Peter Luining on Wed, 22 Sep 2004 17:37:50 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Read_Me 2004 review

Here's my review of the Read_Me festival 2004. In the first part I
give a chronological review of the events (the conference and the the
Dorkbot city camp) and in the second part I explain what makes Run_Me/
Read_Me so totally different from all new media presentations and
festivals around.

This years Read_Me festival had 2 parts, a conference part (held on the 
first two days) that was aimed at an academic discourse and a Dorkbot city 
camp part that existed for the biggest part of 20 minutes presentations. 
First let's start with the conference part that was held at the University 
of Aarhus. What we saw here was an effort to deepen the emerging discourse 
of software art and cultures. The lectures were about subjects as 
different as the history of Phillipinian bulletinboards (Fatima Lasay), 
the contextualization of software art (Jacob Lillemose), the consumer 
power of internet communities (Mirko Schaefer) and live coding ( 
group). What all this diversity made clear is that the discourse as a 
whole is still very fragmented but also that some parts are developed 
already quite thoroughly (e.g. socio political aspects and implications of 
software) and that others still seem to be in a very early stage, as for 
example the research of histories of bulletin boards. What the lectures 
also made clear is that software art is still a hard to grasp term. Here 
we can see a similarity with the term conceptual art that arose in the 
60's and even today is still hard the define. Interesting to note in this 
case is that at a certain level somebody remarked in a discussion that the 
definition of software art should not become too rigid because else 
software art could easily be declared dead as (he remarked) happened to 
net art. Though this sounded reasonable it did miss the point what 
software art is about. I think it's good to have discussions about 
definitions because as long as there is discussion the term is alive, and 
futhermore they help to define what an artform is. However the 
misunderunderstanding here seemed (especially because it was compared with 
net art) that software art was looked at as a movement, and movements 
rise, fall and in the end are declared dead. To get back to a term net 
art, net art isn't dead, what is in my eyes dead is a movement that was 
made of it by some critics and theorists. The artists that belonged to 
this group (also referred to as the netdotart group) were seen as a 
movement because they were in contact with each other and shared some 
common ideas (for this I want to refer to the exhibition "Written in 
stone" held in the the museum of comtemporary art of Oslo last year).

But seen at large the group of artists doing net art was/ is of course 
much bigger. Now back to software art and it's definition, as I said 
software art shouldn't be looked at as a movement and though there's a 
group of people that share some ideas, the diversity in software art is so 
big that critics can't make a movement out of it. Software art is a 
category and should defined that way, though a definition will have the 
same difficulty as defining conceptual art, there are so many currents 
within it that grasping it as a whole is a complex task. I think the 
conference part was a succes not only because it started discussions but 
also because it gave an impression of the wide variety of subjects 
software art and cultures can deal with. What also is worth mentioning 
here is that outside the lecture halls the organizers had created a good 
atmosphere that made connecting very easy.

The second part of Read_Me was the Dorkbot city camp. Which was oppossed 
to what some might think not a camp with tents that were somewhere put up 
in the city. For the camp the Read_Me team worked together with the 
organizers of Dorkbot New York and London. And for those who don't know, 
Dorkbots are informal meetings where artists, etc. do presentations of 
their work. Dorksbot's slogan is "people that do strange things with 
electricity", for the Read_Me festival this slogan was changed in "people 
doing strange things with software", a slogan that was also printed on a 
t-shirt that was handed out to all participants. The city camp was for the 
largest part held in Aarhus Art Academy that besides a presentation space 
put several spaces at the disposal of the festival, one of them being made 
into a special chill out (meeting) space. In the evening a local 
underground club and an artspace were used for some special performances.

The first day of the city camp part started off quite nervous, on forehand 
all partcipants were told that they got 20 minutes for their presentation 
because there had to take place 60 presentations in two and a half days. 
The presentations had something of small performances, people got 20 
mintues and after that a computer started to play a tune. When time was up 
there was a quick change of computers and another presentation started. 
Used to the formula and also because the tech part worked better the 
second day of presentations became more relaxed. Ending on the third day 
in even a more relaxed atmosphere. Although on forehand a littlebit 
sceptical about this way of presenting projects I think the formula worked 
well. Especially after the first day when the situation became less tense 
and interfering with questions within the presentations themselves became 
more usual. A point of critique could be that because of the high pace- 
and the enormous quantity of the presentations you start to loose 
concentration fast. Although I see this as serious critique I think the 
whole setup of the space and the easiness with which you could walk in and 
out of the presentation space created also an atmosphere that didn't 
oblige you to stay and sit, you could chill out, meet and talk to other 
participants and audience whenever you wanted to. And also here as with 
the lectures we also saw here a large variety of projects as for example 
Sergey Teterin's project "Minced Cinema" that used an old style Russian 
meat mincer to control digital movies or the Rand()% project by Tom Betts 
and Joe Gilmore who set up a live streaming net radio program that plays 
especially by artists developed software that creates random sound and 

A last thing that I shouldn't forget to mention is that in the evenings 
performances were held in Musikcafeen (an underground place) and the local 
artspace Rum46. Here the performers used their own software to perform. 
Performances ranged from unpretending VJ work (salsaman) to live coding 
(, to a gigantic laptop performance orchestrated by 
Amy Alexander in which material playing on a large number of laptops of 
Read_Me participants was mixed.

Now to the second part of this review in which I want to try to give a 
picture of Run_Me/ Read_Me as a whole. The online part of the project 
started in 2001, while the first festival was held in Moscow in 2002. This 
first festival, that entirly dealt with software art, was still structured 
like new media festivals as we know them. There was a jury who choose some 
winners and there was a jury statement that was used to define software 
art. Besides that there was a publication in the shape of a DVD.

The second edition took place last year in Helsinki and what was new to 
the structure of the festival, or better to all new media festivals that 
were organized before it, was that the process of choosing winners was 
abandoned for the catalog. Everyone who submitted a piece to the runme 
site was reviewed and got a space in the printed catalog. This catalog is 
only for that reason already an interesting work because it translates the 
spirit that comes with software art, and what is even more interesting is 
that it holds a moment of "artistic" software production that isn't based 
on (personal) curatorial choices. To a certain extend it is comparable 
with Lucy R. Lippard's book "Six Years" that gives a good impression of 
the production of conceptual art between 1966-1972. Though the difference 
is that Lippard in the end made personal choices what to include in and 
exclude from her book.

In relation with this I think it's also important to note that when 
software art became hyped last year and the Run_Me crew got invited to the 
Ars Electronica, one of it's core members, Alexei Shulgin, made a radical 
gesture for the Ars catalogue by just summing up all urls of the 
entries. With this pointing to the people (urls) without whom Run_Me and 
software art would be impossible.

In this years festival the concept was developed further and deepened. In 
the first place all the people that did submit a work in the past to the 
runme site were invited to meet in real. Secondly a conference to deepen 
the discourse was added. And in the third place the publication that came 
with this years festival became a real source book, full of publications 
of the lectures and with loads of reviews of recently submitted works to 
the runme site.

The trickiest part of the whole festival probably was the split of the 
conference and Dorkbot city camp part, this because many theorists left 
the festival after their lecture. So here not that mix of theorists, 
artists and other participants. Though it's interesting to know that some 
of the speakers told me that they did stay longer than they had planned 
because the presentation and the social part of the last days of the 
festival exceeded their expectations.

>From my description above it might be clear that Run_Me/ Read_Me is 
different from what we know. It is a model that breaks away from the 
traditional structured festivals in the sense that it wants to grow by 
adapting and deepen itself but not for the sake in itself or the carreers 
of the people involved but for the sake to pose a social alternative to 
institutionalized new media festivals and organizations: it brings 
together people that are involved in and it builds a discourse around 
software art and cultures, and it does this without creating hypes or 
stars ("Read_Me decided to reject awarding prizes and choosing the 
winners" as Olga Goriunova states it in the Read_Me 2004 book), instead it 
offers people as different as academics, professional artists, diehard 
activists, VJs a platform where all can connect, exchange ideas, mix, etc. 
Thus we can say that Runme offers a real alternative to the 
institutionalized forms of art- presentations and the way nearly all new 
media festivals are set up nowadays. Looking at it this way the whole 
Runme project can be seen as institutional critique. And a very succesfull 
form of it, because the model it uses works and perfectly fits the 
subjects it deals with: software art and cultures.

Peter Luining

Urls: (main site) (Read_Me 2004) (main site) (blog the contains a minute by
minute report of the whole Read_Me 2004 festival with loads of pictures) (Written in Stone, A archelogy)

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