[-empyre-] Tactical Media; this week's guests
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
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
>> 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.
>> marc bohlen
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