Summary of the Mobile Studio Web Conference, May 26, 2006


The Challenges of Curating Net Art

Summary of the Mobile Studio The Challenges of Curating Net Art Web Conference, May 26, 2006: After several attempts to connect all four parties with the festoon video conferencing system, which seemed to run quite unstable as a beta version, we switched over to the skype audio conferencing module.

Helen Thorington from in Boston opened the discussion with a quote by Steve Dietz: “Internet art projects are art projects for which the net is both a sufficient and necessary condition of viewing/ expressing/ participating.” This brought the talk immediately into the question of what net art actually is, versus new media versus contemporary art and what it means to all of us to work with this terminology.

Ela Kagel from Mobile Studios thereafter added another quote, stated by Kit Galloway in 1999: “Net art is dead! (the jodi-shulgin-bunting-vuk) style was a product of a particular technical constraint: low bandwidth, net art is low bandwidth through and through.”
Ursula Endlicher, initiator of the NY round table, questioned the definition of the term, in describing her art work, which in some cases exists only on the Internet, but other work of hers also extends into “physical” space while pulling in information from the Web. In as much as it may seem to be a contradiction, to bring the net outside the screen into space, it interests her to develop interfaces and performances that communicate between the net and the “physical” space.

Michele Thursz, independent curator, added her position: “I think of net art as a data-dynamic type of work which can be seen through and on the net, and on a specific platform. To create a multi-user performance would be another way to address the net versus being net art. Regarding limitations of bandwidth, I don’t think this is the case any longer.”

At this point, Petko Dourmana, director of InterSpace in Sofia, explained: “I do not believe that the term “net art” has a meaning any longer. My business card for example says: “New media artist.” I would rather like to call it new media art, as it seems to be a broader term to me.” He then suggested that the Internet is not just present on the computer, but is rather an overall phenomenon.

Ela Kagel gave examples of different art works, which have their starting point on the Internet and then get visible in the “outside”, in the city or in public space for example, such as the project “blinkenlights” at Berlin-Alexanderplatz, produced by Chaos Computer Club Hamburg. Susa Pop, initiator of the Mobile Studios, stressed her special interest in projects like these, which have an impact on the public space and could serve as model for other nomadic projects.

Ela Kagel added, that many of the projects produced within the framework of the Mobile Studios tour, use a similar approach with the city as a stage. For example, the project CT_BT_GRAFFITI|Mausoleum.2 by Petko Dourmana and Kyd Campbell. This project proposes to virtually recast the lost physical space of the Mausoleum to Georgi Dimitrov at its former site, where the Mobile Studios were temporarily located in Sofia. The Mausoleum to Georgi Dimitrov (Sofia, BG) used to be the most remarkable public symbol during the Communistic period in Bulgaria. Using Bluetooth technology embedded in many mobile communication devices, visitors to the exhibition who have this functionality on their mobile phones are invited to activate it and will receive a series of visual and audio fragments which recreate the space of the former Mausoleum.

Question-in-between by Ela: “Is the screen of a mobile phone an exhibition space? Can we still talk about exhibitions there?”

Petko Dourmana spoke about this project and stated, that net art works should not be presented in galleries or museums. From his point of view, works best in its native environment, the Internet. He gave the example of the presentation of the Bluetooth graffiti project at Kunstverein in Stuttgart where they refused to provide a curatorial structure in terms of creating a space with devices for people to interact with, but they rather asked the audience to bring their own interfaces, so that they could access the works there.

The question was raised to what extend a curator is still needed when it comes to net art?

Ela then introduced Kyd Campell, who is the initiator of the Upgrade! Sofia Festival. Kyd brought up the issue of archiving net art and problems of inaccessibility of older net art works. Should net art undergo a continuous revision? Or do these artworks represent a certain state of art and technology at a certain time and should be left like that?

Helen Thorington responded that they are trying to keep alive as an archive of older work and a place where new work can be seen.

At this moment Liz Slagus, director of the Education Department at Eyebeam, and Yael Kanarek, the founder of Upgrade, joined the discussion.

Liz Slagus summarized that the Education Department at Eyebeam, provides access points for a variety of audiences, also youth audiences; it hosts workshops in different media, and has public programs for adults and for artists. They also support artistic practice through workshops, programs such as The Upgrade!, which is hosted by Eyebeam, and deals with communication and community issues.

Yael Kanarek stated that the original promise of “The Upgrade!” was to provide, share and exchange ideas about technology, and build an environment for discussion, where else the different Upgrades around the world run depending on their locations and communities.

They create a place where people can come to, engage and learn.

From Sofia came the question about mediating net art and what it means to communicate net art to different audiences, and what it means to develop new audiences.

Michele Thursz answered that on the net there is no public in the same sense as there is in a Gallery space. She mentioned a new piece by Marisa Olson, “The Gif Show”, which is up in a gallery as well as at MySpace; both address a certain public space, MySapce being a semi-public space. She added that it is important to create a link between the work and the space.

At this moment, Lauren Cornell, director of Rhizome and Marisa Olson, Curator at Large at Rhizome, joined the talk. Ela asked them about their specific approach towards net art curating, especially the question where to present net art and how to contextualize the art works in an exhibition space.

Marisa described the just mentioned “Gif show”, and pointed out that some of the show was offline and some was online, in MySpace, which received more visitors than the show in the San Francisco Gallery. Both Lauren and Marisa continued talking about their curatorial practice and described the MySpace-net art presence as a community tool for a broad audience, or as a way to reach a broader audience.

Stoycho from InterSpace Sofia took the microphone and asked Lauren and Marisa about the commercial aspect of “The Gif Show” since it is presented among quite a lot of advertisement on the MySpace site. Marisa answered to this, stating that those commercial aspects have to be taken into account, especially when presenting artworks in those kinds of “public spaces” on the Internet, as Petko puts it. “For me the internet is a public space” he says.

And he added that in his opinion the role of a net art curator is obsolete. People would access the artworks on their own interfaces and machines and they would not need extra mediation.

Lauren juxtaposed PetkoÂ’s opinion that it is indeed very important to bring the work out in the public and to show it in galleries, because the works need to be communicated on platforms other than the Internet.

Helen Thorington added that she really was interested in this show, because in 1996 gifs were what everyone had to work with. Helen suggested further that everyone could talk now about proposals to curate work on MySpace. She then further mentioned the explosion of “hybrid” work, produced for instance between artist and computer scientist; she sees this explosion of hybrid work as the forerunner of what was predicted as the era of ubiquitous computing.

Here Lauren Cornell talked about Rhizome and how the work that has evolved on Rhizome, and how it has changed in the last 10 years. It is a different work now that the Internet has extended into space, onto bodies, and onto devices and off just only the Web – a terrain of hybrid works has opened up.

Ela asked Marisa and Lauren from Rhizome about their special approach with community tools for curating net art exhibitions and Lauren explained that those are important tools, because it is a goal for rhizome to encourage curating around net art and media art, and let people explore it in different ways.

Ela came in with the question, what all this meant for the role of the traditional curator, who organizes objects in space and puts them into a particular context? Could this be applied to net art?

Lauren answered that their exhibitions are set up right now so that people can organize works by linking to them; it is more about coming up with a theme and a concept, and exploring it through a choice of works. She added that the Web opens up the possibility to link to all sorts of objects, art and non-art, similar to blogs. Right now their shows have themes, which speaks to the way exhibitions are organized offline, but they also explore unique ways for exhibition online, through guest-curators and blog-formats.

Ela mentioned that she and Ursula discussed different art-shows, which dealt with net art in all different ways. When Ela visited New York they visited exhibitions were net art works were offline or put on a CD-Rom. What is the role of the curator there?
Lauren commented with a remark, that it is a common question, “Why one cannot look at net art at home?” Seeing net art on a screen in a museum doesn’t seem to live up to the promise, but at the same time net art shown in a museum like this, is a valid way of showing it.

Helen asked about Anne Barlow from the New Museum in NY, who tried joining via audio skype from San Juan. Due to technical difficulties the conversation was limited to chat functionality in skype. Ursula reminded and invited everyone to continue the conversation later in the blog, so all participants could share their opinion.

Lauren added that galleries and museums could pose a danger to net art; specifically because galleries are market driven and therefore compel net artist to transform an ephemeral piece of work into an object.

Lauren added another thought, that she thinks it is a fantastic idea for a curator, trying to mediate the art to the audience. She in her own practice as a curator is constantly working on making the audience understand the work and give context.

Liz from Eyebeam joined in and spoke about the editorial program of Eyebeam. About their offers and approaches.

Yael and Kyd said hello to each other and Kyd came closer to the web cam, because they have never met before in person. Big hello. Then they talked about the Upgrade! and the question came up: “Does The Upgrade! have an educational task as well?“

Yes, Helen said, as for her it is an essential part of those gatherings to see other artistÂ’s work and learn from it.

Kyd talked about the local Upgrade!-meeting in Sofia, where media art centers from the countryside of Bulgaria have been invited to present themselves and their artworks. She also talked about the daily Upgrade!-talks that have been hosted by the Mobile Studios.

Lauren also asked Ela what her major concerns in net art curating were. What does net art curation mean to you? Can you tell us something about it?”

Ela talked about her experiences as a net art curator and her approach to communicate net art on a personal level, of creating a context, not just with arranging the artworks in space, but also by communicating with people and providing extra information. She then speaks about the Mobile Studios as mobile communication platform where the production, the display, but also the communication and reflection about the works of local artists all happen at the same time, or at least are a part of the same spatial and structural setting. So it all opens a new contextÂ…

Lauren added that this conversation is opening a new context.

Michele brought up that net artists or artists that are using technologies, are making use of a social structure. She then mentioned several examples, such as the Web Biennial with, and another piece, “Velvet Strike” by Anne-Marie Schleiner, a collection of spray paints to use as graffiti on the walls, ceiling, and floor of the popular network shooter game “Counter-Strike.”

All of these were not necessarily “curatorial”, but apply a certain structure to the medium.

Ursula added that there were several net art projects out there that were dealing with including other artistÂ’s work in the piece, so the artist becomes somewhat a curator.

Ela and Ursula started wrapping up the conversation. We reached the timeframe, and skype was running now over an hour without troubles.

Ela and Ursula were thanking everyone, and invited everyone to continue the conversation and to stay in touch. Everyone agreed.

May 31, 11:39
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