Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Web versus Minimalism

Dear Ela,

Thanks for your vivid descriptions about museums, tagging, and audience participation for defining classification systems of artworks. My threads of thoughts during the last weeks included the art market, digital and online art, “trends”, minimalism versus "complexitism,” and how information is collected, sorted, spread, and lost again...
Thank you for asking me also to talk about feedback in regard to my project "html_butoh" and the "html-movement-library", as it falls, how you described it, into the discussion of user-generated libraries.

So let me start with my observations of audience participation within my latest exhibition, which will also bring in more “personal” experiences, which will help me spin through the thread of topics I mentioned above.

As you know, the html-movement-library and its accompanying projects including html_butoh are web-based projects. They are accessible online, but I am also interested in transferring these projects into the gallery space. My interest lies in collecting user-based material not only through online submission by a “global” audience, but also on location, introducing the library -- as an installation in a gallery space -- to local and smaller communities. Both “worlds” bring in material that can be viewed online and in the gallery space. It is great to see that the database of user-submitted videos is constantly growing.
So for this library I am inviting a wide audience to define what (physical) movements or gestural representations of html could look like. There have been posts of carefully choreographed athletic dance movements on one side, and a gesture spontaneously performed by somebody who just walked into the gallery with several bags and a rain coat, on the other side... Again, the audience submits short video clips through which they are demonstrating their approach of how to translate html into movements and how to give a technological language a physical representation. Anyone who submits seems to get a kick out of seeing themselves appear in a constantly running Web-theater. :-)

During a discussion with a friend and colleague of mine at her visit to the installation/exhibition we touched upon the topic of the art market. She mentioned that she sees an obvious return to “minimalism” in the artworld, and works that touch on its philosophy and approach are doing well in the art market.
My installation now is, I would say, truly multi-media. It is a “translation” of the functionalities of a web-based piece into an architectural and interactive setting, which includes real-time, web-based information feeds, projections, a walk-in video recording station for instant movie making, and the ability to upload a movie on the spot to the library. The visitors to the gallery can instantly see themselves be part of "html-butoh", which is the synthesis of the installation, where all participants in the library – submitted online or right in the gallery – perform together on the Web. And, finally, there is a visual thread of some of the html-movement “hieroglyphics” as decals on the wall –- a visual representation of one movement combined with the according html tag -- kind of framing the whole installation with its visual language. It was these simple icons, which struck her fancy as a possible sellable product, maybe putting them on silkscreen, she said. And this was the point where the term minimalism came up.

But art that is fed by the Web can hardly ever be called minimalist!? Through its abundance in media, in composition, in the possibility of existing in virtual worlds and expand into RL, and especially through user participation, and through its longevity in terms of establishing user-based libraries that will carry on and evolve – how can this be ever compared to minimalism aka something that SELLS?

I have a hard time accepting that these graphical icons are the only thing in this installation that would serve as a sellable art piece. It is interesting to me though, that I am talking about selling art here today and within this context, and Ela, I do remember that we touched upon net art and new media art and the art market a long time ago. But recently this topic seems to have come back to me in many ways, as I have seen new approaches in galleries and artists alike to invent new models in terms of net art, "intangible” art, and its spin towards the art market. It seems that there is a fresh breeze starting to blow, and I am somewhat optimistic, that with new thoughts on saleability also a new discourse on the relation of net art and galleries, museums and collections will rise! Or maybe it is the other way around… Somehow I think, after more than ten years working with the Web and even longer with computer-generated work, I see a slight shift happening in acknowledging its own, new life as a new art form within the art market. “New”…Well it takes decades to accept all "new" media it seems…

Well, I ask you Ela, is there after all a gap between the “Fine Arts” and the media and Internet arts? Now that we all – philosophically -- try to get away from the term "new media" and call everything simply "contemporary art" are we running into even wider discrepancies?
And how about selling? Every artist needs to make a living, but I wonder how much we still give in to a "trend" in the arts, a trend to what’s sellable versus what we would like to sell. Again, I think that there are new models in the making, especially when it is about net-based art, and new media art, and I have the feeling that I will get back with more thoughts and information on this topic in future posts on our blog. (One important thing to add here: I am not talking about asking viewers to pay to view net art, this is not the model I am thinking of, I am actually totally against this, as it would determine what could be seen/read about/learned on the Web.)

Here, I would like to bring in a quote I came across last month reading a newsletter published by DAM (Digital art Museum), Berlin, referring to a statement in "art review" describing the efforts and development of the Museum and its director Wolf Lieser, and their take towards the future.

"But selling digital artworks remains a far from easy task. It takes a lot of patient explaining. Most people in the artworld still don't have much of an idea about digital art, the impact of computers in our culture, the way the medium is changing the artworld on every level or the amount of work involved in the creation of, say, the rendering of scenery in the three dimensions. Lieser sees DAM as a long-term project. He had to build everything from scratch and foresees that it will probably take another five years of hard work before the value of digital art is really recognized. So yes, there’s a market. It’s slowly coming to light, and as usual, the smart ones are already investing in it..."
(Regine Debatty, “Is there a market for Digital Fine Art?” in “art review magazine”, May 2007)

I find this quote really interesting, specially as a model for what's happening around all the digital arts…

Before I close my post today I would like to add another thought that brings me back to user-based libraries: The user versus the specialist.

What does this increase in self-organization mean to us? With the amount of information rising on the web on a daily basis, it is just clear that we all want and need to be part of indexing/structuring this information in a way we feel comfortable with it. So, the structure might be actually adhered to the “object” somehow -- fascinating thought also in terms of curating...Which systems and structures are applied when starting to put artwork - online artwork - in context? How do we all like to browse, view, search? Who makes the decisions for how to browse? The artist, the curator, the visitor, or all of them? So all these "roles" seem to shift as they all start sharing similar roles. Everyone involved is in search for a new shared vocabulary… and it seems to renew itself constantly.

So I guess the concern is to find an easy but complex way to browse and look at art on the Web (or any kind of knowledge, discussion or information) from a multitude of perspectives...
Getting back to the term “minimalism” -- it doesn't seem to be possible to mention it in the same breath while describing the capabilities of the Web...

Looking forward to hear your thoughts, Ela!

Many greetings from New York,