[-empyre-] Models and perspectives for Media Centers and Net Art organizations

Marcus Bastos bastoslistas at gmail.com
Sat Aug 2 04:59:41 EST 2008

hi empyreans,

I would like to welcome all of you to our August discussion, which
will be devoted to the topic of Models and Perspectives for Media
Centers and Net Art organizations, and use a quote from Ned Rossiter
as a provocative epigraph to this month's topic:

"there is urgent need for new institutional forms that reflect
"relational" processes to challenge existing systems of governance and
outmoded representational structures"

Lately, a number of institutions, based on more or less conventional
models, seem to be focusing on fomenting art and culture created with
digital, networked and portable devices. This is not a new phenomenon,
but there seem to be different approaches, and a variety of unfoldings
that shift away from the classic MediaLab models, as the convergence
of art, science and technology no longer seems to be dominant on a
field nowadays diverse enough to range from social and educational
perspectives to artistic experimentation of all kinds. There is also a
diversity of actors from University Labs and Research Centers to
Corporate initiatives, representing a broad variety of approaches and

Part of this history is briefly presented in Michael Century's
Pathways to Innovation
(http://www.nextcentury.ca/PI/PImain.html#_Toc456019293), under the
topic "Studio LABs since the 1960s". On his report, Century proposes
"three overlapping phases" of "the institutional development of the
contemporary studio-laboratory" and points out that:

"In the first phase, dating from the 1960s and 1970s, artist centres,
networks, university-based institutes and public sector labs were
established to support open-ended exploration of new and emerging
technologies by artists". One example "was Experiments in Art and
Technology (E.A.T.) founded by artist Robert Rauschenberg" with the
goal "to establish 'an international network of experimental services
and activities designed to catalyze the physical, economic and social
conditions necessary for cooperation between artists, engineers and
scientists.'. Other examples for this phase are MIT's Centre for
Advanced Visual Studies and the Institut de Recherche et Coordination
en Acoustique et Musique (IRCAM). Century sustains that the "relative
autonomy of these new centres /.../ distinguish them from the more
publicly oriented type of media centre that began to appear in the
1980s and 1990s".

The typical media art organization of the 1980s and 1990s can be
considered examplary of the second phase, which incorporate
"festivals, exhibitions, commissions and competitions of electronic
art" resulting in an "increased commitment of both public
administrations and private corporations towards exposing the most
radical media-based creativity to a wider public". Examples are Ars
Electronica, SIGGRAPH and ZKM. According to Century, this lead to an
ambivalence among critical intellectuals who feared that "these
institutional developments /.../ would serve only to accelerate the
public acceptance of automation in everyday life, on the one hand, and
to co-opt artists — "with their purported creativity" — into becoming
commercial application designers, on the other".

As stated before and also stressed by Century, the diversity of actors
on this context makes things more complex and gray-shaded than
enthusiastic or over-critical views would make one suppose they are.
This assumption "form the basis for the third phase of the
contemporary studio-laboratory", marked by an effort to link
"multimedia art with technological development and the social
sciences" given that "the deliberate involvement of artists as
collaborative researchers in innovation programs now takes place in a
wide variety of social and economic settings, with a corresponding
diversity of approach and program design".

One aspect that might go beyond this three-phased history is implied
on the spreading of media centers throughout the world, as digital
culture reaches places such as China and India, while mobile and
wireless networks adds layers of complexity to our connected society.
Sarai is the obvious example of that shift, but there is also a
curious aspect when we think of informal developments, such as those
described by Jan Chipchase on his blog, Future Perfect
(http://www.janchipchase.com/repaircultures). This culture of
informality, as well as the emergence of communities engaged on the
dissemination of open source softwares, as well as approaches to
alternative / recycled devices represent a perspective that gained
importance with little institutional support or based on alternative
practices / non-hierarchical forms of organization. Nowadays, a number
of organizations seem to support those developments, despite their
distance from the corporate agendas. On the other hand, this attitude
can be traced back to DIY initiatives before digital culture, as well
as others that grew with the Internet.

Obviously, this short (and arbitrary) presentation is not capable of
covering all aspects of the topic, and could only aim to point to some
aspects of a discussion that should gain a life of its own by the
crossing of different views that the topic suggests. One aspect that
should be taken in consideration is how local scenarios alters the
dynamics of institutionalization, according to the predominance of
more public oriented models (public grants, government support) or, on
the other hand, more private oriented ones (sponsorship). To discuss
this and other themes related to the increasingly complex tissue of
media centers and net art organizations, we will invite people from
institutions or independent initiatives in Brazil, England and US to
share their experiences, aiming to debate differences and similarities
as well as possible challenges and / or local peculiarities.

So we would like to welcome Anne Nigten (V2, Rotterdam / Netherlands),
Gabriel Menotti (Cinefalcatrua, Vitoria / Brazil), Gisela Domschke
(MediaLAB MIS, Sao Paulo / Brazil), Marc Garrett (Furtherfield, London
/ UK) and Sarah Cook (Eyebeam, New York / US) with warm thanks for
accepting our invitation to be guests of – empyre – during the month
of August, as well as Amanda McDonald Crowley, who was already a guest
of the list and will join the discussion later on the month. There is
a short bio of of them @ http://rhizome.org/announce/view/51830 and
they will also share longer introductions with the lists audience on
their first post, that should also focus on how their practices and
researches relates to the proposed topic.

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