[-empyre-] welcome and initial ruminations

Andrew Lau andrewjlau at gmail.com
Thu Nov 7 04:43:00 EST 2013

Greetings from Oakland!

I'm really encouraged by the discussion so far! I recently moved up here to
the Bay Area in California, and am too looking for ways to get plugged in
to the local art and academic scenes. I'm also really encouraged by the
potential connections in our various interests around this topic.

I want to latch onto some questions that Patrick posed (and were alluded to
by Roberta and Selmin). Patrick asked, "But is the point of documentation
to fully actualize/ reconstruct/ realize such experiences as they happened?
Is that even possible? In fact, documentation often involves its own
aesthetic contrivances and offers a different narrative (and narrative
structure). What does it mean to capture a moment (even a long moment)?
Surely it means to re-render it and to render it anew -- with all the
benefits and problems of doing so...why document?"

I think there are multiple reasons why an event or experience might be
documented. There is a sort of "evidentiary impulse" in which the intention
behind documentation practice is merely to supply proof that something
happened. In my research with LA-based artists, I found that many artists
document simply because that's what they learned to do in their BFA or MFA
programs (particularly if they're working with performance or events as
their medium). But an alternate perspective might argue that documentation
of an event can never replicate that event, that the act of viewing is
itself an event that might re-present the event as depicted in the
document, but always already exists at a remove from the event. I suppose
the difference between these two perspectives has something to do with how
the viewer of the document is understood in relation to the event and how
that event is accessed (and mediated) by the document itself. In the
perspective that privileges documentation as the creation of evidence,
there is an implicit assumption that the document "brings" the past event
into the future. In contrast, a perspective that understands each moment of
viewing a document of a past event (a rally, a workshop, a performance,
etc.) as engendering a wholly new event might understand that the "past"
event" as depicted in the document is co-constructed by the viewer herself,
in that very moment where the document is apprehended as such.

Now this dichotomy is quite crude, to be sure. And there are many ways that
these two perspectives might be complexified (as they should). But I think
that this distinction is productive for thinking through some of the
questions about why an artivist might document her interventions and
projects, but even further, *how* such documents might be created. In other
words, this distinction alludes to the space in which a document performs
as a document (whether understood as archival, evidentiary, etc. or not). I
would argue that this "performatic context" - in which a document performs
as a representation of a past event - is perhaps where some possibilities
for documenting artivism might be located.

I think it's also important to note that there are many examples in which
documentation cannot be separated from the intervention. In some cases, the
documentation co-constitutes the performance or event since the 1960s with
Conceptualism, and later, community-based art and new genres public art in
the US (see: Miwon Kwon's dated-but-still-relevant *One Place After
Another* and
Martha Buskirk's *The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art*). For many of
these projects, documentation (whether in the form of video footage,
photographs, etc.) becomes very important, even if such documentary objects
are metonymically treated as the work itself because of the inability to
access the originary event or performance.

I just want to end my post here with a link to an article that reviews the
Chitra Ganesh and Mariam Ghani's *Index of the Disappeared: *
http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/5j76z82c#page-1. This article does an
excellent job of describing some of the complexities of documentation and
activism in contemporary art, focusing on a distinction between "cold data"
collected by the US Government after 9/11 about immigrants and "warm data"
collected by the New York-based artists that presents a questionnaire to
visitors of their website in an attempt to "personalize" the archive. That
is, the intervention in the wake of 9/11 was to undermine the construction
of the spoken state subject (through the cold data collected by the US
Government) by creating a warm database of the personal experiences of
speaking subjects.

On Wed, Nov 6, 2013 at 5:12 AM, Patrick Keilty <p.keilty at utoronto.ca> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> I was thrilled to read Roberta's post about documentary-artivist movements
> in Toronto and Montreal! Selmin and I are both looking for ways to get
> better plugged-in to both the artistic and academic scene here in Toronto.
> (I've barely discovered all the things happening at my home institution!)
> Your post highlighted some excellent resources, including artscisalon and
> the Subtle Technologies Festival -- amazing! Thank you!
> I certainly hope the global nature of networks doesn't prevent us from
> addressing events happening across the streets in our cities. Mass arrivals
> and the student protests in Montreal are great examples. I have also lately
> been fascinated by the work of Jo SiMalaya Alcampo, a community-based
> artist in Toronto who works with queer youth (http://www.josimalaya.com/).
> I particularly love her installation "Singing Plants":
> http://www.josimalaya.com/singing-plants.html. Plants, especially singing
> plants, are so queer! "Singing Plants" is part of a number of installations
> by Jo that address the ways to reclaim indigenous knowledge. As Mass
> Arrivals reminds us, we are living on occupied land. Singing Plants aims to
> reconstruct the way in which the children, grandchildren, and great
> grandchildren of colonized subjects act as silent witnesses to the stories
> of their families' roots of resistance. According to Jo's website, Singing
> Plants "is an interactive installation in which living plants are keepers
> of story, cultural history and memory.  The intent is to reconstruct what
> has been lost and repressed through trauma: the unspeakable."
> I want to suggest that Singing Plants, too, is a form of documentary
> artivism. While the installation is video-recorded, which acts as one level
> of documentation, the plants themselves serve as a form of documentation --
> a non-textual, non video, but nevertheless electronic, audio-visual form of
> documentation. Singing Plants also posses the same problems of
> documentation that both Roberta and micha highlight -- that the document
> can never fully realize the experience of a protest or, in the case of
> Singing Plants, moments of resistance during colonization. But is the point
> of documentation to fully actualize/ reconstruct/ realize such experiences
> as they happened? Is that even possible? In fact, documentation often
> involves its own aesthetic contrivances and offers a different narrative
> (and narrative structure). What does it mean to capture a moment (even a
> long moment)? Surely it means to re-render it and to render it anew -- with
> all the benefits and problems of doing so.
> I'll leave it for someone else to address how documentary practices might
> sustain a movement and build alliances. I am not sure documentation itself
> can do that, and I wonder if that's the reason we document. I genuinely
> don't know. It's an open question. Why document?
> On Tue, Nov 5, 2013 at 10:41 PM, Selmin Kara <selminkara at gmail.com> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> I would like to thank everyone for the initial batch of wonderful posts.
>> I would like to respond to some of them at length later but let me
>> immediately explain why there is no mention of Toronto-based artivism in
>> our initial provocation in case that creates skepticism about our
>> investments. Although Patrick and I are hailing from Toronto, I have only
>> been living in Canada for 2 years (was in the US for 8 years before then)
>> and Patrick arrived just last year from the US. As a Turkish scholar, I
>> have been selfishly preoccupied with the social justice protests taking
>> place in my home country (and the possibility of a war between Turkey and
>> Syria) for the last couple of months, which will hopefully explain the
>> cultural specificity of the Gezi example. Similarly, my interest in Ai
>> Weiwei's hooliganism derives from the autocratic governments' common
>> labelling of protesters around the world as hooligans (as in the case of
>> Turkish government declaring Gezi protesters "capulcu/looters," Russian
>> government prosecuting Pussy Riot as hooligans, and India's own
>> gunda/goonda history). Therefore, our highlighting of Ai Weiwei in the
>> provocation has nothing to do with the Art Gallery of Ontario's recent
>> engagements with the artist's work against the backdrop of Toronto's own
>> very powerful artivist practices. Please do not take it as a gesture of
>> dismissal of what's happening in the city.
>> On Tue, Nov 5, 2013 at 8:39 PM, rbuiani <rbuiani at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>>> hi all from the crack-smoking-mayor city,
>>> I couldn't help responding to this thread. I was attracted by the topic
>>> of documenting activism in the age of networks and by the fact that this
>>> post comes quite explicitly from toronto but  doesn't mention, nor it
>>> indicates the interest for any local practice in Toronto involved in
>>> dealing with this very issue. This combination got me a bit puzzled and at
>>> the same time intrigued. I have these two preliminary questions: Does the
>>> global nature of networks prevent us from addressing (digitally) events and
>>> movements happening literally across the street in our cities? does the
>>> explosive noise of famous (Ai Weiwei), well-organized and already
>>> well-documented events make them more worth of attention than other minor,
>>> messier, less organized and poorly documented local and grassroots
>>> movements?
>>> In response to documenting art activism and having to deal with --quite
>>> typical-- objections: I have been working on an itinerant project (the
>>> Sandbox Project) that examines and experiments with different ways to bring
>>> together art and different forms of activism (in the context of social
>>> justice, labor activism and in the sciences) both at the grassroots and
>>> local levels, as well as in an online environment (here in Toronto). I
>>> found that when dealing with a number of people coming from different
>>> experiences and contexts, it is difficult to find one definition of
>>> activism. you can engage in activist practice and consider yourself just a
>>> concerned citizen, or a scientist who does his/her job ethically. A labor
>>> activist has very specific ideas of what activism means, and so the artist.
>>> needless to say, the circumstances change the way we approach anything
>>> "activism". But do we really have to qualify the people involved as artist,
>>> activist, scientist etc...? shoudln't we rather focus on strengthening
>>> collaborative and coordinated efforts? I found it useful (sometimes) to
>>> approach this diversity by focusing on the process of doing things together
>>> (I think Marc Garrett and Ruth Catlow have written about this). again, here
>>> in Toronto, there has been quite some discussion about this. I am thinking
>>> of No One is Illegal and the group behind Mass Arrivals (put together by
>>> Farrah Miranda, Graciela Flores, Tings Chak, Vino Shanmuganathan, and Nadia
>>> Saad) http://changeasart.org/?p=287 . Depending on your perspective,
>>> you can see it as public art or as political intervention.
>>> This brings me to the issue of documenting this sort of work online. The
>>> website showing Mass Arrivals reports a video. unless you were there at the
>>> time it happened, you would  not be able to seize the surprise, the tense
>>> and emotional atmosphere that this intervention created. Last year, I
>>> followed and briefly participated in the massive students demonstrations in
>>> Montreal. Back in Toronto, I tried to do my part and disseminate the
>>> wonderful videos these passionate young militants were producing. However,
>>> many people who didn't know what was happening in Quebec could not decipher
>>> those videos. all they saw were...well, pretty videos (note, they did not
>>> consider themselves artists, yet they used art quite often).  how do you
>>> document such work without turning it into a mere sequence of pictures or a
>>> simple video? how do you reproduce affect and mobilize a vivid response or
>>> genuine solidarity across the world for instance? How do you eventually
>>> extend an event as intense and emotional as Mass Arrivals, or so dense of
>>> significance as the Carrés Rouges', encouraging dialogue with other groups
>>> not necessarily located in your city, and promoting community/alliance
>>> building? this is where I think that talking about documentation might not
>>> be sufficient. Also, quite often, the online tools we have available tend
>>> to limit this lively dialogue.
>>> I think this is probably the right place to ask all these questions. I
>>> am sure writing about it like any good academic, but in this context I am
>>> more concerned about possible tactics, actions, experiments, even solutions.
>>> intriguing topic, indeed
>>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>> PhD in communication and culture,
>>> Department of Communication Studies, York University
>>> programmer ArtSci Salon http://artscisalon.wordpress.com/
>>> program advisor Subtle Technologies Festival
>>> http://subtletechnologies.com
>>> http://atomarborea.net
>>> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>> On Nov 5, 2013, at 11:04 AM, Selmin Kara wrote:
>>> > ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>>> > Hello everyone from Toronto,
>>> >
>>> > "Documenting digital artivism" is perhaps a loaded topic, as it points
>>> to an intersection among four different areas of research and practice:
>>> documentary practices and documentation, digital practices and new media,
>>> art, and activism. In my own experience, discussing these four things under
>>> the same framework poses a challenge as people often ask for clarification
>>> especially in relation to what artivism implies or how it can be
>>> distinguished from other modes of activism that entail documentation and
>>> mediation (which are themselves perceived as artistic activities).
>>> >
>>> > The resistance comes from 3 main objections.
>>> >
>>> > How to approach documentation, art, and activism in the age of
>>> networks, then? Instead of responding to that question with a clear
>>> definition, I suggest opening it up to discussion here. Hopefully, our
>>> responses (criticisms and resistances) will be diverse.
>>> >
>>> >
>>> >
>>> > Sincerely,
>>> >
>>> > Selmin
>>> >
>>> >
>>> >
>>> > Selmin Kara
>>> >
>>> > Assistant Professor of Documentary and New Media
>>> >
>>> > OCAD University
>>> >
>>> > _______________________________________________
>>> > empyre forum
>>> > empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>> > http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> empyre forum
>>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> --
> Patrick Keilty
> Assistant Professor
> Faculty of Information
> University of Toronto
> @patrickkeilty <https://twitter.com/PatrickKeilty>
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
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