Global Audiences, Zero Visitors: How to measure the success of museums’ online publishing

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This text (original title: "The Outskirts of the Internet") was originally commissioned for the book Turning Inward, with contributions by John Beeson, Svetlana Boym, Marta Dziewańska, Philipp Ekardt, Felix Ensslin, David Joselit, William Kherbek, John Miller, Reza Negarestani, Matteo Pasquinelli, and Dieter Roelstraete. Edited by Lou Cantor and Clemens Jahn. The text was modified slightly, including the deletion of a section about Rhizome's own activities. Published by Sternberg Press, 2015. Orit Gat is a Contributing Editor at Rhizome.

Jim Campbell, Library. GIF excerpt from documentation video.

Fifty percent of arts organizations in the United States maintain a blog.[1] The Metropolitan Museum of Art calculated that while the museum draws six million visitors in a year, its website attracts 29 million users and its Facebook page reaches 92 million.[2] Of these millions of people interacting with the museum online, only a small percentage would ever walk up the New York museum's famous steps. If the internet has changed the definition of what a museum's audience is, then it also poses the difficult question of how to interact with it. This adds a new dimension to the museum's relationship with its traditional audience: How to extend the relationship with visitors beyond the museum's walls? This twofold task—both to generate a public and sustain existing relationships—has created a new landscape of digital engagement where museums look to their websites, dedicated apps, and online magazines as tools to involve this new online public.

As museums are rethinking their relationship to their audience online, an increasing number chooses to publish online magazines, and many of these publications emerge from institutions that are not necessarily the major museums in art world hubs. The attitudes toward these publishing initiatives vary—some choose to outline the scope of their publishing platforms in the shape of their programming, while others produce magazines that are thematically related to subjects the museum covers but are not directly linked to the art on view. What they all share is a feeling that online publishing expands the museum's audience, making it a potentially global one. The idea that a museum's public is to be found beyond visitorship is full of potential, but publishing online does not automatically overcome geography and create new relationships with international audiences. On the contrary, these institutions are working to generate content in an environment that is arguably already saturated. Digital presence does not automatically make for global reach, and much of the writing produced online by museums is bound to disappear in the vast amount of content on the internet. YouTube famously has more videos on it than anyone could ever watch—in fact, with 100 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, it would take over a thousand years to view the total running time of videos posted on the platform—this, in less than ten years of existence.[3] Alexa—the Amazon-owned service that gives public estimates of website metrics—makes online publishing seem almost futile. According to Alexa's data, the most visited website in the world is, of course, Google, and an average user spends nineteen minutes and nine seconds a day on it. Facebook averages 27:34 minutes and the New York Times 3:57. Visitors spend almost twenty minutes a day on YouTube and less than three on the New Yorker's site. When so much content is offered, and so little of it seems to attract readers, the goal of museums joining the online publishing game should not be to reach the largest audience, but rather, to create platforms that expand research and the production of knowledge that builds on the museum's mission statement and expands it, regardless of how many hits it generates—a difficult leap to make, especially in terms of the way museums represent their activity and receive funding.

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Business Fish, or, Emotion Under Late Capitalism

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I can't always articulate what it is like to be a worker, writhing in muted panic in the net of late capitalism. But I have found a fine outlet in Business Fish, a surreal family of sticker sets on Facebook Messenger, which I use to illustrate many of my exchanges.

Business Fish has struck a nerve since his introduction last year: he has many vocal fans (3200+ on his Facebook page) and he's been profiled in the mainstream news. Inspired by the Shinto belief that divinity resides in animals, his creator—an artist at Tokyo-based studio Quan, Inc.—gave him a pink fish head capping a human body in a boxy blue suit that, in today's workplace  fashion parlance, reads as "male business casual."

At first glance, Business Fish seems like a composite of Gordon Gekko and Jordan Belfort, ruthless hunters of success, profit and glamor. Closer examination of his sixteen, hyper-expressive graphics reveals a more complex narrative.

He wakes in shock, sweaty, the sun at his head. He gets caught in a subway turnstile. He struggles, briefcase in hand, coughing and shaking, knees buckling. After a setback, he slumps in shame against a wall. He bows, and weeps, and clenches his fists in rage. He grovels on the ground, possibly begging for the privilege of working another day.

Created with Japanese office culture in mind, but meant to represent workers worldwide, Business Fish is a pressure-crushed employee, shot through with anxiety and anguish. If strong emotions, particularly dysphoric ones, are "the psychic fuel on which capitalist society runs," Business Fish is a resource burning at both ends.

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WITCHCRAFT: Craftsmanship, personal mythologies, and spiritual queries in the digital realm

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This essay was written in conjunction with the exhibition "Witchcraft," which opened February 19th, 2015 at Initial Gallery in Vancouver. "Witchcraft" features the work of Laura Brothers, Brenna Murphy, Krist Wood, and Sara Ludy. The show—along with this essay—considers personal mythology, craftsmanship and spiritual inquiry as entry points to these artists' practices. "In a contemporary artistic landscape focused on self-branding strategies and social media legibility," curator Nicolas Sassoon argues, "these four artists appear as valuable voices bringing a poetic breadth to what it means to engage artistically with computer technology and the internet." This essay accompanies the exhibition, elaborating on these ideas through the lens of Sassoon's personal experience.

 

"Witchcraft," exhibition view. Photo courtesy Initial Gallery.

"Computing has always been personal. By this I mean that if you weren't intensely involved in it, sometimes with every fiber in your body, you weren't doing computers, you were just a user."

- Ted Nelson

At the end of 2008, my awareness of net-based practices was almost nonexistent. I had just moved to Vancouver from France and finished creating my first blog as a distraction from solitude. My engagement with online communities was limited to searching forums to modify the HTML of my blog posts. Still, earlier in the year, I had come across the work of Laura Brothers. After browsing Laura's website extensively, I started a conversation with her via emails and animated GIFs. This conversation led to my involvement in Computers Club, along with the discovery of many artists active within and around that platform at the time.

In 2008, Computers Club was a unique collective of internet personas, particularly committed to shaping the intricacies of their online space. A few years ago, in an Artist Profile for Rhizome, co-founder Krist Wood gave a minimal definition of the online collective—"a set of identities that derive from computer users." Many of these identities had accumulated seemingly endless content across multiple websites while revealing little to nothing in the way of personally identifiable information. The collective's website acted as a central station—mysterious about its inner workings—where  the navigation of this content would start. The accumulation of works from each artist delineated the backgrounds of enigmatic characters, modeling personal mythologies through visual vernaculars and experimentations. Between 2008 and 2011, I encountered through this platform the work of Laura Brothers, Sara Ludy, Krist Wood, and Brenna Murphy. Their collection of online works was constantly updated, bringing weekly developments to their digital territories and increasing the frequency of my visits.

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Poetry as Practice: Penny Goring

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Penny Goring, DELETIA – self portrait with no self, 2015 (screenshot). Web-based poem with audio and video. Courtesy the artist.

Part of First Look: Poetry as Practice, copresented with the New Museum.

DELETIA – self portrait with no self (2015) is a seventy-plus-page epic created on the web platform NewHive that includes, among other things, an original font produced by Goring named "Hell Lobster"—a mix of Helvetica and lobster.

This is the second of six new works released as part of the online exhibition "Poetry as Practice," which considers online poetry as a bodily, social and material process. Last week, the exhibition began with Alex Turgeon's Better Homes and Gardens Revisited; it continues next week with work by Tan Lin.

Penny Goring lives in London.

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Speaking in Code

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"The future of poetry is with the programmers." - Kenneth Goldsmith

"Does everything that exists, exist to be presented and represented,to be mediated and remediated, to be communicated and translated?" - Alexander R. Galloway, Eugene Thacker, McKenzie Wark, Excommunication.

Kenneth Goldsmith's aphoristic tweet has been coming true for a long time: some version of the "future of poetry" has been happening at least since 1959, when Theo Lutz wrote poems using the programming controls of a Zuse Z22 computer.[1] Since then, a small yet sizeable number of poets have ventured into pre-internet computer poems, yielding an even smaller number of specialists who know about their creative pursuits. Not only that, but digital poems take resources to conserve, programmers who know how to do so and, considering that many of these poems pre-date the internet, they are not as accessible as their successors, such as hypertext narrative.

Given the obscurity of these niche endeavors, it is not surprising that Wired published an article claiming that code poetry was invented in 2011, when a group of engineers noticed the similarities between code and language. But this is not necessarily a new idea: the connection between code and language goes back to its earliest inception. Code is language. It seems only natural that code should be, or would become, poetry.

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Grappling with complexity, women in tech, and Leonard Nimoy: Perry Chen's Y2K

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Screenshot of Leonard Nimoy in Y2K Family Survival Guide (1999). 

In December, Perry Chen organized a panel discussion at the New Museum (copresented with Rhizome and Creative Time Reports) exploring the phenomenon and legacy of the Y2K bug, as part of his ongoing project Computers in Crisis. Along with a presentation of books and video clips from the time, he assembled three Y2K experts to share their own experiences of preparing for 1/1/00, at which point many computer systems were expected to interpret the two-digit date as "1900" rather than "2000," with harrowing results. 

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First Look: Poetry as Practice

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In this online exhibition, six poets approach internet language as a bodily, social, and material process. 

New poetry works will be published every Monday through April 6, 2015. Co-presented by Rhizome and the New Museum as part of the First Look exhibition series; curated by Harry Burke.

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Self-Portraits in Abject Time: Review of Paul Kneale at Evelyn Yard

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 Paul Kneale, "4 or 5 self portraits for free-form natural language descriptions of image regions", exhibition view at Evelyn Yard

For Paul Kneale's show "4 or 5 self portraits for free-form natural language descriptions of image regions" at Evelyn Yard, the gallery windows have been blacked out and emblazoned with the artist's name. Approaching the space feels like walking up to a monogrammed stretch limousine where tinted windows conceal luxury objects. Surprisingly, once inside, the works look cheap and fragile.

The exterior treatment of the gallery is echoed by the monochrome page design and white text of Kneale's concurrent residency on the publishing platform dreamingofstreaming.com, a visual link that reinforces the work's existence on and off-line, between different types of screen. Seven hyperlinks are listed on the website beneath the title "~~~~***PAUL KNEALE__888^NEW ABJECT___2015," taking the user to pages hosted on the classified ad site Craigslist. Together, these posts constitute Kneale's written response to Julia Kristeva's 1980 text Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection.

For Kristeva, abjection was a state of mental and physical disgust provoked by indeterminate subject-object/self-other relations felt, for example, at the point of contact between one's lips and the skin that forms on the surface of warm milk. It was a condition, she wrote, without "a definable object." Kneale's response proposes a "new abjection”: the disgust arising from engagement with cultural products and services that have recognizably changed in the wake of Web 2.0.

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