RE: [-empyre-] net art, curating and power

 Tim writes, 

> 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

Which is a great summary of key challenges that this art form poses for an
institution. What these require is that the institution adapts to the art
and transforms itself, which can only be a process over time. I don't think
the real issue is lack of knowledge on the curators' end -- all the new
media curators I know are extremely knowledgeable -- but the challenge of
transforming institutional dynamics. You don't just appear on the scene and
proclaim "and now we'll turn the museum into an open platform for exchange."

What attracts me to curation of new media and net art is precisely the
diminishing authority of curatorial oversight -- I'm far more interested in
a collaborative process. Some of this happens automatically. Whenever you
present new media art and net art within a physical space it needs to be
'reconfigured' to some extent, and this reconfiguration can only be a
collaboration between artists and curators. Among the issues to address are:
should the work be integrated with other more traditional art forms? should
it be shown in a lounge type of setting (which invites the audience to
linger and spend time with the work on a one-on-one basis)? should it be a
combination thereof? how does one establish a connection between the public
space of the gallery and the public space of the network? Some works lend
themselves to projection (usually those that beg to get out of the browser
environment) or installation, others require one-to-one interaction at a
terminal -- decisions usually have to be made on a case-by-case basis.
Ultimately, you are creating a new version of the artwork and the artist's
involvement in this is obviously crucial. These 'new versions' also need
more documentation: since the version becomes site-specific, it becomes
likely that it will never be seen the same way again. As has been pointed
out numerous times, the role of the artist and curator becomes more that of
a 'producer.'

Needless to say, most museum spaces don't (yet) provide the flexibility (of
space and connectivity) that is required for this type of art. Ideally,
there should be multiple spaces and configurations that allow for presenting
the art in various scenarios. I also find it important to create platforms
of exchange for communication between the audience / artwork / artist. This
can be done through a website that allows for ongoing input and discussion,
for example, but it also requires a host or some kind of moderation,
invitation of respondents etc. (the same parameters that come into play on
lists and in forums).

The problems I have encountered with showing net art in a museum space are
often quite practical and banal ones. A big issue is the change of context.
If you experience Mark Napier's Riot on your home computer, for example, you
become aware of the fact that it is an alternative browser -- it takes over
your browser environment and functions like one. In the museum space, people
encountered the piece already up and running, they didn't realize it was a
browser, started clicking around in the window and got frustrated when
nothing happened. Another obstacle is continued use. Applications may be
very stable but if 100 people and more start hammering away at the keyboard
on a daily basis, they tend to crash or malfunction. These works need
constant maintenance and museums mostly don't have staff responsible for
maintaining exhibitions on a daily basis. Another key problem is 'educating'
an audience that is not familiar with this art, tuned in to contemplation of
an object and resistant to interaction. Docents, tours and educational
programs become an important aspect of the exhibition. Maintenance and
education can in fact be a bigger budgetary burden than the equipment and
technology itself. 

As Tim indicates, there are also fundamental changes in archival practice
since new media and net art are process-oriented and time-based ("it's
alive!"). In 2001, Tina Laporta did a gate page for the Whitney artport that
connected a floorplan of an apartment to live webcams. It was obvious from
the beginning that this work would "die" over time since web cams tend to
vanish. We decided that Tina would also create an archive version of the
project that would play snapshots from the cams. Another project I
commissioned for artport was Martin Wattenberg's Idea Line, a visualization
of a database of net art projects that is open to input. The project is
ongoing, I continuously receive submissions and realized that I have
problems devoting enough time to the maintenance of this project.
Bottom-line: openness to group collaboration, continual revision and
momentary existence are high maintenance and require a serious commitment on
the museum's end (something that, from my experience, still has to develop).

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