[iDC] death of the artist?

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Sun Feb 5 12:12:38 EST 2006

Thanks, Francis. The use of skype interviews and pre-recorded
introductory video is inspiring. 

Who organizes? In the context of event organizing it is worth noting
that it is not exclusively curators who conceptualize and organize.
Recently I was in conversation with one of my graduate students. We
mapped his work for the semester. We looked at readings that may be
appropriate for him. Then I asked what he planned in the line of
cultural production. "I want to organize an event. A conference
perhaps." He also intends to explore blogs as artistic medium,
investigating and making strange the characteristic of that format. A
writing and sound practice. Conference and blog go hand in hand. This
approach is not at all exclusive to "new media." It is just as common in
filmmaking, for example. But it is still hard for traditional narratives
to wrap their head around ideas of an expanded practice (not aimed at
the museum)! Should we, along the mid-90s theme of the death of
everything, claim the death of the artist?      

How do encyclopedias tackle the "a"-term? Wikipedia talks of the artist
as "a person who engages in an activity deemed to be an art. It is also
used in a qualitative sense of a person creative in, innovative in, or
adept at, an artistic practice. Most often, the term describes those who
create within a context of 'high culture', activities such as drawing,
sculpture, acting, dancing, writing, filmmaking and music ‹ people who
use imagination, and talent or skill, to create works that can be judged
to have an aesthetic value. Art historians and critics will define as
artists those who produce art within a recognized or recognizable
discipline." High Culture? Art as merely visual, aesthetic pursuit?
Wikipedia, you are not alone! The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is as
out of sync with today's living culture. For the cigar-smoking OED
editors an artist is a: "follower of a pursuit in which skill comes by
study or practice - the opposite of a theorist." Wake up, you editors of
this world. Leave your downtown cubicle or university capsule, go out,
have some air! See what really happens in the world. We should edit that
Wikipedia entry! Let's look at what Francis brought up. 


ReadMe (From Frequently Asked Questions)

What is it? "Runme.org is a software art repository, launched in January
2003. It is an open, moderated database to which people are welcome to
submit projects they consider to be interesting examples of software
art." Who initiated it? "Runme.org is a collaborative and open project
that was developed by Amy Alexander, Florian Cramer, Matthew Fuller,
Olga Goriunova, Thomax Kaulmann, Alex McLean, Pit Schultz, Alexei
Shulgin, and The Yes Men. In summer 2003 Hans Bernhard and Alessandro
Ludovico have joined the expert team." The Runme initiators are artists
who write. Writers who produce art projects. Software artists who
organize. Media theorists who produce artwork. Artists who run
magazines. Some of them teach wearing all these hats in rotating order.
What is happening here? Whatever it is-- it surely transcends the field
of new media. I could immediately extend the list of people who work in
this manner by about half the subscribers to this list, myself included.
Then there is Bruno Latour who is a French sociologist of science. He
frequently organizes event. Most recently "Making Things Public" (With
Peter Weibel). Geert Lovink, grand seigneur of new media, media theorist
and activist. Geert organized countless initiatives and wrote alongside
them. Most recently there is "Incommunicado." Matthew Fuller writes
"Media Ecologies" and part of "Mongrel." He also puts on conferences
through Piet Zwart. Do we really need to provide more examples? Should
we be worried? 
"Praise ye Van Gogh!" That's the immediate association with the term
artist! Take that thing from the hook in the gallery and put it on the
hook over the couch of the collector. In the 1990s we witnessed the
emerging paradigm of the artist as cultural producer. This was meant to
disappoint the beforementioned expectations of the art world. The artist
as suffering, socially isolated entertainer and oddball. There is an
entire aspect of this practice of the cultural producer/cultural context
provider that I will not address here. It concerns  the setting up of
contexts (for others to participate) rather than providing content
themselves. The cultural context provider blurs the lines between the
artist, theorist, and curator! She may alternate between a writing
practice, curatorial work, and production of artwork. Ten years ago
there were few theorists who could speak to the technical backend of
computer-reliant work. There were only a handful of organizers who were
invested in showing such work. This vacuum demanded multi-functional
personas. That has changed to an extent and cultural production has
specialized a bit more. But a significant shift has taken place. The
role of the curator has changed along with that of the artist. The media
art curator is not exclusively the Œmiddle person¹ between artists and
museums or galleries anymore. Curators do not merely organize
exhibitions and edit, filter, and arrange museum collections. Now, her
practice includes facilitating events, screenings, temporary discursive
situations, writing/publishing, symposia, conferences, talks, research,
the creation of open archives, and mailing lists. 

However, the once clear line between curator, artist and theorist is now
also blurred. Jon Ippolito, artist, theorist and professor at the
University of Maine, looks at this phenomenon within academia. The
widespread, harsh misperceptions of contemporary cultural production in
the field of computer-reliant work lead to tragic misjudgment in the
academic tenure process. In this context Ippolito writes: ŒWhile art
professors typically divide clearly into critical (Art History) and
creative (Studio Art) faculties, new media¹s brief history often
requires its practitioners to develop a critical context for their own
creative work. This is why so many pre-eminent new media artists are
also critics or curators¹.
Standards_of_Recognition#Differences_of_content>. I hear it all the
time. People like us who follow such an expanded practice often struggle
with stubborn "art disciplinarians" within academia. (I know many of you
on this list could not care less! Who cares about academic afflictions?
Well, OK, but they are a model for cultural phenomena outside the
university and worth acknowledging for that reason). Many colleagues
across the US tell me that they have difficulties because their culture
practice, as multi-faceted as described previously, is not easily
attached to an "area." Some academics perceive such expanded practice as
indecisiveness. Is that person a critic or an artist, a curator or a
software engineer? The lack of insight behind such questions is part of
the tragedy of academia right now.  

Artists can generate platforms such as mailing lists, websites, and
independently organized exhibitions to circulate their ideas and set up
stages from which they can interact with an audience. The power of the
media art curator is somewhat decentralized but she is still important
as expert and cultural legitimizer. She can contextualize projects as
part of culturally discursive currents or historical processes. 

I see graduate "media art" students who are not too concerned to be part
of the traditional art world. They know that they can create their own
venues. They realize that they can have a dialogue, a platform, an
audience, and influence without being in the Biennial "x." And to be
among the 2% mark of art students who can make a living with their work
is a rather unrealistic objective perhaps. It is one that many don't
even aspire to. They have seen and acknowledge the potential of
self-organized cultural production.  

"Real" artists have galleries that represent them! (Or at least
traditional narratives make us believe that that is the case.) But the
museum is not the most suitable venue for new media. Many emerging
practices can be experienced at media art festivals like Transmediale,
Ars Electronica, Dutch Electronic Art Festival, or ArtBot but when it
comes to more traditional art institutions the validity of much of this
work as art is questioned. Venues for new media practitioners are not
predominantly festivals or museums but virtually distributed communities
such as the one that we inhabit right here.

The division of camps, of areas equally makes little sense. Why divide
artists/cultural producers into filmmakers, video makers, software
artist, electronic geeks and media theorists when in fact these
practices are blurred? The cultural practices of people in front of us
show that such specialization is not always the case. I see an expanded
cultural practice that includes event-based cultural practice,
production of texts, production of artworks, and production of software.
The "cultural producer" or "cultural context provider" is at odds with
the definitions of the gallery artist. To define cultural production
based on its behavior rather than its medium is a more useful idea that
was discussed on other lists extensively.

I introduced this excursion about the "death of the artist" into the
context of the social event machine because it matters who is behind
such initiatives. I am curious if my brief rant here resonates with some
of you, if you analyze the situation along similar lines or maybe not at

But when I look into the eye of the event organizer I see writers,
artists, engineers, and ... What do you see?

Trebor Scholz

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