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.
Begin forwarded message:
> From: Tomislav Medak <email@example.com>
> Date: April 17, 2007 10:56:25 PM GMT+01:00
> To: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Subject: [Icommons] iCommons Summit film screenings: call for
> -----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
> Hash: SHA1
> Dear commons community,
> The iCommons Summit in Dubrovnik will be intensively involving
> and presenting artworks. Through the hosting of Summit events, such as
> the Artists in Residence programme, iCommons, and Summit hosts, Mi2,
> have focused on involving creators, artists and musicians from various
> backgrounds, in the commons discussions at the annual iSummit. In the
> iSummit schedule (for draft programme see:
> http://wiki.icommons.org/index.php/Draft\_programme) we have assigned
> time around the official conference schedule for creating art or
> showcasing musical talent, and performances. And even our venues
> Lazareti and Revelin, offer facilities that suit for hosting
> exhibitions, concerts and film screenings.
> Yet another feature of this year's iCommons Summit will be the
> film-screening event, to be held on the evening of 14 June. We are
> looking for films that are either CC-licensed free culture works, or
> challenge the boundaries of copyright law. Priority will be given to
> recent releases or works that are yet to be premiered. Due to the
> limited screening time we have available, we will not be screening
> longer than an hour.
> We invite you to suggest films or videos that fit the above criteria,
> and that you would like to see screened at the iSummit. If you're a
> filmmaker yourself, feel encouraged to propose your own work. Add your
> suggestions to the iCommons wiki at
> Please note that the total screening time is two hours, and we will
> be able to screen works in digital formats from a computer or DVD
> The deadline to add suggestions to the wiki page is Saturday 29 April.
> The selection of the films to be screened at the event will take place
> as a public discussion on our IRC channel (#icommons), on the freenode
> IRC server (irc.freenode.net) at 16:00 GMT on Saturday 4 May.
> If you're inexperienced with using IRC or having problems finding your
> way around, drop me an email.
> Tomislav Medak
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> Icommons mailing list
"Is it art?" and "Is it useful?" are ways to mis-equate either of
those terms (art / useuflness) with inherent value on some level.
They're dismissive on the false presumption that "art" and
"usefulness" automatically have value, and (insert binary opposition
here) does not....
And with that, I agree.
On Feb 28, 2007, at 4:54 PM, Pall Thayer wrote:
> The fact that the question of usefulness or uselessness even
> arises, is the sign of a grave misunderstanding. Whether or not a
> piece actually has some physical utility or not, doesn't
> necessarily have anything to do with its "artful" usefulness. For
> instance, The Command-Line Pizza Ordering program by Cory Arcangel
> and Michael Frumin (http://www.beigerecords.com/cory/pizza_party/)
> has function and utility. You can use it to order a pizza. But it
> also has an entirely different usefulness and utility as a work of
> art. A usefulness that becomes appearant without even using the
> program. It causes us to reconsider the idea of the computer/
> internet combo as the do-all and solve-all of contemporary times.
> Do we really want it to go this far? Is using the command line to
> order a pizza really any better or more convenient than calling up
> and ordering a pizza? Who knows? I could use it to set up a cron
> job that orders a medium pepperoni pizza for me every Thursday of
> every other month at 6 pm. Am I better off? Am I absolutely sure
> that I will want a medium pepperoni pizza every Thursday of every
> other month? It doesn't try to answer such questions, but proves
> itself useful in an art-sense simply by invoking them.
> So, essentially, it doesn't matter one way or another whether or
> not a work of art can be said to be useful or useless in a
> utilitarian sense. That has nothing to do with its usefulness as a
> work of art. This "artful usefulness" is of a much more cerebral/
> philosophical/spiritual nature.
> On 27-Feb-07, at 6:21 PM, Jim Andrews wrote:
>> the notion that art is necessarily useless seems to me an
>> tactic rather than a compelling argument.
>> what are some arguments for the position that art is necessarily
>> -> post: email@example.com
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> Pall Thayer
very first and not yet cited draft I just finished minutes ago, I
might add (and actually has little to do with the paper's central
theme), but I thought it relevant to this discussion....
I worry at things.
I complexify, perhaps even complicate. Sometimes my anxieties are
debilitating, prohibitive, a detriment (my wife would agree). But
Begin forwarded message:
> From: Midori Yasuda <email@example.com>
> Date: February 6, 2007 5:21:16 PM GMT+00:00
> To: "ITP Alumni" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Subject: Artists in Residence program launched for iSummit '07
> Reply-To: "ITP Alumni" <email@example.com>
> Artists in Residence program launched for iSummit '07
> At this year's Summit, iCommons will be launching a new and
> improved Artist in Residence program, based on the success of last
> year's undertakings by Nathaniel Stern, the Artist in Residence at
> the iSummit 2006. This year's program will be bigger and better