Just ducked back in here for a minute - wanted to make a couple of clarifications.

I went into the task of programming art for the screens of a comp-sci building with, indeed, some hopes for promoting critical reflection about the space, and the research taking place there. What failed, what didn't make sense about it, was that the "weird stuff" popping up on screens was only legitimated by its status or category as art or even "critical art." One could either identify it as a desirable instrument and engage, or dismiss it as an undesirable instrument. Either way, the artwork basically did the most work for itself, constructing, in my opinion, the worst kind of critical instrument. Either reaction, of engagement or dismissal, laid another plank on the platform of a stable and proscribed cultural voice. (I'm thinking here of the identity and life of the whole program, not any specific work.)

This is why I'd actually rather not think about such sites as contested in terms of content - art was no more "open" on those screens than the advertising or clock or calendar put there now. I think it's probably better to think of these sites in terms of contested forms. These forms are written by a wide and deep group of influences - in this case, the architects of the building, the department administrators, but also the social history of cinema and other screen-based media. I cited the anecdotes about screens on my campus more to point to just how complex these movements are, the huge amount of forces at work in shaping expectations and experience of pixels arranged in a grid. Certainly there are some dominant forces in those movements, well articulated by Brian's research triangle essay. It's no utopian neo-liberal ecosystem of fair chances, but it is more complicated and interdependent than a competition for the mic.

To expand the story a bit, I ended up re-routing some of the funds destined for providing screen content to funding a piece of [ahem] "relational aesthetics." We commissioned a pair of artists to devise a new experimental academic course as an artwork for the comp-sci building. This strategy, explained to my funders using the precedent of recent "de-materialized" art practices, ended up allowing us to create, in a classroom and for some small audiences, something a LITTLE closer to the Utopian space that Brian clipped from earlier post.

Of course, as we can see from a lot of recent criticism, this route comes with its own perils. An effort identified with "relational aesthetics" is as easily instrumentalized as any screen, for the same reasons we've been unpacking the notion of "criticality" this week. Our relationship to such practices, and to the financial mandate of an institutionally-commissioned piece of "radical pedagogy" was more like that I described earlier this week, where a number of us took from this legitimation what we needed, without all climbing on board.

Just to complete this arc a little, our curricular experiment ended up identified as a desirable site for helping engineers learn better how to design for qualitative experience - how to "enhance their creativity" and develop critique skills. (I'm afraid that Chris R saw an ugly bit of this recently as I followed that thread upstream to see where it went and invited her along, but that's probably another story.) So I ended up exactly where I am with the screens now, though I'm sticking with this stream a little longer than I did with the streams to see what I can learn and perhaps influence. More on that another time.


On Sep 15, 2007, at 11:45 AM, Timothy Murray wrote:


Actually, Brian, what intrigued me about Kevin's project of inserting new media art onto flatscreens initially envisioned for advertising and academic announcements was precisely what you term its "non--instrumentalized openness" in an environment for which utilitarian delivery may be of importance.

What I enjoyed about his project in the Computer Science building at Illinois was precisely, as he puts, that " It just never made sense, it got turned off repeatedly by viewers and just didn't fit in." Such a gap in sense or fit provided Kevin's curatorial project with a "non-instrumentalized openness" in a instrumental place. Perhaps it was engagement with art itself which didn't fit here, or an indifference to it, or even a resistance to it (it got turned off repeatedly).

I also saw this project at the time that Kevin was involved in the Illinois exhibition, "Balance and Power: Performance and Surveillance in Video Art." So my appreciation was clearly influenced by the paradox of artworks which were critically reflexive of surveillance appearing on screens in the very building in which informatic systems of surveillance could be at home. So here, we have it, I was intrigued by the uncanniness (un/heimlich) of it all!


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

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