[-empyre-] Tactical Media; this week's guests

Sarah Cook sarah.e.cook at sunderland.ac.uk
Wed Apr 28 00:17:32 EST 2010

Dear empyre readers

My apologies for my delay in catching up with the great discussion  
and posting. I have just landed in Ottawa (where it is hovering  
around zero degrees and lightly snowing this morning!) for a writing  
residency with SAW Video. As a full time research academic within a  
UK university, and freelance curator whose practice takes place  
outside of the university physically but within the remit of my job,  
I am lucky to be able to leave my desk at CRUMB and come sit at  
someone else's desk at SAW Video studying and writing about the work  
of other artists for a stretch of time this spring.
This kind of transborder curatorial working, where I find myself a  
guest in someone else's organisation but often with the role of  
hosting artists of my choosing there, has some link to the discussion  
at hand. (Perhaps it is the 'borrowed uniform' model). The university  
shares in (or owns in part or at least takes credit in return for  
funding) all new research I generate (about curating, about media  
art, such as through the books I've authored/edited). But the host  
organisation (this spring it is SAW Video, last year the list  
included xcult.org, Eyebeam, and others) trusts in me to generate new  
ideas and international connections of relevance to them and supports  
those outcomes financially and intellectually as well. In a decade of  
curating in this freelance manner rarely have I ever had to sign an  
agreement with the host organisation about what I will and will not  
put on their letterhead and how I will or will not use their name and  
brand and support of me beyond the project we are agreed to work on.  
I deeply appreciate that this trust exists, to know my work is valued  
and seen as adding value, without having to negotiate at every stage  
from brief to realisation.
Now I suspect that were I to be working predominantly with artists  
whose work borders on the edges of legality or employs deliberately  
questioning or questionable strategies to make a point -- from  
copyright infringement to importing biological components, let's say  
-- perhaps the host organisations (the museums, galleries, artist-run  
centres, publishers) would be more wary in trusting in me, but I  
actually don't know if that would be the case. As a middle-person /  
mediator-curator I can propose (indeed I am expected) to work with  
any artists or ideas I see fit (and see fit in relation to that host  
organisation). But what would happen if a higher authority called in  
to question what we were doing? Would the organisation let the  
freelancer take the blame, or would they fight it together? Would  
stronger contractual agreements about whose idea it was be put in  
place the next time?
In these discussions I think of the work of my former colleague at  
CRUMB, Ele Carpenter, who curated an exhibition at the CCA Glasgow as  
part of her PhD research with us - Risk: Creative Action in Political  
Culture http://crumb.sunderland.ac.uk/~ele/risk/riskwebsitenov06/ 
risk.htm. She might be better placed to discuss this kind of guest- 
hosting arrangement than I, where the work on show challenges  
political authority and the host organisation covers for it. The  
exhibition was a case study her PhD was based upon, but the  
University didn't particularly take ownership of the content of the  
show so much as the knowledge she gained in the process of curating  
it. On the other hand one could ask curator Steve Dietz about the  
Open Source Art Hack show at the New Museum in 2002 in which a work  
was withdrawn from the show over concerns the museum had about  
infringing its agreement with its service provider. http:// 
www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2002/05/52546 or ask Scott  
Burnham about his withdrawl from organising the Montreal Biennial  
after his proposed 'open source' audience-as-artist-collaborator  
curatorial platform was seen as too public and too risky and not  
'Art' enough by the board and other directors (you can watch my  
interview with him here: http://eyebeam.org/press/media/videos/ 
eyebeam-summer-school-curatorial-masterclass-day-1). One could also  
ask the Tate how they negotiated with Heath Bunting over his online  
commission of the BorderXing project, where they got around the  
sticky question of actually 'distributing' information which could be  
used to break laws (cross borders illegally) by suggesting what they  
commissioned was research and documentation, not the work itself.
These are tangential to the case of the BANG lab at CALIT, but could  
present lessons for how to be tactical in placing university- 
supported research into other public contexts.
Apologies again if this posting seems out of kilter with the  
discussion thus far, as I read threads backwards and try to catch up.
from an unseasonably chilly morning,


>> Date: Mon, 26 Apr 2010 19:48:30 -0400
>> From: Marc Böhlen <marcbohlen at acm.org>
>> Reply-To: marcbohlen at acm.org
>> To: Timothy Murray <tcm1 at cornell.edu>
>> Subject: Re: Fwd: Re: [-empyre-] Tactical Media; this week's guests
>> X-PM-EL-Spam-Prob: : 8%
>> -------------------------
>> Dear -empyre-
>> Thanks to Tim and Renate for inviting me to participate. Thanks  
>> also to the other participants who have posted thoughtful  
>> commentary on the situation.
>> While I am also angry with UC administrators for making BANG lab's  
>> life hell, I think it might be worthwhile to consider some of the  
>> broader issues this fiasco makes apparent.
>> Beatriz da Costa's post from Apr15 2010 really lays out the  
>> problem well. Can one really expect academia to support tactical  
>> media? Not if the university recognizes it as such. Passing the  
>> development of tactical media as bona fide research is probably  
>> over (da Costa). And seen from that vantage point, BANG bit the  
>> hand that feeds it, signing off on email correspondence with CALIT  
>> research credentials.
>> Are there alternatives?
>> If one is going to operate in broad daylight, there are two  
>> choices (I see). Wear a wig (so no one knows who you are) or wear  
>> a uniform (so you look like the others).
>> In the wig model, the artist works a day job at a university and  
>> keeps his/her critical practice separate from the research at the  
>> university.
>> In the uniform model, the artist works a day job at the university  
>> and selectively melts his/her practice into research recognized by  
>> the university.
>> I use a variation of the uniform model. I make use of the fact  
>> that my work in alternate information design (in the widest sense)  
>> is of interest to the engineering community. I sit on panels that  
>> I am not interested in, in order to try to move the ensuing  
>> discussion along lines it would otherwise not travel. I review  
>> amazingly boring high end research papers in order to be to make  
>> the authors consider the social ramifications of their elaborate  
>> experiments. Yes, they must revise their work accordingly.
>> This uniform model is not for everyone. But it seems, on occasion,  
>> to help create diversity where it is really needed.
>> The point I would like to make is that research in/from the arts  
>> at universities, on most basic levels, needs to be re-evaluated.
>> Greetings,
>> marc bohlen
>> www.realtechsupport.org

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