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

Christiane writes:
>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.
>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).

Thanks so much, Christiane, for your concise and helpful overview of the
opportunities and challenges associated with curating new media in a museum
context.  I've run into many similar issues in discussing curatorial
projects with larger museums, which have frequently been less than
enthusiastic about altering traditional spectatorial patterns to display
CD-Rom and (this is changing very rapidly in the States now that
some of the more established venues, such as the Walker, Whitney, and San
Francisco Museum of Art stepped up to the plate with curatorial resources
for new media).  But overall I think there's been a pattern of reluctant
involvement that has less to do with computers than with electronic art
writ large, and stems from institutional ambivalence about electronic
installation and video art within both the museum and academic (art
historical) communities--and even within the film community.  I think
Christiane is correct to locate a lot of this ambivalence in relation to
the complicated nature of support (you can't just hang a monitor on the
wall without maintenance).  And this is why annual and biannual exhibitions
such as ISEA and Ars Electronica have been so important to artists and
curators alike.

But of course it's also related to shifts of curatorial charges, as
Christiane says, that occur when work either is continually evolving
on-line or not initially designed for preservation.  This has occurred in
my primary curatorial venue as well, the Cornell Library, since many
traditional humanists resist the institution's commitment to digitalization
and all that entails (again out of concern that the status of the
traditional collectible, the book in this case< might be eroding).  Thus
the complexity outlined by Christiane of making work accessible for
unsuspecting publics through educational and curatorial programs, which
sometimes lead the viewers "off-site" via webcams or virtual seminars. I
also very much understand Christiane concern about the time involved in
maintaining ongoing projects; particularly since so many of us involved in
curatoring new media do this alongside many other institutional
responsibilities in the art and educational worlds (and I endorse these
split commitments because they frequently result in the kind of
intellectual and artistic fluidity and flexibility that marks the
collaborative enterprise).

One cultural aspect of "new media" that I've found particularly
invigorating is what I call the "levelling out" of artistic hierarchies.
In its initial stages, at least, and digital art tended to
circumvent or bypass traditional venues and procudures of exhibition and
endorsement (the gallery-museum nexus).  Although a couple major centers of
production and display took on the aura of the established museum (ZKM),
others remained liminal (such as Oboro in Montreal) or spaces of temporary
production and installations (such as Artspace in Sydney) or projects of
public displays the likes of which grace Tokyo.  After I put together
"Contact Zones" a few years ago, I became very excited by the fact that the
show brought works by established artists such as Keith Piper, Takahiko
Iimura, Christine Tamblyn, Jean-Louis Boissier, and artists sanctioned by
the resources of ZKM together with a huge array of younger, less
established new media artists, some of whom produced their work in home,
school or art center labs.   The ability of artists to distribute their own
work via listserves and other alternative networks opened up a loose
network of artistic interaction, one that catalyzed the kind of
collaboration which, like Christiane, I find so energizing.  This has been
particularly important across geographical and economic lines which is why
I'm looking forward to Priamo's postings (which should come within the next
day).  Sustenance of this kind of "levelling" is also something to which
Arthur, Marilouise, and I are committed when we plan issues of CTHEORY
MULTIMEDIA.  The difficulty is, of course, that this guarantees very little
financial return to the artists for development of more work.

It is very exciting that so many important museum venues are now endorsing
new media (one thinks of Kiasma, Centre Pompidou, MCA in Sydney, Museum of
Contemporary Art in Montreal, etc.).  Anyone who's had the pleasure of
experiencing Christiane's projects or the recent Whitney installation of
"Listening Post" by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin can certainly appreciate the
result of endorsement and exhibition of this work in large and well
equipped venues.  But my hope is that the sudden restriction of public
funds for digital development in areas where so much early development
occurred (particularly Australia, Western Europe, and Canada) will not
result in a reliance of artists on only the more traditional museum domains
where more traditional notions of currency and public recognition still
matter deeply (one well known venue, for example, which Priamo and I
approached to tour Contact Zones turned down the show because the it
included too many "unrecognizable" names; whereas Priamo and I were
thrilled by the freshness and edgyness of that very same work).

One other venue of curatorial practice, which Norie and I will discuss next
week, is the extended classroom which itself can serve as a (temporary)
site of new media installation and discussion.

Thanks again, Christiane, for your thoughtful comments.  Let's hope we can
start a dialogue with the Empyre lurkers out there!

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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