Humorous and surprising, smart and provocative, Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media (MIT Press, 2010) jumps from opposing viewpoints to opposing personalities, from one arts trajectory to another. The entire book is a dialectic exercise: none of its problems or theories are solved or concluded, but are rather complicated through revelations around their origins, arguments and appropriations. Overall, the book adopts the collaborative style and hyperlinked approach of the media and practice it purports to rethink. In other words, it is not just the content of the book that asks us to rethink curating, but the reading itself; by the end, we are forced to digest and internalize the consistently problematized behaviors of the “media formerly known as new.”
Kate Mondloch’s first book, Screens: Viewing Media Installation Art (University of Minnesota Press), is a welcome study of the cathode ray tubes, liquid crystal and plasma displays, and film, video and data projections that “pervade contemporary life” (xi). The author reminds us that screens are not just “illusionist windows” into other spaces or worlds, but also “physical, material entities [that] beckon, provoke, separate, and seduce” (xii). Most importantly, however, Mondloch’s approach is that of an art historian. She does not merely use art as a case study for media theory, but rather makes the contributions of artists her central focus in this, the first in-depth study of the space between bodies and screens in contemporary art.
In his book, Parables for the Virtual, Brian Massumi calls for "movement, sensation, and qualities of experience" to be put back into our understandings of embodiment. He says that contemporary society comprehends bodies, and by extension the world, almost exclusively through linguistic and visual apprehension. They are defined by their images, their symbols, what they look like and how we write and talk about them. Massumi wants to instead "engage with continuity," to encourage a processual and active approach to embodied experience. In essence, Massumi proposes that our theories "feel" again. "Act/React", curator George Fifield's "dream exhibition" that opened at the Milwaukee Art Museum last week, picks up on these phenomenologist principles. He and his selected artists invite viewer-participants to physically explore their embodied and continuous relationships to each other, the screen, space, biology, art history and perhaps more.
Fifield is quick to point out that all the works on show are unhindered by traditional interface objects such as the mouse and keyboard. Most of them instead employ computer vision technologies, more commonly known as interactive video. Here, the combined use of digital video cameras and custom computer software allows each artwork to "see," and respond to, bodies, colors and/or motion in the space of the museum. The few works not using cameras in this fashion employ similar technologies towards the same end. While this homogeneity means that the works might at first seem too similar in their interactions, their one-to-one responsiveness, and their lack of other new media-specific explorations -- such as networked art or dynamic appropriation and re-mixing systems -- it also accomplishes something most museum-based "state of the digital art" shows don't. It uses just one avenue of interest by contemporary media artists in order to dig much deeper into what their practice means, and why it's important. "Act/React" encourages an extremely varied and nuanced investigation of our embodied experiences in our own surroundings. As the curator himself notes in the Museum's press release, "If in the last century the crisis of representation was resolved by new ways of seeing, then in the twenty-first century the challenge is for artists to suggest new ways of experiencing...This is contemporary art about contemporary existence." This exhibition, in other words, implores us to look at action and reaction, at our embodied relationships, as critical experience. It is a contemporary investigation of phenomenology.
The Blair Bush Project (BBP) is a CITY+SUBURBAN studios (Johannesburg)
initiative. BBP, orchestrated by artists nathaniel stern
(http://nathanielstern.com) and Christian Nerf (http://christiannerf.info),
is a Public Investigation seeking the opinions of world citizens in the
current sociopolitical climate. Snippets of evidence are posted to the web
in the form of video and sans-copyright (reproducible) images. The Blair
Bush Project is a Johannesburg-based, international forum for input and
output surrounding the WW-III discourse.
Call for participation:
The Blair Bush Project poses an opportunity for world citizens to contribute
their opinion in the form of video, sound, images or text. Please visit the
web site to download our format preferences and make a contribution. Note
that although ownership will remain with the contributor, all content is
sans-copyright and available for www distribution.
Video + Sound will be viewed online, whereas images may be printed out and
used as posters/t-shirts. For example, if you send us a poster from Tokyo,
a New Yorker may print it out from our site for personal use. Your text may
be uploaded in its original format, and/or read as a sound piece. At your
permission, we may edit visuals and sound into larger works.
We strongly encourage the use of our content in local spaces.
------ Forwarded Message
From: "Kathryn Smith" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tue, 4 Mar 2003 22:02:35 +0200
Subject: VANSA LAUNCH GAUTENG
NEW VISUAL ARTS ORGANIZATION TO LAUNCH IN GAUTENG
Artists are to band together to make their voices heard and to promote art
at every level in a new entity to be called the Visual Arts Network of South
The Gauteng launch will take place at:
The Johannesburg Art Gallery
on: March 15, 2003
from: 2.00 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Secure parking available, entrance off Claim Street, Rhulani Restaurant now
A regional committee will be elected at the launch.
The national launch will take place later in the year.
WHAT WILL VANSA DO?
Some possible strategies:
* To bring to the attention of the city and the state the enormous
importance to the national economy of cultural tourism, and the necessity
for funding visual arts events.
* Lobbyists could present to the government programmes whereby corporate
buyers get tax breaks. Standard practice in many parts of the world.
* A 1% for Art plan for all new buildings at planning stage could also be
* VANSA could also help provide access to tools, technology and skills
needed by artists to make and distribute their work, locally and
* Constructive critical forums could be set up to debate matters of
interest to artists.
WHO CAN BELONG?
All visual artists, arts organizations, museums, galleries, curators,
academics, educators and businesses, corporate collections and interested
parties will be eligible to join VANSA.
WHAT WILL IT COST?
Membership will be free until the national launch (in the second half of the
year), after which a fee will be levied to cover the costs of producing and
sending out a regular newsletter to members, and of planning events.
Enquiries regarding VANSA or the launch on March 15 can be made to Frank
Ledimo (national convenor) at 082 563 8995 or
email@example.com or Clive Kellner (Gauteng convenor) at 082
4567 011 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
PLEASE COME TO THE LAUNCH ON MARCH 15th!
And please help us by sending this email out to any relevant individuals or
------ End of Forwarded Message
by nathaniel stern
The Trinity Session is a Johannesburg-based creative collective whose work
ranges from curating and exhibiting art, to community development and
empowerment projects, and the networking of South African artists with each
other and the international new media art community at large. I spoke with
Marcus Neustetter recently about the what, why and how of their doings...
NS: Marcus, tell us a bit about why you, Stephen Hobbs & Kathryn Smith
formed The Trinity Session.
MN: The first incarnation of The Trinity Session was actually Stephen Hobbs,
Kathryn Smith and Jose Ferreira, instead of myself. It was formed because,
at the time, a lot of arts institutions, organizations, galleries and
facilities in South Africa were closing their doors due to lack of funding
on a governmental level, leaving artists without money or platforms to
exhibit their work. The Trinity was born out of the need to organize art
and artists in South Africa - to keep the community thriving despite this
situation. At the same time, I was developing SANMAN - the Southern African
New Media Art Network - a program to facilitate a network of artists working
in the digital realm. When Jose left the country, we teamed our forces, and
I became a permanent member.
NS: Was that when The Trinity Session began moving more in the direction of
MN: Prior to my involvement, there was interest moving in that direction -
Kathryn, Stephen and Jose were all doing some work in video - but, yes, my
contribution was to shift into more electronic and digital media endeavors.
Stephen had been running the Market Theatre Galleries, in the downtown
Newtown Cultural Precinct, for six years, his art focusing mostly on urban
issues; Kathryn was doing a lot of writing and research on the body and
technology, using photography and video; and my interests were primarily in
digital media and web.art. The Trinity's work has become more focused on
Digital Media in the past 2 years.
NS: You are, all three, artists, facilitators/networkers, and working in
public interest / community development. How do you manage to keep working
in all these areas?
MN: We're operating as a Creative Collective. We're often invited to
international festivals and exhibitions as a group, not individual artists.
With that power, we see our roles as facilitators and artists as
intertwined, and community development is a function of that. We both
curate emerging and contemporary artists at our gallery, The | Premises,
which is located at the Johannesburg Civic Center in Braamfontein, and
invite local artists and/or bring their work with us to whatever events we
can outside of the country. We're also very interested in the relationships
between business, art and technology. How can you mobilize the art world by
looking at business structures and technological developments? Part of our
public interest work is to try to create and sustain partnerships that can
catalyze more creative developments here.
NS: Is that where most of your funding is coming from, then? Business
MN: Up until only six months ago, we were still looking for, and working on,
paid creative projects to survive. Each of us, at any given time, was
working on various projects on the side in order to make ends meet. Since
then, the research that has always interested us has begun to pay off. For
example, the International Labor Organization (ILO) recently approached us
to research the Visual Arts and Crafts industries in the SADC region
(Southern African Development Community). This was a well-funded project in
development. Through our curatorial, organizational and management skills,
in relation to the arts, we're finding more work in the public interest, and
would like to continue in this direction.
NS: You recently got back from the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, as the
first South African representatives there. Tell me a bit about your
project. What were your goals, both as a Creative Collective, and
socio-politically from a South African perspective?
MN: The theme of the Festival was unplugged, and The Trinity was part of two
projects there. First off, we were the South African facilitators for the
RADIOTOPIA project, which you can read about on the Ars Electronica site at
http://www.aec.at/radiotopia - it was basically a global sound exchange
project; we contributed our sounds to the project in Linz, and held a local
DJ event in Johannesburg. The most interesting part of that process for us
was organizing ways to get clips from all over SA - using everything from
cheap tape recorders in the townships (the one we are using for this
interview, in fact, recorded sounds of schoolchildren in Alexandra), to
emailing .wav files from those musicians with access.
Our other project - the more interesting presentation for me - was SEARCH,
an ongoing research / art project which works towards, and archives, the
process of developing an "art network neighborhood," by setting up further
projects that pull networks together. We invited (and funded, thanks to
Ars) seven South African Digital Media "activists" - artists and people
working in the industry - to come with us to Linz. The relationships they
made with each other and at the festival because of SEARCH resulted in
several collaborations, and are still ongoing. We basically sat down for
five days and networked! The nine of us (Stephen and I went as
facilitators) talked about structures, concepts and ideas, as well as
politics, social forums and pop culture. Maria McCloy and Zubz (Ndabaningi
Mabuye) from http://rage.co.za both came back and set up several "networking
parties," as a side project and, I'd like to think (grins), continuation of
what we had started in Linz.
NS: Were you well received at Ars Electronica?
MN: The most interesting part of the whole process was the personal
interaction with Festival go-ers. They were very keen to hear about where
we come from and what it means to be in a third world country with x amount
of resources. On the flipside, we brought a few artists who had never even
left the country before; the setting at Ars Electronica was a real
eye-opener for them, and our whole party. It was a learning curve on both
sides. To get back to your question, being well received really depended on
where we were in our discussion at any given time. I see the project as
very successful with its goals. It was both an interesting art
presentation, and a space that catalyzed, through collaboration and
networking, further development in South Africa. We're still seeing the
effects of that now.
NS: From your experience, what's different about how people are exposed to
new media here in South Africa, as opposed to Europeans and Americans?
MN: Right now, most galleries in South Africa do not have the facilities to
house Digital Art. If they say they have a "New Media Room," they mean they
have a VCR and a projector or TV. It's very seldom to have a dedicated
machine or networked gallery. The infrastructure just isn't there. So
obviously, that impacts how and what the public sees. These institutions
NS: Do you see things like Telkom's DSL initiative [Telkom is the
telecommunications monopoly in South Africa] and Wits' new MA program in
Digital Media [University of the Witwatersrand, see
http://rhizome.org/object.rhiz?14895] changing anything in SA?
MN: Telkom had a different initiative, as early as 2000, to connect SA
schools to the web; there are Wits and a new undergraduate initiative at UCT
[University of Cape Town]; several technikons, such as Vega and The Branding
School, are beginning to explore New Media Art and its blurred lines with
Design; there's the New Channels New Media Competition and the Design Indaba
- which invites foreign artists to show their work here. These things are
exposing possibilities to young artists all over the country. The problem
is that they are often one-offs, as opposed to sustainable projects that
continue to grow. Expertise is always lacking - who will teach web skills
to the students at the schools that Telkom is connecting? Who is lecturing
at UCT and Wits, and for how long? How do we accomplish knowledge transfer
when there are so few skilled artists working in the media here? When we
find willing/skilled teachers, how do we structure a program to put it in
both a South African and global context? If we manage such a feat, how do
we keep this knowledge in the country to disseminate it further?
This last question is one of the major problems we are having at The Trinity
Session. We're being asked to participate in a lot of international
projects as of late, and we have to be sure to balance these with our South
African goals. A lot of national artists have been recognized
internationally in the past decade, and some lose site of their home
country. The Trinity is focused on creating a bridge with the international
community while still basing our development projects locally.
NS: Talk about one of these projects - the Joubert Park Project, for
example. This park is just in front of the Johannesburg Art Gallery and was
considered, for a long time, a very dangerous place to hang out. There's
now an initiative to revamp the downtown area in interesting ways, starting
here. Tell us about The Trinity's involvement.
MN: Good example. The Creative Inner-City Initiative (CICI), in downtown
Johannesburg, focuses on training people in commercial applications of the
Visual and Performing Arts, and Crafts. It's specifically geared towards
poverty alleviation and empowerment. Our consortium, with the Joubert Park
Public Art Project, focuses on the Visual Arts. For example, one of our
workshops teaches traditional painting and drawing, then shows how to turn
that into a profitable skill, like sign making. There are a lot of places
in downtown Jo-burg that have beautiful, hand-painted signs, so this is a
real world commercial application of skills, where people can start to use
their creativity to make money.
NS: Is SANMAN involved in this project as well? Are you working with New
Media in these workshops?
MN: It is one of our objectives to move towards that, but this project,
funded by the Department of Arts and Culture, is more focused on skills that
do not require huge resources for the trainees. There is a video course
taught at the same time, by Movement 76, where people can do some hands-on
training and enter the industry. We
by nathaniel stern
Mid-February of this year will see the launch of the first Digital Media
advanced degree program within an arts school context in South Africa. The
new division within Witwatersrand University's School of Arts (WSOA) will
offer concentrations in either 3D Animation or Interactive Media Design for
students working towards a Masters in Fine Arts or Dramatic Arts.
Professor Christo Doherty, Head of Digital Media at Wits, designed the
program in close consultation with South African new media practitioners
from both fine arts and commercial fields. "The structure of the course is
a response to the existing areas of interest amongst students in the Wits
School of Arts and examples of successful courses in the USA and Europe,"
says Doherty. His hope is to "teach professional application skills and
develop an historically informed and analytical understanding of interactive
media as both an aesthetic and commercial form of communication." He plans
to do this by engaging with work around the politics and aesthetics of The
Digital Object, a la Lev Manovich and Peter Lunenfeld, but to also "test
these concepts against the 3rd World context [they] are operating in."
Doherty says that, in many ways, the new program at the University of the
Witwatersrand is modeled on programs such as the Interactive
Telecommunications Program (ITP - Tisch School of the Arts, New York
University), and Digital Arts at UCLA, in that it stresses creativity and
experiment, and is pulling students and lecturers from many varied
"While it's certainly a small/new program, it's coming into an environment
that's already very dynamic and interdisciplinary in nature. Wits School of
the Arts students have access to critical debate and working professionals
across a wide range of specializations," says Nicole Ridgway, an
anthropologist who will be contributing to the program. Although there are
several two-year certificate programs already available in SA, this course
is "also interested in discourse and social interactions - there's a public
intellectual aspect to it," she added.
The most outstanding difference in the new program, to its international
predecessors, is its non-traditional course structure. The two core courses
(split into production and history/theory) have short 1-2 week topical
segments taught by various academic specialists, professional media
designers and practicing artists. These are the same professionals that
helped to design the course, and students will also have a chance to see
them in action in their work environment. Wits has a superb,
Johannesburg-based list of external lecturers from, and internship
possibilities at, some heavy-hitting Digital Media companies. To name a
few, Interactive Design Studios such as Delapse and LearningThings;
Animation Studios like Depth, Luma, Triggerfish and Sphere; Art/Theatre
Collaboratives such as The Trinity Session and the Forgotten Angle Theatre
Collaborative; and independent artists & performers, including Clive Van den
Berg, Penni Siopis, Marcus Neustetter and Andrew Buckland.
Doherty is also hoping to bring foreign insight to the program, wherever
possible, by invitation. I, myself (an ITP alumnus), have agreed to take on
a handful of lectures; he's also looking into short residencies, guest
lectures and small shows in the Wits Digital Media Gallery. "Not many
places in the world, much less South Africa, offer an opportunity for
student filmmakers or interactive artists to work with professional dance
companies, or 3D animators to work with award-winning actor/playwrights,"
Philip Boltt, a professional 3D animator in Johannesburg, will be working
with students on an animated adaptation of Feedback, an award-winning script
by South African playwright and actor Andrew Buckland. He believes that
South Africans can pick up technology very quickly, given exposure, and
relayed a story to me about an internet-ready machine that was quickly
"figured out" by local kids in a community hall in the rural Eastern Cape.
Boltt said, "What I'd really like to see coming out of the Feedback project
is an increased public confidence in taking on technologically-based
programs that we would otherwise have regarded as the domain of more
developed countries. What is required is an adaptation of mindset to the
peculiarities of our local environment, and a desire to find ways to
overcome any shortfalls that one may encounter.... The effect of the
project will be felt as a shift, however small, by South Africans from being
passive technology users, to pro-active developers." From my personal
experience in South Africa thus far, the constraints Boltt refers to force
many artists, designers and developers to think harder about both conceptual
framework/content, and lo-tech solutions to big problems.
Adam Harris, who will teach digital effects and their place in the animation
production pipeline, also plans to spend a good deal of time speaking to the
"concept of creating a new market, and applying what [South Africans
already] know into the business of digital media." He sees the new program
as a "unified attempt to establish a talented market pool, and a stronger
industry.... If we can do this, the program may have a great effect in
reducing the disparities" still very present in South Africa. Boltt
similarly expressed that "the training of black and female [media producers]
should be a priority."
Wits University as a whole has various programs and policies in place that
both address and redress the legacies of apartheid. The Digital Media
program will see students from many socio-economic and cultural backgrounds,
from several African countries. Laine Kiflezion will be coming to SA from
Eritrea to study Interactive Media Design at Wits and is very excited to
help "increase the number of artists engaged in the field, and develop a
diversified creative output to the digital market."
"However," Boltt added, "the basic problems of access to technology, and
education funding, still exist. No matter how well the course is structured
to embrace equality, it will still depend on continued government and
private industry funding, in the form of bursaries and sponsorship of
resources, to maximize these goals. Without these, the fees will be too
high for many, and there will be too few workstations to train on."
There are a lot of resources going towards bridging the Digital Divide in
South Africa, but they are mostly geared towards entrepreneurship. Wits is
looking for support in places ranging from small, local design firms to the
government, the Mark Shuttleworth foundation and big, international
companies. Obviously, there is going to have to be a lot of cross-subsidy
within the program. Doherty has "garnered a lot of support from industry
because of its commercial applications, but is committed to having both
[artistic and commercial] aspects present" in the program. Harris added
that if graduates "produce their own work, and attract foreign investment,
they can truly grow [a South African] media/entertainment industry," which
will eventually be self-funding, and committed to WSOA's goals - academic,
artistic and commercial.
The Digital Media division