[-empyre-] Introduction

Andrew Lau andrewjlau at live.com
Wed Nov 6 02:55:12 EST 2013



My name is Andrew and I am one of the -empyre discussants for this first
week in November. I know that Patrick already sent around my bio, but I
wanted to provide a little more information about my background to perhaps
help frame some of the discussion. 


I recently received my PhD in Information Studies from UCLA this past June,
and devoted my dissertation work to exploring alternative and artist-run
spaces in Los Angeles as a kind of community network of artists, activists,
cultural producers, filmmakers, etc. I worked with an LA-based organization
and gallery called Machine Project (http://machineproject.com/), and plotted
the evolution of their documentation practices. Machine Project was (and is)
deeply invested in social practices, and I was interested in how their
documentation reflected this orientation, especially in social media
contexts. Using ethnographic methods, I spent several years working with
Machine Project artists, documenting how the group documented their
event-based programs. I was fascinated by the shift from a view of
documentation as a passive activity (in the form of sticking a camera on a
tripod to record "evidence" of an event, as an indexical by-product of an
event or social transaction, or a "record" as traditionally conceived in
discourse of professional archival science), to a view that understands
documentation as actively constructing notions of the event, especially when
understood from the perspective of the viewer of the document. The latter
sense locates a kind of agency in the document - a view that largely absent
from professional archival thinking, but has of course been touched upon in
actor network theory, and even some of Michel Serres' work on quasi-objects
(see: The Parasite -
http://books.google.com/books/about/The_parasite.html?id=C64dAQAAIAAJ). I
was also interested in how these ideas about documentation and social
practices in contemporary art might be understood within the frame of
community, but one that isn't centered on some kind of identity (see
Blanchot's The Unavowable Community, Nancy's The Inoperative Community, and
Kwon's One Place After Another:  Site-Specific Art and Location Identity).
With Machine Project, the video documentation of their events was only part
of what I was interested in; I was also looking at how viewers or
participants in Machine Project events also create documentation and share
them using YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, etc. That is to say that I was
interested in understanding Machine Project documentation from not just the
perspective of the artists of the organization, but also from the community
attending and participating in Machine Project's events. I was less
interested in privileging the documentation practices of Machine Project
than I was in exploring and juxtaposing the plurality of voices embedded in
the community's documentation of the organization's events. That is, the
organization's "official" documentation was but a small subset of the
archive that the larger community creates. 


There's a lot to unpack here, and I hope that what I've described above
prompts some discussion around documentation, art, where activism might be
located between the two (or as a result of combining the two), and perhaps
even how ideas of the archive (conceptual as well as practical) might be
brought to bear. 


Thanks and I look forward to the discussion!

Andrew J Lau


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