Museology &
ZKPVI - Nettime reader

Postings to CRUMB: the Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss. April, 2001


In response to your homework, it seems that Lev Manovich is keening for a world which cannot exist. The implication that it is possible for 'Turing-land' and 'Duchamp-land' to co-exist or converge has got to be premised by the question of whether it is desirable. At least whether or not it is any more desirable than the convergence of any other number of -lands which share our space.

Both represent clubs within the bigger world and people can happily move between them according to their will. No problem. Where it becomes problematic is when the clubs have property and status which is invested in the members. Where this becomes even more problematic is where the determination of this property and status is part of a state system (votes/taxes and stuff).

In Lev Manovich's scenario Duchamp-land holds most of the deeds and Turing-land is on the streets. This view could be equally be expressed in terms which favour the alternative ; Duchamp-land is barren, Turing-land is fertile, but unfulfilled. Why should they want to get together ?

However, the bigger issue is clouded by the notion that artists are only those who are sanctioned by Duchamp-land. That the inhabitants of Turing-land are 'computer artists' and the inhabitants of Duchamp-land are 'artists', whereas they should be 'contemporary art artists'. I'm sure there's a difference in there.

So the museumification of the inhabitants of Turing-land is about them emigrating to Duchamp-land in order to share in the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Good riddance I say. Let's just not make the mistake of assuming that that is where the meaning lives.

Clive Gilman


[The museum] carries with it certain strategic limitations associated with modernist formalism. Here, the mission of art is to determine its media-specific conditions and to then refine and/or reveal these to the viewer in various ways. In this context, the function of net art would be to explore the inherent characteristics of certain media (rasters, programming languages, etc.) and to use this exploration to bring the recipient into a more critical awareness of the constructed-ness or the mediation that is produced by this ostensibly transparent information system.

There are obviously many permutations of this view, from the overtly critical Dziga-Vertov-esque, to the highly aestheticized. This latter approach reminds me as well of a quote cited by Steve Deitz in "Why Have There Been No Great Net Artists?" ( to the effect that video art become worthwhile when it jettisoned its activist past and simply explored its own "internal" condition as an art form. Consider the shift from earlier video practitioners who often worked in the form of collectives (Raindance, etc.) to the often ponderous, pretentious, and resource-intensive output of "museumified" video Artists like Bill Viola or Mary Lucier.

Here is the quote that Dietz cites:

"Peter Lunenfeld has said that a medium only achieves its true potential in its post-utopian moment. Look at video. It is only when it gave up on changing the world that it has achieved its greatest success, becoming almost de rigeur in the contemporary art scene. Generally, I agree with this statement. Tonight, however, I want to believe the opposite..."

Is it possible that a net art or a net activist art could question rather than reinforce the sorts of distinctions implied by these views; the idea that the "internal" characteristics of a medium can be simply prised apart from their cultural organization and used as the value-neutral building blocks of a new formalist art practice? An interesting point of reference here is Paul Edwards book The Closed World, on the politics of digital and analog systems in the early development of programming languages as part of military research.

This model also preserves a fairly conventional idea of the relationship between the artist and the viewer (various forms of revelation, shock or correction overseen by the artist who is first able to recognize, manipulate, and call attention to the slippery signifiers of a new medium). I think that in some ways net based culture holds out an even more challenging possibility; to force us to rethink the conventional identity of the artist as someone who develops projects or works that are then administered to a receptive viewer.

This leads to a final question, concerning the very relevance of the term "art" in describing net-based cultural practices. One of the things that makes e-mail "micromedia" an effective activist tool is the low cost and ease of circulating information that can be used to mobilize others (I'm thinking of Jonah Peretti's e-mails about ordering a "sweatshop" label on his custom Nike shoes, which reached millions of net users in a matter of a few weeks). But what makes this same process a form of activist "art"?

My own work on activist art has begun with the argument that existing forms of art criticism and theory are incapable of grasping the specific value of certain contemporary activist practices that I would describe as "dialogical" (works by Wochenklausur, Suzanne Lacy, Jay Koh, APG, Stephen Willats, Platform, Projects Environment, etc.). This is because conventional criticism is primarily oriented towards 1) an object-based hermeneutics (what is my response to the phenomenological conditions of a specific object) and 2) the critic's own taste-based response towards that object ("I like" or "I don't like").

I argue that it is necessary to develop a new aesthetic paradigm (actually by returning to some rather old ideas about the aesthetic that predate its specific application to physical objects we call "works of art") based not on objects but on process of communication. I term these projects "dialogical" because they are organized not around object creation or reception, but around the staging of dialogical encounters of various kinds (see While most of them are based on face-to-face performative interactions they are also suggestive relative to certain kinds of net art.

Grant Kester


> Does the museum prohibit stimulated > interaction, and if so, why?

I am looking at net-art. Here the museum does not prohibit stimuli by itself/a priori (as an institution or place to present art). And I think (I haven't seen it until now) that 'other' ways have to be found to 'show' - something like this kind of art. The habit of seeing/perceiving is different in net-art than in i.e. a painting or a video or even an interactive (video) installation. You know the comparison of net-art (poetry/lit) to a book. net-art (......) is not a book but the kind of perception has similarities.

I remember an installation (by Goertz) where the visitor has to sit down and read in papers - no one sat beside me in the time I rested there. Active handling with an art piece is not a common habit (sometimes installation - and here museums do prohibit art reception - are only viewable behind a border - i.e. some Rauschenberg and Kienholz installations, I have seen --- but I understand the argument that you have to take care of your 100.000$ investment).

As I mentioned in my former posting there is not only a lack in handling net-art by the visitor but also net-art does loose some of his impact - i.e. its intimacy (because many pieces are created for a 'private' experience.

You have to credit these points when presenting such kind of art in a museum - i.e. by creating intimate places beside big presentation. It might be that a museum has to create i-art of its own or combinational works which stimulate the visitor to experience the pieces.

Reiner Strasser


I am interested in Reiner's definition of "mediation" in the context of the museum. It brings to mind the notion of the "museum as medicine" -- good for our cultural well-being, serving society through culture, but still having a funny after-taste. Museums do not pretend to present themselves as raw, unmediated spaces to show art; they are polished forums in which they attempt to stratify art into many levels, to foster connections between the art and its public -- and they do that thing that they do to bring in their visitors. But museums - the larger ones, and the smaller ones too - have also identified themselves as institutions of "leisure" and fund themselves to support all the marketing/promotion/development that goes into presenting it as a leisure attraction.

What IS the responsibility of a museum to its public now, for Is it just as a mediation - in its seamless presentation of the work? When the technology fails, the seamlessness is lost. Can we define were the mediation ends and the experience of an actual encounter with [net]art occurs? Is it in the wall text, in the catalogue, and the acoustiguides used to explain and illuminate the exhibition? The website that sometimes substitutes for the exhibition for some visitors? Or, perhaps the mediation is ALL of it - the very inclusion of artists in a big media art show, with the totality of critics and curators and educators that bring it to the public.

In that sense it makes it more complicated for the artists and the institution. At some point, the artist decides that the mediation is not appropriate for the work. The mediation is complicated by all its other functions as an institution of leisure. Artist Paul Kaiser identified himself as "P. Mutt" in Bitstreams due to the Whitney's connection with Phillip Morris, and the byline in the New York Times' "Footlights" section ended with the sentence "Phillip Morris is a leading corporate sponsor of the arts in an era of reduced federal support." There it is - - another Duchampian reference in, but more powerfully, it's on the wall.

Rosanna Flouty


There is some conjunction here to the text of Steve Dietz, but speaking of the technological aspect and net/web/i-art, I tend to follow an opposite position. The technological development especially in the broadband has given the (independent) artist tools he never was able to use (to buy) before. nevertheless to finance the equipment (hard-, software) is still a problem (would like to see an initiative through which artists could get free permission to use programs - a pool of software given by software companies). But more important is the time you need to learn the handling of the new software. (+ there is a lack of tech-equipment at institutions, too - at universities, galleries, museums ...... and/or unfortunately it is to some rare places ... i.e. ZKM in Germany)

(By the way - I am a bit bored about all these 'art and technology' themes in presentations where digital art is reduced to the digital aspect and not the artistic one and becomes for the visitor a technological gimmick, sensation - read in the way 'art is celebrating technology')

Reiner Strasser


The problem is dissemination of the ideas around the practice:

...One of the lessons from the history of video/television art is that presenting work in a gallery tends to lead to certain practices and forms gaining dominance over others because they 'work' within the architecture of the white cube. Large scale video projection tends to win out over small scale monitors, for example. Apart from the architecture of the gallery, the main determining factors appear to be collectors, marketing and 'getting the punters in'. To take two artists from the late 1960s/early 1970s: Bill Viola's 'universal values', mysticism and painterly cinematography are simpler for gallerists and general audiences to digest than David Hall's materialist dialectics, critical interventions and complex installations.

Okay, I'm talking about video art here, but new media and networked practices fall prey to the same pressures. Like entrepreneurs in any branch of showbiz, gallerists/curators are looking to back the next star and accrue value to their work. Socially aware criticism does not necessarily help them in that task, even though it may be vitally important in informing us about certain modes of practice. Therefore perhaps it is not in certain institutions' interests to take account of such material, even though they may be aware of it.

Having said that, ghettoes can define themselves too. The 'hermetic' discourse you speak of can take place, it's true. I suppose if there are curators that want to change this situation, they can.

Chris Byrne


There is a learning curve for arts writers and critics in mainstream media outlets. Most can't/won't even write in meaningful ways about "old" media (film, video, audio art, etc.) though there are exceptions. Critics are always pressed by circulation numbers (just as museums are pressed by attendance figures). I don't think this is an excuse, it is just the reality of what I've encountered from experience. It says more to me about what is lacking in critical studies programs where writers are trained.

Julie Lazar


I think there's a difference between the for-profit and non-profit art world. Galleries have to sell to survive and for museums attendance is key, true, but the latter does not necessarily rely on the next star (at least there's a little bit more leeway).

You can engage in socially aware criticism as a curator, you can show art forms that aren't that easily digestible but you do not have much influence on the reception in the mainstream media who, at least to some extent, direct public opinion. I think when it comes to showing new art forms one has to emphasize the "educational" aspect and organize as many panels, discussion forums etc. as possible to create discourse outside of the media that are lacking the critical vocabulary to deal with the art.

Christiane Paul