought on the artistic
process by digital multimedia experimentation and development and an
imperative to help make this work readable in the future. To this end,
access to the archive will be available via computer workstations in the
Kroch Library at Cornell and eventually via campus internet servers that
will permit the artworks to be accessed from Cornell libraries, classrooms,
and dormitory spaces, as well as from remote locations of collaborative
pedagogy with Cornell faculty, such as Norie Neumark's classroom at the
University of Technology, Sydney, when we teach these materials in our
collaborative seminar. An additional program of the archive is an
international "remote" seminar that will bring together digital artists and
theorists on a regular basis. The "hub" of the seminar is the physical
seminar room of the Kroch Library from where I will be joined by a core
group of Ithaca specialists in digital and conceptual art (such as Maria
Fernandez, Buzz Spector, Phoebe Sengers, and Patty Zimmermann) as well as by
a rotating set of international participants via webstreaming. In keeping
with the spirit of the archive, the seminar also will be taped and archived
along with the art and manuscripts in the collection.
The broad aim of the Goldsen Archive as a site of preservation and
conceptualization will be to extend the intellectual boundaries of
curatorial "remote control" and what Jordan Crandall terms their "massive
machinery of proactive supervision and tactical knowledge." Rather than
subscribe to any particular notions of intellectual content and control, the
aim of the Archive is to morph procedures of intellectual and political
surveillance into archival practices of remote access, reflection, and
ideally, resultant artistic and critical practice. In conclusion, I turn to
Gilles Deleuze whose words aptly describe the aim of the Archive and its
connectivity to postglobal archival practice: "A cartography of speeds and
intensities. We've already encountered this tale of speeds and delay: they
share a drive toward the middle, a being always-between; they share the
imperceptible, like the enormous delay of the huge Japanese wrestlers, and
all of a sudden, there comes a decisive gesture so rapid that it couldn't be
seen." Of course, with any decisive gesture that couldn't have been
foreseen, such as the proliferation of new media art, comes intellectual,
critical, and artistic adjustment to the unstable ground on which we work.
It is this extent of this instability that Christina, Priamo, Norie, and I
hope will be the subject of discussion over the month to come. We're very
much looking forward to dialoguing with you on these energetic unstable

Tim Murray

Timothy Murray
Professor of Comparative Literature and English
Director of Graduate Studies in Film and Video
Curator, The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell Library
Co-Curator, CTHEORY Multimedia:
285 Goldwin Smith Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853

office: 607-255-4012

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