[-empyre-] is: institutionalization was: art games pre computers

Paul Brown paul.brown.art.technology at gmail.com
Sun Mar 23 18:05:35 EST 2008

Hi Gianni

I am not against institutionalisation.  Here's my take (and my  
apologies it's turned out to be so long):

Firstly most people in the developed world are taught language skills  
from their early kindergarten through to tertiary education.  Most  
educated people in the developed world are fairly skilled in  
linguistic cognition and analysis.  However is the area we might call  
visual literacy there is very little education and a misplaced  
assumption that these skills are intuitive/inherent - ie. they don't  
need to be taught/learned.  So most educated people in the developed  
world are unskilled at visual cognition and analysis.

This is very apparent in the currently fashionable area of "practice- 
based research" where visual arts practitioners have to present  
written theses about their work in order to make it creditable to a  
peer community who are unable to think visually and so unable to  
accept the work at "face value".  This process of linguistic  
deconstruction and analysis we might call "critical theory".

Although some artist may work at a purely intuitive level and other  
in an exclusively conceptual framework it's my guess that most work  
somewhere in-between.  Even the most ardent conceptualists of the  
late 20th century had whopping holes in their theoretical frameworks  
(ie. Sol LeWitt - who BTW I really admire).

So this is what I think is happening in an historical sense:  artist  
make stuff.  The only way to comprehend this stuff (and I'm  
deliberately using the work "comprehend" and not "understand") is to  
interact with it.  This is contemporary production.  Then once it's  
out there everyone begins to think about it - the creators, the  
critical theorists etc...  A critical debate emerges, develops and is  
eventually consolidated that completely deconstructs and analyses  
(frames) the work and other of it's genre.  This may happen fairly  
quickly - 20-40 years - or may take a lot longer - say 100 years.   
Somewhere along this process the work itself ceases to be  
"contemporary practice" and becomes "art history".  Now it's no  
longer necessary to interact with the work itself (however delightful  
it may be to do so) because we can just read a book about it and  

At the point it becomes art history there is no longer any need to do  
it.  There's no challenge, there's little more to be learned.  We  
move on instead to new challenges - the contemporary arts evolve and  
change (or they should - my concerns from my previous post about the  
stasis inherent in the "shock of the new" conservatism that has come  
to dominate the artworld since the 1960s - see below).  Charles  
Biedermann refers to this ongoing process as "Art as the Evolution of  
Visual Knowledge" - the title of his 1948 publication.  See:


Two examples:

1.  back in the early decades of the 20th C the only way to  
comprehend a work of Dada was to go to Cafe Voltaire (or wherever)  
and listen to Schwitters reading Ursonate (or whatever).  Now we can  
read a book on Dada with no illustrations and almost, if not  
completely, understand the importance of Dada, it's achievement and  
place in the historical record and its influence on the world of ideas.

2.  I am lucky to live in a very beautiful place with lots of  
tourists.  Many local artists and galleries make a good living from  
painting and selling landscapes and seascapes mostly in the  
impressionist style.  These are often very skilled and beautiful  
works.  However hang one beside a Monet and ask "which is the more  
important".  There is no doubt in my mind that the Monet was epoch- 
changing whilst the local version is merely decorative and  
derivative.  This latter does not belong on the historical record -  
except perhaps as a footnote.

So a rather longwinded response to your question.  The process of  
institutionalisation IS.  It's neither good or bad - it's just part  
of the process of converting contemporary practice into historical  
artefact.  This is what museum and the critical/cultural theorists  
are FOR.  To convert something rarefied - that only an elite few can  
comprehend - into a more general framework that is available to the  
world of ideas at large.

So now to answer your first question - about why my talk wasn't well  
received.  The curators i spoke to were convinced that their efforts  
were helping the contemporary arts to survive!  I was telling them  
that their efforts were in fact killing them off (the poor lion on  
the savannah).  It's my personal opinion that their misunderstanding  
of their role is one contributing factor to the terrible state that  
the mainstream artworld finds itself in right now - perpetuating long- 
outdated ideas of novelty inherent in 1960's "shock of the new" - and  
reiterating the artwork as a branch of the fashion industry (aka  
Tracy Emin, Jeff Koons and Damian Hurst et al) and not, as I think it  
should be, a part of the world of philosophy and ideas - of the human  
understanding of the universe and our relationship with it via visual  
cognition.  Phew...

And just in case you haven't guessed already :)  -- I'm a ageing  

So anyhow, off the soapbox and back to trying make some money!


On 23 Mar 2008, at 11:53, Gianni Wise wrote:

> Hi Paul .. wondering what you meant by the talk wasn't very well  
> received. I am curious as to how how they justified their  
> (reactive) position.
> Another quick point  - perhaps a slight contradiction in your own  
> position - I may have misread you- but when you support the  
> legitimisation of the early computer period - 1960-1980 is this not  
> institutionalisation in itself? (thinking here of fluxus and  
> institutionalized extension of the bourgeois mechanism of  
> production and distribution etc)
> Gianni Wise
> http://gianniwise.blogspot.com/
> On 23/03/2008, at 7:50 AM, Paul Brown wrote:
>> I once gave a talk to the curators of a large state art gallery  
>> where I compared acquiring contemporary art for the collection to  
>> the 19th century practice of going out to Africa, seeing a  
>> beautiful lion wild in the savannah.  Killing it, having it  
>> stuffed and then exhibited in a diorama as "the real thing".  The  
>> talk wasn't very well received!
>> However it seems to me that contemporary practice doesn't or  
>> shouldn't last forever - it evolves and changes (another concern  
>> is the turgidity of the mainstream artworld since the 60's which  
>> Hughes has referred to as "The New Shock of the New" - but no time  
>> for that). So two things can happen to it.  It can be  
>> institutionalised by the mausoleums and thus became a "legitimate"  
>> part of the historical record.  Or it dies with the artist(s) and  
>> is effectively lost and forgotten though (like early computer art)  
>> may assume some "apocryphal" status.
>> Sean mentioned the recent CACHe project that i was involved in  
>> (Computer Arts, Contexts, Histories, etc...).  This was a funded  
>> initiative intended primarily to legitimise an apocryphal period  
>> of British art history (the early computer period - 1960-1980).   
>> It was very successful - the Victoria and Albert Museum (the UK's  
>> leading mausoleum for the arts and crafts) now have a major  
>> collection of this work (over 1000 pieces) and have appointed a  
>> senior curator of computer art - and a number of books are about  
>> to appear, etc...  In Germany Bremen Museum recently acquired  
>> Herbert Franke's collection of over 2000 early works of computer art.
>> This initiative is broader and covers many areas of "forgotten"  
>> late modernism.  In a recent post I referred to Gustav Metzger  
>> who, after a lifetime of abject poverty, is now receiving due  
>> recognition with several recent shows and books.  Someone referred  
>> to Fluxus games - as a young artist I worked as an assistant for  
>> some of these game/performances in the UK.  The following is an  
>> initiative that is trying to preserve the spirit of Fluxus but in  
>> a way that tries to prevent the "stuff it and put it in a diorama"  
>> approach:
>> March 22, 2008
>> <px.gif>
>> <logo_eflux_medium.gif>
>> Follow Fluxus - After Fluxus
>> <1205940488image_web.jpg>
>> <px.gif>
>> <px.gif>
>> Emily Wardill
>> is the first laureate of the
>> Follow Fluxus–After Fluxus grant!
>> Follow Fluxus - After Fluxus
>> ll\ NKV
>> nassauischer kunstverein wiesbaden
>> wilhelmstr 15
>> 65185 wiesbaden
>> germany
>> info at kunstverein-wiesbaden.de
>> http://www.kunstverein-wiesbaden.de
>> <px.gif>
>> <px.gif>
>> <px.gif>
>> The first ever Follow Fluxus – After Fluxus grant for young  
>> contemporary art called by the NKV nassauischer kunstverein  
>> wiesbaden and the State Capital of Wiesbaden and doted with 10.000  
>> Euro goes to British video and performance artist Emily Wardill.
>> Follow Fluxus – After Fluxus /
>> Follow Fluxus – After Fluxus supports young international artists  
>> whose work suggests ideas inherent to the Fluxus art movement in  
>> order to keep the art current alive. The establishment of the  
>> grant was inspired by the “Fluxus Festival of Very New Music”  
>> which took place in Wiesbaden in 1962. This Fluxus event provided  
>> the first real broad impact for the new art movement and started  
>> off what is now seen as the first international movement operating  
>> in a global network.
>> The endowment of 10,000 Euro is provided annually for a residency  
>> in Wiesbaden from June through August. Living quarters and studio  
>> space is provided by NKV during this time. The work stipend  
>> concludes with an exhibition of the artist’s created work in the  
>> following year between September and May and includes a  
>> publication. The grant holder should reside predominantly in  
>> Wiesbaden for the duration of the grant period.
>> Emily Wardill /
>> Emily Wardill's fresh and insistent pictorial language and her  
>> ambition to tap the full potential of the medium film convinced  
>> the jury to elect her as the first ever Follow Fluxus – After  
>> Fluxus laureate of the NKV and the State Capital of Wiesbaden.
>> Following sources of philosophy, science and culture, in her films  
>> Emily Wardill recomposes text and image material from the history  
>> of ideas – such as the motives of medieval church windows or  
>> theoretical treatises from Ruskin to Rancière – and develops a  
>> many layered and intense meshwork of autonomous statements and  
>> concepts. Her work is concerned with strategies of communication  
>> and the implicit connection between the structure of a language  
>> and the media conversion of the pre-existent text and image material.
>> Based on one single metaphor, one carefully chosen motif, Wardill  
>> plays with the sensuous possibilities of filmic narrative. With  
>> the thus surging social and psychological implications, she pulls  
>> the spectator into an intense tableau vivant. The expectation of a  
>> complex overall meaning is fed by hidden leads and encoded clues  
>> for possible interpretations: The visitor’s perception is wooed  
>> along a labyrinthine path of intellectual seduction.
>> This is where the jury sees the point of contact in the further  
>> development of George Maciunas’ ideas. Primal for the jury’s  
>> decision was not an artist’s self-image as an heir of historical  
>> Fluxus but rather a body of work which transpires the Fluxus  
>> spirit, free of any categorical boundaries.
>> The Jury 2008
>> / Prof. Thomas Bayrle, artist and Professor at the Staedelschule  
>> Frankfurt
>> / Michael Berger, Collection Berger, Wiesbaden
>> / René Block, Curator of the Fluxus Trilogy Wiesbaden 1982 - 1992  
>> - 2002
>> / Rita Thies, Head of Cultural Department of the city of Wiesbaden
>> / Elke Gruhn, Director and Curator of NKV and Dr. Ursula  
>> Schaumburg-Terner, Board Member of NKV
>> Follow Fluxus – After Fluxus is a cooperation of the ll\ NKV  
>> nassauischer kunstverein wiesbaden and the State Capital of the  
>> City of Wiesbaden.
>> <logo_eflux_small.gif>
>> <px.gif>
>> 53 Ludlow street
>> New York, NY 10002, USA
>> On 23 Mar 2008, at 03:35, jonCates wrote:
>>> i wanted to bring this backup in relation to the issues of  
>>> institutionalization + archiving efforts:
>>> On Mar 18, 2008, at 12:07 PM, Julian Oliver wrote:
>>>> of note is an interesting irony pointed out by Celia Pearce, a  
>>>> (video)game
>>>> theorist at Georgia Tech:
>>>> There is deep and tragic irony in going to an exhibition of Fluxus
>>>> artifacts#. Objects whose entire purpose was to elicit play  
>>>> exist now
>>>> only as the corpses of their former selves, trapped in a  
>>>> "Mausoleum"
>>> the ability of artworlds to absorb institutional critique,  
>>> colonialize outsider arts or incorporate anti-art movements is an  
>>> important point to keep in view but i would say its not so much  
>>> ironic as it is expressive of the ability of capital to move/flow  
>>> + encompass oppositional strategies.
>>> so, this move/flow is the quicksand that can entrap + freeze  
>>> movement, capturing corpses to be presented in "Mausoleum" shows  
>>> or the kind of slow death that i think/feel Christian, you were  
>>> referring to when you wrote:
>>> On Mar 21, 2008, at 10:13 AM, Christian McCrea wrote:
>>>> Daphne, I think you're quite right in that a pure
>>>> archive just adds another coat of white paint to the walls.  
>>>> Video work
>>>> of lets say, Brody Condon's Lawful Evil of 2007
>>>> (http://www.tmpspace.com/lawfulevil.html).. instantaneousness is  
>>>> great
>>>> for some projects, and being able to reproduce that moment is  
>>>> better -
>>>> but specifically some game-based art, and specifically in an  
>>>> archive -
>>>> you are freezing the d20 in time
>>> + yet the d20 has to stop rolling in order to allow for gameplay  
>>> as well as for an attempt @ documentation, let alone archiving +  
>>> preservation. an N-Dimensional die infinite rolling towards  
>>> greater + greater degrees of infinity while calculating aleph  
>>> sets is a wonderful entity/process to imagine (+ in fact was  
>>> often conversationally invoked among the core.developers of  
>>> criticalartware, of which i am 01, back in the days when we were  
>>> guests on empyre) but it never stops to display a result, a  
>>> number, to work from or respond to in your D&D campaign. so  
>>> freezing the die, @ least momentarily, is a necessary moment in  
>>> order to play the game. + rolling the die again is also  
>>> important. as Julian reminds us, we also roll + reroll our  
>>> taxonomies when he wrote:
>>> On Mar 18, 2008, at 4:00 AM, Julian Oliver wrote:
>>>> taxonomies can be considered an ecology of vectors, vectors that  
>>>> are
>>>> tested and expended in the distribution and production of  
>>>> culture. they
>>>> are used in the conception and process of making work itself:  
>>>> even if
>>>> taxonomies exist to be argued, rejected, to be battled against,  
>>>> then
>>>> that is a valid rationale to create them (apologies to Voltaire).
>>> i want to comment that there are other options + approaches taken  
>>> by + in: institutions, organizations, museums + mausoleums, white  
>>> cubes + black boxes, etc...
>>> for instance,
>>> @ the ZKM Exhibition:
>>> "Algorithmic Revolution. On the History of Interactive Art" -  
>>> Peter Weibel and Dominika Szope, Katrin Kaschadt, Margit Rosen,  
>>> Sabine Himmelsbach (2004.10.21 - 2008.01.06)
>>> http://tinyurl.com/35jpsv
>>> Digital and New Media Art, Artware + Fluxus work was all included  
>>> in a consideration of instruction sets or code-based art  
>>> practices + as parts of an (institutional) account of the  
>>> "History of Interactive Art". while this major exhibition, by a  
>>> major institution, included Fluxus work, when i saw the  
>>> exhibition i personally thought/felt that it was an inclusion  
>>> that did not deaden the Fluxus work but rather activated it in a  
>>> way that included/engaged it in New Media Art Histories in ways  
>>> that helps reconnect the work to (what we in the criticalartware  
>>> project) refer to as 'rightful unruley pasts'.
>>> the Algorithmic Revolution also reconnected the History of  
>>> Interactive Art to games via the section "World of Games :  
>>> reloaded". about this section, they wrote:
>>> "Interactivity is best illustrated by video and computer games..."
>>> "World of Games : reloaded is an extension of the previous  
>>> presentation of video and computer game ‘classics’ of recent  
>>> years, which from now on is to be updated at regular intervals..."
>>> +
>>> "The history of these games is illustrated in an 'ancestral  
>>> portrait gallery'. Artistic installations document the wide area  
>>> of applications for game technology, while a selection of the  
>>> latest games illustrates the state of the art."
>>> these quotes point towards the difficulties + challenges of  
>>> exhibiting, documenting, archiving, preserving, researching +  
>>> including these kinds of works in historical accounts but include  
>>> also important insights into how to achieve these efforts through  
>>> considerations of interactivity, play, extension + a framing/ 
>>> enframing of commercial corporate/military/academic/entertainment  
>>> technologies in the ancestral portrait gallery'.
>>> by contrast, i recently saw:
>>> 9 Evenings Reconsidered: Art, Theatre, and Engineering, 1966 -  
>>> Clarisse Bardiot (2007.11.10 - 2007.12.08)
>>> http://www.fondation-langlois.org/flash/e/index.php?NumPage=571
>>> at Tesla in Berlin:
>>> http://tesla-berlin.de
>>> 9 Evenings Reconsidered was an exhibition/event which was  
>>> connected to:
>>> re:place 2007: The Second International Conference on the  
>>> Histories of Media, Art, Science and Technology
>>> http://www.mediaarthistory.org/replace/
>>> which, btw, included:
>>> Open Score - Robert Rauschenberg (1966)
>>> a performance/interactive/happening project that based on/ 
>>> appropriated parts of the game of tennis.
>>> Open Score + the other works in 9 Evenings Reconsidered were in  
>>> my experience presented much more as historical/anthropological  
>>> artifacts under glass in display cases more removed from their  
>>> original states as playful interactive forms than the FLUXUS work  
>>> in the Algorithmic Revolution show even though (@ least for me)  
>>> Tesla has the feeling of being much more of an alternative  
>>> cultural space as compared to the ZKM as institutional museum space
>>> ...which is a long way of saying that these issues are complex +  
>>> that inclusion of projects such as these, Art Games or any other  
>>> interactive or playful forms, in archives or exhibitions/events  
>>> entails a complex set of considerations but can + should be  
>>> constructed + navigated in ways that maintain, sustain or even  
>>> reactivate the actual + potential energies of the work
>>> // jonCates
>>> # Assistant Professor - Film, Video & New Media
>>> # The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
>>> # http://saic.edu/~jcates
>>> # Game As Art, Art as Game
>>> # http:// 
>>> artgames.ning.com_______________________________________________
>>> empyre forum
>>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>> ====
>> Paul Brown - based in OZ Dec 07 - Apr 08
>> mailto:paul at paul-brown.com == http://www.paul-brown.com
>> OZ Landline +61 (0)7 5443 3491 == USA fax +1 309 216 9900
>> OZ Mobile +61 (0)419 72 74 85 == Skype paul-g-brown
>> ====
>> Visiting Professor - Sussex University
>> http://www.cogs.susx.ac.uk/ccnr/research/creativity.html
>> ====
>> _______________________________________________
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Paul Brown - based in OZ Dec 07 - Apr 08
mailto:paul at paul-brown.com == http://www.paul-brown.com
OZ Landline +61 (0)7 5443 3491 == USA fax +1 309 216 9900
OZ Mobile +61 (0)419 72 74 85 == Skype paul-g-brown
Visiting Professor - Sussex University

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