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

Sarah Cook sarah.e.cook at sunderland.ac.uk
Wed Apr 28 03:22:26 EST 2010

As a P.S. to my earlier message, in which I can't believe I didn't  
use the word collaboration!
I should also say - more abstractly - that I believe that good  
collaborations in tactical media often end when a joint plan to  
subvert a system gets caught up with individual parties using tactics  
upon which collaborators don't agree.... and that tied to this, in my  
experience, as a freelancer working within a host institution, if I  
did choose through my curatorial practice to subvert the intentions  
of that host institution (say, working with an artist employing  
tactical media to open the organisation up, to engage in  
institutional critique from the inside) it would be likely that, if I  
overstepped my host too much without negotiating the tactics with  
them beforehand, my invitation from the host to work with them would  
be rescinded (or I'd have to choose between remaining with my host  
organisation or with my invited artist/collaborator)... and yet I  
know that my actual employer, the University, would always (and has  
done) back me up in terms of what I was doing as having relevant  
research underpinnings, and as containing valuable lessons (even in  
failure) of bringing research (that of the artist, that of my own  
about curating or media art for instance) into practice. so long as I  
could demonstrate that it was always responsible and well-executed  
research I suppose, not that I'd completely misjudged my host  
organisation (or even given away power which wasn't given to me to  
give away, if that makes sense). This is my privilege of being a  
University-based researcher 'on loan' to other public organisations -  
I can always retreat from the front line to the ivory tower.
I hope it is not too vague to describe things in this way. But  
perhaps unlike others on this list I work not in a University which  
is funding my research as it relates to military contractors or even  
government initiatives but in relation to a vague idea of art as  
being a part of the social good, and at the equally vague edges of  
the field of what is considered new media art at that.
And so, on behalf of my host organisation, this afternoon I'll go  
back to preparing a talk which contains enough relevant content to  
look good on their next funding application.
with a wink,

On 27 Apr 2010, at 15:17, Sarah Cook wrote:

> 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,
> Sarah
> www.crumbweb.org
> www.sarahcook.info
>>> 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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