Josephine Bosma on Thu, 20 Sep 2007 18:19:09 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> new discursive practice: the CMHTS interview

The Cool Media Hot Talk Show (CMHTS) is a combination of online
platform, live event and a new 'software solution' for democratizing
public discourse. The live event takes place in the culture and
politics debate center De Balie in Amsterdam. It is quite an
ambitious enterprise that started in april this year, and is surely
to produce some interesting results. The concept and software are
already invited to be used in other events, settings and locations.
Initiator, theorist and curator Tania Goryucheva gives some insight
into its development in the following interview.


Josephine Bosma: The Cool Media Hot Talk Show seems to be the media
art conference panel equivalent of social software. It is at the same
time hysterically radical and potentially empowering for the
audience. Can you tell us your reason for creating it?

Tania Goryucheva: The idea of the CMHTS derives out of a few parental
lines of thoughts. First of all, there is a long-time concern,
expressed by quite a few critical thinkers of whom I would mostly owe
my inspiration, namely Foucault, Barthes and Said. This is a concern
about an "expertization" of discourses aimed at shaping up the public
discourse as such, whether it deals with politics, knowledge or
cultural issues. This "expertization", as I see it, has two aspects.
Form-wise it is about the institutional management of the very
process of discourse providing, and content-wise it is about
internally established conventions regarding the very language game
(starting with terminology and ending with sometimes even
interpretative determinants). These are represented in two extremes:
mass media and specialised intellectual cultures.

In the case of mass media their "expertise" boils down to editorial
policies aimed at an imaginary common cultural denominator through
filtering out uncomforting complexities, diversities and
controversies, whose perception and consequently impact can be
unpredictable. In the case of "high-brow" expert cultures, their
discourses tend to form "canons" in Said's terms, which often
undermine relevance and importance of certain phenomena and aspects
in favour of others, establishing values, treated as canonical, but which
are not necessarily straightly commensurable. This creates
misunderstandings and misconceptions on the side of the public not
involved in these cultural circles directly.

The latter is very much the case in media art and its discourse, as I
see it, especially when it hits the road of self-historicizing. For
example, certain implied imperatives, like a nihilistic criticism of
mass and industrial media, are often treated as a presupposed value
quality of an artwork at the expense of serious critical engagement
with its content or actual aesthetic experience as such. Though the
CMHTS project does not target media art discourse as an object of
critique, but rather aims at escaping the comforting "friendly"
consensus based tone of discussions in media art discourse. It does
this by creating an entry point for the voices of the non-afiliated,
aiming to enhance public critical discussions about media art. At the
same time "on Art & Media" is only an exemplary general theme for the
ongoing series of talk shows till the end of 2007. We would not like
to limit the project to this area, but rather look for extension of
the thematic and contextual scope.

The second concern which led to the development of the technical
platform of the CMHTS as it is, has a lot to do with a criticism of
methods and techniques of mediation of public discourse.  The CMHTS
indeed can be associated with "social software" and "participatory
media" related to the so-called Web 2.0 phenomenon. At the same time
it obviously refers to mass media, "old" television, entertaining
culture, thus blending together in fact conflicting media formats. It
is both an ironic playful twist and a practical, both social and
technological, experiment. It gives people an opportunity to engage
directly into the production of a real event at the level of content-
related decision making by using the tools of the web site. It is a
social game in a way.

The interface of the project is designed in such a way, that it makes
different forms and degrees of participation possible: one can
propose all the main elements of the show - topics, speakers,
questions; vote for them; discuss them; make show scenarios out of
them; participate online in the live event. What is crucial about
this experiment is that the system is designed in such a way that the
authoritarian figure of moderator in the process of the show
programming can be entirely eliminated, though under the condition
that the public=participants=producers are willing to engage in the
process actively. Carried away by the artistic radicalism of the
concept we even eliminated the moderator from the live event: all
communication to the audience and speakers is executed by the
machine, which simply delivers submitted and selected questions from
the public and signals the time schedule.

The project is neither fully pragmatical nor predominantly aesthetic,
neither fully serious nor a totally ironic subversion. It is
something in between. For us it has mostly experimental research
value. We created the conditions, the situation, providing an
interface between the virtual social game through which individuals
can exercise their will to power (putting it in ultimate terms), and
the embodied realisation of results of this game, both competitive
and collaborative, in physical space of a prominent cultural
institution - De Balie. The possibility is there. The question is how
it can be used. In fact, if taken seriously, the CMHTS can be a
powerful enough tool for manifestation and exercise of one's
interests and ambitions in the public sphere, by, for example,
challenging power figures, or through self-promotion. Unlike most
popular "social software" which provides people with spots for
presence in a virtual social environment and tools for information
exchange among each other, the CMHTS offers an opportunity of an
actual power game, through passing and undermining social hierarchies
and boundaries.

  JB: The site is not a textbook example of an easily navigable site.
The fun and enthusiasm show through the design though. It looks like
an ambitious enterprise, in which you want to leave as many possible
combinations and interventions open as can be. Can you tell us
something about the technical background? Are you still improving the
site, and are you open to suggestions and technical collaborations?

  TG: The site is still under construction, better to say adjustments
are still being made in some parts of it. It is however fully
functional. Since the launch of the project in March 2007 we have
been busy a lot with testing and improving the usability of different
elements of the interface. Certain things we could figure out only
through actual experience of their use since there are a lot of
innovative ingredients, and the whole architecture is original. In
this sense the MMBase content management system, upon which the web
site is built, offers both good possibilities and serious challenges
for programming and especially for the programmer  - Michiel van der
Haagen. From the very beginning we announced that the CMHTS software
would be released as open source, MMBase system is also open source.
At the same time, as we see it now, it is pretty heavy and very
laborious to re-develop the software as it is for a different
context. We are looking for opportunities now to develop a lighter
(and easier to deal with) version of the project as an application,
most likely by using another platform. There is an interest expressed
by others to use the CMHTS format as a tool to facilitate alternative
or additional debates within different contexts. Of course it is open
to any feedback, suggestions, critique, which we appreciate very much.

  JB: What I find interesting about the project is that it not only
gives the audience a possibility to program a presentation in a
public institution, in physical space so to speak: the web interface
also allows for every step and every suggestion to be discussed. This
could lead to interesting online discussions about the choice of
speakers, the phrasing of statements and questions, or the urgency of
topics. It is a pity that this aspect has not developed much yet, due
to all attention for the programming in physical space in this start
up phase. How do you think it could be stimulated more? Do you maybe
think of any collaboration with (online) magazines, critics, curators
or institutions?

  TG: At the moment we are trying to foster exactly these kind of
preliminary discussions around the proposed topics that hold the
highest positions in the chart, which thus are potential topics of
the coming shows. Yes, we will definitely try to involve different
interested parties into the debates, depending on the proposals of
people. First of all this concerns approaching potential speakers to
enter in the online discussion. A lot depends on their positions and
their relation to topics and issues to be discussed. The main idea is
that the final statements are to be developed in response to direct
questions and critique of the public. We'd like all the preliminary
discussions, negotiations, and criticism to happen on the web site as
a part of the collective event programming process. Some moderation
on our side is needed here, though we try to keep it at the level of
assistance in a social process, rather than as a decisive content
shaping. In terms of collaboration, we look more in the direction of
mediatory projects and institutions interested in going beyond
traditional forms of organising public debates, not necessarily just
at art and cultural organisations.

  JB: You give out a prize for 'best question asked during the live
event', remotely or from the live audience. Is this meant to
stimulate participation or is it an ironic gesture, a humorous touch?

  TG: That is mostly to emphasise an entertaining, game related
element of the project, but of course it is also expected to provide
an extra stimulus for people to participate.

JB: While we are at the topic of humor and lightness: the emblem of
the CMHT is a kind of cyborg female with a television as a head. This
raised some questions in (cyber) feminist circles. Have you
consciously chosen a female emblem, and a female robotic voice to do
the presentation of the live event? The woman as machine is not
without historical burden.

TG: The "machine-babe" was created by the designer of the web site:
Jeroen Joosse. He did the overall visual lay out of the CMHTS. From
the very beginning we were thinking about something ironic, rather
kitschy, which would refer to a retro popular media culture, since
the title and concept of CMHTS evokes McLuhanian media visions of the
60s. I personally see this image as quite a brutal, subversive
assault on two popular male darlings: the robot and the sexy chick
artefacts, very male in its approach. Both are symbolically mutilated
and disavowed. Our machine-babe as a presenter/moderator is
functionally completely disempowered: she speaks and executes what
people want. It is of course a very ironic interplay and semantic
decomposition of cliché imagery related to popular media cultures.
While I share and agree with a lot of feminist and cyber-feminist
criticisms of material and symbolical orders of the society we live
in, I would object to the treatment of this image as a gender
politics related issue. If we do we risk loosing our sense of humour
for the sake of keeping up with ideological schemata.

JB: There was some confusion when the project first started, because
the live event and the proposals on the website did not match. Can
you explain why this happened?

TG: The main reason was that the technical development, test of the
system and actual events planning happened simultaneously, under the
pressure of a pretty tight schedule. Because of the structural
complexity of the platform it was virtually impossible to predict
whether and how everything would work. Certain things malfunctioned
from time to time, so we had to get back to them. In this sense
Michiel faced quite a lot of challenges, but with his creative
approach he made it work. All these complexities and complications at
the early stage also provided a certain challenge for users:
participation was a challenge during the first programming phase of
the live events, in terms of content contribution. Because of this
what is particularly very important for the project (pushing your
contributions cq proposals into an actual show scenario) was not done
actively enough for the concept to develop fully initially. We were
improvising with topics and speaker proposals ourselves the first few
months. This left the public the opportunity to contribute questions
and comments to shape up debates content-wise before and during the
show however. During the live event online participants were very
active, sending and voting for their questions and comments as
immediate responses to speakers presentations through the special
"participate online" interface. For comments on a technical level
(bad sound, problems with the stream, etc) one can also enter the
background chat at this part of the website.

JB: The first show that was completely programmed by the audience
just took place last week. Did it live up to your expectations and
were you satisfied by it? It was rather an eclectic mix of
interesting information, self-promotion and flowerpower-happening.

TG: It was one of the available ways to use the CMHTS. I must say I'm
quite satisfied with how it worked at the end. There are two things I
particularly liked about it. First, in absence of an institution-
related moderation which usually stiffens the discursive framework,
the whole event and process of putting it together on the side of
participants gave more space to surprise and unpredictability, and as
a result to interesting content clashes. Second, some ideas and
approaches were brought into the spotlight which I personally find
not unproblematic, but which due to their "outsideness" and a certain
non-conformity make them not very likely to end up in any
institutionally patrolled "serious" public discourses. Nevertheless
such unusual approaches can broaden the spectrum of public
discussions and provoke unexpected and potentially interesting turns.

The Cool Media Hot Talk Show can be found and used at:


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