Re: [-empyre-] economics of the art system: the example of documen ta

Thanks Marc, Millie, -empyre-,

I just want to add that the Paper and Pixel week at Documenta was very well designed by independent curator Nat Muller, Rotterdam, NL, and Alessandro Ludovico of, Bari, IItaly--Alessandro has been a part of our list since 2003 when he was featured as a guest; also the week was sponsored by Lab for Culture. org and their rep, Angela Plohman came for all events and was active and engaged with our events. Documenta magazine coordinating editor Cordula Daus and the other staff (Maria Derntl et al) were unfailingly helpful. This is not about people at the level of interaction I and -empyre- had at Documenta; it's about the much larger systemic problem that has affected all the magazines (almost 100 of us) participating in the Documenta Magazine Project. The people with whom I worked directly, did their absolute best to make things run well and to deliver a solid public program, despite budget constraints and the overall lack of support from above. They made the best of a tough situation.


On Jul 29, 2007, at 11:29 PM, marc garrett wrote:

Hi Millie & everyone,

Well I've been saying it for long time, years in fact and many on this list will remember many of my arguments (hopefully) - but not that many have backed me up openly, usually via email personally which I can understand. But it gets a bit tense getting a name for yourself when really, you just want get on with what matters - the art etc...


I have not participated much on Empyre, so I don't want to put my foot in my mouth by jumping in here. But Christina's more candid account of the Documenta experience strikes a familiar chord with me.

I have had several several run-ins with what I'll call, for want of a better term, "institutional new media organizations." These groups are well-funded, prominent in the wider cultural community (ie not just among new media people or even artists), and hopelessly disconnected from (what I see as) the real current new media art scene.

At their worst, these groups exploit independent artists financially or artistically, as Christina's story relates. This has happened to me (on a smaller scale than Christina's story) several times.
More often, these groups merely damage the field of new media art by mounting high-profile exhibitions which claim to be authoritative views of our field but which in fact show very outdated work, work that isn't new media art, or work at the most obnoxious fringe of new media. These shows give the public a false impression of our field and deprive most new media artists of the opportunity to have their work shown in prominent venues, because these venues have such strange curatorial policies. Meanwhile, all the grant money goes to this kind of organization, so little remains for independent artists.

The situation is made worse by the fact that it is frightening to even discuss this issue for fear of offending the people who might possibly support our work (you will notice that I named no specific organization and gave no specific details!).

- original message -
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] economics of the art system: the example of documenta
From: Christina McPhee <>
Date: 07/29/2007 18:14

hi all

back in California, I feel as if i can speak a bit more plainly about -empyre- and what has happened at Documenta 12.

Just as background, I want to quote from my introduction to the =- empyre- discussion on 'bare life' in connectionw with Documenta 12:

The increased intensity of global communication and simultaneity makes the challenge of trying to 'be' an individual subject -- whatever that is--- continually more complex and overwhelming. - empyre-, if not implicated in this process, is still in the midst of it and perhaps may be, as our founder Melinda Rackham has called it , our 'soft-skinned space', a space of resistance as well, in that we can hope to generate -- on the fly--- a contemporary art and new media ethics in a public space we create for ourselves and others.

Indeed. What does 'being an individual subject mean in the context of a situation in which our texts have been made so inaccessible that Google can't find them? More broadly, how can we resist Documenta 12?

Let's start with money. Rumor has it that funding was cut from the project as early as 18 months to 2 years ago. The vision of the magazine project was apparently truncated in midstream. The person who initiated it, Georg Schoelhamer of Springerin, was always enthusiastic, and I do not doubt his sincerity; yet something went terribly wrong. The entire Documenta 12 is said to have cost 19 million euros. How the 1100 or so Chinese visitors were funded as well as the clandestine flights for special dinners at an artist's restaurant in Spain remains obscure. In AU -empyre- tself is run entirely for free by people volunteering their time. We have no support from the Australian cultural apparatus except for the free sever space at COFA-UNSW, for which we are very grateful, and to our webmaster Nigel Kerstin at COFA. For D12, I edited over 300 pages of network generated content , from hypertext to linear text, revised to standard publishable English , created pdfs (which of course are completely invisible in the documenta 12 interface), and the html; The number of hours I have given to this is easily equal to 4 months of full time labor in 2005-2007.

The curation at the exhibition involved commodifying art objects so that their innate power and resonance and ability to shock is dampened to the point of indiffference. Works succeed in the documenta exhbition when they provided within themselves, their own contextualization, like Andrea Geyer 's suite of photos and text on land rights and spiritual tenancy in the American Southwest. Even as powerful an artist as Mary Kelley was trivialized through the funerary kitsch of lurid color surrounding her project "Love Songs" (at the Neue Galerie).

Taschen with presumably the leadership of D12 were able to set up a monetarization of the public's moment to moment physical engagement with D12's 'magazine project' (coming to D12, paying for books in the bookshop), much like Adwords on Google. ---in part by setting up a myth of cool amazing marginal heroic avantgarde magazines and editors from around the world as a branding concept. Why not indeed? Meanwhile the rules of the game required that if we published anything online, copyrights were acceded to Documenta 12. The problem was there was no monetary/ market pressure to actually publish the huge cultural production that this initiative called forth from artists, writers, and editors around the world in many languages. The online interface really didn't have to work for D12 to be able to market its so called Magazine Readers. We are just a lure, just a bit of perverse glamour: as Peter Sinclair of Radical Philosophy ( ) aptly noted when I met him at D12, we are involved so that Taschen can make money. It is the idea of us that matters, not what we are actually writing about or publishing. We might as well be publishing a stock market report.

So exploited as precarious labour, see en/ precarious_reader, or , if you want to get hard core about it, volunteer slavery. Willingly, I did take this time, and so did you. -empyre- is, with or without documenta 12, a resonant space for discourse and even, a kind of powerful spontaneous electronic literature. I loved setting up our conversations; yes, they were over the top, thanks all. I am and will always be extremely proud of the literary and critical quality of the texts (see March 2006, July 2006, and January 2007, accessible via pdf on empyre and, at least to the end of D12 , in html at http://

original hypertexts at

Michele White was prescient. She predicted this scenario already last summer. (Michele is theorist and author of The Body and the Screen: Theories of Internet Spectatorship, MIT Press 2006). Michele wrote to -empyre-:

[-empyre-] Documenta?

 Documenta?s process of potentially
introducing some of the listserv material into a
magazine may seem to provide various engagements but
does not (at least yet) provide an open dialogue
between listserv participants and Documenta. This
structure articulates an inside and outside where
listserv participants seemingly engage and talk about
the empowered center but no one from the Documenta
structure answers. It creates even more press coverage
and engagement with Documenta and centers the event
but what does it do for the listserv? How do we keep
any control over our voice or write into the structure
that Documenta produces? msg00097.html

What i observed at the Documenta Halle, was that the public was really trying to actually read our magazines. This is why have sent the MALMOE text.. How about other voices? Your voices, - empyreans-. The commodification of the magazine project works best when the slaves stay quiet.


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