code flow - e-texts

Art - Place - Technology

International Symposium on Curating New Media Art

Liverpool School of Art & Design and FACT

30 March - 1 April 2006

code flow (Dimitrina Sevova & Alain Kessi)

Identifications of curatorial practices in media space

A critical review of the figure of the successful media curator in the first decade of
the 21st century


A-P-T CoverDimitrina: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen!

Let us begin by introducing ourselves. We are the founders of code flow in Zurich.

Alain: code flow is a collective engaging contemporary media art and theory through cultural practices that resist the market-driven orientation and the permanence of today’s institutions. to paraphrase barthes, code flow is about making the codes dance rather than attempting to destroy them.

D: Today we will not speak specifically about the approaches we have chosen in our curatorial work. Rather, we’ll try to start out with the questions raised in the invitation to this symposium. Of course, in attempting to answer these questions, our own approach will shine through, in both the form and structure of our presentation and in the answers themselves.

A: Speaking on the last day can be seen as a privilege. It allows you to operate with an overall view over the range of ideas and positions developed by the speakers before you. We had the pleasure to hear a great variety of perspectives. This leads us to think that the notions related to curating are no fixed, petrified concepts having lost their liveliness. Not only representations, not only values, all of art is in constant flow. Amanda McDonald-Crowley and Lina Dzuverovic emphasized the curator-producer, Inke Arns contributed a performance-lecture in several voices in which she raised valuable questions.

D: There are all sorts of flows and movements in contemporary media art and computer based practices and other forms of contemporary art, and we have no intention of separating new media art and digital practices from other forms.

If we want to turn to a classification we could use different criteria, such as art & politics, feminist art, conceptual art, and others.

We’d like to come back once again to the figure of the curator, and specifically the curator who works with media art. The curator is part of a complex “art chain,” an eco-system comprising exhibition space, institutions, artists, sponsors, funders, art, audience, collectors, trends, context, discourse.

A: In order to look for possible answers or rather possible approaches to the questions raised in the invitation to this symposium, we felt that it would be a good starting point to look at a preliminary question in order to carefully contextualize our research. Why and when does the figure of the curator make its appearance? Why does the need arise in art for this type of moderator and classifier? What does society, what do artists expect of the curator?

D: In Western art, a new paradigm makes itself felt historically in the late 50s, early 60s, in the pre-media/pre-digital era (and in the Eastern European art scene at the end of the 80s).

There is a need for a mediator between art and social space, between artist and audience, between art practices and context, between art pieces and values. The curator ensures various types of “links” and “confrontations,” moderates on various levels, while he/she constantly reflects his/her own knowledge and culture.

A: In order to illustrate this change of paradigm, in a broader cultural context, because it affected not only art, but also social life, theory and other fields, we chose a brief excerpt of “Les Carabiniers”, the Riflemen, a film by Jean-Luc Godard from 1963 (nineteen-sixty-three). Susan Sontag on the first page of her very important book “On Photography” uses precisely this example that we chose to show you today, in order to show the shift in values and social interfaces. The Riflemen is a film about an abstract war in an abstract country. The two Riflemen who have been drafted to the war with promises that they’ll be allowed to loot, rape and become rich, come back after years of war as vanquished victors. The loot they bring back all fits in one suitcase. It is an extensive collection of postcards, all neatly classified by topics and subtopics. Order and method are the keys to the new paradigm.

Excerpt from Les Carabiniers by Jean-Luc Godard

D: We can look at this suitcase as a metaphor of the handbook, the book of spells of the curator, since the curator links objects to stories by arranging them. On the other hand, the suitcase can be seen as a Google before its time, the kind of rules structuring the description of the objective world in the digital space.

Roland Barthes proposed the death of the author in order to rediscover the role of the reader and to reinstate the power of language, arguing that the author is a transcriber and recombiner of existing sentences and narratives selected according to his/her own norms of culture and knowledge. With this reference we see the role of the curator in a similar mode. If the notion of the author appeared in Renaissance and around that time the history of art made its appearance as a separate discipline, the curator in the contemporary sense appears with the post-modern era. The curator is the one who has to kill the value of art as an object, to build it into social relations, to make it visible in a broader cultural context and activate various interfaces and interdependencies. The idea arises that art has no value of its own, but is part of a social process and cultural practices of individual and collective identifications, and needs to be viewed in this context.

A: We will use a second movie example, a historically fascinating thriller, which in its three versions relates quite well not only the technological progress in the commercial entertainment industry, but grasps the essence of the shifted economy of the object. The image becomes more important than the object, in a society in which the spectacular occupies cultural space.

Excerpt from King Kong, 1936

D: The spectacle is everywhere. To paraphrase Guy Debord, it is the spectacle that finds hospitality everywhere, while the spectator finds it nowhere.

A: We would like to use yet another, third and last movie quote, from the cult film of the French New Wave by Francois Truffaut, “Fahrenheit 451”. On the one hand this anti-utopia shows the human dimension of an ever more technologized world, with reflections on the communication between human beings and on technological control. On the other, an important idea in the film (and of course in Ray Bradbury’s book) is the possibility to archive knowledge without technological means. This is not our prime incentive for using this example. Rather, we would like to emphasize how the language and sign space colonized by the mass media and the spectacle, and later on the spectacular rise of the technologies, manipulate reality, to create an extended reality. This type of extended reality, this very manipulative nature of the media, is an essential tool in the hands of new media artist in a period to follow, in search of a critical approach and a shift in perspective.

Two excerpts from Fahrenheit 451 by François Truffaut

D: After all these movie examples we have selected two curatorial projects operating tactically in the field of digital technologies, taking a critical and political approach and providing opportunities to participate in an art and cultural process. We picked them not according to how they present technologies, but rather according to the clever way in which they make the best use of the broadened space and increased opportunities provided by the digital technologies to raise questions about identity and develop ideas of community, while at the same time they are independent projects without a space of their own.

A: The first is a curatorial project by Iliyana Nedkova from some eight years ago, with the exclusive title “Virtual Revolutions,” aimed at the production and promotion of new media and net art.

Excerpts from a documentary on the Berlin Wall

A:Iliyana started this project as she was still based in Sofia. She succeeded in making judicious use of all the opportunities of the context, not only in terms of the conception of the project, but also the fundraising, the embedding in an existing community and discussion. She used on the one hand the discussions about East and West in the digital discourse of that moment, with the Syndicate family as a lobby, and moved artists from East and West to various key points and media labs. This was a pioneer project, which created a new network, and whose educational effect lasted and gave rise to further collaborations and links. It raised very critical questions about technologies and the distribution of the access to them. Others have seen in the space opened up by the project an opportunity to enter into an artistic process from which they had been excluded before. On the other hand Iliyana contextualizes her project in her own history between the fall of the Berlin wall and the technological revolutions.

D: The CD is composed of over 30 individual or collaborative mini-works by a translocal network of over 50 digital artists. These are proactive works, which open up space for playtime, reflection and critique.

We have selected two mini-works from the Virtual Revolutions CD, commissioned by FACT and produced by Prof. Colin Fallows: The works we selected are by one Western artist who was then very young, and an Eastern European artist with substantial experience in the art world.

Amos Taylor, at Virtual Revolutions

Nedko Solakov, at Virtual Revolutions

D: Our second example of a curatorial context, the Centre of Attention in London, make use of a broadened space, opened up by the new economic phenomena in the highly developed countries, and the incredible growth of the service sector, carefully researching and reflecting the social, political and economic roots of a consumers’ culture and the commercialization of all spheres of contemporary life in high-tech societies.

In their project “On Demand” they find a pleasurable way of delivering radical art pieces dealing with questions of identity to the homes of people who order them.

The media art and digital practices (not only the artist, not only the curator, but rather all involved in these interactions) at the beginning of the 21st century are integrated in the art system, but at the same time they are not. They work with reality, create reality. They breed meaning, crossing points, create all sorts of hybrid networks and flows.

A: They are unexpected, unpredictable, undefined, fascinating. They skilfully avoid the systems of control or subvert them, rhysomatically growing utopian moments, using different interfaces and tools, shifting perspectives.

You can find a detailed documentation of the project "On Demand" on the Web site of the "Centre of Attention" at <>.