[-empyre-] the media lab environment

Danny Butt db at dannybutt.net
Sun Aug 31 10:45:31 EST 2008

Kia ora all

I'm enjoying this thread a lot and many thanks to Anna, Johannes, Marc  
and others for a stimulating discussion.

It's interesting to see for myself which comments provoke me to  
respond, particularly when I'm feeling pretty laden with various  
institutionalised research practices at the moment... :)  but there is  
something in Johannes' skeptical line being drawn between  
"independent" labs and the University-run centres. Excuse a flu-bound  
lack of succinctness.

The point for me is not that these distinctions are wrong (they do  
indeed have a different flavour, but then there are also wild  
differences between various types of indie environments and uni  
environments). It seems to me that perhaps the way the distinctions  
are being drawn actually *underplays* their difference in terms of  
resourcing models, and this particularly effects those of us who have  
worked with a foot in both camps.

That's to say, I am wary of what happens when an "independent  
centre" (especially a small one) tries to make itself accessible to  
University support, because this positioning often seems to me to be  
based on a shallow reading of the complex business model of the  
University (whether state or private). Frustration and feeling a lack  
of validation often seem to follow for the indie in the face of the  
University's indifference to a smaller, human-scaled entity.

On the other hand, when we discuss "sustainability", I get a little  
concerned about the University initiatives that seem to rely on a  
single University employee's vision of the potential of the "outside"  
the institution, and that individual tends to play the role of  
translator of independent activities (often poorly aligned with Uni  
priorities) into institutionally recognisable forms. Perhaps that  
academic then feels like they maintain a certain level of "real  
research" to gain enough validation to get support for the "other  
activities". There are certainly excellent tactical opportunities in  
this kind of work to devolve resources for temporary projects (I try  
and do this myself), but  it does seem to me that there is something  
missing at the "sustainability" level, whatever than horrible word  
means in this context.

Returning to a second tour of duty within the academy (after two  
substantial periods working independently) I'm conscious that these  
kinds of tactical raids on the University seem less important to me  
than trying to alter the fabric of the University to make it more open  
to the kinds of inter- and transdisciplinary practices that have been  
important to my own development. This is the quite slow work of  
building research agendas, gaining track records, gaining funding,  
influencing hiring practices. In short, this involves building a  
community within the academy within the terms internal to the academy  
(in a critical way of course). And work outside the academy seems to  
take on a more specific role as a collective learning environment  
through which I sensitise myself to the limitations of the academy  
that I want to affect. And maybe I feel that some of my previously  
(well-intentioned) work in trying to build things outside the academy  
while working inside it suffered from a lack of reality about my own  
commitments and capabilities to occupy the same place as someone  
outside the University.

This is perhaps the opposite of my relation to the University when I  
was working independently - in that situation, the key question is  
about how to build and amass resources for projects and learning, and  
the interactions with the University were a way of testing ideas in a  
different organisational model of learning. When I would retreat from  
these small project contracts or residencies back into the "real  
world", I was always struck by the radical alterity of the ways of  
working required in those two different domains. [And as it turns out,  
I think the University world suits me a little better - but then every  
situation is so specific that it seems hard to generalise]

No real conclusions except to say that the stories of Johannes with  
Interaktionslabor and Sarah with The Star and Shadow struck a chord  
for me, and perhaps I am responding to the difference between these  
worlds and the University by trying to accept my position in  
relationship to them, where I'm at right now. And the two themes that  
seem important for me are firstly, not devaluing the university and  
valorising the independent as an ideal without considering one's own  
commitment/relation to these forms and their underlying structures (a  
problem endemic to the edu-factory discussion as interesting as that  
was - academics who've never built an organisation with strong ideas  
on how to do it); and secondly trying to maintain (rather than always  
develop new) productive relationships with others to keep moving our  
work forward, and to evaluate those relationships in terms of either   
"The University" or "Outside the University" (which should be a  
specific domain e.g. "Arts Organisation", "NGO", "Activist Collective"  
etc), rather than trying to make the ideals of one work within the  
context of another.



Danny Butt
Lecturer, Critical Studies
Elam School of Fine Arts, National Institute of Creative Arts and  
The University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand	| http://www.creative.auckland.ac.nz
Ph: +64 9 373 7599 x 89922
+64 21 456 379

On 30/08/2008, at 4:03 AM, Johannes Birringer wrote:

> Hi Anna, and all:
> to answer your question, briefly:
> The exchange I mentioned was instigated in 2006:  i moderated an  
> artist panel for  “This Secret Location,”  during In-Between Time  
> Festival, Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol,
> and heard that some of the invited artists  (e.g.  Lynette  
> Wallworth, George Poonkhin Khut, etc) were part of an exchange  
> between Helen Cole at Arnolfini and Oz  (I believe Syndney's  
> Performance  Space,directed by  Fiona Winning.  I can;'t find info  
> on the Arnolfini website, so please check with the Performance Space.
> thanks for your kind response to my short story about  
> Interaktionslabor.  yes, we try to document everything and there are  
> quite a few small films, showing how we operate,
> and i have been showing these already at some occasions when i get  
> invited to talk about alterntive media lab infrastructures and self- 
> organisations; as you noted, we don;t get paid and so the work is a  
> labor of love and also time consuming as we have no "admin staff'  
> but are both participating artists and admin.
> Another issue, which i didn't address (and now that you mention  
> SenseLab or Hexagram or other larger institutional venues one might  
> consider, ZKM, or even ars electronica or also the kind of  
> independent forum created by Jim Ruxton and his "Subtle  
> Technologies"  event in Toronto) ..... is the relationshop of  
> alternative media labs or "centers" and the universities.  I have a  
> feeling Bill Simon, for example, thinks quite positively about the  
> developments and tends to be upbeat about the potentials (and the  
> benefits to younger reseaerchers who are involved in practice based  
> research).... yet i am a bit more skeptical and we founded the  
> Interaktionslabor in a small region  amonst our black mountains  
> (slag heaps) (dreaming of becoming a little Banff although I admit i  
> don't even know what Banff is like) and far away from any  
> universities or art schools precisely because we wanted to work  
> outside of academia and the restraints that exist there or the  
> sometimes false (rhetorical) mergers arranged there like arranged  
> marriages *(between arts and science).
> One of the composers who has participated in the Interaktionslabor  
> recently wrote me:
>>> One of the most interesting things I found on the foundation of the
> Interaktionslabor (2003) was the interaction between art, technique
> and science. I believe this is the most challenging issue we face on
> the artistic creation today. Even the university doesn't offer a
> structure for bringing artists, engineers and scientists to work
> together. What I observe is either a low level of technical knowledge
> (which is the case for some of the work developed at the
> Interaktionslabor) or a low level of artistic knowledge (which is
> case at most of the universities that have a program on arts and
> technology>>
> That last point could be contested, of course, but my desire was  
> directed much more at the social, experiential and
> spiritual side of the interaction that you responded to, a process  
> of creation or investigation  n o t  driven by university research  
> degree or
> funding imperatives or audit targetings.
> The curatorial side of art/research is another point in question,  
> and I am tempted to draw your attention to a case where (as so  
> often) i think the
> cart is put in front of the horse (how do you say it?")..... the  
> upcoming :
> The Art of Research: Research Narratives
> Practice-led doctoral / post-doctoral exhibition and symposium
> Chelsea College of Art and Design, London
> 28-30 October, 2008
> http://www.researchnarratives.org/
> One might ask, remembering the postings Marc has offered, what is  
> the relationship between a gallery or independent organisation such  
> as Furtherfield and, say, the Culture Lab up at Newcastle (part of  
> the university) or the MIT Media lab or othe university-based labs   
> (Is SenseLab inside the university?).  How do galleries or labs that  
> offer residencies and exhibition opportunities for emerging artists  
> relate to, or negotiate, the discursive and research activities at  
> universities (where,..... the "research narratives" often get  
> written). Where do we read the research narratives of the  
> independents?   Could a group such as Transmute (for a review of the  
> book published after their successful work, see http://www.realtimearts.net/article/85/9037) 
>   have completed their ambitious "Intimate Transactions"  
> telepresence installation without the funding and logistics support  
> of several universities down under?
> Other curartorial debates over the past months concerned the  
> selection and programming of videodance, for example,  and prior to  
> the  "screendance conference" at ADF (American Dance festival)  this  
> summer Doug Rosenberg had solicited this debate on the MEDIA-ARTS-AND-DANCE at JISCMAIL.AC.UK 
>  list;  many responded in a spirited exchange of opinions on  
> "Elitism in Media Arts and V_D Production."
> Another effort I remember now (having attended a workshop at  
> Chisenhale in London) was launched by a group of independent artists  
> in 2005 with a focus on "Architecture of Interaction", trying  
> through collective participating in a series of workshop to develop  
> a kind of "toolkit" that can be useful to describe and compare the  
> processes and effects of interactive work. (www.architectureofinteraction.net 
> ).  The last i heard was that AOI has now also published a book on  
> the findings.
> with regards
> Johannes Birringer

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