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Curating New Media Art: Welcome and introductions

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Speakers:>  Sarah Cook & Sune Nordgren & Vuk Cosic

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… First of all, a very warm welcome to all of you, to this three-day seminar and to St. Mary’s Church. St. Mary’s Church is, during the pre-opening period of the BALTIC, our home. It’s a visitor’s centre for the Gateshead Quays Development and it is also the offices for BALTIC and for the new Music Centre here in Gateshead.

This seminar - called ‘Curating New Media’ - is the third seminar in the series of International Seminars that BALTIC have put together for the pre-opening period, which has been ongoing for about three years now. ... The three seminars have been very important for us ... because they give us great feedback. We are doing something that we believe is completely unique, different and new. So the seminars give us feedback and confidence that we are on the right track - from professionals and colleagues around the world.

The first seminar was called ‘New Sites - New Art’ and the question was ‘can you create an institution today, that is not really an institution, but which is a very open minded place or site, that is not only reflecting on the art of our time, but is also creating it and being a creative partner in it?’ That seminar gave us lots of ideas of course to continue this work. The second one was called ‘Artists at Work’ and was completely focused on commissioning artists and the Artists in Residence Programme, which will be a very important part of the BALTIC. Through the ‘Artists in Residence Programme’ we will be inviting artists and also writers, publishers and curators to come to BALTIC and work with us.

So this is the third seminar and I think it is very important for us. We know that new media - or whatever we call new media - will be a very important part of the BALTIC. We will try to accommodate all kinds of work because even if we put in lots and lots of money into an absolutely cutting-edge new media lab at BALTIC there will still be artists who want to use Umatic or 16 mm film or whatever. So we will try to be as wide-open as possible and also work with institutions and organisations around the region. For instance if someone wants to do a traditional print, there is the Northern Print in North Shields and so on. So it is about being an institution, but at the same time being very transparent and working as a partner in this region.

We are looking forward to this seminar very much and before I leave the stage I would like to thank of course, first of all the people behind this seminar. First, the ones who have organised it - Beryl Graham, Sarah Cook and Vicki Lewis from the BALTIC team, and I know that Vuk Cosic has been very instrumental in putting together the seminar as well. Then of course Tom Cullen, John Smith and Dave Pipkin for always supporting us when we’re doing these seminars and changing the church into a conference hall. And of course the whole BALTIC team - it’s a brilliant team and again they’ve shown that we can do this under strange circumstances. And lastly, of course everyone working in the church who have supported us to prepare for this seminar to be a success.

Sarah Cook introduction

"... what does it do to the gallery? Is it problematic? Should the computer be there and what kind of a pedestal are you going to create for it? "

"... It is an interface where by pushing on the door - it’s like a revolving door - it clicks into different spots and it logs into one of the different Web sites and one of the different art projects."

Presentation excerpts:

… We are going to start off by just framing the questions: why this seminar, why this topic and why these people to come and talk about this topic? […]

I should point out that we’ve set up this seminar so that today we really deal with questions of institutional practice. Tamas Banovich who will be coming later, runs a gallery in New York City and we can look at how he brokers that deal between the commercial world and the art world. I don’t want to say or create this dichotomy between small and big institutions, but there is a link there between size and those that can be very quick on their feet and those that have to deal with a lot more advanced planning. Tomorrow we’ve got the opportunity to look more at networked and independent practice. […]

The first questions I have concern the practicalities of how curators deal with media and technology and how the work is getting made, how it is getting shown, how it is getting distributed and how it is out in the world. There is a great need as far as institutions go I think, to look at the issue of installation and I was just putting together some images of various projects (some of which I’ve been involved in) to address this. The questions that arise when you put a computer in a gallery include: what does it do to the gallery? Is it problematic? Should the computer be there and what kind of a pedestal are you going to create for it? How are you going to account for the different ways people are interacting with the work? Or is the computer there as an educational tool?

This is the Artist in Residence space at the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis and it is space that has constantly rotating exhibitions and in this space the computers are there as educational tools rather than as art works. There is a touch-screen interface for instance to access information about works in the permanent collection.

This is the Ars Electronica Centre in Linz. There’s always this question when you put new media into a gallery - well at least in previous experiences I’ve had as well - about how to lock down the server so that kids don’t just come in and surf somewhere else. Do you constantly have to be invigilating with the guards so that the work is there? Is that a problem or not? For some first-time curators and galleries this is one of their biggest fears about dealing with new media in this sort of a setting. You have no control, or you don’t have as much control as curators have been used to having when it comes to exhibitions and museums. [...]

This was an installation also at the Walker Art Centre where Shu Lea Chang created a work that involved and linked to a bowling alley in the City and participants in the gallery would interact with this bowling alley interface and be able to view and participate with people actually in the bowling alley, bowling. Later on there was a question of how to re-present this commission after the exhibition had happened. This was an exhibition that was about different works that had been commissioned at the Walker in all different media and we wanted to show that we had commissioned a new, complicated new media installation. But how was it represented in this case? You’ve got a flat screen, a mouse…but you’ve got the bowling alley table and chair to reference what was happening there previously. Then we used the computer to show more than just the original artwork because this wasn’t the way that the original artwork was seen. So I think these questions about changing the interface completely changing the work of art are ones that I hope will come up.

These are from exhibition ‘Data Dynamics' at the Whitney Museum, which is up right now, and this is an interesting example of bringing networked art into the gallery space. In each of these cases the artists were re-jigging their installations specifically for that space, although some of these works have existed solely on the Net. This is Sawad Brooks & Beth Stryker’s ‘Disseminet’, and they have created tables as their interface to this work, but there was a previous version of this work that was solely on the Web. So again, we’re looking at work that may continually be developing and changing and the model that could be used might be one from the software industry of calling a work an iteration or a version. We’re used to, in museums, presenting works of art - finished objects in many cases. What happens when the work comes out with a new version as it keeps apace with the technology?

These are from ‘Apartment’ by Marek Walczak and Martin Wattenberg, and these were just in here as different examples of types of consoles and interfaces that artists are thinking about in relation to the gallery. We’ve started to collect these images from different exhibitions just as a way of creating a visual vocabulary for institutions to use later.

Mark Tribe is coming tomorrow and he’s going to speak about the ‘Net Ephemera’ exhibition that he’s just curated at Moving Image Gallery. [slide] This is an image from that show and we have to wonder what this is coming to. These are bits of paper from net artists. They’re drawings and schematics and plans, and they are in plastic sleeves and pinned to the wall and it is making a really direct link, I think, between conceptual art practices of the later half of the last century to new media of today. But it is another interesting example of this type of work and how it manifests in the gallery.

This is the Portal that was designed for an exhibition called 'Let’s Entertain’, in order to show the Web component of the exhibition, called the Art Entertainment Network. I think a lot of people have recently thought about this as maybe one of the more successful attempts of bringing networked art into the gallery. It is an interface where by pushing on the door - it’s like a revolving door - it clicks into different spots and it logs into one of the different Web sites and one of the different art projects.

So I just wanted to show those just to kind of get us started thinking about this issue of bringing new media into the gallery and how the production of new media is changing the way we think about these issues.

Vuk Cosic is here because we’ve recently commissioned a project from him - We had a computer in this church as a way of giving people an interface to the site and also provided a telephone - if you’ve seen the film ‘The Matrix’, then you’ll know how important they are - so you could pick it up and speak directly to Vuk. Vuk’s had a lot of experience in having his work shown in various settings and now it is going to be at the Venice Biennale and that opens up a whole new can of worms. I think it is great to have him here as a kind of provocation to these questions and I hope that he participates in that way too and sticks his two cents in.

Vuk Cosic presentation

"curatorial decisions are usually made in such a way that they are there to justify the hardware investment and are not the reflection of any understanding"

Presentation excerpts:

… Alright, let’s go on with the display of There’s also one show that was missing here - it was a Net.Art Olympiad in an ammunition factory in Germany. The show was called Net_Condition. The place was actually called ZKM and was actually shown there in this installation called ‘Net Art Browser’.

[slide] So, an interesting thing happens when let’s say powerful museums or galleries employ or commission an artist to create a browser or a context for other artists’ work to be shown in and it happened there. So this guy from Australia, Jeffrey Shaw - he’s been around for a while - made a ten metre long white wall and there was this track on which he installed a dirt cheap plasma screen - it was only twenty-thousand pounds - and that screen you could control remotely. You had this keyboard thing and you could move that object along the track and then when it slides over a name of an artist - there were ten of us there - then they would see the website of that artist in that monitor. The stuff was shown offline, like stand-alone works of art. So we called it " Memorial" because it reminded me of this thing of Washington [Vietnam Veterans War Memorial]. Anyway, I put flowers there at the opening of the show.

There have been others, but I think maybe the best show I’ve been in this particular sense of adequate display was a World Wide Video Festival in the Stedlijk Museum in Amsterdam. That installation was taken care of by Walter van der Cruijsen, who was the author of the interface of the First Digital City of Amsterdam. He’s one of these actual pioneers of on-line arts - and a dear friend (maybe that’s why he took special care). He painted the room entirely in black, left white windows on the walls for projection. The projector was inside a museum cube - a small white cube - and a computer was there as well and we had a mouse on top, or a keyboard, depending on the work that was shown. The work was online. You were allowed to do whatever you wanted with that computer. With that connection people could - and used to - write e-mail and check porn sites for fresh pictures of famous porn celebrities - or whatever they wanted - and there was a person in charge … somebody not quite civilian. Anyway, just after you had done your particular session, he would come over and reboot or go back to home, which would be some work of art that that museum wanted to show to the viewers. It was great to be around and to see how long people actually stayed with your work and it was never more than several seconds, because they saw a computer and said ‘Oh, I know what this is for - I’ll do e-mail.’ There are many other cases but I think these two deserve mention because they were done by venerable institutions.

You mentioned Venice. This year I will be representing some country in this art fair that happens in Venice every two years. Its nice weather, so why not go? I’m going to be showing two works that I did ages ago in 1997. Some of you are familiar with my stuff. I will be showing 'Documenta Done' and ‘History of Art For Airports’. These are two old things and by showing older, known stuff I’m trying to put some focus on the way stuff is shown and not so much on the novelty of work. I’m trying to do something new for people that already know the site, but also not to totally harass the people that are not Internet art specialists, so when they come into the gallery, they will not be hypnotised by new media being a recipe for a better life or something …

Now I guess that the reason why I’m here really is because of a number of talks I gave and Sarah saw me and heard me. And all the time I complain about curators - so it serves me right - here I am. I always thought of how I used to do and then I stopped because there was a lot of pressure from the art world to do shows all the time and to be in some histories and in some essays - and we only wanted to do art. Now this thing is interfering with our noble aspirations and so on, and so I had to switch and I moved elsewhere and I’m doing other things. Art is much more about technology. And then when they ask me ‘how come you had to switch?’ I usually say a sentence that I will now repeat and if you wish, I will repeat again later, I think it makes sense. I somehow tend to insist that at least in my experiences - now here comes the sentence: "curatorial decisions are usually made in such a way that they are there to justify the hardware investment and are not the reflection of any understanding". Now this may be a rude thing to say, especially in a room full of curators of new media art! But you must understand me. Sometimes I feel like - now don’t get this too wrong - but I feel like, let’s say, a lesbian, Jewish, handicapped…what else…I don’t know… person. But someone that somehow fits the bill or shows up in your political correctness Excel table in four columns at the same time. So I look good in statistics and I’m now sorry that I’ve never really explored this systematically and that I’ve never really done a user survey - well a curator survey - where I would have a questionnaire and have all these people answer questions. One of them would be ‘what on earth are you seeing in whatever you are showing here of mine?’

I spoke over a perfectly good English breakfast with Julian Stallabrass about segregation - is that the word we used? There have been shows where you could see artists belonging to these two otherwise separate galaxies of old and new media let’s say. I’ve been to shows with some pretty famous people in some grand-slam galleries, but the format was always such that we never met, or at least if we did meet, it was never the fruit of any curator’s intention. It was only an accidental invite that you happened to get to come to some gala dinner inside Stedlijk or standing party inside some embassy and there you might possibly, if you had a Vaseline on your elbows, come across some accomplished artists and then you would spend twenty minutes with whoever. That was always a surprise for me because in my world of, the basic condition was that we are in touch and then we would possibly decide not to talk. But here the basic condition is completely the opposite. It is like we absolutely shut up. I don’t tell you anything and you don’t tell me anything, and maybe we just might exchange a tiny little bit and I might give you a name of a curator or a name of a restaurant regardless of the contents. I think this basic difference exists and is kind of interesting and maybe it is something to think of when you stage shows that include artists from both worlds. I think I was missing this all of the time.

To come to the actual core of the problem - maybe deserves a bit of an explanation and I’m unable to give you a precise encyclopaedic definition here but maybe some sort of exploration into the what the nature of that particular art practice is would help solve this little detail that essentially curators understand everything but in their own shows. So this is a public call.



  media art
  conceptual art


  Sarah Cook
  Beryl Graham
  Sune Nordgren
  Vuk Cosic
  Marek Walczak
  Mark Tribe
  Tom Cullen
  Julian Stallabrass
  Tamas Banovich