[…] I would like to suggest some scenarios for coping with what could be called ‘curatorial inadequacy’, and indeed offer some consolations for curatorial inadequacies … If you happen to be a new media curator in Sofia, Bulgaria then it’s more than likely that you will be suffering from a form of identify crisis, fuelled by a sense of cultural inadequacy. It’s because ‘new media curator’ is still a very dodgy title in Sofia for at least two reasons. The root structure of curate - or curator - has a certain explicit sexual connotation … also in the Bulgarian mentality, the term ‘media’ derives from the term ‘mass media’ - indicating manipulative, ideologically driven and ideologically biased culture - but also from the term ‘multi-media’, wherein ‘multi’ stands for an offshoot of "a multi group" - a group of corrupted companies run by the local mafia, which refer to their businesses as ‘multi-art’ or ‘multi-club’, or multi-whatever. […]
And hereby Lev Manovich would rightly enquire: ‘are we on the way to constructing a new utopia of a perfect, networked society, composed of unique individuals?’ I wonder are these the very same new individuals of the Net-age for whom new media art initiatives as Canalweb.de, or Superchannel.org are designed for? To provide a mere consolation through their very custom-tailored specialist services?
Canalweb.de can perhaps be best described in terms of old media in fact, a cross-over between an interesting print magazine and live talk show. Except that it is site-specific - it’s all in German by the way as you’ve already gathered - so it is really designed for this site-specific audience who is very well dispersed across the Internet channels. So the curators at Canalweb.de are, as a matter of fact commercially driven producers and service providers, outsourcing their editorial responsibility to the experts within any group of self-identified users, ranging from chess players to people living with AIDS.
The approach favoured by Superchannel.org is entirely different in that its critical slant comes from the gift economy and e-democracy and is focussed on providing the means, the actual means and skills of web-casting production to its end users. Superchannel.org is actually established by the Danish Artists’ Collective ‘Superflex’ and Superchannel.org is mostly publicly funded and produced by FACT, often guided on the site by FACT-based curators. But it often bypasses the entertainment drive of Canalweb.de, yet it again caters for the specific requirements of its users. Among the Superchannel.org users there are residents of Liverpool tower blocks - a number of whom are in their seventies and eighties and by now, as you can realise, they are leading edge narrow-casters and web programme presenters. Unsurprisingly, their issue-based programmes, like ‘Coronation Court’ often dwell upon the glamour and despair of high-rise living and their immediate community’s problems. […] Superchannnel.org curator Maria Brewster, based at FACT, spells out that one of the pitfalls of such a project, which solicits attention from formerly non-art audiences, 'can’t possibly bypass overnight the differences between users of established culture and the culture of the art world'. […]
So knowing the old and new media arts from and beyond Bulgaria from inside out […] it seems as if there’s been a steady need for ‘curators on demand’ - soon to be known possibly as ‘outsource curators’, associates or guest curators. They are often paradoxically though, guests in their own home countries, e.g. I very often get asked to guest curate a show in Bulgaria. […] coincidentally or not, Bulgarian culture of the nineties presents itself as run and governed by women artists and practitioners. Women dominate the curatorial network of artists and producers. As a result, creative technology is recognised as a very elegant occupation that readily includes - indeed welcomes - outbursts of intimacy and humour, or urgency and immediacy. So there is not just this love of experimenting, but there is a lust for blind-dating technology. Indeed, this peculiar rise of the network society of women has prompted me to curate - remotely - my first women-only Net-based show [...] The project ‘Blind-dating Technology 2000’ was in fact produced with no budget and premiered at Mediaterra 2000 for their second international art and technology festival and symposium, and exhibited at the factory in the Athens School of Fine Arts in November 2000. […] What was really, really striking for me through this curatorial process was that the ethos of the blind-dating technology was predicated on the act of uploading and test-running the works, allowing the sense of curatorial inadequacy to creep in. The experience of remote online co-control shared with six artists and complimented by an odd troubleshooting phone call from afar, was far from rewarding and often just on the edge for me.
Techno-terror reigned, I’ll tell you why. First, techno-terror reigned havoc in the backspace of the project web-zone. The two browsers Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator were still waging their star wars over the project’s fonts and font sizes while we were constructing it. The land telephone line at the designer’s home studio - who was one of the artists in Sofia - had gone missing and with it her dial-up access to the demo Website. A cable man was called in as a matter or urgency to rescue the project and to reinstall the underground telephone cable. Apparently, the shadow Bulgarian economy, which thrives on recycling of the copper wire from the stolen telephone cables had traumatised the micro-climate of this blind date. On top of it all, the server in Athens had gone down, when it was much needed to be up. The ftp transfer had experienced an unprecedented slowdown. Hackers had surfaced as if from nowhere - well you can expect that for Sofia, it’s the capital of hackers - while the designer worked away from home at the nearest Internet Cafe in town. I was working away from home as well, busy curating another project at the Wexner Centre for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. What is more, the artist assigned with the role of showing and telling the festival crowd all about the site, onsite, at the gallery premises in Athens, had gone through fire and hell to get her visa issued, only to find out that she was refused visa entry into neighbouring Greece for no good reason. Meanwhile, the Athens festival curators on-site had employed very elaborate installation design tactics which had successfully absorbed the artists’ and curator’s fees and reportedly killed the intimate artistic gestures of the blind-dating technology project. […] at least two curatorial survival scenarios have emerged out of these busy records of peculiar incidents. One being the urge to view ‘Blind-Dating Technology 2000’ as a pilot, non-fixed project with a potential to be developed further and therein corresponding perhaps to the most prominent of the principles of new media art - variability. So be on the lookout for ‘Blind-Dating Technology 2001, version 2.0’ or something.
The other consolation for this instance of curatorial inadequacy, which on reflection was partly due to curatorial over-booking and excessive trust in the power of remote e-communication, is possibly friendship. […] How much of the new media curatorial co-productions today are run on the engine of friendship and how will that implicate on the project’s data and interface? In other words - forming contacts or developing a profile in the long run? How could the new media museum wear the sign ‘partners and friends wanted’ with dignity, to avoid its own curatorial inadequacies also beyond the art world? […]
Audience response excerpts:
I loved your phrase about "outsourced" curators. Yesterday we were talking about Matthew Gansallo and how his status is as a slight outsider - as a guest - did enable him to do things which maybe resident curators couldn’t have done, by talking to various departments and by forging new relationships with those various partners. But outsourcing is traditionally a way of stripping the rights from workers. So I just wondered if you could say a little bit more about this. How powerful did it feel being the guest?
I think there are two issues here at stake. First of all, this is a borrowing from the e-commerce world. They love talking about the ‘outsource expertise’ that they would bring in, and that’s what would drive the e-economy, because quite frankly, it’s less expensive, it’s much neater to work in this way. And increasingly the art world is mimicking the business world. I wondered whether that might be a matter of phraseology or just a very well justified need to be more flexible for us as curators, to work in this kind of environment and not necessarily to expect that a big organisation like the Tate Modern would have the same ethos or profile or agenda as a smaller organisation and would necessarily have the position reserved for an in-house curator. There are very definitely various models to be applied here and we have to be really careful when we are raising our expectations too high in terms what an organisation should look like in terms of treating its staff and external outsource members.
Karen Alexander (BFI):
Could I just add to that the idea of the friendship lines in relation to outsourcing, because I think, again the issue around outsourcing is about who people know and trust in relation to that. But at the same time, the friendship lines that exist within networks are really important and actually, whether those networks can be used to inform institutions.
Very much so and I think even the European bureaucrats wouldn’t shy away from this particular line of thinking. Interestingly, one of their guidelines advises you to get to know your European project partners first. If we read between the lines of the European Commission guidelines - knowing your cross-border partners is just a step away from making friends. So I think we’re being very timid here, not to confess to this. We have to be really honest that this is what drives curatorial practice. We all need to make our own little alliances in order to manage and to deliver a project, and we’re also trying to put all sorts of grandiose titles to something that may be just another instance of extended friendship. […]
Everything that you’ve talked about so far has been fascinating, but its been about production and I just wondered, especially thinking about the number of people who are online in many areas of Eastern Europe - and so few people are - is this work for friends as well as by friends? Do you see what I mean? Do you have a feeling of who looks at this work and how it is received?
Well, that’s one of my regrets really, that in the region down there, there’s no legacy of outreach projects and community-based activities. It is very much - I am just simplifying here just for the sake of the argument - but it is really more like everything is self-centred around the artistic creativity and it is as if the artists are the prime goal of themselves. So really most of the events that are being produced, they don’t have the impact as to the larger audience out there. That’s why some of the new generation of curators - in Bulgaria at least - has been trying to find a way of reaching and gelling with this audience out there and finding new adequate formats. So there is really a lot of demand there. However, at this stage, it does feel that most of the work is still done by friends and for friends. […]