mylene on Fri, 26 May 2000 16:05:25 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Tate's problmes with net.art


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 http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk

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
www.tate.org.uk 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
  www.tate.org.uk
  Mongrel
  www.mongrel.org.uk
  Zentrum fr Medientechnologie
  www.zkm.de

  Pompidou Centre 
www.centrepompidou.fr

Copyright Guardian Media Group plc.

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