[-empyre-] From lurking, to launching in....
Hello to everyone,
It feels slightly strange being a guest poster on empyre this month as I
must put my hands up straight away and admit to a good deal of lurking! I
like lurking, in fact I often find I lurk and then discuss some of the
topics and opinions I have gathered online, with people offline - as though
I have been listening in on a conversation and am passing on gossip! I even
filter once in a while as I am studying for a PhD and siphon off info that I
might like to quote or expand upon in my own thesis. However I am well aware
that these practices are often seen as the cancer of list culture.
It is interesting that as an art historian, using the list for research, I
must face the fact that unless I speak up, I could actually be damaging the
very archive I want to access, and that this practice is deeply
institutional despite purporting to offer a new model, because unless you
work the conference network, you face a similar fate.
The structure of networked culture therefore is both reminiscent, but also
at odds with disciplines like the history of art. For one thing, the open
access and increased debate thoroughly destroys the Benjaminian 'aura' that
art historians have thrived upon for so long, and likewise with the list,
anyone can write and re-write the tomes we have come to trust/mistrust.
So I in an attempt to admit my own responsibility in relation to the list,
over the last year I have found myself pondering:
. How the list might be used by researchers...
. How we might adapt this system of knowledge creation and
dissemination further to better suit our current research processes,
technological abilities and desires...
. And how our research processes are adapting to take on more
conversational or transient archives.
And I am also wondering whether my role as art historian might also engender
list librarian at some point along the way?!
I will return to the points above, and others as I go along, but right now,
picking up from Melinda's opening points, I want to focus on the role of the
individual as architect, renovator and conservator in list land!
Lists can be foreboding places, especially for those used to more static
debate, where change takes centuries not seconds, like art historians! I
find empyre, and I am not just saying this to be cute, very inclusive. I
note from Melinda's post yesterday that her system of revolving topics and
speakers was intended to encourage a wider, more diverse group to be heard,
and limit the dominance of prolific posters, and I have always thought that
it works very well. Other lists have avoided antagonistic banter by limiting
themselves to announcements or tech tips, and recently lists and
list-related art works have begun to look at the instigation of other
systems which shape the social space and foster more fluid connections.
1) Jonah Brucker Cohen's Bumplist, a fully functional electronic mailing
list or 'list-serve', subverted existing list protocol by setting a finite
number for subscribers, so that each new subscription would cause an
existing subscriber to be removed or 'bumped'. Should the 'bumped'
subscriber like to continue participating in the list, they would have to
re-subscribe, thereby bumping another. Essentially It was a game of
'survival of the fittest' which showed how a list community actively shapes
its lineage and how list content is created by an ever-evolving
collaboration. Jonah called Bumplist, 'an email community for the
determined' and with the resistance of the mainstream art world to net art,
it was perfectly directed at a community famed for their unfailing
determination but also, by exaggerating existing list-serve processes he
highlighted some of the traits of list communities, showed the developing
character of the list, and unearthed the foundations of an emergent culture
2) Likewise, netbehaviour, a list introduced by Furtherfield, but now run by
the subscribers, has several experiments on the go. Currently they are
instigating 2 week residencies where an artist or group can showcase some
work and receive direct feedback and commentary. There was also the Whispers
Project which asked subscribers to provide links to their own work and
someone else's, creating a chain of projects for subscribers to look at,
without drowning them in data and finally netbehaviourists have
controversially introduced the 'time out' for so-called 'nuisance' posters
who have either offended folk or overfilled their inboxes, so that they
might go think about their behaviour!
But whilst we are gradually starting to look at the evolution of the list,
we also need to find new disciplines with which to deal with in an arena
which boasts almost perversely rigorous analysis. Netiquette-less newcomers
or those who prefer discussions in person can feel a bizarre sense of
exposure and with absolutely no disrespect to Coco Fusco, her sharp mind is
second to none, I don't feel ashamed to admit I would be a little
apprehensive to enter a debate with her. ;-) Is this because I am stupid, or
is it because as yet, the list hasn't levelled its playing field. Or is it
because meeting in person, perhaps at events like ISEA2004 are still a
better answer? Well not according to some of the discussion on Faces
So if we are still experimenting in ways of making lists inclusive without
killing them off, what standalone benefits are there from list
participation, that might encourage some more lurkers (like me :-) to enter
Many writers find that it is through the actual act of writing that a deeper
understanding is obtained. Although lists offer abundant content, active
participation offers the ability for participants to develop understanding
through the process as well and I believe that this is one of the most
important benefits to have arisen from list culture. On top of
listening/lurking, the list provides a unique tool for personal knowledge
So in an alcoholics anonymous style admission, I would like to say 'my name
is Charlotte, and I am a lurker' but that I am very interested to see how a
month on empyre can help me develop my understanding, writing, get over
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