mylene on Fri, 26 May 2000 10:21:38 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] For your attention

Mylene van Noort spotted this on Guardian Unlimited and thought you should see it.

To see this story with its related links on the Guardian Unlimited site, go to

Has the Tate gone too far?
The gallery seems to be having second thoughts about the radical web artist it has commissioned, writes Mylene Van Noort
Mylene Van Noort
Wednesday May 24 2000
The Guardian

  How will visitors to the Tate's online gallery feel if they find a hairy black ear replacing substantial parts of a Turner? Or a Constable carved up to let in "Mum's chin"?

This is the puzzle being pondered by the Tate's curators after they commissioned their first web project. It was due to go online this week but the launch has been postponed, possibly until next month.

The artist they commissioned is Harwood, a member of the Mongrel multimedia group. This was either quite a gutsy or a truly naive move, for Harwood's work is always "gloves off". He proposed to make a mock version of the existing Tate website, to which one in three visitors to would be diverted. Clicking through the various categories of the museum's site, visitors would be dropped into Harwood's version produced in the same structure and design, but with the "hacked" artworks.

  Matthew Gansallo, senior research fellow for the Tate's national programme, did not plunge headlong into the new media project. Before giving the first commission, he and other Tate curators went to the Zentrum fur Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe, Germany, to visit the Net Condition exhibition, a   comprehensive survey of the current state of net art, showcasting 69 projects. They held extensive talks with the ZKM's director Peter Weibel and drew up a short list of suitable artists. 

  Harwood of the Mongrel multimedia group and Simon Patterson were invited to develop the first web projects. Harwood's was to have been the first to go online. "We are now in the stage of reviewing the project," says Gansallo. "We're editing it at the moment. Of course this is done with full respect and in consultation with the artist."

  It is clear, however, that the decision makers at the Tate feel uncomfortable with Harwood's work. The artist says they have asked for 25 changes, the most important being "Mongrel" Tate banners inserted in all the places the Tate is mentioned. This would take the sting out of the project and Harwood objects vehemently. And steering the concept through the Tate hierarchy might prove tough. He has to deal with press, marketing and communications departments before presenting the site to director Sir Nicholas Serota. 

  How would other international art collections view such a project? Christine van Assch, Centre Pompidou's new media curator for 20 years, wouldn't even dream of thinking up a "sub" site of the official Beaubourg one. Her comment is terse: "The Press Office would not allow it." 

Van Assch acquired Rehearsal Of Memory, Harwood's first individual net art project, for the Parisian museum. It is on permanent display in the new media section on the first floor.   Harwood made this   CD-rom project in 1995 with inmates of Ashworth maximum security mental hospital. It is a powerful and evocative piece of work which uses digital techniques to   create an unsparing   experience of closeness to the inmates of Ashworth. To activate the material on the CD-rom you move your mouse over prisoners' bodies, as if you were touching their skin. 

  Mousing over a nose which was broken many times, cracked skin and thick rough lips set in a Rembrandtesque sombreness makes for an arresting sensation of intimacy. You are forced to bond with these thwarted lives and to listen to their tales of   horrific crimes uttered without any charm or need to please. The wonder of Rehearsal Of Memory is that it has an uplifting quality.   If Rehearsal Of Memory plays out the nightmarish existence of disturbed prison inmates, the Tate project is an acting out of a boy's dream of becoming an artist. Harwood frolics about with the Tate's treasures, messing with a Constable to make space for what was left out. Although these desecrated images bear Harwood's signature, they don't, as yet, have the concentrated gravitas of Rehearsal. At worst they recall tourists' snapshots - "Two cheesemakers in typical Dutch costumes with head of Aunt Daphne" - and tend towards silliness. 

In the accompanying texts Harwood states his strong views on the social and economic circumstances under which the Tate collection was formed. This is the core theme of all Mongrel's work: to voice the lives and cultures of people who are not being valued by society at large.

  Asked about the postponement, Gansallo says: "The Tate has never been averse to criticism. We are interested in creating good work that will be engaging. The discussion will not be about people being offended."

  If the Tate goes forward with Harwood's project, the museum shows it really means its new slogan: "Tate is changing". If not, there is a possibility that the site will go online anyway. That's the radical openness of the internet.

Web addresses

The Tate
  Zentrum fr Medientechnologie
  Pompidou Centre

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