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Great post by Steve Gilliard on why the "big" blogs (Atrios, Sullivan, etc.) are becoming more popular than established opinion journals, and more successful than sites from the dot-com era. It is relevant to our upcoming panel discussion on blogging and the arts not for its discussion of the profitability of blogs--though there's more to say on that--but rather what makes them "work" as a vehicle for content delivery where the dot-com sites failed and where print journalism seems lagging. Much that he says feels right in the art context, although no clear leader is emerging the way the bloggers he mentions dominate political discussion. That's probably just as well--art would be better served by a network of micro-specialized blogs and a few aggregator sites, as opposed to some uber-critic who had the power to influence careers and sales. It was very disturbing to move to NY almost 10 years ago and discover that NY Times critic Roberta Smith had the ability to sell out shows, and that she and Jerry Saltz were perceived to be the only game in town in terms of an artist's or gallery's financial success. The last thing we should want is a blogger with that kind of influence. As for selling ads, it seems to be working for political blogs to give the writers the autonomy to say whatever the fuck they want, but the same would not be the case with art-related blogs. Galleries don't have much to spend and expect some return on their investment. It's not just about "eyeballs."
I've been checking out a recent Rhizome proposal and related blogs by sound artist Kabir Carter, the fourth panelist in the upcoming blogging and the arts event. Carter's sound blogs (a term I'm using, not entirely accurate--more below) are linked to and described there as follows:
I say the term "sound blogs" isn't entirely accurate, because unlike, say, David F. Gallagher's photoblog, which also records urban details in a diaristic way, Carter's journals don't document sounds via regular posting of .mp3 files, but rather verbal descriptions of audial phenomena. Many of these short, pointed, often poetic statements enter the journals "moblog" style--as the artist notes above, he types them into a handheld device, on the spot, from the locations where they were heard. The entries resemble a foley artist's deadpan record of sound effects in a movie or TV storyboard. Many of the "sounds" are actually visual descriptions of sound-producing activities, followed by the word "(inaudible)."
Effects is my first net project. Originally posted as a "stealth" LiveJournal blog, Effects purports to be a diaristic account of my life, but instead only offers dry accounts of sounds that I have heard, or imagine to have heard. While attempting to make LiveJournal friends who can track my accounts, I have periodically contributed to an ever growing catalog of acoustical accounts that never reveal much about me, but hopefully say many things about how I have experienced sound.
Walking In The City
I am presently realizing Walking in the City, a project commissioned by Subtropics, a Miami based music festival. I moblog (in real time) written descriptions and accounts of acoustic occurences that I audit while walking around New York City. The project was launched during Subtropics' festival opening, where 4 hours of my updates from the city were projected live in an arts and performance space in Miami. Until early April, I will continue to intermittently add to the initial log.
SFX: Two Street Signs Affixed to Same Post Vibrating against One AnotherI'm reminded of the Kenneth Goldsmith piece where the artist transcribed every word he spoke for a week and hung the transcriptions in a gallery. Like Goldsmith's work we take it on faith the artist isn't making stuff up. But Carter's blogs aren't as obviously sequential: he's moving around the city, and readers often must rely on their own deductive faculties to tell how (or whether) the sounds relate to each other--especially in the subtropics blog, where there's no timestamp. A run of posts gives you a feeling of momentary total immersion in a cacophonous, slightly unhinged street scene, and then you're abruptly transported underground, into a subway environment that feels equally random but has its own characteristic sonic events. The sheer amount and complexity of detail paints a cumulative impression of the city not ultimately that dissimilar from Gallagher's far more "accurate" (as in verifiable) photographic record. Both conjure a teeming world beyond our normal mundane powers of observation.
SFX #234 SFX: Bell Struck
SFX #233 SFX: Two Small Dogs Barking in Unison
SFX #232 UNKNOWN PERSON: "Not my fault the watermelon tastes like..."
SFX #231 UNKNOWN PERSON: "Police officer, can you go to the end of the train? There's a guy with a bag and blue jeans."
SFX #230 SFX: Droplet Falling from Small Bent Conduit (Inaudible)
Reading Carter's blogs is highly recommended, although they would doubtless have a different kind of interest if you were one of those baffled LiveJournal Friends experiencing them in blog time--that is, following the posts as they appeared.
Artist and blogger T. Whid, a fellow panelist in the upcoming Rhizome blogging and the arts event, is part of the art duo MTAA, along with M. River (their blog is here.) A Globe and Mail article on MTAA's current online artwork 1 Year Performance Video is here and I reposted it here. 1 Year Performance Video revisits a classic conceptual-era work by Tehching (Sam) Hsieh, where the artist locked himself in a cage-like cell for a year, and arranged for friends to bring him food and take away his body waste for the duration. (Shades of Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist, minus the plumbing.) Recreating the work online, MTAA has made fake cellcams showing the two artists sitting in separate sealed rooms--fake because the pair aren't actually in cells, only posting video loops that show them doing things they might be expected to do at appropriate times of the day. As the artists explain it, they use computer technology to take the suffering out of Hsieh's performance and put the onus of the one-year commitment on the websurfer, who uses a cookie to literally log time watching them.
Pieces that refer so specifically to known, past artworks, satirically or otherwise, are problematic--more on this below--but there's much to think about here. Unlike the Globe and Mail, I'd discuss the work in terms of voyeurism, and artist recuperation of the part-guileless, part-sleazy home webcam phenomenon. In real (Internet) life, the only reason a surfer would stay with a site like this for hours was in the hope that the subjects might do something kinky. I know there are people watching this for art, but why? Perhaps the presence of white plastic buckets in the rooms creates some morbid curiosity about how the artists handle basic elimination needs, but frankly I didn't stick around to find out.
Like Penn and Teller explaining a magic trick, the artists reveal--on a related web page--quite a bit about the scripting and webserving mechanics behind their simulation. This geeks-only backstory actually makes for fairly fascinating reading. One guesses the commercial voyeur sites do something similar--calling up particular loops at particular times of the day to fool the rubes. There is also the cliche of a hundred spy thrillers where fake footage of a surveillance subject is inserted into the bank of video recorders to confound the watchers. For sure the technology changes Hsieh's piece quite a bit, which did allow observers, but only at specified times, like a prison visit. Ultimately the MTAA work's relationship to current tech-shaped behavior patterns and pop culture tropes feels more compelling than its parody of the Hsieh performance, which is almost by definition an art world in-joke, with a singular interpretation: that when computer-age art revisits the physically demanding, emotionally wrenching work of yesteryear, an insincere, fast-food facsimile inevitably results. Sorry to leach the humor out of it, but there it is.
Addendum: And speaking of webcams, dave found this article about "net or remote hunting" of animals, an example of life trumping art for sheer fuX0red weirdness. (Assuming it's not a hoax.)
David F. Gallagher, one of the panelists in the upcoming Rhizome blogging event, wears two hats: committed photoblogger of his own punchy, artfully composed images (I linked to him a few weeks back when discussing the artists "trashing" Terminal 5) and media journalist covering the controversies and mutations of the emergent blogosphere. If you knew about the schism between crazy right wing "warbloggers" and the rest of us, which became apparent when they got a book deal and we didn't, it's possible you first learned about it in an article of his in the New York Times. Ditto the failed attempt by Warner Bros. to co-opt .mp3 bloggers. As I mentioned earlier, the first appearance of the term "web log" in the Grey Lady was in an article of Gallagher's, on December 28, 2000.
Occasionally his interests converge, as in this Slate piece on photoblogging. He invokes the image of cigar store owner Harvey Keitel taking daily random photos of the same section of city street in the movie Smoke as a metaphor for the demotic, "anyone can do it" aspect of photoblogging. That definitely comes across, but I've often thought about what a novelistic contrivance Keitel's picturetaking was. Within the film's own logic, he has this slightly kooky personal hobby that just happens to resemble a rigorous conceptual art project. The purpose of the conceit--besides the obvious plot point of Keitel "accidentally" photographing William Hurt's late wife, and thus ending Hurt's period of grieving--was, I think, to present Brooklyn as a place so steeped in renegade art style that even the man on the street had internalized it.
Photoblogging, on the other hand, isn't local, or particularly bohemian--it's a worldwide, bottom-up phenomenon, where practitioners are as arty or as artless as they want, or have, to be. The conceptual element comes in deciding on the parameters of the blog (on the practitioner side) and what value the practice has, on the consumer or curatorial side. Is the photoblog factual documentation or personal vision? At what point does a John Cagean interest in the aesthetics of random urban phenomena ("I am standing on this street corner shooting these buildings") intersect with the need for accurate images experienced by, say, a historian or a police investigator?
Photoblogging is photographing but it's also "databasing," and changing the subject slightly, I note that ex-Walker Art Center new media curator Steve Dietz has an exhibit coming up on that subject, which looks to be the typical analytical, anecdote-driven new media event. My general beef with such shows is that they privilege the rational over the intuitive. Instead of flouting viewer expectations, looking for disobedient, ecstatic, Dionysian uses of the computer, curators love to emphasize the data-crunching everyone already knows it does well. Whereas the more interesting story is how it's misused as an art-making tool, in hiphop, "dirtstyle" web design, etc. Fortunately, at a certain point homegrown, tribal, "amateur" efforts begin to overwhelm more earnest, grant-conscious, faux-sociological production. "Life finds a way," Sam Neill marvels in Jurassic Park, on discovering mating dinosaurs in a supposedly sterile environment. And so does art.
Untitled (Clear Evening After Rain), 2004, HTML, 365 x 550 pixels, from Look, See, Chris Ashley's weblog. A CD-ROM was recently published of the HTML drawings that appear daily on the blog. I continue to be intrigued and impressed with Ashley's use of the weblog as a medium for abstract art made in the same language as the medium. It's transparency in every good sense of the word.
Rhizome.org to host Blogging and the Arts panel
Blogging and the Arts
Tuesday, November 23, 6:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
New Museum of Contemporary Art / Chelsea
556 West 22nd Street
*** Rhizome.org Director of Technology Francis Hwang will lead a panel discussion entitled Blogging and the Arts. The panel includes artist Kabir Carter, photoblogger and journalist David F. Gallagher, artist and critic Tom Moody, and artist T.Whid. The discussion will address questions such as whether blogs will change the nature of discourse in the fine arts field, and ways that artists and critics are integrating this new form of communications into their own work. ***
Founded in 1996, Rhizome.org is an internet-based platform for the global new media arts community. Through programs such as publications, online discussion, art commissions, and archiving, it supports the creation, presentation, discussion, and preservation of contemporary art using new technologies. Since 2003, Rhizome.org has been affiliated with the New Museum of Contemporary Art.
This is an interesting mix (including me blah blah), and overdue. I think the new media community will learn of this event via the cyber-Drum and hopefully some will turn out. If anyone knows gallerists or critics or other real space artworld types, please tell them about this because I'm still getting blank looks from that quarter on the subject and/or value of blogging. The art journalism lag on this is frankly pathetic. Artnet (a magazine, not a blog digest) still practically owns the cyber-art-journalism field, although individual blogs such as Tyler Green's are getting more widely known. But the phenomenon of independent blogs embarrassing Institutional Media and demanding that it be more accountable hasn't happened in the art world as it did in politics. Also, "name" critics aren't starting blogs as they have in the political/mediacrit sphere. Vanity Fair scribe James Wolcott has a blog now, so where is Jerry Saltz's? Roberta Smith's? Robert Storr's? David Rimanelli's? Why are they still hiding behind the cloak of institutional authority? Do they need editors that much? Are they insecure?
These are my pet peeves, though: the Rhizome panel, by its choices of who was invited, is less grouchy (or, of more universal interest) in that it focuses on practicing artists and how blogs are impacting their work, rather than the deficiencies and pathologies of institutions. I hope to write more about the other panelists (based on surfing their blogs) in advance of the event. [One interesting factoid: Gallagher in his journalist career is the first writer to use the term "web log" in the New York Times, on December 28, 2000.] On his blog, twhid asks for suggestions about what to talk about. I'm similarly open here, but refer readers to an earlier dialogue I had with twhid and others in response to a Danish student's questions about "artblogs," which she seemed to assume were a much more evolved and accepted entity than they are. Here are some relevant links:
What is an art blog? 1 / 2 / 3 (scroll down)
One afterthought: the panel lists me as "artist and critic" but I prefer "artist who writes" (or better, just "artist") because the art world is quite old-fashioned and actually punitive in its expectation that artists will only wear one hat, and will otherwise be perceived as uncommitted. Starting this blog was a way to scrape off some of the barnacles of institutional criticism that I found attaching to myself; I guess it's not working, but then I can't make myself shut up.
Notes on my video, Dancin' (Please Register).
1.The soundtrack is a short version of "Streetsong 2" [3.48 MB .mp3], originally posted here.
2. The video is comprised of these animated .gifs swiped off the internet ("like stealing a candy bar from a drugstore"), plus a few more found at the link below. All are resized at 240 (tall) by 320 (wide) pixels. They run sequentially, with only one on the screen at a time. Each appears more than once (some many times), for a duration no less than four piano notes per appearance (and no more than 8). The order varies; the .gifs are mixed and matched and arranged with an eye to rhythm and the element of surprise. Speeds of individual .gifs also vary.
more animated gifs
3. After 1.25 minutes of this foolishness, video fades to black at end. "Trial version: please register" overlay will probably remain throughout the piece (I haven't decided yet).
The video is priced at $500,000. Proceeds after deduction of expenses for a private party in Terminal 5 will be placed in trust to be clawed over by attorneys for individual .GIF-makers.
Update: The completed video is here.