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Trevor Paglen: how images mean things

“This time has been many, many things, but in terms of making art, it’s been a moment at which there’s been a huge change in the way that images mean things. Some small examples of that might be: suddenly an aeroplane in the sky takes on a different meaning; suddenly a handle of a gas pump takes on a different meaning; suddenly a runner speeding past you means something different. There’s a massive change in your relationship to the world around you, in terms of what kinds of associations you have, and in the meanings that you ascribe to different things and different kinds of images.” In En Liang, “Trevor Paglen: How COVID-19 Changed the Way We See the World“, in Art Review, 10 September 2020

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Paul B. Preciado: paradigm shift

“Non potete tornare a una vita normale, perché quella che in passato chiamavate “vita normale” non può esistere durante un cambiamento di paradigma, perché anche se le cose sembrano sempre le stesse, non lo sono più. Anche le parole che paiono pronunciate nello stesso modo hanno cambiato senso. Il problema è che nessuno sa quale sarà il nuovo significato.”

“La deriva del migrante verso il nulla è un modello politico migliore di quello del cittadino europeo o nordamericano che vuole semplicemente tornare a casa. Il terrore e il desiderio che animano l’esilio sono più vicini alla mutazione necessaria per affrontare il tunnel in cui ci siamo collettivamente ficcati.”

Paul B. Preciado, “Tornate, sbrigatevi. Ma per andare dove?“, in Internazionale, 21 settembre 2020

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Timothy Morton: Nature

“Nature is a badly malfunctioning concept. You can tell because it can mean anything. Nature can mean everything. Nature can mean some things. For example, some sexual acts are defined as natural, others as unnatural. But if Nature is everything, there can be no “unnatural.” If, however, this is true, then Nature has no teeth. There is nothing to bite if everything is your own mouth.” Timothy Morton 2020

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Doug Aitken: Screen Space

“We are living in a new era, one of complete connectivity, where screen space has become seemingly equal to the physical landscape. This surreal shift in evolution brings us into uncharted waters, a new frontier, one for which we are not fully prepared.” Doug Aitken, 2020

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Lev Manovich: New Media Art

“If consumer products have “planned obsolescence,” digital art created with the “latest” technology has its own “built-in obsolescence.” […] did I waste my whole life in the wrong field? It is very exciting to be at the “cutting edge”, but the price you pay is heavy. After 30 years in this field, there are very few artworks I can show to my students without feeling embarrassed. While I remember why there were so important to us at the moment they were made, their low-resolution visuals and broken links can’t inspire students. The same is often true for the “content” of digital art. It’s about “issues,” “impact of X on Y”, “critique of A”, “a parody of B”, “community of C” and so on. It’s almost never about our real everyday life and our humanity. Feelings. Passions. Looking at the world. Looking inside yourself. Falling in love. Breaking up. Questioning yourself. Searching for love, meaning, less alienated life.” Lev Manovich, My Anti-Digital Art Manifesto, September 13, 2020

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Cao Fei: Communication and Control

“no matter how optimistic we are about the future of technology, it is rooted in cybernetics, the interaction between technology and human beings. On one hand, technology serves human beings; on the other, it controls human behavior. Communication and control are inextricably linked, and that’s essentially political […] Technology brings order, progress and equal rights; it also fosters new chaos and restrictions. It has the power to destroy us.” In Noor Brara, “‘Communication and Control Are Inextricably Linked’: Artist Cao Fei on How Technology Both Serves and Suppresses Humanity“, in Artnet News, August 18, 2020

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Nina Power: Cancel Culture

“The mechanisms of censorship are often insidious and come today, for example, shrouded in the language of kindness, compassion and the pain of the other. Censorship is frequently pre-emptively internalised – we do not always need platforms to punish us when we say the ‘wrong’ thing; sometimes we know in advance what it is we should or should not say. But art, like life, is often very difficult: It is not up to others to tell us how we should interpret either. We can, and should, trust ourselves (and each other) to deal with the potentially devastating aspects of both.” Nina Power, “How Cancel Culture Made Us Forget the Art of Interpretation“, in Art Review, July 30, 2020

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Geert Lovink: Cancel Culture

“In the age of social media, users are ‘paying’ (with) attention. A cancellation can reach a critical mass within hours. And this is the unpredictable part. Although users may wish to ‘delete’ evil characters in protest, this is simply not possible within the entertainment industry’s logic. America loves a comeback. And, in the digital age, your past can come back to haunt you anytime. At the moment it is uncertain which logic will win – social media or traditional publishing?” Geert Lovink, “Delete your profile, not people. Comment on cancel culture“, in Eurozine, 4 August 2020

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Nick Douglas: Internet Ugly

“Internet Ugly, although not the only core aesthetic of the internet, is the one that best defines the internet against all other media. It is certainly the core aesthetic of memetic internet content. The ugliness of the amateur internet doesn’t destroy its credibility because it’s a byproduct of the medium’s advantages (speed and lack of gatekeepers), and even its visual accidents are prized by its most avid users and creators. As opposed to media like TV or print, where the amateurish is marginalized and audience attention centers on mainstream blockbusters, the internet is built to give outsized attention to the amateurish, the accidental, and the surprise hit. Creators with no traditional skill or talent often become online celebrities for their work, and creators with skill or talent often suppress their abilities or manufacture amateurish conditions to better achieve the Internet Ugly aesthetic. But as we’ll see, such work isn’t simple cooption but a creative choice accepted and celebrated by the online audience – so long as it still retains a certain authenticity.” Nick Douglas, “It’s Supposed to Look Like Shit: The Internet Ugly Aesthetic“, in Journal of Visual Culture, December 16, 2014

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Sianne Ngai: Zaniness

“the zany more specifically evokes the performance of affective labor—the production of affects and relationships—as it comes to increasingly trouble the very distinction between work and play. This explains why this ludic aesthetic has a noticeably unfun or stressed-out layer to it. Contemporary zaniness is not just an aesthetic about play but about work, and also about precarity, which is why the threat of injury is always hovering about it.” Adam Jasper and Sianne Ngai, “OUR AESTHETIC CATEGORIES: AN INTERVIEW WITH SIANNE NGAI. The cute, the interesting, and the zany“, in Cabinet Magazine, Fall 2011

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Sianne Ngai: Cuteness

“Cuteness is a way of aestheticizing powerlessness. It hinges on a sentimental attitude toward the diminutive and/or weak, which is why cute objects—formally simple or noncomplex, and deeply associated with the infantile, the feminine, and the unthreatening—get even cuter when perceived as injured or disabled. So there’s a sadistic side to this tender emotion […] The prototypically cute object is the child’s toy or stuffed animal.” Adam Jasper and Sianne Ngai, “OUR AESTHETIC CATEGORIES: AN INTERVIEW WITH SIANNE NGAI. The cute, the interesting, and the zany“, in Cabinet Magazine, Fall 2011

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Bernard Stiegler: the necessity of dreaming

“Since 2016, Bernard talked often about dreams, and the necessity of dreaming. Industrial capitalism destroys dreams; it produces only consumerism, through the manipulation of attention […] All technologies are primarily dreams, but dreams can also become nightmares — meaning pharmacological.” Yuk Hui, “The Wind Rises: In Memory of Bernard“, in Urbanomic, August 8, 2020

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Paul B. Preciado: Learning from the virus

“The subjects of the neoliberal technical-patriarchal societies that Covid-19 is in the midst of creating do not have skin; they are untouchable; they do not have hands. They do not exchange physical goods, nor do they pay with money. They are digital consumers equipped with credit cards. They do not have lips or tongues. They do not speak directly; they leave a voice mail. They do not gather together and they do not collectivize. They are radically un-dividual. They do not have faces; they have masks. In order to exist, their organic bodies are hidden behind an indefinite series of semio-technical mediations, an array of cybernetic prostheses that work like digital masks: email addresses, Facebook, Instagram, Zoom, and Skype accounts. They are not physical agents but rather tele-producers; they are codes, pixels, bank accounts, doors without names, addresses to which Amazon can send its orders.” Paul B. Preciado, “Learning from the virus“, in Artforum, May – June 2020

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Thomas Lax: Media and Performance

“Right now, the nature of how we communicate means that we are always in some ways speaking to a mass audience. You’re no longer working on one level, but with an amorphous group of people who are algorithmically oriented to like or dislike something. That is why, on the one hand, performance and media are relevant today.” Terence Trouillot, “‘We Are Always Speaking to a Mass Audience’: MoMA Curator Thomas Lax on the Advantages—and Challenges—of Art in the Digital Age”, in Artnet News, May 21, 2019.

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Franco Berardi Bifo: You, the Unpredictable

“Is there a way out from this end? Yes, of course: it is you, the unpredictable.” in Franco Berardi Bifo, “Game Over”, e-flux journal, issue 100,

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Chrissie Iles: Obsolescence and Preservation

“The key to all of this is the preservation of the experiential integrity of the work. The work can be perfect technology-wise, but if the other aspects of its presentation are not paid close attention to and strictly adhered to, the work loses its power and integrity. The display of any artwork is always a process of translation—it is being shown at a different time to that of its making, and in a different place and moment in history and art history. The key is how to identify the experiential integrity of the work, which we do when we first bring it into the collection, and then to ensure that it is that experiential integrity is kept intact. How this plays out varies according to the work in question, and has to be approached on a strict case by case basis.” In Artspace Editors, “Obsolescence in New Media: On Conservation and Concept with Whitney Curator Chrissie Iles”, in Artspace, April 11, 2019

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Fabio Cavallucci: libertà “da aeroporto”

“È una sorta di “libertà da aeroporto”: in aeroporto forse ci sentiamo liberi, ma non possiamo fare altro che seguire file e linee ben definite, dal check in al controllo di sicurezza, alla porta di imbarco. Così accade nella città: la progressiva espansione delle tecnologie che rendono più facile la vita, diminuisce la nostra libertà. In qualche modo riduce anche la nostra necessità di elaborare e di risolvere problemi, come fosse uno step precedente all’avvento dell’intelligenza artificiale in cui rinunciamo a una parte del nostro potere di prendere decisioni.” In Giulia Ronchi, “Come sarà la Biennale di Shenzhen 2019. La parola al direttore Fabio Cavallucci”, in Artribune, February 27, 2019

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Donna Haraway: Compost, not Posthuman

“we are all compost, not posthuman”. Donna Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin”, in Environmental Humanities, vol. 6, 2015, pp. 159-165.

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Alexis C. Madrigal: The Camera Knows Too Much

“The cameras know too much. All cameras capture information about the world—in the past, it was recorded by chemicals interacting with photons, and by definition, a photograph was one exposure, short or long, of a sensor to light. Now, under the hood, phone cameras pull information from multiple image inputs into one picture output, along with drawing on neural networks trained to understand the scenes they’re being pointed at. Using this other information as well as an individual exposure, the computer synthesizes the final image, ever more automatically and invisibly. […] Deepfakes are one way of melting reality; another is changing the simple phone photograph from a decent approximation of the reality we see with our eyes to something much different. It is ubiquitous and low temperature, but no less effective.” Alexis C. Madrigal, “No, You Don’t Really Look Like That. A guide to the new reality-melting technology in your phone’s camera’, in The Atlantic, December 18, 2018

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Seth Price: Art and Audience

“Art comes out of weird, contradictory forces. I make art for myself, and there’s a small group of people—mostly other artists—that I hope I’m in dialogue with. At the same time, without an audience, it’s annihilated. But I can’t let myself go there, because what people think about the work is potentially so important that if I worry about it, I’ll get too distracted to do anything. I need a degree of distance to maintain focus. Sometimes that distance is just a story you tell yourself, but stories are useful, too. It goes deep quickly, doesn’t it? Maybe I should get back to you after ten years of therapy. Honestly, I’m just grateful that a lot of other people appreciate what I do.” Taylor Dafoe, ‘People Often Get Hung Up on the Search for Meaning’: Artist Seth Price on Why Viewers Don’t Get His Work, in Artnet News, December 17, 2018

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Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev: Art and Technology

“Artists who fetishize the medium, whatever that medium, they’re just generally not good artists. A good artist, a real artist, will reflect on the implications of a technological revolution like AI and they’ll use it to show certain implications on our subjectivity […] Art has only a little bit to do with creating innovative forms or imagining new patterns. Art is rather a kind of empirical philosophy. It’s like doing philosophy through practical means.” Naomi Rea, “Super-Curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev Talks About Hito Steyerl’s Latest Work and Why AI Is Actually ‘Artificial Stupidity’”, in Artnet News, November 26, 2018

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Nicholas Mirzoeff: Visual Activism

“In Germany, an opinion poll found that 24 percent of young people expressed the desire to become an artist. I don’t think that suddenly a quarter of all Germans want to be painters or sculptors. Rather, art might seem to be the only way to live a life for yourself in the global economy, as opposed to the dominant so-called service economy in which we work, not for each other but for someone else’s profit. This desire to live otherwise lies behind the worldwide surge in participatory media, from YouTube channels to Snapchatting, and performance. […] In visual activist projects, there is an alternative visual vocabulary emerging. It is collective and collaborative, containing archiving, networking, researching, and mapping among other tools, all in the service of a vision of making change. […] In 1990, we could use visual culture to criticize and counter the way that we were depicted in art, film, and mass media. Today, we can actively use visual culture to create new self-images, new ways to see and be seen, and new ways to see the world. That is visual activism.”

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Robbie Barrat: Curating Neural Networks

“The role that I’m playing is more of a curator than anything else. The first thing I do is curate the data that the network is going to study, and once the network is trained I also curate the output data, deciding which outputs I am going to keep and whether I want to tweak the training sets so that the network learns something different. So all of the work that I do is really through curation.” Seth Thompson, “The Artist, The Curator, and the Neural Net: A Conversation with Robbie Barrat”, in Paprika!, November 8, 2018.

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Trevor Paglen: AI and Power

“Ideology’s ultimate trick has always been to present itself as objective truth, to present historical conditions as eternal, and to present political formations as natural. Because image operations function on an invisible plane and are not dependent on a human seeing-subject (and are therefore not as obviously ideological as giant paintings of Napoleon) they are harder to recognize for what they are: immensely powerful levers of social regulation that serve specific race and class interests while presenting themselves as objective.

The invisible world of images isn’t simply an alternative taxonomy of visuality. It is an active, cunning, exercise of power, one ideally suited to molecular police and market operations–one designed to insert its tendrils into ever-smaller slices of everyday life. […] Machine-machine systems are extraordinary intimate instruments of power that operate through an aesthetics and ideology of objectivity, but the categories they employ are designed to reify the forms of power that those systems are set up to serve.” Trevor Paglen, “Invisible Images (Your Pictures Are Looking at You)”, in The New Inquiry, December 8, 2016

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Trevor Paglen: Apes

“Neural networks cannot invent their own classes; they’re only able to relate images they ingest to images that they’ve been trained on. And their training sets reveal the historical, geographical, racial, and socio-economic positions of their trainers. […] engineers at Google decided to deactivate the “gorilla” class after it became clear that its algorithms trained on predominantly white faces and tended to classify African Americans as apes.” Trevor Paglen, “Invisible Images (Your Pictures Are Looking at You)”, in The New Inquiry, December 8, 2016

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Trevor Paglen: When you put an image on Facebook

“[…] something completely different happens when you share a picture on Facebook than when you bore your neighbors with projected slide shows. When you put an image on Facebook or other social media, you’re feeding an array of immensely powerful artificial intelligence systems information about how to identify people and how to recognize places and objects, habits and preferences, race, class, and gender identifications, economic statuses, and much more.

Regardless of whether a human subject actually sees any of the 2 billion photographs uploaded daily to Facebook-controlled platforms, the photographs on social media are scrutinized by neural networks with a degree of attention that would make even the most steadfast art historian blush.” Trevor Paglen, “Invisible Images (Your Pictures Are Looking at You)”, in The New Inquiry, December 8, 2016

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Trevor Paglen: Digital Images don’t Need Human Eyes

“What’s truly revolutionary about the advent of digital images is the fact that they are fundamentally machine-readable: they can only be seen by humans in special circumstances and for short periods of time. A photograph shot on a phone creates a machine-readable file that does not reflect light in such a way as to be perceptible to a human eye. A secondary application, like a software-based photo viewer paired with a liquid crystal display and backlight may create something that a human can look at, but the image only appears to human eyes temporarily before reverting back to its immaterial machine form when the phone is put away or the display is turned off. However, the image doesn’t need to be turned into human-readable form in order for a machine to do something with it. […] The fact that digital images are fundamentally machine-readable regardless of a human subject has enormous implications. It allows for the automation of vision on an enormous scale and, along with it, the exercise of power on dramatically larger and smaller scales than have ever been possible.” Trevor Paglen, “Invisible Images (Your Pictures Are Looking at You)”, in The New Inquiry, December 8, 2016

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Trevor Paglen: Invisible Images

“over the last decade or so, something dramatic has happened. Visual culture has changed form. It has become detached from human eyes and has largely become invisible. Human visual culture has become a special case of vision, an exception to the rule. The overwhelming majority of images are now made by machines for other machines, with humans rarely in the loop. The advent of machine-to-machine seeing has been barely noticed at large, and poorly understood by those of us who’ve begun to notice the tectonic shift invisibly taking place before our very eyes.” Trevor Paglen, “Invisible Images (Your Pictures Are Looking at You)”, in The New Inquiry, December 8, 2016

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Douglas Coupland: Technological Innovation

“A coder in an optical fiber research facility in New Jersey told me, “It can sometimes be really depressing to come to work every day knowing that all of what we do is largely to create an ever more satisfying porn experience in the $29.95-per-month price range.”” Douglas Coupland, “What if There’s No Next Big Thing?”, in e-flux journal, issue 74, June 2016

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Michel Foucault: Something Radically Other

“The problem is not to recover our “lost” identity, to free our imprisoned nature, our deepest truth; but instead, the problem is to move towards something radically Other. The center, then, seems still to be found in Marx’s phrase: man produces man … For me, what must be produced is not man identical to himself, exactly as nature would have designed him or according to his essence; on the contrary, we must produce something that doesn’t yet exist and about which we cannot know how and what it will be.” Michel Foucault, Remarks On Marx (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991), 121.

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Mark Fisher: More of the Same, Forever

“We live in a moment of profound cultural deceleration. The first two decades of the current century have so far been marked by an extraordinary sense of inertia, repetition, and retrospection […] Tune the radio to the station playing the most contemporary music, and you will not encounter anything that you couldn’t have heard in the 1990s. Jameson’s claim that postmodernism was the cultural logic of late capitalism now stands as an ominous portent of the (non)future of capitalist cultural production: both politically and aesthetically, it seems that we can now only expect more of the same, forever.” Mark Fisher, “A social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude”: Popular Culture’s Interrupted Accelerationist Dreams, in e-flux journal, issue 46, June 2013

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Orit Gat: Networked Exhibitions

“These exhibitions are full of iPads, computers, screens and simulations. Though most contemporary art exhibitions include digital aspects, from projections to touchscreens, certain tropes have emerged from the networked exhibition, including maps, data visualizations using live data from the web, and clocks. The richness of screen-based work marks a turn in approaches to new media art, from viewers complaining that they work in front of a computer all day, and do not want to see art on it in their free time, to a growing habit of consuming media — Netflix, YouTube — onscreen. What was always at stake in the presentation of new media was differing levels of familiarity with technology among the audience members. That is no longer the issue, but now approaches diverge in relation to the values and effect of these media.” Orit Gat, “Between Delight and Discomfort”, in Flash Art International, Issue 306, January – February 2016

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Nicholas Mirzoeff: Computational Images

“All the “images,” whether moving or still, that appear in the new archives are variants of digital information. Technically, they are not images at all, but rendered results of computation. […] A modern camera still makes a shutter sound when you press the button, but the mirror that used to move, making that noise, is no longer there. The digital camera references the analog film camera without being the same. In many cases, what we can “see” in the image, we could never see with our own eyes. What we see in the photograph is a computation, itself created by “tiling” different images that were further processed to generate color and contrast. It is a way to see the world enabled by machines.” Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the World. An Introduction to Images, from Self-portraits to Selfies, Maps to Movies, and More, Basic Books, New York 2016

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Boris Groys: the exhibition exhibits itself

“the exhibition does not only present certain images to our gaze, but also demonstrates the technology of presenting, the apparatus and structure of framing, and the mode in which our gaze is determined, oriented, and manipulated by this technology. When we visit an exhibition, we do not only look at the exhibited images and objects, but also reflect on the spatial and temporal relationships between them—the hierarchies, curatorial choices, and strategies that produced the exhibition, and so forth. The exhibition exhibits itself before it exhibits anything else. It exhibits its own technology and its own ideology. In fact, the framing is nothing but an amalgamation of technology and ideology.” Boris Groys, “Curating in the Post-Internet Age”, in e-flux Journal, issue #94 – October 2018

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Boris Groys: Art = Migration

“[…] contemporary art does not have a narrow, elitist view, but, on the contrary, a broader, universalist perspective that can irritate local audiences. It is often the same kind of irritation that migration provokes today in Europe. Here we are confronted with the same phenomenon: the broader, internationalist attitude is experienced by local audiences as elitist—even if the migrants themselves are far from belonging to any kind of elite.” Boris Groys, “Curating in the Post-Internet Age”, in e-flux Journal, issue #94 – October 2018

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Dragan Espenschied: Where Art Blossoms

“[…] conservation is done by removing artifacts from the cultural tempest they originated in and putting them into a safe place. The problem is that this approach doesn’t scale – sorry for using this technical term. I won’t argue that a privileged, careful handling of certain artifacts deemed of high importance or representative value is the wrong way; actually, this approach is the most narrative. But practiced too rigidly it doesn’t do digital culture any justice. Firstly because there simply are no resources to do this with a large amount of artifacts, and secondly because many artifacts can only blossom in their environment, in concert or contrast with a vernacular web, commercial services and so forth.” Trevor Owens, “Digital Culture is Mass Culture”: An interview with Digital Conservator Dragan Espenschied, in The Signal, March 24, 2014

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Dragan Espenschied: Capture All

“I believe that developing criteria of relevance and even selecting what artifacts are allowed into archives poses a problem of scale. The wise choice might be not trying to solve this problem, but to work on techniques for capturing artifacts as a whole – without trying to define significant properties, what the “core” of an artifact might be, or making too many assumptions about the future use of the artifact. The fewer choices are made during archiving, the more choices are open later, when the artifact will be accessed.” Trevor Owens, “Digital Culture is Mass Culture”: An interview with Digital Conservator Dragan Espenschied, in The Signal, March 24, 2014

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Dragan Espenschied: Objecthood

“We don’t think of anything we are conserving as a thing or a stable entity. Internet and network-based art is the most extreme type of artifact that you might want to archive, because many websites or projects that happen on the web have blurry borders. So you can’t quite define an objecthood. Some are changing all the time, so you can’t nail down a definitive version of the artwork.” in Maximilíano Durón, “A Net Art Pioneer Evolves With the Digital Age: Rhizome Turns 20”, in Artnews, 09/01/16

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Dragan Espenschied: Ephemerality

“Ephemerality is often pictured as a force of nature, like a building destroyed by wind and water. But nothing digital is a law of nature, it is all completely made up. So ephemerality is more or less an excuse for accepting that you don’t have control over anything.” Dragan Espenschied and Heather Corcoran, “Performing Digital Culture,” in Omar Kholeif, Emily Butler, and Seamus McCormack (eds.), Electronic Superhighway: From Experiments in Art and Technology to Art After the Internet, London, Whitechapel Gallery, 2016, p. 218.

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Brian Droitcour: The Internet Show

“I’ve seen a number of internet shows, and I never leave feeling that they contribute to a growing body of knowledge about art and technology. Each one ends in the same place where it started: some hazy notion of the internet’s importance. […] While a historical show reconstructs connections among artists, the thematic show removes works from their original contexts so that it may create a new one for them, which makes the format particularly ill-suited for meaningfully representing how artists use the internet. The internet show puts viewers in the position of a user encountering works at random, rather than providing them with an understanding of how artists have engaged in conversations about the use of various tools, platforms, and concepts.” Brian Droitcour, “Broken Links: The Internet Show”, in Art in America, September 1, 2018

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Lewis Hyde: The Gift

“It is the assumption of this book that a work of art is a gift, not a commodity. Or, to state the modern case with more precision, that works of art exist simultaneously in two “economies,” a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.” Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Vintage Books, 1983