BERYL GRAHAM: New Collecting: Exhibiting and Audiences after New Media Art. Chapter 1 Modes of Collection

Why Collect?

Ten Thousand Cents is a digital artwork that creates a representation of a $100 bill. Using a custom drawing tool, thousands of individuals working in isolation from one another painted a tiny part of the bill without knowledge of the overall task. Workers were paid one cent each via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk distributed labor tool. The total labor cost to create the bill, the artwork being created, and the reproductions available for purchase (to charity) are all $100. (Koblin and Kawashima 2007)

New media art is collected. It’s just that it challenges many of the established definitions, histories, exhibition forms, authorship, economic systems, roles and processes of traditional object-based fine art. Given this factor, this chapter considers different “modes” of collecting rather than a singular “model” intended to be set in stone. Because a deep understanding of authorship, socio-economic systems, and processes is demanded from those working with new media art, artists are able to push these systems as far as they will go, gleefully playing the system to make the form of the artwork reflect the content of what the artists want to say. The artists are not necessarily inserting a monkey wrench into the works to make the machine stop as per the tradition of certain activist or oppositional art (although this is still an option), but developing elegant new spanners that can tweak the machine into doing strange and interesting things.

Ten Thousand Cents by Aaron Koblin and Takashi Kawashima from 2007, for example, is using the existing Mechanical Turk online system whereby many people in different parts of the world do small digital tasks that only humans can do for small amounts of money or credit. By making multi-authored art objects via this system, selling them directly, and giving the money to charity, these artists are making visible a rather complex globalized economic system. The producers and viewers of the work are also carefully tracked on the website, even if they do not buy the work – average times spent and the location of visitors from Egypt to the Philippines are logged. The fact that this is completely outside of the single-authored unique object of the traditional art market doesn’t stop the artwork from selling. What better way to shock the bourgeoisie in the twenty-first century than to question the allure of the international art market, online shopping, and the globalization of networked labor?

If the question “why collect new media art?” is asked, then one answer could be that it is a default option. As curator and artist Domenico Quaranta points out: “In the cache era, accumulating data is like breathing: involuntary and mechanical. We don’t choose what to keep, that is, but what to delete” (Quaranta 2011: 8). It is certainly easy and cheap for individuals to buy immaterial or material artworks such as Ten Thousand Cents, and those with more money to spend can obviously develop a taste for the wit, beauty, and complexity of artworks which are dealing with contemporary systems, cultures, and issues, to whit the Carroll/Fletcher Gallery which deals in contemporary art, including new media (see Chapter 10).

Those in charge of institutional collections obviously have an eye for history as well as for more immediate gratifications, but if they deal with contemporary art at all, they can be including new media art depending on the knowledge and taste of curators or even of national government ideology. In examining collecting internationally, it is noticeable that nations that see themselves as young, forward-looking, and technophilic are rather more likely to collect new media art. The National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art in Taichung, for example, has a special category in its collections database for young Taiwanese artists and publishes a lavish catalog each year of only young artists. Collecting new media art is seen as part of this remit, and the Museum as a national collection is actively encouraged by government funding and ideology to do this (Graham 2012a). Although the funding might be enviable, collecting because of government ideology obviously also has its drawbacks, not least because government ideology changes perhaps even more frequently than art world fashions; therefore, what happens when new media art is no longer “timely” (Graham and Cook 2010: 285)? Other conversations in Taiwan revealed a strong “cultural industries” agenda, which might be familiar to those in the UK, where new media appeals to government agendas purely as a commercial product and hence forces the understanding of new media towards design rather than art (Variant 2010).

Given the popular aphorism stating that what is collected is “artists not artworks,” a particular interest in young and early career artists might be a good reason why new media art is collected, as many new media artists are necessarily early career. However, as many artists by now have a solid 20 years of new media art practice under their belts, this is not necessarily the case: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer in the Introduction, and Thomson and Craighead in Chapter 10, for example, have substantial bodies of work in various collections. New media art is, unsurprisingly, collected in various ways for various reasons. What this chapter aims to do after clarifying who collects what is to identify different “modes” of collecting, especially where these modes or systems might be adapted to match the nature and systems of the artwork itself. These modes draw on some histories of collecting as outlined in the Introduction and use international examples that are not covered elsewhere in the chapters of this book. Bruce Altshuler’s 2005 edited book Collecting the New: Museums and Contemporary Art is notable not only for its inclusion of art forms including performance but also for examining how the art is collected. This chapter also seeks to do this and hopefully to highlight how the collectors might be the richer for it.

What is Collected?

Doing Cities on the Move was an almost unbearable thing for the institution, the audience, and even the artists because the works had to change. This is a challenging concept to those who think that art is a commodity for the market. The market regards art as a thing that does not change. It’s time for us to articulate the importance of immaterialty, fluidity, performativeness, and change as central to our activities. (Hans Ulrich Obrist in Kuoni 2001: 77)

“Immateriality” is sometimes cited as an insurmountable obstacle for collecting new media art. However, as Hans Ulrich Obrist indicates, curators of various contemporary art forms have been dealing with this for some time. For curators of new media art, the levels of materiality are hotly debated and the behaviors of immateriality are seen as their basic “operating system”:

The economics and temporality of net art, software art, database art or any art process that lives online and is formulated through code, presents a distinctive operating environment for the curator of this “immateriality.” This sphere of operations lends itself to a more distributed topography of decision-making and evaluation (quick and painless dissemination of work, participatory features, time/space collapse). (Vishmidt 2006: 45)

This code might be materialized or performed in different ways – on a screen or as sound – and the same code might be commercially distributed as a DVD or limited as a small edition. Depending on the museum, it might collect various things: the National Media Museum in Bradford, for example, has a large collection of media objects such as screens and projectors which are not art, but might be necessary to display art, and it is these items which appear in the Museum’s online collection database website. It has also commissioned for long-term exhibition artworks such as Thomson and Craighead’s A Live Portrait of Tim Berners-Lee (see Chapter 10).

Artists who work with new media, however, are very used to the variability of the materialization of their ideas and code in different contexts. The artist Carlo Zanni, for example, has artwork which exists only on screen, but has also worked on objects, sometimes of a temporary nature, which make visual sense in the context of his work: The work File from 2000, for example, used small 32-pixels-square desktop icons as “portraits” of people. For an exhibition in New York, he also printed out the images and mounted them on aluminum, but at exactly the same tiny size that they were on a computer screen. Zanni has also produced a series of artworks called Altarboy, specially made for screens in metal suitcases, and has actively sought to develop the debate on new media art and material forms for collecting by hosting a forum called “P2P_$: Peer to Peer $elling Processes for net_things” and a mailing list “P2P_.EDU: Peer to Peer Educational for art dealers” (Zanni 2010: 44).

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Figure 1.1 Carlo Zanni’s Oriana (Altarboy), 2004. Installation view at the Chelsea Art Museum as part of the exhibition The Passage of Mirage – Illusory Virtual Objects, 2004, curated by Christiane Paul and Zhang Ga. Photo by the artist. Image courtesy of the artist

In 2001, Susan Morris’ research report on museums and new media art identified three key pre-existing models of “what” exactly was collected: an original, unique work of art; an edition; or a performance (Morris 2001: 9). Museums still understand collection broadly under these headings of object, reproduction, or score/performance rights, and hence deeply influence “what is collected.” When examining the actual new media objects that museums have in their collections, it can be interesting from a curator’s point of view to see and handle the solutions that artists themselves come up with. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has a Prints and Drawings Study Room where, admirably, the public can make appointments to handle works from that collection. Searching the online collection for Casey Reas’ 2010 Process 18 (Software 3) comes up with nine separate items in the collection: two CDs containing software, one documentation print signed by the artist, five other digital prints, and a presentation box. If these are requested for examination, then it becomes clear that the artist has carefully considered how to present the work for a collection. The aluminum presentation box neatly contains the CDs and signed print. The CDs are annotated by hand in pen and are sewn between two sheets of drafting vellum, bringing a certain presence and hand of the artist to highly immaterial software art (see also Chapter 8).

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Figure 1.2 Desk in the Prints and Drawings Study Room of the V&A, with selected items from C.E.B. Reas’ Process 18 (Software 3), showing (left) signed digital prints and aluminum box, and (right) CD-ROM sewn into drafting vellum. Photos by Beryl Graham. Courtesy of the photographer and the artist

Whilst Morris’ three categories are still reasonably flexible, there are some aspects of new media art that disrupt them beyond the general immateriality of conceptual art or performance. First, there is the phenomenon of versioning – common enough in software production where a cycle of improvements is usual, but less so in art. Artists such as Casey Reas, however, are very clear about exactly which version of the software is being considered and which kind of output is obtained from that software. Second, there is a set of socio-economic ethics and systems surrounding certain new media, including open source production methods, free software, copyleft, and multiple authorship, which mean that much work has been done by researchers to integrate details of specific contracts and economics into the consideration of collecting new media art (Dekker and Somers-Miles 2011).

Economic Modes

Free goods and commercial value creation are not fundamental opposites. On the contrary, it is the specific features of these goods that create entirely new needs. It could be briefly formulated that what is specific about services based on free goods is not the focus on exclusive possession, but rather the stabilization of social relationships. (Stalder 2010: 76)

Like some conceptual art and new media art, the law might deal with material products, but is quite used to immaterial concepts such as patents and trademarks used to “protect” objects. As Caitlin Jones indicates in Chapter 7 of this volume, new media art is sold in various ways, and the artist Rafael Rozendaal has been quick to rationalize the potential of URLs – the necessarily unique domain name of a website – to form a unique sellable item, with a different URL for each of his net artworks. Some economic modes for selling immaterial works, however, are not so elegant, such as [s]edition (seditionart.com), a website selling digital reproductions of art objects including sculptures or paintings and a special Facebook sign in. What the buyer gets is access via a smartphone, computer, or TV to digital images and a certificate of “authenticity,” a rather confusing and tortuous mode to those familiar with new media behaviors.

Those important open source and free systems defined in the Introduction to this volume are of obvious importance for economic issues, and Felix Stalder goes on to examine the more difficult questions which challenge traditional art collection more fundamentally. He identifies four different types of “value” that do not involve owning an object: “embodied knowledge, possession through association, privileged access, and symbolic shareholding” (2010: 79). Most of these systems might already be familiar to those working in the art world, including purchasing access at “premium” times or spaces, or of sponsors choosing to be associated with events of “high social value.”

What might be less familiar to the art world are those other systems that specifically attach to open source and free software in particular. Such software is free to use, study, share, copy, and modify, and can be licensed under a General Public License (GPL). As outlined in the opening quote, it can be a source of much puzzlement how any artwork could be bought or collected in this case. Felix Stalder, however, suggests that artists could benefit economically in at least three ways:

Dual Licensing A consequence of the GPL is that all software based on GPL code must be redistributed under the GPL. Not all users want to be restricted to these conditions. This results in the demand for the acquisition of a program under a non-free license as well …

Customizing Free and Open Source Software, especially when it is developed in formally open networks (which is usually the case), is generic for structural reasons. For it is the generic core of a problem that is shared by many and around which cooperation is organized in larger groups. The application of software, however, is almost always unique, especially if it passes a certain stage of complexity …

Support Next to customization, the area of support certainly creates the greatest demand for commercial services based on free goods. A central criticism of products produced in open networks is that responsibility and accountability are often unclear. Although most problems can also be solved within the open network (by consulting forums and mailing lists), this can take a great deal of time and effort and may also presuppose a high degree of knowledge on the part of the person trying to solve the problem. (Stalder 2010: 84–86)

As Stalder identifies, “dual licensing” can enable a more flexible sense of ownership or, as Jaime Stapleton has put it, “bundles of rights” (Dipple 2010). Although “open source” is sometimes rather loosely applied to kinds of artwork that rely on process and participatory structures, there are obvious differences between a system that is collectively authored and free, and an art system that is strongly founded on authorship linked to financial value. However, because Creative Commons and GPL licensing retains a strong emphasis on crediting and moral rights to works, there are certain parallels that can be made. As researcher Dominic Smith has discussed, open source production methods do not mean that there are not hierarchies of authorship or ownership of works, but that the hierarchies attach more to levels of instigation, activity, and skill than to the repute of an individual artist (Smith 2011).

“Customization” could involve an artist presenting a solo version based on a larger collective project – with proper credit of course. In a financial sense, it could be argued that new media is actually more sellable because of its “customizable nature”:

Beat Brogle’s one-wordmovie asks visitors only to type in one word. The onewordmovie program then searches the Internet for images involving this word and makes a flash movie out of them … The interaction becomes binding only when it comes to a sale. The object sold is a DVD containing the film made for the word in question. The choice of words will be correspondingly more discriminating. Will the word chosen generate only nice pictures or will it express the client’s originality? (Schwander 2010: 34)

“Support” for an artist could mean providing workshops or artist-in-residence activity around a project. Artists Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July, for example, with their online participatory project Learning to Love You More, did not find that the multi-authored nature of the work prevented the artists being paid for workshops and exhibitions, solo works based on the material, or the work being collected (see Chapter 6).

Particular new media economic modes can therefore be seen both as a challenge to pre-existing modes of collecting and also as flexible extra modes to be considered and adapted for the future. As outlined in the Introduction, open source production methods could also mean the possibility of “crowd-sourcing” the conservation of art, or software art in particular, and could this provide a possible solution for a long-standing issue for collectors.

Who Collects? Public and Private Roles

Curators, registrars, audiovisual technicians, and conservators negotiated their roles as collections forced them to make radical change. (Wharton 2012: 19)

Glenn Wharton of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) describes The Museum Life of Nam June Paik in terms of the effect that the artwork itself has on the roles of all those involved in collections. In addition, Sarah Cook has identified in particular the role of the registrar as key to considerations of data-based new media: “the role of the registrar within the museum – someone to create an information system for the data generated by the contemplation and study of the art object, someone to tie fact to artifact … is the most challenged by new media art. The curatorial and registrarial challenges of new media art run from questions of how to commission and to collect it to how to document and archive it” (Cook 2004: 331).

Certain key roles do form important hubs of information, and the connections between them also become more salient. At the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in 2001, the exhibition 010101: Art in Technological Times caused changes in the institutional flowchart of work between staff, including who worked with whom, including collaborative work and new relationships between curatorial, educational, and website staff in particular. In 2012, Layna White of SFMOMA echoed this change of roles when considering what kinds of information were needed from whom in order to collect new media art, including the roles of conservator, artist, and audience (Baltan Laboratories and Van Abbemuseum 2012). These factors all reinforce the importance of roles, and the ability to collaborate between curators and others involved, if new modes of collection are being considered (Graham and Cook 2010: 247ff).

Alongside the question of the roles of those involved in collecting within museums, there is also the question of what kind of museums collect, and the two questions are firmly related. SFMOMA has an eponymous responsibility to collect the modern and contemporary, while the National Gallery of Canada has a responsibility to collect Canadian artists, many of whom happen to be media artists (Gagnon 2001). In both cases, the institutions have employed certain curators who have a special knowledge of media and new media art, a factor that is, unsurprisingly, firmly linked to general art institutions who do collect new media art. This is also the case with an example of a collecting organization which is not a museum but which collects art and design, with an eye for national strengths in an international context. It is perhaps because of this emphasis that the British Council has been highly conscientious in informing itself about all new art forms. It has in its collection, for example, works by artists commissioned to make mass-produced items for the home, digital animation, and, importantly, works by Thomson and Craighead, including objects, prints, and the networked data piece Decorative Newsfeeds from 2004.

Museums with a specific remit to collect new media art are relatively rare, but where they do exist, they reveal the more subtle variations in what is collected by whom. At ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie) in Karlsruhe, there is a very interesting relationship between the Media Museum, with its collection of interactive media art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in the same building, with its collection of contemporary art. The collection of interactive media art is shown both in physical gallery spaces in a media-object-based approach and via documentation in the media library, some of which is also available online via the website, along with interpretation. The Museum of Contemporary Art is the one physical space that is advertised as offering “selected works from private collections” (Graham and Cook 2010: 204). The ZKM Medialounge also shows single-screen material from the media archives and, importantly, the two production institutes for image and sound have also fed into what was collected, an aspect pointed out by Johannes Goebel: “One would have to look very closely (and deeply) into the politics of ZKM and the directors of these two museums – their relationship and how these museums were placed in the context of the overall ZKM enterprise (which included production institutes” (Goebel 2013). It is not, however, only the roles of those in public collecting institutions which are brought into question by new art. As explained in the Introduction, the work of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is in both public and private collections and so this field also needs to be examined.

Private Collectors: Patrons or Collectors?

The people who buy a work of art they cannot hang up or have in their garden are less interested in possession. They are patrons rather than collectors. (Lippard 1973: xiv)

As Lucy Lippard explained in relation to “dematerialized” art in 1973, private collectors might need to consider differentiating their roles from those who collect objects. Again, new media artwork is collected, but using different economic modes and with the collector playing slightly different roles. There has been particular resistance in the first place to thinking of media art as something that people would want to “hang up or have in their garden,” but this is perhaps a misconception:

Like many innovative collections, the Kramlich collection did not get under way in an entirely accepting atmosphere. There were those who were unconvinced of the importance of the medium and Nay Sayers who were suspicious of an art form that could be so effortlessly copied. Still others were sceptical as to whether these artworks could be installed and integrated in a private home. (Thomas Struth in Riley 1999: 171)

Private collectors Pamela and Richard Kramlich do indeed have media art displayed all around their home, and with items such as iPads and large LCD screens being already well embedded in many homes, it could be argued that new media is an inherent domestic set of technologies. The art-selling website softwareartspace.com features single-screen works by artists including Golan Levin and C.E.B. Reas, in editions of 5,000 for around $125, and shows a photograph of the happy customer viewing the work on a nice flat-screen TV in the comfort of their lounge. Although the excitement of the “innovative” in the face of nay-sayers might be something that appeals to some private collectors, others also have an interest in historical works – such as Michael Spalter and his wife Anne Morgan Spalter, who have created one of the world’s largest private digital art collections, including many early computer art prints – and move firmly out of the domestic – loaning works to venues such as London’s V&A and New York’s MoMA. As Caitlin Jones outlines in Chapter 7, private collecting is alive and well.

Art fairs are an obvious place where the art buyer meets the art seller, and there is a growing presence of commercial galleries which include new media, such as Carroll/Fletcher’s presence at the Loop Video Art Fair in Barcelona in 2013. There have been particular initiatives to raise the visibility of new media art. In 2009 and 2010, for example, Domenico Quaranta curated the Expanded Box section at the ARCO Art Fair in Madrid, and in 2009 in China, the art fair project e-Arts Beyond during the Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair, and the exhibition base target=new curated by Zhang Ga, made a point of including media artworks.

So, if Lucy Lippard claims that private collectors of immaterial art might act more in the role of patron, is this also true for new media art? Wolf Lieser, who has been running galleries selling digital art since 1999, stresses the long-term approach to private collecting: “From the beginning I have approached my customers on the basis that first of all: this is the future in art; second, forget about the old concepts of buying a painting and taking it home. Instead consider your acquisition a contribution to the artist, so he can work better and create better art” (CRUMB 2012). The artist Esther Polak concurs with Lieser, albeit in the context of PhD students asking for permission to reproduce images, and who never have any money for reproduction fees: “we give permission under the condition that they promise us to buy a work of art with the first money they earn, based on the grade involved. The work does not have to be ours, as long as it is from one of the artists that truly inspired them” (CRUMB 2012). Artists therefore might be feasibly considering long-term patronage – or rather very long-term altruistic bartering in Polak’s case – but this might still be a small amount of money compared to other sources. When European artists Jodi were questioned about income sources, their reply indicated that public funding was still in the majority, with 10 per cent sales, 40 per cent fees commissions, etc., 40 per cent grants, and 10 per cent private funding (Jodi 2010: 144). To gain some kind of idea of what kind of prices are being paid for artworks in a globalized market in 2010, the price for one of the 10 copies of the offline version of the work Traveling to Utopia by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries was set at $10,000. At the art trade fair Art Basel in 2009, the Vitamin Creative Space from Guangzhou marketed animations by the Chinese artist Cao Fei for €26,000 (Storz 2010: 106).

What the market for new media art has in common with the market for contemporary art in general is that the more famous the artist, the higher the price. The artist Jonas Lund has rather satirized this golden rule by making a website, The Paintshop, where people can use a digital painting tool to make a square painting which goes into a bigger patchwork of images. The paintings can be purchased as a digital print online and, importantly, the price of each painting is calculated using the Paintshop Rank™ algorithm and is updated daily. The algorithm calculates the popularity of the painting by online hits and adds the “stature” of the artists as measured by the artfacts.net website. Et voilà, an automated art market calculated via artistic fame (Lund 2012).

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Figure 1.3 Installation detail showing prints from Jonas Lund’s The Paintshop.biz (2012) from the exhibition The Paintshow at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 2012. Courtesy of the artist

Artists and Audiences as Collectors

[T]he artists set certain parameters through software or a server and invited other artists to create “clients”, which in and of themselves again constitute artworks. In these cases, the artists begin to play a role similar to that of a curator, and the collaborations are usually the result of extensive previous discussions, which sometimes take place on mailing lists specifically established for this purpose. (Paul 2007: 256)

Art historians may well be familiar with artists using archives and making their own collections: archivist and reference librarian Mark Lombardi, Walid Raad/the Atlas Group and Susan Hiller to name only three. Some critics, however, have deliberately excluded new media artistic collection strategies from consideration of the “archival impulse” on the grounds of being too “fungible” (Foster 2006: 144). Nevertheless, there are plenty of examples where artists are not only using but are also making collections of media or otherwise, such as Hannah Hurtzig’s FCA – (Flight Case Archive), a mobile continuously growing archive. As a dramaturge and curator, she fully considers not only the collection but also its relationship to its audience, whether sitting in a packing case or participating in a live event, such as Blackmarket for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge (Hurtzig 2012).

As Christiane Paul states in the quote given above, some new media artists have taken this even further. She refers to Alex Galloway and Radical Software Group’s Carnivore, where the artists are not only acting as curators but are also offering the users the chance to be curators too – the chance to be in control of the whole system. As established in the Introduction, collections management databases and online interfaces offer audiences the chance to choose their own collection from museum collections, and museum websites abound with such opportunities. Much wider than that, the audience has been quite familiar for some time now with making its own collections from YouTube or anywhere on the broad horizons of the Internet: “Everything I assembled over the years simply accumulated on the computer, and from there on the myriad backup discs with their ever-increasing storage capacity. When, at a later date, I would rummage through that jumble of folders and subfolders, I unfailingly felt like the owner of a medium-sized museum” (Quaranta 2011: 8).

Furthermore, the audience can make its own taxonomies or folksonomies of folders, subfolders, favorites, tags, and keywords, as outlined in the Introduction to this book. The question of the quality of audience curating is always, of course, a key issue, but nevertheless inspired FACT in Liverpool to develop the project Open Curate It (http://www.opencurateit.org), and as Mike Stubbs explains:

Part of the intention was to shift the terrain from classic contemporary art systems and invite people who had not had formal training in curating or theory to take part in a debate and consider new forms nuancing collecting, licensing and curating – informed by a playlist culture and as an experiment in creating [the] opportunity for people to play and improve their “curating” – thereby validating a range of practices that might be deemed “folk.” (CRUMB 2012)

Audiences are indeed so adept at surfing, tagging, linking, and using those links to “exhibit” that in “surf clubs” such as Marisa Olson’s Nasty Nets, there is little visible differentiation between artists, curators, geeks, or just regular surfers. Surf clubs such as Trail Blazers include performative and competitive elements, comprising opportunities to “show off your PRO surfing skills” (nm.merz-akademie.de/trailblazers).

Such breaking down of boundaries and changing roles is a characteristic behavior of new media, and of course artists have systematically challenged very basic conceptions of who collects. Collecting the WWW was an exhibition curated in 2011 by Domenico Quaranta and included work by Gazira Babeli whose Save Your Skin was a collection of “skins” filched from their rightful owners, smuggled out of Second Life and presented in an independent setting (Quaranta 2011: 70). Database Imaginary was an exhibition curated in 2006 by Sarah Cook and included work by Alan Currall, whose CD-ROM Encyclopaedia included definitions and information from ordinary people rather than from experts. As Cook states: “It is this question of the ‘where’ of art – in the collection, in the network, in the digital data space – that has led me to an interest in geographical-sited online database art” (Cook 2004: 332). The existence of such diverse, culturally specific, and located examples of new media artists’ use of archives and databases might suggest that rather than being merely “fungible” mutually interchangeable data that can be substituted for other data, these uses show what can be achieved by a fine awareness of how data and archives behave, and how both audiences and art experts might use these archives.

Modes of Collection

I would suggest that a curator especially a net art curator should become an instigator of a process that is open ended. To my mind this means setting up a loose structure that allows for maximum creativity and then inviting individuals to do something. You organize the material after the event occurs. In this way you are an archivist more than a curator. This is already somewhat of the default process on the web. What has not occurred is the next step which is the analysis and presentation of webmaterial in real life. That is the exciting part. (G.H. Hovagimyan in CONT3XT.NET 2007)

As Hovagimyan states, modes of collection are indissolubly linked to modes of display and, for the particular behaviors of new media, highlight a tension between the roles of collector, curator, and archivist along different points on a timeline. Modes of collection are therefore strongly linked to the intent of what is to be collected, by whom, and how.

Most museums do, of course, have a highly structured acquisitions procedure, which proceeds cautiously over time with keen consideration of artistic provenance, quality, and historicization. A large panel of people is often involved and there is frequently some debate over who is included on this panel – which curators, whether academics and artists are included, and in which proportion (Graham 2012a). Conventionally, the artists collected have a long and solid provenance, but if a museum wishes to collect “the new,” then how might the artworks become known to those people on a panel and enter a collection?

For new art in general, festivals have been an excellent way of seeing such works. In Seoul, for example, the Mediacity Seoul festival has brought international artists to the city, including the Spell on the City project which had gallery-base elements, but used some of the huge video screens to show guest artists’ work, and to facilitate input from the audience via Twitter and other social networking tools. Major exhibitions in the Seoul Museum of Art brought local and international curators together, so that the Museum is now familiar enough with new media art to consider bringing it into its permanent collection. The next section therefore addresses what might happen in the period before an artwork is collected, including the creation of art through commissioning or producing.

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Figure 1.4 Installation view from the Spell on the City project on Seoul Square screen, showing an image by NMARA (New Media Art Research Association). Part of Mediacity Seoul 2012. Image courtesy of the artists, Mediacity Seoul and Seoul Museum of Art

Modes of Acquisition, Commissioning or Production?

[F]or me what is really important is to think about how to support that kind of research, and commissioning as being the only solution that we have right at this point. In other words, providing the infrastructure; giving money to artists to produce their work and possibly extending this to being able to put them in touch with people who can help them with technical problems that they can’t necessarily solve on their own. Then hosting the project and trying to maintain it, with the obvious caveat that we cannot guarantee that the work’s formal integrity will be maintained forever. But with the other caveat that we do not claim ownership of this work, we merely claim the right to display it for as long as we can. (Benjamin Weil quoted in Graham 2002)

When Benjamin Weil was Curator of Media Arts at SFMOMA, he noted that the kind of research and development needed for new art and new media art in particular demanded commissioning, and a particular kind of commissioning if this was to lead to collection. When he commissioned Christian Marclay to make Video Quartet, the artist named Weil “executive producer” on the credits because “you found the money, you found the people who helped resolve all the technical problems. You followed the production of the piece; you negotiated a contract with my gallery. You found the right people to stage it in the museum. This is what an executive producer does, in another world” (Weil quoted in Graham 2002) This role of producer is certainly a more hands-on and practical approach than might be expected and could be particularly suited to new media art.

In the UK, the Contemporary Art Society is a body aiming to encourage an appreciation and understanding of contemporary art by a wide audience, and to donate works by important and new artists to museums and public galleries. The aim of their Annual Award for Museums is to support museums to commission new work that, once completed, will remain within the museums’ permanent collection. Museums must be able to commit at least £5,000 towards the development of a publication or catalog, which is also an important factor in historicization identified by Sarah Cook in this volume (see Chapter 10). In 2012, the Collection and Usher Gallery, Lincoln won the award, commissioning artist Oliver Laric to use 3D scanning and printing technology to produce sculptural work that can be “distributed” via data. Laric is one of the co-founders of the online platform VVORK and is hence very well informed on the subject of new media and collecting the immaterial in relation to contemporary art (CRUMB 2009). It is encouraging, therefore, to see awards going towards collecting genuinely new art.

Commissions do not, of course, always make it into a collection. Because collecting is a long process administered by a large panel of people, whereas commissioning is often done by an individual curator, certain freedoms and speed of movement are possible, and newer work and ideas are permissible. There is always an element of risk, however, which was discussed as a prime factor at the Commissioning and Collecting Variable Media symposium (CRUMB and CAS 2010). The debate included the importance of defending an artist’s “right to fail.” This led to discussion of other modes of production that might be familiar to those working with new media – such as that of the “laboratory” mode. There are many good examples of new media labs such as Eyebeam in New York that have excellent “producer” modes of working which fully take account of processes, failures, and versioning, but fewer examples of where this leads to collections (Graham and Cook 2010: 234; Moss 2008).

This element of “risk” is a recurring theme in relation to commissioning and collections – as described in Chapter 5, the Harris Museum selected artworks for exhibition from an open call before selecting from the exhibition for collection, but has moved on to co-commissioning new media art since then. Good connections between museum departments can certainly help spread the risk, and some curators have suggested various adaptations of commissioning and collecting modes that behave in slightly different ways to overcome the caution of some institutions. For example, an artist might be commissioned to make a customized “version” of a new media artwork to suit a particular institution rather than a new unique work. Benjamin Weil has suggested modes where an artist might donate a copy or edition of the work to the archive, and even if not in the permanent collection, that helps to historicize the work (CRUMB and CAS 2010). The DACollection in Switzerland forms another mode of collection: “in its initial phase … [it] comprises long-term loans from private collections and loans from artists” (DACollection 2011). In terms of conservation, there could also be a partical mode solution if that would prevent the work from being collected at all: Benjamin Weil’s opening quote only promises to conserve “for as long as you can” on a basis of maintaining the rights to display the work.

For some institutions, a hybrid solution to the demands of conservation is to collect on a small scale. The NTT InterCommunication Center (ICC) in Tokyo is “storaging” only 14 works, which have been on permanent installation in its galleries. These works, however, are often large-scale installations and are complicated to maintain. Woody Vasulka’s The Maiden from 1997, for example, is an electro-pneumatic construction adapted from a medical diagnostic and surgical table. For its mechanical control, the hand-operating levels and adjustment features have been replaced by the pneumatic actuators, giving The Maiden motion control features by MIDI-activated pneumatics.

Picture5

Figure 1.5 Installation view of Woody Vasulka’s The Maiden, 1997, from The Brotherhood exhibition at ICC Tokyo, 1998. Image courtesy of Steina and Woody Vasulka

Therefore, what can be acquired tends to depend on the sum of economic, practical, and conservation factors, and whether hybrid solutions can address the perceived risks. Benjamin Weil’s mention of art residing in an archive rather than a collection brings us back to the point instigated by Steve Dietz in this volume – that of the archive considered as a mode of collection … or as a hybrid mode somewhere in between.

Modes of Archiving/Collecting

I think all of us are interested in diminishing the hierarchy between the archive and collection for obvious reasons, but those hierarchies still do affect conditions that mean the archive will probably be less accessible to some scholars than the collection – it is certainly not accessible to the public. So I just want to ensure that we engage with that piece somehow through our collection, and that it is really accessible and present in how we’re constructing that history. (Stuart Comer quoted in Graham 2012b)

Stuart Comer, Curator of Film at Tate Modern, acknowledges the key tension for “collectionish” strategies that might situate works in an archive rather than a permanent collection. There are hierarchies of power and accessibility involved, so how does the audience then get to access that collection in the form of public display? Museums, after all, can mean various different things when they describe collections of items as “display collection,” “study collection,” “archive,” or “library.” In 2012, The Tanks, a new wing of the Tate Modern building in London, opened to the public. The Tanks opens straight from the main Turbine Hall, has a particular remit to show work from the Tate collections, and the combination of curators tasked with programming the space is of particular interest, comprising Film and Video, Performance, and Education. When showing work such as Lis Rhodes’ Light Music, it was important that the participative intent was maintained, and Suzanne Lacey’s 1987 performance The Crystal Quilt, which now exists in the form of a video, documentary, quilt, photographs, and sound piece, was not displayed simply as documentation or as a stand-alone artists’ video, but carefully reinstalled, for example, as a sound installation. As Stuart Comer says in the brochure for The Tanks program at Tate Modern: “They are not merely performance documentation that can be played back at [a] whim, but rather rely on a specific set of instructions to reanimate both the existing film or video material and the actions that attend it” (Comer 2012: 42). Mark Miller, Convenor of the Young People’s Programmes at Tate Britain/Tate Modern, has also identified a blurring of boundaries between participatory modes for live events, production workshops, and exhibition strategies when it comes to reanimating work from collections (Graham 2013).

These instructions are as likely to be in the archive as the collection, and if new media is also often found in the archive, then curators need to be familiar with accessing both systems, and making them accessible to others. At the Nam June Paik Center in Seoul, for example, the library is just off the spacious entrance lobby and is literally transparent: screens provide sheltered corners for reading printed matter, using databases or viewing DVDs, but the translucency beckons the user in with the promise of something interesting around the corner. The stacked shelves give an impression of a large quantity of material and there are helpful people to help the users of this explicitly public library to navigate the relationship between the library, the archive, and the large and very physical collection of Paik’s work.

Picture6

Figure 1.6 Installation view of the Nam June Paik Library at the Nam June Paik Art Center, Seoul. Designed by Nahyun Hwang and David Eugin Moon (NHDM). Image courtesy of Nam June Paik Art Center

As established in the Introduction, new media are both tools for collections management or archives and media from which to make art. Leaving aside the perceived differences between analog and digital archives in terms of quantity and perceived ephemerality, it is the fact that the means of production is also the means of distribution and exhibition for networked new media that most closely addresses Stuart Comer’s concern with access (see also Part B of this book). It might therefore be useful to differentiate two different kinds of archives in relation to collection and then to explore the hybrid examples between those two. As already discussed, each of these types of archives might be more or less open to input or changes by different people:

Archive as documentationof art is perhaps the most familiar type, and of obvious use to curators and others wishing to find information about art. The Database of Virtual Art, for example, was an early adopter of the online database as a way of finding artists whose work was not so easy to find in other art databases. It could be argued that Vimeo, LinkedIn, Flickr, or the Internet itself are the largest, most connected and most participatory archives of documentation of art.

Archive as a collection of art can really only be counted as such if the artwork is fully available in the archive, and in new media art terms, this means that this tends to be restricted to single-screen digital media, net art, or software art. The website Turbulence, for example, shows the net art that they commission, and keep it publicly available, with the usual “catalogue information” of date, media, etc. Turbulence do not name this as a collection, but it appears to function as one. (Dekker and Somers-Miles 2011)

What then about examples where in true new media fashion, an archive might contain both art and its documentation? As described in Chapter 4, Rhizome’s ArtBase has at various points in time been described as either an archive or a collection, depending on the levels of conservation and display feasible for various works. Likewise, Pad.ma has elements both of documentation and collection. The actual video works on the website are available to the audience to watch, but anyone can also annotate the video works via open source software. Lots of information is available about the works and the contexts, and Pad.ma has sought to animate the archive by hosting research fellowships for “experiments with video archives.”

The unassuming but long-running runme.org “software art repository” is open-submission and moderated/selected, and also happens to have an interesting set of folksonomy strategies (see the Introduction). Artworks include, for example, Graham Harwood’s (from William Blake) London.pl from 2001, a Perl poem that translates William Blake’s nineteenth-century poem ‘London’ into program code. The webpage for each work includes links to project homepages and features about the work, and the work itself is there on the website for download. The archive could therefore be argued to be an archive of linked documentation and also a collection of art, because the art is present in the archive. Although some might argue that runme.org is not a collection because runme.org does not own the artworks, they are nonetheless a selected collection and the economic modes discussed earlier in this chapter could suggest that the audience owns the collection as much as anyone else. If a conventional art museum is publicly funded, it could be suggested that in that case too, the audience owns the work as much as the museum – it’s just that they are not usually allowed to take the artworks home.

It is therefore very useful to be able to combine the information of the archive with the embodied knowledge of the art object. However, when Stuart Comer of Tate Modern talks about an “archive,” then that is the repository where exhibition files containing correspondence, installation photographs, and audience studies and budgetary information is kept – information of great value to those wishing to exhibit that work again. Crowd-sourced archives do not really replace the painstaking institutional archives, but the latter do have their disadvantages – they might not be available outside the organization, even to scholars. In new media terms, the most valuable kind of combination of archive and collection would be one in which there is “all available information,” an “open source” collection/archive if you will. Although runme.org certainly has written and published very openly about it processes, and input data is available on the website, the processes of curation are not really made available so that others could do the same. The NODE.London network, which organized a “no-curator” mode of new media art festival, is admirably open about its processes, but does not have a collection (Graham and Cook 2010: 261ff):

Although “the open museum” is sometimes discussed in rhetorical terms, there is little critical differentiation between kinds of openness, or indeed hybrid modes of working … (Graham forthcoming)

Those working around art collections need to be familiar with both archives of documentation and collections of art, how to extract material from both, and how to make them available to audiences. The question remains as to how this might be achievable, early investigation points towards collaboration, and early indications point towards the collaborative connections made between roles, including the roles of audiences.

Integrated Modes of Collection, Exhibiting, and Audience?

Recently, “Net Art” changed from being an art form in new media to a subject in contemporary art. I see several preconditions for this transition:

  1. Big audience. If yesterday for net artists it made sense only to address people in front of their computers, today I can easily imagine to address visitors in the gallery – because in their majority they will just have gotten up from their computers. They have the necessary experience and understanding of the medium to get the ideas, jokes, enjoy the works and buy them.
  2. Mature medium. Maturity for a medium means that users are really busy and the medium became totally invisible. If I want to attract attention of users to their online environment and create works about the World Wide Web, I’ll better do it offline. Net art today is finding its way out of the network.
  3. Slim computers. They look exactly like picture frames and they come with only one button. You press this button and the art piece starts. Reducing a computer to a screen, to a frame that can be fixed on the wall with one nail, marries gallery space with advanced digital works. Wall, frame, work of art. And the art world is in order again.
  4. Geek Curators. To name some with whom I had the pleasure to work – Paul Slocum, And/Or Gallery (Dallas), Marcin Ramocki, VertexList (New York), Maxim Ilyukhin, ABC (Moscow). They are not only knowledgeable about the online world and free from the media art prejudices of the 1990s, but also technically competent and innovative. They can offer truly unexpected solutions for materializing, objectifying and preserving works that were born to live in the browser. (Lialina 2010: 38–39)

Artist Olia Lialina rather pithily summarizes a list of factors which she sees as important in integrating net art into the contemporary art scene. She also chimes with some recurring themes of this book: those of audience, historicization, exhibition/objects, and roles. In terms of considering modes of collecting, these in turn relate to what is collected, who collects, and how the collecting happens.

In considering what exactly is collected, it is clear that there is a range of material options for artworks that might be considered “immaterial,” not least those springing from the inventive minds of the artists themselves. For works that are resolutely immaterial, modes from other immaterial art forms such as conceptual art or performance art can be adapted to a certain extent, but, conversely, some new concepts directly from new media production and economic systems could in the future inform many art forms which concern process rather than product. In particular, the systems of Dual Licensing, Customizing, and Support could offer economic options for which artists can get paid for immaterial art.

These economic modes mean that private collectors can also collect in various ways, including taking on the roles of long-term patrons as well as in the development of an existing market for new media artworks from both public and private collectors. Concerning who collects, collection by artists and audiences is clearly the mode that differentiates new media art most. As Lialina said, many members of the audience might “just have gotten up from their computers” where they might have been busily tagging, developing their curatorial skills, or surf clubbing. Perhaps less of a case of “geek curators” than geeks who are curating as part of their social lives, or just regular audiences who are merrily tagging, liking, and making favorites as usual. These various modes need to integrate the questions of how and who, because the systems of new media, whether economic or social, necessarily behave in different ways when linking things and people.

Overall, what is particular about “modes of collecting” for new media art is perhaps more of a combination of different systems and working in the spaces between existing modes. Commissioning, for example, which is important for any new art, may involve more of a lab production approach or may involve commissioning a “version.” Collecting and acquiring might entail different economic modes of licenses to exhibit for limited periods of time.

Rethinking systems and modes in this way obviously demands gathering knowledge not only about the art but also about the different behaviors of the technology, and the roles of those involved, from artists to audience. In the case of developing knowledge about the preservation of new media art, many organizations have come together in partnerships such as the Variable Media Network and Matters in Media Art to share knowledge and test out new modes. Perhaps this could also happen for collecting, with encouraging signs from the British Council and Contemporary Art Society (CRUMB and CAS 2010). This would certainly help with the significant rethinking needed for institutional change. As Steve Dietz cites in the next chapter, Jon Ippolito envisions a future of interesting times for museums: “For museums to acquire open-licensed art would require them to transform from collecting institutions to circulating institutions” (Ippolito 2002).

 

Beryl Graham


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