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Matthew Gansallo, webworks for the Tate.
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Matthew Gansallo, webworks for the Tate.

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Speakers:>  Matthew Gansallo

Im going to approach this by speaking about how I went about commissioning the artists and what I was thinking about, and also about the departments at the Tate that helped in the process of curating. When I say they helped, it was in the sense that I had to go about and make them realise that this wasnt a side issue and take it rather quite seriously, and that had to do with press, development, and marketing.

I studied fine art and have curated some shows with paintings and sculptures; moved on to installation and public art. I also worked in responsive architecture (this is using light and walls to confuse the users of certain buildings as though they were falling into a well or walking into a wall whereby it wasnt, and so forth). That was one of the remits I had with technology while I was working as a Senior Research Fellow at the Tate.

Im going to approach this by speaking about how I went about commissioning the artists and what I was thinking about, and also about the departments at the Tate that helped in the process of curating. When I say they helped, it was in the sense that I had to go about and make them realise that this wasnt a side issue and take it rather quite seriously, and that had to do with press, development, and marketing.

This was the first time for me and the first time for the Tate - it sounds like a romantic love story, but believe me it isnt! My main concern was how these commissions would be perceived as art in the way contemporary art museums like the Tate, define and present art. Another concern was to investigate artists working with Internet technology, with the virtual, that can be presented within physical spaces of contemporary art museums, without just introducing a couple of PCs and a work station into a stuffy small room within a gallery. (Because that was the initial idea - when I went to them about it, they said well lets get some pieces and well put them in and people will look through, and I thought, well, perhaps thats not what I really want to do.) which lead us to the ZKM in Karlsruhe in February 2000. by the time we got back we were as confused as ever But there was one thing that I was sure about, that this work was going to be online, because one wouldnt have the budget to create what that would be in a physical space. I commissioned two artists because their work - from what they showed me when I went to their studios - was the closest to the rhetoric in viewing, engaging and experiencing, with all sorts of codes and coded symbols to challenge and give insight into different images, conceptions and other issues that really are to do with the production of contemporary art and the history of art. Those two artists were Simon Patterson and Harwood@Mongrel []

Lets see if we can find where it is on the Tate Website. It used to be under More News. First it was hidden somewhere because obviously it wasnt considered - it was considered as an adjunct - something different. So I got them to put it under More News, but after six months they put it under Tate Connections - Projects Online. []

This is Uncomfortable Proximity Harwood@Mongrel have taken the Tate Website and rewritten the history of the Tate from a personal point of view. What they did was that they took a digital camera all around the Tate Britain after 6 oclock when the galleries were shut, taking all the works of J. M. Turner and made a collage of them and put links in them. Believe me, some curators were not very happy with that []

Simon Pattersons work presents colours together with their hexi-decimal equivalent which are matched with every team that has ever played in the French Football League Just a point to mention, when I click on this it does not go back to the Home Page and this was the initial intention of Simons work, in the sense that he wanted to trap you here and so you have to go through all the colour charts before you can escape.

The Harwood work was meant to drop in to the Tate Website after every fifth hit to the site, so that after every fifth hit from wherever, you just get the Mongrel site popping up right in front, confusing the viewer or whoever is using it, making them say whatevers happening here, is someone hacking through or what? They have to find their way all through the Web and find out Oh, this is a work of art, or there will be something on there that will say This is a work of art, and then it will go back to the real Tate site. The marketing department hit the roof [for more on this, see Gansallo interview]

There is also at the Tate a Development Department, which deals with quite a lot of sponsors. So we had to write letters to all of them asking if they had any objections to their logos appearing on the Tate-Mongrel site, as it does on the Tate Homesite. All the companies, organisations and individuals I wrote to and Sandy Nairne wrote to said that they did not mind if their logos appeared on the Tate-Mongrel site. However, a few did write back saying they would object if their logos were not included on the Mongrel site - so please put it in. So we thought Oh, they are interested in art, so that was quite good. It was excellent taking that letter and showing it to some members of the Development Department and saying, there you go; they dont mind - so why should you?

There was also a question about pay. How much do artists who are asked to commission works online, through a link, how much should they get paid? Will they be doing any work? We have programmers where are doing the programming and all that, and they are just creating an idea that we are going to programme in - so how much can the artist be paid? That was another interesting conversation from one of the meetings that we had. But however, I am pleased to say that payments to the artists invited to produce work was in tandem with others supplying work for temporary exhibitions at organisations and national museums like the Tate Gallery. I wont tell you how much though!

Another interesting thing that we had to go through, was that art projects online reviewed the standard contract Tate prepares for artists and raised new issues and laws of copyright. For the first time in many years, Tate contracts to artists had to change to accommodate this type of out-of-line commissions in tandem with the type of commissions that are commissioned for sculptors, painters, and installation artists. Other issues were addressed such as ownership, acquisition, procurement, collection, archiving and provenance - how do you collect such a work and how do you archive such a work? How long will the work be live on show on the Tate Web? If the artists have the permission to show the work on another Website, when still on the Tate Website - and does this mean that they have a contract for one year? []

We were quite aggressive within the marketing, press and promotions departments because, just to take a question that came up from the audience at some point, we didnt want them to say that artworks were going out that no one knows about. Thats still a very fuzzy area for a lot art critics and museum press professionals who have been working at the museums - how on earth do we begin to write about it and write PR stuff that will get people interested? The fact is that a lot of these departments do not consider this a form of art, so the most important thing is to understand that it is not just about the curating, but it is also about the business of publicising this work and getting the right press, the right critical language, the right critical dialogue and then developing them. []

Audience Responses:

Pamela Wells:

I would just like to highlight something that you brought up that I find a particularly interesting place - which is the artist and the curator being able to collaborate together to question the presenting of potentially challenging work. Especially in large institutions that have potentially cumbersome bureaucracy. I just think personally, with new media its a very interesting position because it allows for that space for artists and curators to collaborate on what are the parameters.

Matthew Gansallo:

I can reflect on that. When I was taking this work on and the artists were saying this is what we want and you commissioned us, you should allow us to do what we want, which is fine, I found that dealing with departments that have not actually grappled with this work, it is something that has to be carefully managed. Because you have to look within the perspective of both sides, because a lot of the departments concerns were actually quite valid - and they have only just started speaking with me again now - they actually stopped talking to me for a while! There were comments about the work - there have been a lot of people who have written in, ranging from this is great and get it off my site, or wow, isnt it excellent? and what the hell are you lot playing at again? Which was quite good, I think.

Miriam Sharp (Arts Council of England):

I suppose my initial thought was that it is interesting that the Tate decided to commission work, when actually most of its policies are around acquisition, and I wondered why it wasnt seen to acquire works that would give context to the commissioning of new work using new media and whether thats part of what the Tates thinking of doing? []

Matthew Gansallo:

Well, Im not aware that the collections team - because we have something called a collections team - are looking at this area of collecting, but I can say that there is quite a lot of interest in showing - not just on the Web, but also working with new media and curating new media in the future - and I think that is something that will begin to spark more interest, more research and I think it will be inevitable that it will look at issues of collection and archiving, definitely. []

Sarah Cook:

But Matthew, does your role in the Tate, has that not also helped to change the structure? I mean the fact that they actually appointed somebody to commission works for the Web, indicating that there was a need for a new media curator of some type, whether a curator/producer/commissioner/new media web manager - some new positions have arisen within the Tates structure since this time and are continuing to arise.

Matthew Gansallo:

Well the role now is that there isnt any permanent posts of new media curator. I was doing something else within research and I was invited to look at this area and curate and commission it. Now, I am not aware of a specific role of new media curator at any of the Tates and perhaps this commission might then lead to a position within that area, that will actually begin to look at the work and begin to actually curate new media art. But thats good. I think that is needed in organisations like this. []

Julian Stallabrass:

Perhaps just to go back to the Harwood piece, or the Mongrel piece. I think theres an odd parallel between the Tates attitude towards new media curating and their awareness but also lack of interest in doing anything really radical about their pretty disgraceful non-display of black and Asian art. If you ask them about either issue, their response is always No, we dont have a new media curator because were all interested in that, and we dont want to compartmentalise it - were all aware that this is something that we have to do something about. If you ask them about black and Asian art and their connections you get the same reply

Matthew Gansallo:

I would be very encouraged if you could all write in to this site and say there is a need for a new media curator - put the zeros at the end of the thousands you think they ought to be paid, and if its got to be a permanent position to give a permanent place to the discourse within the organisation.



  media art
  fine art


  Matthew Gansallo
  Sarah Cook
  Julian Stallabrass