Search results for "net-art "

Banksy and the institution

Author: joe

Sunday, 19 July, 2009 - 23:01

I know there is something in the Banksy exhibition at the Bristol City Museum that I have missed: some act of vandalism and subversion that I was not subtle enough to find, some artistic whim, antithetical to the institution of art, that was too discrete to find. The archetypal 'art terrorist' has committed some act of treason in the museum, somewhere, somehow, that none of us has found: I feel strangely comforted by the certain knowledge that there is something shocking, unsupportable, and offensive lurking in the gallery.

More illegal than a small piece of skunk next to an ornate bong amongst the pottery; more irreverent than puppet eyes on a Rembrandt self-portrait; more institutionally insulting than a riot policeman on a child's penny-powered rocking-horse-ride; more clever than a suitcase of Diana-head-minted currency in £1000-bundles; more knowing of our day-to-day lives than bird-on-the-wire CCTV cameras and self-vivisecting rabbit coquettes. Something so unseeable, so invisible, so appalling, that none us of can see it. Even if we saw it, our brains would scramble the sight with its cognitive dissonance, such that we'd walk away, unknowing, and no wiser.

I am utterly certain it is there - through a process of unimpeachable logical deduction, I know for a fact that Banksy has beaten us all. The logic is borne out by the history of his career and the evidence of his work. I defy you to find the flaw in my argument.

Banksy starts as a graffiti artist; then moves on to guerilla subversion of mainstream art works; paints murals on the Israeli West Bank barrier. Next Banksy replaces the music stores' display stock of Paris Hilton CDs with fakes; and then places Guantanamo-prisoner-alikes in Disneyland - all of these acts are 'transgressive' in that they offend a good proportion of conservative taste, and are to be celebrated for that reason even if nothing else of the work excites you.

Graffiti is a transgressive because, well, you're not supposed to deface public property: it is, as Bristol Museum puts it, a "form of illegal activity, regardless of its artistic merit." When it is encouraged and sponsored by local councils, it loses any dangerous edge it had, and becomes - at best - wholesome, at worst, limp and insipid community outreach as practised by Christians and others of equally atrophied musculature. Graffiti is at its most aggressive and pure only when it is sure to be erased at the first opportunity by the police of public space, just as action is pure only when it escapes all intellectual justification and argument.

Surreptitiously defacing artworks in public museums and galleries is transgressive because it is an attack on the only possible institution which might redeem the graffiti artist from the clutches of the law, by granting such 'art terrorists' legitimacy; it is a biting of the only pompous, self-satisfied hand that would deign to feed you, just as that hand realises it must recognise you in order to stay relevant. 'Subverting artworks' is transgressive because it is a rebellion against the law of the father; an act of the carnivalesque turning an ossified world on its head.

The political muralism on the West Bank barrier, quite aside from its UK-specific resonance with the 'civil war by any other name' of The Troubles of Northern Ireland, is transgressive because it challenges our bourgeois notion that citizens and artists and painters and hoodies and members of the public have no say, no recourse to action - no escape from Ulrich Beck's characterisation of tragic quotidianism - and hence no action to take, in the face of geo-political calamities; yet at the same time underscores the alien inability of any artist or other member of the Western demos to speak to an open ear of either aggressor or victim. The Israeli wall is the target, but it is the Palestinian bystander who condemns the act of beauty on a terrible medium. A voice where no voice can have effect, nor find a listener.

Subverting the music retail market's obsession with celebrity is transgressive not because it reminds us that Capital is the great Other that dialectically determines our lives, nor that the industry is the instrument of the superhuman machine or the body-without-organs, nor even that the market is the means by which the mass is kept in obeisance to a superstructure of the hegemony. In fact it is the reverse - it mocks the Marxists by reminding us that the act of rebellion generates more value than the cultural commodity: Banksy's fake Paris Hilton knock-off is far more valuable in both material and immaterial terms than any original: the fake is now the only authentic artefact. Adorno, eat your heart out!

Populating Disneyland with Guantanamo-jumpsuited-inflatable-dolls is transgressive because - (as if it needed pointing out!) - aside from the dissonance of imperialism, hypocrisy, war-mongering and injustice that it spotlights, it reminds us that Disneyland and the objectives of the 'coalition of the willing' are essentially the same, after the killing and the brutalisation are done: to displace living from the realm of experience, into the realm of representation. Thus we enjoy the vicarious ride-of-our-lives via the hyperreal news media, assured that if there are victims of hypocrisy and torture in the world, then our own lives must be at the very forefront of progress, luxury and guilt-ridden complacency - the only kind of guilt we allow ourselves to guiltlessly enjoy.

And so of course, I look for the transcendental transgression in Banksy's show at Bristol Museum, suggestively titled Banksy vs Bristol Museum, like a competition - which I interpret as an arms race... a competition to outwit each other; the disclaimers warn as we enter that views expressed are not those of the museum or its partners, and the defacements on display are not real defacements, since "some of the historic relics now on display throughout the museum are fakes". Such framing devices only heighten my expectation that we will find Banksy sock-puppeting the museum into condoning opinions that would otherwise be silenced, and that real, priceless works have been defaced by a Bristolian 'revolutionaire' as only a decadent world deserves to have its valued artefacts defaced.

Or I consider, that since this exhibition has been organised, as the disclaimers proclaim, "by an independent agency", thus the Museum have themselves been subject to the same suspicions as I have entertained, and so will have been expecting Banksy's representatives to hijack the best intentions of the museum's curators; and in turn this agency acting on behalf of Banksy will have been expecting the museum to hunt high and low for any infringements or transgressions. Any act by Banksy to subvert the permanent art, or to render illegal the public space, or to articulate the unendorseable, will have been anticipated; the building combed for booby-traps; any attempt to outwit the strictures of public bylaws and the good taste of the artistic institutional community forestalled and anaesthetised. The anticipations are anticipated; the foreseeings foreseen; the special operations specially operated upon. The each outwitting the other in an ever-contracting spiral of mutual suspicion and cold-war-style conspiracy and paranoia, resulting in the most cutting edge out-manoeuvrings imaginable.

Then, of course: I get it. There is no hidden act of subversion; nothing too unbearable we cannot acknowledge it; nothing so clever we kick ourselves in our credulousness. I finally realise that the ultimate trangression has been successfully mounted: Banksy has defeated my intellectualisation of his work. He has easily capitulated, with paranormally little effort, to a parochial museum, home to ceramics, pottery and geological oddities. He has performed the ultimate transgression of the outsider artist: by selling out - a complete triumph. He has tricked me into romanticising his career and my search for the ultimate meaning in a museum. This is the something that is shocking, unsupportable, and offensive lurking in the gallery - it is the last word in resistance: to resist the pundits; and the last word in not selling out: selling out.

Categories: Banksy, art, graffiti, resistance, over-intellectualisation, transgression,
Comments: 0

Wikipedian Palimpsest

Author: joe

Tuesday, 17 February, 2009 - 22:19

Only those of us who like to live our lives inspecting the inner workings of the sphincters of camels will have failed to notice the sudden kerfuffle around Wikipedia Art - a project which is soon going to be so citable, the wikipedian deletionists will explode with reverberating feedback loops of infinitely regressing thought, their heads bursting as though they were apoplectic Victorian fathers confronted with Daguerreotypes of themselves masturbating.

I found the abundant discussions most interesting when they addressed questions about authenticity: did the artists mean to arouse delicate questions regarding epistemology and truth? Or was it a knowing, cynical ploy to generate buzz and 'notability' either to raise their commercial earning potential in other work, or to support tenure track academic careers? Did it matter if the latter was the case if the former ensued anyway? Does a work of art require an authentically artistic intention on the part of the creator in order to be an authentic piece of art?

On rhizome curt cloninger said something clever: "We are "policing" the "art-worthiness" of the piece here at rhizome the same way the wikipedians were policing its "encyclopedia-worthiness" there at wikipedia." We all work the work with our own discourses, our own knowledge practices, our own epistemes; we will always talk past each other.

Categories: wikipedia, art, net-art, authenticity, epistemology, truth, authorship,
Comments: 0

Author: joe

Thursday, 22 December, 2005 - 01:01

I've recently been working on a web site for Cath, to showcase her artwork and to put her reflective writing online. It's been an interesting collaboration, not least because as well as trying a few new experiments myself, the way the site is developing is also feeding into how Cath thinks of her artwork.

My experiments are mostly technical, using Ajax techniques to feed back search result counts in real time to help avoid the user wasting time clicking back after finding no results, and implementing tagging as a way of content management as well as sorting and searching.

What's been more interesting, though, is that the functionality of the website alters Cath's perception of her work.

CB: Seeing a lot of thumbnails of my images makes me 'see' my own style more clearly, makes me realise I do have a style.

Well, I've been saying that her style is 'dipped in LSD at birth' for the last 13 years :)

But there's something else worth noting too. For a long time I worked with visual artists at the London College of Fashion who conceived of their exhibits as something that they controlled. An artist determines which images make a specific collection, and in which order they appear, the name of the collection, etc. This is a strong desire in pretty much all the photographers and illustrators who were learning Multimedia with me.

At, we've taken a different approach, and used Cath's folksonomy of her work (describing the images with 'tags') to create a gallery builder. The user combines different keywords to construct a gallery of their own. This doesn't seem like a particularly novel thing to do - after all that's what using an image search engine does. However, when you apply it specifically in a space where one artist is presenting their work, the activity is not so much about 'looking for images' as allowing the user to 'curate a collection'.

Cath is also looking forward to seeing how the visual representation of her folksonomy develops, and how it will reveal themes and preoccupations as she adds more work. The folksonomy makes the most frequent tags larger than the infrequent.

Maybe it would be an idea to take snapshots of the folksonomy for different periods of work...?

Categories: folksonomy, art,, ajax, interactivity, curation,
Comments: 1

Practice-based Research

Author: joe

Monday, 19 December, 2005 - 16:03

This entry is written to address and extend Cath's previous post about theory and practice, and also to reflect on a seminar I attended last week about Practice-based Research.

What are theory and practice?

What Cath has outlined is a common way of looking at what are considered to be two ontologically different activities: creativity and reflection. Creativity is often also called art, practice, production. Reflection is often called research, theory, analysis, criticism. The former is often aligned with imagination, emotion, and that part of human existence which is thought of as 'unrationisable'. The latter is often aligned with systematic thinking, reason, what is 'rationisable'.

There is a lot of merit in thinking of them as ontologically different activities. Artists often consider themselves to be drawing on ineffable, inscrutable, undescribable inspiration. Theorists, in contrast, consider themselves to be engaged in the pursuit of analysing and describing phenomena. You could go so far as to say that the practice of art is based on subjectivity, while theory is based on the pursuit of objectivity.

Since the two activities can be understood in such mutually exclusive terms, it is understandable that individuals see themselves as primarily interested in one or the other. Hence arise compromises in the academic environment: practitioners are goaded into engaging with theory, with the encouragement that a 'critical awareness' will support their practice. And we're all familiar with the reverse situation, where 'academics' are accused of being out of touch with 'the real world' because they deal with abstractions rather than 'production' or 'industry'.

Theory and practice are the same

In the middle of this dichotomy are academic departments like my own which are trying to 'unite' theory and practice in teaching and learning. Rather than having separate strands, some of which address theory issues, while others address production and practice, a new program of teaching has been designed to integrate both.

The discourse on this approach tends to run along the lines of 'diminishing the divide between theory and practice', 'demonstrating the relevance of theory to practice', or 'showing that theory and practice are parts of the same process'. (Interestingly, while there has been a lot of such discourse, there has been very little about how the teaching of theory and practice are integrated. This is left to the discretion of clumps of individual teachers to decide).

The strengths of this approach range over a number of areas: the learning experience for an undergraduate is improved because

The teaching experience can be better because:

However, there is a major weakness to this approach too. This is the danger that theory is taught merely as it serves the objectives of production - theory in effect becomes subservient to practice. This in itself is not the bad thing: any practitioner who engages with theory will tell you that it informs their work. The bad thing flows from this new emphasis.

Theory and practice are not the same

When theory is cherry-picked as it seems to be relevant to practice, it loses its own logic.

For example: I am currently involved in teaching a unit called 'Narratives', which follows on from a unit called 'Images', and which leads into a unit called 'Audiences'; the students are learning Interactive Media. Some of the key ideas that are associated with this 'Narratives' unit inlcude the idea that 'narrativisation' is something that we all do all the time - it's not something that only people we call story-tellers do; that narratives encode, reinforce and query the cultural values we live with; and that the idea that a magician-like author creates a narrative for a reader to correctly interpret is problematic. Key 'theorists' here include Barthes and Foucault, whose dialogic works in the 60s and 70s blew apart notions of what an author is, what a text is, and what a reader is.

Previously, critical thought in the literary tradition of F.R Leavis and others, saw the work of correctly interpreting a text by an author as an exercise in acquiring enough erudition in the field of the text, the author and their period. Such acquired learning then gave that reader the ability to hand down to the rest of us, with less erudition, what this author was really trying to do. AB&F (After Barthes and Foucault), the author and the reader become fused, and the text becomes a hot, creative space where creative, interpretative acts occur. The erudite reader no longer is entitled to a 'correct' reading: the erudite reader simply has a different reading. Every reader, regardless of education and erudition, creates the 'writerly' text as they engage in the creative, productive act of reading. This was revolutionary and profoundly anti-elitist.

In the necessity-driven context of short weekly seminars delivering theory and practice designed to demonstrate their relevance to each other, the revolutionary nature of these ideas is in danger of being lost, and the notions of readerly and writerly texts become simply parts of a vocabulary necessary for assessment. What is the point of talking about the writerly text if there is no understanding of the fact that the writerly text is above all a political idea, rather than a literary one?

Theory is pointless

There is a rather lovely irony in theory AB&F: interpretation is subjective, but no less valid for being so. One does not need to be educated to have valid interpretations of texts. You don't have to know the theory of the writerly text to be constantly producing it. The 'message' of theory today is that you don't need to learn theory. There has been a simultaneous development in critical writing of, on the one hand, work that is impenetrable to lay-people because of the accumulation of jargon and technical mumbo-jumbo, while on the other hand, a message that argues that it is not necessary to become better educated and more learned in order to have valid, productive responses to cultural artefacts. Theory in this reading has become a prank on those who pursue it, and it is therefore no suprise that theorists' writing has developed this shroud in order to conceal the vacuum within. It is admittedly a difficult problem: how, as a member of a segment of the population which has been lucky enough to attain such a brilliant level of learning, do you then preach that such learning is not necessary? When you want to argue that becoming erudite is just an elitist plot, how do you say so without seeming to pull up the ladder to education behind you? If there is no right or wrong, just a lot of discourse, what is the point of anything at all? Who cares whether someone's understanding of the writerly text is political or literary when either interpretation is equally valid?

Theory is not pointless

It may be inevitable that once-revolutionary ideas eventually become obvious and assumed. New generations grow up in cultures where what once seemed earth-shattering is now common sense; they in turn go on to produce new ground-breaking, earth-shattering ideas. The point of critical theory (as opposed to 'being to a theorist'), though, is not to believe the message of theory, but to examine and question obvious, common sense ideas and assumptions. There was an earth-shattering point when mankind began making marks on objects in order to communicate with absent people, yet today we can take it for granted. By engaging with the historicity of that moment, we can enter a place where it seems suddenly remarkable to be a human being, and that the world we live in becomes an amazing organic product of countless revolutionary things which seem now to have disappeared behind the everyday surface of life. On a smaller but more pressing level, questioning the assumptions about the way of the world is a necessary social act in a global culture which is marked by war, immoral economic inequity and cultural conflict on an unprecedented scale.

The pursuit of critical thinking and theory as an end in itself, then, has the strength of allowing all events, developments and works to be seen as political acts, precisely because theory tries to contextualise and historicise those acts, events, developments and works, and shed light on the social and political relations that combine to create that history. This is reason enough that theory should be considered separately to practice, since an artist trying to analyse and compensate for all of the cultural assumptions that may go into producing the work will end in a paralysis of self-censorship.

Theory kills practice

One thing which seemed to emerge from the seminar on Practice-based Research I attended last week was the idea that the creative act in practice, and the systematic thought in theory, are mutually incompatible. In romantic literary terms, we might say that the creative act is inspired by a muse - an unknowable goddess - who provokes, or even produces the creative drive in the artist. In modern language, we might say that art is the product of a creative act of the imagination, which is yet to be deciphered in evolutionary, biological or functional terms. Were the muse to be 'understood', or 'theorised', she would no longer be an inspiring goddess; were the imagination to be deterministically mapped, it would no longer be the magical source of our creativity.

I woud refute this idea for a number of reasons:

Theory is a practice

A tacit assumption that seemed to be at work in the Practice-based Research seminar was the idea that theory is a necessary but unpleasant activity. The seminar appeared to be a long apology for theory. Perhaps this is a reflection of the stereotyped view of theory as a Casaubon activity, dry, solitary, monotonous, incorporating 'bean-counting', dealing with abstractions and generally joyless. It's about spending too much time reading books and writing papers no-one reads.

I suppose that an artist, in the creation of an artefact, even if the motivation is pure self-expression, would acknowledge that at some point the work is destined to be recieved by an audience. And I also supppose that the artist would grant that when an audience enters into a relationship with the work, they too engage in a creative act of interpretation, empathy, outrage, emotion, revulsion, agreement, and reflection.

The act of reading requires the reader to enter into just such an act of creativity, with all the interpretative possibilities that offers. The practice of theory is about engaging in that creative act. And just as an artist would acknowledge that their output enters into a dialogue with other work and doesn't exist in isolation, so the practice of theory is about entering into a dialogue. Writing is a productive, transformational activity, regardless of whether it is conceived in advance as a piece of literary art or a piece of critical writing.

While I was writing this, my computer crashed and I had to start all over again. The content I rewrote was not the same as the first version. I could write this a hundred times, and every time it would be produced differently, precisely because the act of writing is creative and spontaneous.

Traditional Academia

The final thing I want to write about was the presentation of research in humanities as distinct from research in more traditionally academic subjects. Clearly there is a complex problem arising from the history of academia, and the perception that social science research is 'soft' science. There is also a reverse problem, where the humanities see traditional areas like scientific research as having an unwarranted dominance over the arts. Scientific methodologies get described as 'bean-counting' and are accused of being 'patriarchal'.

Partly this is because of the post-structuralist purgatory that has emerged in humanities, where the scientific method is simply seen as a discursive tool by which vast swathes of dead white males rule the world, and a technocratic hegemony reinforces its hold on cultural development. The scientific response certainly ought to be: show us where your theories predict reproducible phenomena, rather than haranguing us from the sidelines with philosophical contortionism.

More fundamentally, however, I think there is a misconception here that only creative arts engage in practice during research. I can't think of a single field of enquiry where the researchers in the field wouldn't argue that what they do is a creative practice. It's actually monumental arrogance to claim that the creative act is the domain of art, while other kinds of knowledge don't involve imagination and creativity. However, it is not so obvious that the arts education system is providing students with the same theoretical rigour provided by sciences.


One only has to look at the rise of creationism, intelligent design, fundamentalism, the increasing mistrust of science in issues of public health and the decline in uptake of science education to see that an anti-Enlightenment sentiment is gaining ground. What part do people (humanities graduates?) working in the creative industries today play in that?

Categories: research, humanities, practice, art, science, theory, creativity, elitism, writing, postmodernism, post-structuralism,
Comments: 1

Theory and practice

Author: cath

Thursday, 15 December, 2005 - 21:06

I didn't do it justice, my answer to your question about why study art theory and practice in tandem. I thought about it quite a lot after our conversation and wanted to answer more fully.

Firstly, studying art theory supports art practice because of all that motor neuron stuff going on that you often mention.
Secondly, it supports art practice because I find myself tuning in and becoming more and more aware. There's a lot to be said for an artist developing an eye for things by observing art in all its forms.

And, an artist is always re-appropriating the past, even if they try not to. It could be an unconscious or a conscious thing.

If I study gothic architecture, romanesque art, impressionism etc etc. sometimes it can initially seem removed from my personal artistic journey, but a point always comes when all the exposure informs on my artistic practice.

The last thing I was thinking is that studying art history gives me an opportunity to reflect on art in a different way to practicing art.

Any subject that is studied indepth needs to be approached from many different angles. Theory, hand in hand with practice makes that possible.

Categories: art, theory, practice,
Comments: 1

Web Gallery of Art

Author: joe

Sunday, 06 November, 2005 - 23:10

Discovered this amazing art resource today - the Web Gallery of Art.

Nearly 14,000 reproductions of art from 1100 to 1850, artist biographies, glossary of art terms, and virtual guided tours of the gallery.

I think it's incredible :)

Categories: art, resource, education,
Comments: 2

UK Summer Soundseeing

Author: joe

Sunday, 16 October, 2005 - 23:55

What I did this summer - UK Summer Soundseeing podcast

Been a long break from podcasting, so we make up for it with a hour-long UK soundseeing special. Climbing waterfalls in Welsh valleys, folk music in Penzance, what there isn't to do in Lincolnshire when you're young, and why public art isn't very public...

Some links from the show:

Menticulture's UK Summer Soundseeing Podcast mp3

Duration: 59:26; Size: 28MB

Categories: podcast, soundseeing, uk, summer, art, folk music,
Comments: 1

Art Mobs

Author: joe

Wednesday, 22 June, 2005 - 22:30

The institutional voice is all very well, but I want what's under the radar.

Art Mobs is a project which gives you not only the chance to experience art in a new way by listening to alternative audio guides, but actually invites you to create your own guides.

Look at rocketboom for 8 Jun, and then try out these guides to various artworks, especially try the Francis Bacon, 'Painting', 1946 audio guide while looking at the painting itself!

Categories: art, mobs, grassroots, podcasting,
Comments: 3