[-empyre-] … once upon a time ...

Melinda Rackham melinda at subtle.net
Mon Jun 3 14:39:34 EST 2013

hello -empyre-

That it is eleven and a half years since I sent out invitations to 50 people to join -empyre-  is  quiet unbelievable!

I was looking for that original email invitation however it seems to have been lost several laptops ago - instead I've located an article from September 2002... an archival window into  -empyre-  as a fast growing 9 month old baby...

At that time I was writing my Phd, building non propriety 3d worlds, and -empyre- was instigated as a forum to discuss theoretical issues around virtual and media art practices. The early -empyre- years ended for me in late 2005, participating only sporadically  while I was Director of ANAT, then curating in Australia and China. My last -empyre- discussion was Manifest Dynasty: Media Arts in China, co-moderated with Edward Sanderson in November 2010.  For anyone interested there is a fascinating archive of the early guests and topics here -  http://www.subtle.net/empyre/guests.html

My personal -empyre- era seems forever ago. Currently I'm totally enjoying being off grid - researching a book titled Attachment - exploring forced adoption, loss and identity formation. The work is primarily autobiographical; seamed by the fictions of virtual and imagined reality; anchored by the psychology of Attachment Theory. Its a different perspective on the relational realities I've explored over many medias and decades. 

I have met so may wonderfully articulate, generous and very smart people through -empyre- over the years - too many of you to name - who stimulated my intellect and enriched my emotional landscape.  I'd like to specially shout out to the dedicated moderator team I worked with for the longest period - Christina McPhee, Michael Arnold Mages and Jim Andrews.- u rocked!  Congratulations to todays' moderators for keeping pushing new boundaries,  and too everyone who has contributed in moderation, administration, technically and in discussion to make -empyre- the sophisticated community it is today.

long live -empyre-

Melinda Rackham


-empyre- :: soft skinned space

-empyre- mailing list sprang into being in January 2002, hosted on the College of Fine Arts server at UNSW. It is an online forum which regularly invites guest artists, theorists, curators, producers or administrators from the Australia/Pacific and International media arts field to discuss their projects, publications, pet theories and productions. It intends to focus on media art issues in depth, without necessarily being academically referenced, or concerned with delineating areas of practice into interactive, or digital, 2 or 3D, net or rom, or PDA, or flash, or image or text.

The list has a specific format for a number of reasons. Over the years I had been getting frustrated with the low ratio of signal to noise on other lists, and seeing lists like Recode and Syndicate be torn apart by the constant revision of the social structure of the list - i.e. discussions over what was appropriate in mailing list etiquette in terms of announcements and postings.  How to deal with those who were perceived to break these codes of behaviour overtook actually talking about media arts topics and the lists died. I also wanted a discussion space which would explore topics specific to 3d spaces on the web, as I had been working in that area of practice for a few years and discovered a vibrant global community discussing the technical issues associated with web3d, but no avenues for the more aesthetic or theoretical discussions of networked dimensional environments. And most importantly, I saw other lists where the culture of the Internet and impacts of technology were being discussed by writers and academics, but not by artists who were making work in the field.

–empyre– aims  to fill those gaps. How it works is that each invited guest speaker has the list for period of time to discuss different aspects of their new media practice, or their books or their sites, or performances, or curated shows. After a few format changes… (our first guest, theorist and artist Ollivier Dyens, held the forum space for almost 6 weeks discussing his book and website Metal and Flesh,) list guests are generally now in two-week slots. Topics range from artist/curator Patrick Lichty speaking on PDA, wearable, and hand-held art; to producer Antoanetta Ivanova discussing digital copyright and artist rights online.

Offline –empyre- would equate to a casual lecture series, or a resident workshop program. The list provides the space and the audience, the guest decides the  topic, and is responsible for posting. Lately I have been organising guests with complimentary interests for each month, eg Adrian Miles and Jill Walker from RMIT, Melbourne and University of Bergen, Norway discussed blogs and video blogs; and Curators/writers Valérie Lamontagne and Sylvie Parent, both from Montréal discussed aspects of gallery and online curation, web history and factors relating to the visibility of web.art. 

The list aims to have diversity in its scheduled topics, and to be flexible enough to adapt to current events. In March this year, while the Web3d Art show was physically installed at the ICA London, –empyre- simultaneously provided an online forum, where a large number of the artists from the show, including John Klima Jaka Zeleznikar and Tamiko Theil discussed the issues in their work. Similarly, E-lounge the online follow-up from an Atlantic rim conference held in east coast Canada is coming up in October, covering issues like net.art and wireless networks. Other forthcoming guests and topics include a discussion on projected identity and public /private web spaces with code poet Mez; the Japanese mathematically based Method art movement with Hideki Nakazawa ; Cyber feminisms with Julianne Pierce; Constructing Virtuality and Avatar Manifestos with Gregory Little  and Joseph Nechvatal; and Artificial Life with theorist Mitchell Whitelaw.

When I launched –empyre- as an experiment, I thought it would be a cosy intimate group of around 50 people, however it attracted diverse subscribers. The numbers go up and down as people try it out to see if they like it, some people who’ve been there a while leave, others join for a specific guest or topic. Currently it’s around 370 subscribers, with around 40% from the Australia/Pacific region, the rest from North America and Europe with a splattering from Eastern Europe , South America and Asia. One of my future goals for the list is to expand the subscribership in Asian regions.

It is a low to moderate traffic list with an average of 30 messages a week. Regularly about 15% of subscribers post - there are a few who have something to contribute to the discussion on every topic, as well as constantly changing posters dependent on the guest and topic. The rest of –empyre-  are silently lurking… which is an interesting form of participation. Recently I overheard someone on the list who had never posted, discussing a list topic in an offline context, and I realised that a mailing list’s influence is far beyond what happens publicly online, it reverberates - becomes interactive in the wider community. People contribute by reading, nothing is passive. A lot of people also make interesting observations either to myself or to the current guest instead of the whole list, as it does take time to become involved with an online discussion. To quote Sean Cubitt –empyre-‘s August guest - “One thing I wanted to murmur about here is time: the proliferation of different times. There's the time of sending, the time of reading and the time of replying on a list.”

List etiquette issues of course are always present… from its inception I have had strong guidelines as to what are appropriate postings, for example -empyre- is not a chat space, nor an announcement or self-promotion list, nor online performance space. It’s for topic discussion only, and I state up front that I will unsubscribe anyone who consistently disregards these guidelines without entering into debate. And I’ve had to remove or ask a few people to unsubscribe already. So it is quiet strict in that sense, however if people don’t like those guidelines there are many other lists available.

Initially I thought –empyre- would run for a year and then close, as it takes time and energy to maintain a list, however because it works well and the format has built a momentum, it will continue.  Christina McPhee, a US West Coast media artist, and Adrian Miles from RMIT, Melbourne are joining me as co-moderators and co- administrators, scheduling next years guests and topics. We are always looking for others interested in maintaining this locally based spunky online community.

Melinda Rackham
September 2002
melinda at subtle.net


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