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Cultural Context Providers: Command Performances

rollover.jpg1) In an upcoming essay for DataBrowser 3 I defined the concept of the cultural context provider. An excerpt from "The Participatory Challenge":

"We (Jackie and Natalie) are the initiators and coordinators rather than the absolute authors. User participation and contributions make up the fundamental core of the work that needs to be done. “ 1

Currently, there is much advocacy for cultural practices that demand a particular involvement on the part of the audience, creating situations in which art projects are co-produced. People interact with networked computer systems and artifacts evolve out of experimental relationships between several people. The media art curator is not exclusively the ‘middle person’ between artists and museums or galleries anymore. Curators do not merely organise exhibitions and edit, filter and arrange museum collections. Now, her practice includes facilitating events, screenings, temporary discursive situations, writing/publishing, symposia, conferences, talks, research, the creation of open archives, and mailing lists. Curators become meta-artists. They set up contexts for artists who provide contexts. The model of the curated website has become a useful recognition mechanism. In media art many cultural context providers function in various registers including that of the curator. However, the once clear line between curator, artist and theorist is now blurred. Jon Ippolito writes:

“While art professors typically divide clearly into critical (Art History) and creative (Studio Art) faculties, new media’s brief history often requires its practitioners to develop a critical context for their own creative work. This is why so many pre-eminent new media artists are also critics or curators”. 3

rollover2.jpgThe model of the well-informed expert advances to that of the cultural editor who channels the perspectives of other cultural producers. The prevailing standards of recognition that are prevailing in the art world are slowly ported to their online equivalents (i.e. gallery, museum, cafe, community center versus self-published, peer-curated, and museum website). The hopes of early net artists for the democratisation of art, that would make them independent of the traditional museum curator because of the publicness that the Internet affords, have largely not materialised. Online projects can remain very intimate spaces without institutional promotion while there is definitely the opportunity for self-organization. Artists can generate platforms such as mailing lists, websites, and independently organised exhibitions to circulate their ideas and set up platforms from which they can interact with an audience.

The power of the media art curator is somewhat decentralised but she is still important as expert and cultural legitimiser. She can contextualise projects as part of culturally discursive currents or historical processes. Experiments with collaborative forms of curating that would expand the notion of the sole curator are rare and have so far not sparked much following. But curators have the ability to foster participation in open artworks by drawing attention to them. Problems occur due to the continuously evolving nature of audience-oriented works. The properties of an art object have drastically changed and now curators are faced with projects that are ephemeral, based on networks, appear in many copies, and are often grounded in the form of communication rather than a physical object. Sometimes context-based artworks are dismissed by curators as service rather than art. Less enlightened museums curators frame new media art in modernist terms that are based on familiar rules for institutional inclusion or exclusion.

On which aesthetic criteria should institutions base their decisions in the face of constantly changing forms of new media art works? Possibly the museum is not the most suitable venue. Many emerging practices can be experienced at media art festivals like Transmediale, Ars Electronica, Dutch Electronic Art Festival, or ArtBot but when it comes to more traditional art institutions the validity of much of this work as art is questioned. Venues for new media practitioners are not predominantly festivals or museums but virtually distributed communities: [...] organisations are using the traditional commission model for determining which individuals will receive electronic archive and display space. [...]

”Organizations using this strategy include Turbulence, a website sponsored by New Radio and Performance Arts Inc. [...] Using a peer-review process, Turbulence selects up to 20 Internet art projects per year to commission and display, Turbulence retains exclusive rights to display of the work for 3 years .“

(Mitchell, Inouye, Blumenthal 2001: 189-190).

Such curated sites slowly gain in credibility and are a good entry point for people looking for net-specific art."

come_out.jpg2) Today I came across a good example of the practice of cultural context provider. The artists group The Institute for Infinitely Small Things performs corporate commands quite literally. They roll over in front of a Cingular ad, for example.

1. rollover on the ground
2. roll over each other until people join in

3. command 100 people to roll over

4. command 100 people to roll over

5. command 100 people to roll over

They add the participatory "suggest" button to this web-based Fluxus-type gesture. They receive instructions from online participants, which they then enact. Cultural context providers.

However, I don't understand why so many artists have to wear lab coats currently. The IIST frames their work as research, perhaps the white coats suppose to illustrate that.

They say:

"A Corporate Command is an instruction work, a call to action in the form of an imperative: "Just Do It", "Turn on the Future", "Live without Limits", "Tap into great taste", "Think different", "Ride the light".

It is the hypothesis of the Institute for Infinitely Small Things that these commands, largely and consciously ignored by a public over-saturated with advertisements, function very effectively as infinitely small things."

"The Institute for Infinitely Small Things uses these commands to conduct research performances- performances in which we attempt to enact, as literally as possible, what the command tells us to do and where it tells us to do it."

The documentation/research database contains mainly photos with links to only a few videos. These performances reverse the idea of participation to the extent that commands (or partial commands) are given through the online audience. The Institute for Infinitely Small Things sets up a context for others to provide the content of the work that they then enact.

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