[iDC] Curating New Media Art

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Wed Apr 12 11:10:04 EDT 2006

My reflections on the Liverpool event were surely too brief to do
justice to the many presentations there, not to mention the thoughtful
lectures that I did not address at all. A disciplined, in-depth summary
of the event was not what I set out to do. 

³Of course, particularly wonderful for me was the Blue Ships analogy,  
which plays perfectly into Trebor's plea for  alternative,
non-institutional contexts for the presentation and reception of such
work.² Amanda asserts.

Blue Ships such as colossal upscale art establishments indeed turn
slowly. They are not very flexible. These brick and mortar institutions
rely on large funding bodies and corporate or state blessings. The many
examples of well-funded and consequential Blue Ship festivals that
Amanda and Andreas (on Crumb) listed give testimony to the fact that
there are functioning models in these contexts. I did not offer an all
out plea for moving out of the museum or gallery or festival hall.
However, there is so much dissatisfaction with the isolation of media
art (with ³ghettoization² being the keyword used most frequently at nma
events) that I wonder where the symposia and large curatorial
initiatives are that explicitly set out to create novel venues that may
be more appropriate to emerging and hybrid media. There is a vast amount
of creativity out there that never makes it into museums or galleries
because of political considerations related to the private funding
bodies behind the museum. An entire trajectory of work is flushed down
the sink of history. This is an additional argument for more inclusive
and appropriate, novel venues for new media. 

It could be asserted that the same is true for media theory. The ivory
tower of the university and an overly in-crowd new media speak cuts off
broad-based participation. Much can be said in support of an
undisciplined media theory that does not give in to the
often-suffocating corset of academic rules.  This can be exemplified by
Geert Lovink writings. He refers to it as ³wild writing.²  

There is, of course, value to a small, tightly knit, band of media
curators researching the ins and outs of problems specific to creating
exhibitions of media art. The properties of emerging media are
idiosyncratic and often temporal and so indeed-- such congregations 
make perfect sense. 

However, I appreciated the focus of the Art-Place-Technology conference
as it tried to go outside this inner disciplinary circle. The danger of
closed-door expert groups is that they, possibly even internationally,
re-inscribe the same voices and thus interchangeable discourses again
and again. In the context of this conference I enjoyed the ³alien
intruders,² the seemingly off-topic comments the most. Perhaps a more
elaborate debate is needed about the question of the expert as
authority. The example of Friedrich Kittler comment on Grau¹s Virtual
Art book exemplifies this argument. Kittler asserts a finality achieved
by a single author. This agenda assumes that there is no value to other
voices on this subject. This suggestion takes on a false, authoritative
appearance of stewardship. Many authors, experts and ³lay people,² have
contributions to make to the discourse of new media, and virtual art in
particular. Many people have a unique perspective that can add to a
better understanding of a research topic. Such inclusiveness assures a
broader discursiveness. This line of thought is difficult to argue in a
strictly academic context in which there are specialists who looked at
all material in a small given field and are thus undeniably well
informed. But expert knowledge does not replace lived experience, an
emotional understanding of the learned material, an urgency behind one¹s
agenda, or knowledge accumulated through practice (call it
practice-based research). This guides me to suggest ³wild, undisciplined
media theory² and a hybrid between a ³folk discourse of new media
curating² as ³originating from the beliefs of ordinary people² and
expert culture. 

In his post John develops the idea that ³All the effort to get cool new
media art into museums will be wasted if people eventually stop
supporting monological cultural institutions such as museums altogether.
[...]  Some artists dream of seeing their work in there. An increasing
number don't. For them, with the www as their gallery, curators are far
less important than a well-located link. And for audiences, well, if it
can't be Googled...²

Many cultural producers indeed show little interest in the institutional
inclusion of their work. But perhaps considering the ³WWW as gallery² as
the alternative is not the answer. Online, there are sharing networks
that inspire and provide a platform. A complete virtualization, however,
will not and should not replace warm bodies.  
I love John¹s ³monological cultural institutions such as museums²
phrase. Irrespective of my agreement, and just having been to the packed
house of an underwhelming Whitney Biennial I think the end of the museum
is quite far on the horizon. Nevertheless, this does not indicate that
the broadcast model of the museum or gallery does not have serious
competition from more interactive, web-powered initiatives.     

³Dance clubs:  of course, it makes perfect sense. Community centres are
also obvious and appropriate.² Amanda posits. If what I argue has long
been known, then, where are the projects that exemplify that? Who
curates them? Who writes about them? When was the last time we saw a
media art show in a community center or dance club? There are, no doubt,
some examples but they have not gained visibility. 

Bus tours are quite common. The travelling DJ and faux guide tour are a
start. Consequently, I¹m not canceling out Blue Ship contexts at all. At
Art-Place-Technology and many other new media events isolation is
frequently bemoaned. Perhaps this discussion can open up or inspire
trajectories for different models of curating media art and theorizing


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