[iDC] The Social Event Machine
gshea at imagebusiness.com
Thu Feb 2 15:35:28 EST 2006
When I think of the conference, the festival, the academy or any of the
other institutions we use to contextualize our cultural activities, I
wonder: Why do some work better than most? It is suggested in these posts
that the format of the thing may be the biggest determinant of its success.
(Or at least the biggest determinant of its failure, if that's the case.)
It's also possible that the right-time/right-place factor may result in an
event's effectiveness in ways that the organizers could never have
foreseen. (Woodstock comes to mind. Or the Bauhaus.)
I decided to look back at one significant context and try to find the
factors that made it stand out for decades afterwards: in this case the
Photo-Electric Art Department of the Ontario College of Art (c. 1975-79).
One of the first art schools in Canada to embrace digital and electronics,
lead briefly by Roy Ascot, its PEA department embraced Norman White's
vision of art and technology and spawned a whole generation of media
artists. Norman claims now that computers had so little practical value at
the time that they were the perfect tool for artists - a condition which
could only be replicated today if we found the next premature platform to
embrace. PEA chair Richard Hill (and his wife and partner Sheila) thought
that the College's antagonism towards the department actually galvanized it
into a community stronger than any college department ought to be. Former
students believe that it was the revolutionary zeal and personalities of
the instructors that made them rise far above the academic crowd.
Ted Nelson was an invitee at one of PEA's new media festival events and I
asked him why people thought that place was so special at that time and he
said: Richard and Sheila were eminently hospitable. That's it. A
deep-seated respect and a joie-de-vivre are the factors that make one
discourse enterprise more resonant than another.
It's no surprise then that the casual, oral cultural dialogues cited in the
discussions above seem to have more appeal than the formal, institutional
ones. Hospitality and enjoyment (can) naturally flow out of direct
interpersonal relations. They must be planned and built into structured ones.
(In another, related manifestation of this same study, I have been
pondering the way that democracy operates in a small community and the
effect it has on the interaction, support and culture of the inhabitants.
To this end I ran for and was elected to my local municipal council. I have
been trying to compare my experiences to those of other artists who have
engaged directly with democratic government, but have found only a handful:
Gilberto Gil, Vaclav Havel, Charlie Angus. I would appreciated referrals to
other if people have them.)
(PEA project: www.unscrambled.com/robots)
gshea at ImageBusiness.com
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