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<nettime> Art in the Age of Collaboration
Brad Miller on Thu, 24 Sep 1998 12:17:00 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Art in the Age of Collaboration

Art in the Age of Collaboration
by Brad Miller

Lecture at the Code Red Conference, Sydney, november 23, 1997

See also: http://www.anat.org.au/projects/codered/

A short paper exploring diversity of practice within "art in the age of
collaboration", including my recent experiences working towards the
completion of a CD ROM project "Planet of Noise" and visiting Ars
Electronica, DocumentaX and ISEA97.

Has there always been art made as a collaborative act? There are
historical precedents. Indeed many works can only be realised through
collaboration. I'm thinking of large scale sculptural works but even the
ancient painterly works from the Neolithic times must have included
someone to hold the torch? And I am aware of the tradition of guild
painters from the early renaissance. But as a recent conversation with
Mckenzie Wark revealed there are much wider implications, a history of
continuous development of collaborative ventures... a history that
includes the visions of a utopian commune of collaboration. But there is
also another more romantic history that creates the artist as outsider,
with the work of art as a solo effort.

I guess what really interests me is electronic art production and
collaboration. It would seem to me from my experiences within the
Australian art academies, and visiting others institutions in the US (the
SF AI & The University of Colorado, Bolder), that collaboration is not
understood or expected as a reality in the construction or development of
(smaller scale electronic) art works, particularly as an outcome of your
fine arts degree. At the same time, it is an obvious component of most
complex works.

Over the last two years I have struggled to come to terms with a lot of
these imposts. The CD ROM "Planet of Noise" (PON) has gained and suffered
from most of the typical symptoms of a work of art as a team construct.
Not to mention the development of a interface design that is simple but
intuitive if not all pervasive. But more on that later.

I think that at first I would like to try and create a landscape for the
development of PON which contextualises this process. For the last eight
years I have been working as a time based arts casual/part time lecturer
at the college of fine arts and other institutions..... attempting to
create an environment which fosters the vision of an integrated electronic
media arts teams.. a combination of conceptual strength and
programming/hardware skills, using an authoring environment called
Macromedia Director.

This process has been hampered in part my own lack of knowledge about
programming language paradigms, but more to the point, also in part due to
a more general lack of understanding that the digital media art arena must
be based on a team approach... not to mention all sorts of funding
restrictions and staffing restraints or even worst the suggestion that
fine arts lecturers can not create marking systems that deal with
individual progress within a team constructed digital art object(s).

To expand ...an interactive object is the creation of a series of
integrated software modules, which as a recent conversation  {AT}  ISEA 97 with
Graham Harwood revealed, is the construction of a mind set that envisions
a series of software engines that are reusable and generic. Graham went
even further, suggesting that these generic engines could be traded
between artists, as various similar problems are encountered. An example
would be the software data base engine, using video camera snap shots of
players, which he has developed with/for Josephine Starrs & Leon
Cmielewski's soon to be CD ROM interactive "Fuzzy Love"=AE.  This
conversation was simply a discussion of why artists should continually be
obliged to "reinvent the wheel".

This all sounds fine but there is this collision of models of which I
alluded to earlier: there is the artist and there are the programmers and
the hardware engineers....  How does the object emerge from the artists as
individual when the skills required to create this vision, cover such as
large areas of specialised skills? The outcome is that there is an
expectation that an artist not only has to be aquainted with all of the
above areas of expertise, they are expected to be an expert.

I have spoken about these issue at quite some length with John Tonkin, who
has some quite formidable skills in the area of coding and in particular
Java & Java script is his current programming language interest. One of
John's experiences has been to teach at the ANU's ACAT(the Australian
Centre for Art & Technology)  where all undergraduates must learn a
programming language.

This is a pretty radical step... but I would suggest that this maybe the
only way of creating a substantial body of programming literate artist
while at the same time bringing art students in contact with computing
science students? The same can be said for electronic hardware
engineering. The basic premise is to say that we all don't want to become
programmers or hardware boffins, but we do need to know the basic
paradigms in which this media is based... I'm not suggesting we all become
intimate with these paradigms but that we become familiar with how they
work and gain access to the people who lean towards creative solutions
within these areas of endeavour. The intention is to create an
collaborative environment in which to construct complex creative objects
that challenge all manner of excepted reality, scientific or artistic.

What would such a media arts undergraduate degree consist of and why has
there not been more attempts at formalising these approaches? Has it been
a failure with the attempts else where?... I have not really been able to
work out what has happened for instants at ACAT.. but in any case it would
seem that most of the direction has been focused around experimental
composition although I have meet one MFA student Nick Cross who has been
working with MAX (another interactive authoring tool based around Midi) to
create interactive musical composition in relation to live voice and

There are other examples, in the US .....there is MIT's media Lab,
probably the most famous, but there are newer facilities in Europe  {AT} 
Cologne School of Media, ARTEC, Montbelliard, ZKM, MUUlab Finland and so
on. But coming back to what would an undergraduate media degree consist
of? Well in Australia it would consist of small steps to towards an
integrated approach to control systems (cybernetics) and the performative
act... whether that be sculptural photographic, movement or critical

Small steps because I don't think there is an institution in Australia
that has the understanding, the vision or the guts to but it together.
Small steps because I think that calling for this kind of readjustment of
direction brings out the "it can't be done", tenured staffers by the
tens.. or what's left...  or those who I think would say "not my
department"! Small steps so as not to scare the chiefs, and hopefully
giving some of the truly talented ground swell (& I'm NOT including
myself) of media protagonists a chance to drive a 3-4 year cycle of

Its the old Divide and rule! And what I am calling for is a truly cross
discipline media arts degree... not just a masters or PhD research
program. And especially NOT and media arts degree sighted and entrenched
in the vision of a university of technology!... I don't want that kinda
model I want to start agitating for a Media ARTS model as in ZKM or MIT
Media Lab... not afraid of technology or what it means to explore the
concepts of syntax or probably even more difficult ............ =20
semantics!: a model where the concept of collaboration is not just an
excuse for trying to piece together disparate codes of intervention and
expression, but a starting point from which to lash out at the continuous
specialisation processes and the possible isolating effects of the coming
NET based cultures!

I'm sure that funding would be cited as at least one difficulty, but I
know that the equipment is there or can be accessed. Other issues which
need to be resolved are human resources, timetable planning and ensuring
24 hour access. It would have to be based around short intense modular
teaching units, high levels of documentation - possibly web based - and
the creation of group inspired critical object making - and I'm not just
speaking about physical objects.

I wonder if I should throw in for good measure the Sydney CMC Access
One...what ever happened to that...it must be very pleasant over there at
Redfern's technology park!

Something similar to ANAT summer school's ...very intense short workshop
programs that create a programming template, which has a limited degree of
understanding built in, but never the less allows for the repurposing of
the template into a continuous series of mutations taking the works and
individuals further along a development trajectory.

f media arts is to take on the corporatisation of culture and to really
speak to a global economy then the only way that really seems it would be
workable would be to discard the notion of the individual artist as
romantic outsider and to corporatise...and there are examples of the move
thought out this century.

The early modernist "MOVEMENTS" with there manifestos and declarations of
radical rupture are obvious examples. Now it has become a rupture and end
game industry "we are DEVO". Perhaps we must consider corporatise or as I
have suggested collaboration..... with the enemy?

Could it be that in the vision of collaboration within the media arts
production is just another repackaging of the artist as cultural visionary
while exploiting their contacts(contracts) for codes...as in .....such &
such uses such & such for this coding or that? I don't thinks so... I
think that the nature of collaboration forces everybody concerned to come
to an understanding. That is to say: the work or art has a life of its own
and the object's emergence is something other than just a sum of its parts
=2E..the work become an unpredictable synthesis. and these art work should
be credited as such!

However I have heard in conversation that this is not the way it works... =
there is the named (branded) artists and then there are the people who
worked on its emergence...... Fortunately, the emergence of names or tags
for these syntheses are beginning to emerge. I cite as examples
nervous_objects or VNS matrix or Nettime or etoy or Remote C...
Collaborative partnerships which have discarded the need for the
individual as hero instigator. Perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome is
that Gallery system or whatever can't buy a group object...  why not..
having a problem with a investment decision?

Could there be a course or degree, say a Master's of Collaboration
conferred by an Australian art Institution?


Brad Miller, Artist working with interactive technologies. His CDROM A
Digital. Rhyzome ~ has been shown extensively throughout Australia and
overseas. His latest work Planet of Noise is a collaborative multimedia
work with McKenzie Wark. http://sysx.apana.org.au/pon/

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