[-empyre-] the media lab environment

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Wed Aug 27 07:43:01 EST 2008

Hi Anna and all:

you wondered:
I too wonder what Sarah has to say about this question of curating  
from the media lab environment - in what sense might this challenge  
either of these hegemonic structures? How can and do media labs really  
offer something new rather than fostering the same old privileging of  
the technical as foremost in the art from?>>

I can't address curating directly but feel that the issue of work/social interaction and media development/practice development (research, software development, cross-discipline experimention, performance, installation, prototyping, and the kind of "Processpatching --Defining New Methods in aRt&D " which Anne Nigten describes so beautifully in her dissertation) is at the forefront of my own experience as director or instigator of an annual summer lab in a small region in southwest germany where our Interaktionslabor is located.

We have been doing this now for 6 years, initially supported by regional government, then after 2 years we became autonomous and now run the operation bottom up and each year have about 20 or more artists come together, to work intensively on location for a while, and not just artists, we welcome anyone who is interested in "interaction"  (not quite the same as the technical Schnittstelle/interactivity though we did work a lot on interface design possibilities and communications.

The work experience as such has become the crystallizing social and spiritual experience, i.e. the coming together of artists and software writers and performers/writers from many different (cultural and professional) backgrounds, but it came along with a few issues we could not entirely resolve, namely the lab's location and relationship to regional infrastructure development (involving economics, and interests on part of those who initially supported us and thought we'd develop practical applications and make some money), namely the issue of involving audiences or neighborhoods (the lab is located in a coal mine and the adjacent village does not bother to think about us...... when we invite the public, the media arts or technologically interested audiences come from the city or from further away, in fact it is not even clear that the regional inhabitants care that much about media arts or digital art at all. 

So we have tried various tactics, we invite school classes and educators,  we bring in guest artists who travel through, we invite observers, we invite TV and radio, we publish books and catalogues (which don't sell, so we give them away), we have a website, and work in telematics, and we travel the lab as such (I mentioned it earlier, we got invited to Brasil this year), and we create works that can be seen in other places, venues, contexts, and can be disseminated as screen based media objects etc or online projects.   As was mentioned by Marc and others before,  the orientation is towards creating multiple platforms and yet, i also see a danger here, as i find it hard sometimes to know what "community" is meant when we talk about social networks (online) and multimedia ning sites where hundreds of people are posting dozens of videos every day and it is quite impossible to see or share everything (*anything).

who shares then? and how do we set up meaningful opportunities to show and experience work and have feedback and critical reflection or audience involvement ,  a dialog on the forms, or the organisational methodologies, the human factors, or continue to attract young students or high school pupils  or retired folks to come and drop in or work with us etc  - in our case the matter is also difficult at times,  as my volunteer crew reminds me often, namely we find it not altogether easy to transmit to the general public what it is we are doing in an "interaction lab"  in the first place, since interactive media are by no means a household concept for the citizens of our region near Göttelborn. 

The press that comes to peek occasionally asks the same question, and so our team has started to ponder the need to publish a "manifesto" on what we are doing.  so currently we are writing this menaifesto on "interaction" as a social media art form.


Johannes Birringer

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