For those not following my tweets last night, organizer Nik Pence’s Immaterial Dispersal was not good. Panel participants fell into 2.5 groups, those who wanted to make it hard for internet users to find their work, those who wanted to make it easy and those who wanted to describe either act as about branding their identities. This isn’t necessarily uninteresting, but when poor logic and inarticulate talk dominates the discussion it certainly becomes this way.
Critic Gene McHugh fell in the “I don’t want random people to find my work” category of panelists, authoring Post-Internet, a blog with no outgoing links, no readily available individual post urls, and a url composed only of numbers. “I like that the art world is elitist.” he told the audience before continuing, “I want my blog to be part of the “art world”". Past the problem of coming off as slightly pretentious, the rationalization for many of his decisions is flawed. First of all, the art world is not unique in its elitism. Virtually every profession has that problem. Second, the purpose and value of being contextualized within the art world is never explained, past the vague assumption that elitism must be well founded. If participation is one of the main requirements for entry into this world, an act McHugh actively limits with his blog. Meanwhile, he maintains the glimmer of hope that his work will be later used by historians. For this to happen he’d have to maintain the hosting fees for the rest of his life for this to happen, and garner the magical ability to do his best thinking in a vacuum. Clearly the latter isn’t happening — his latest post on painting memes introduces two conflicting concepts in the first sentence — but oh well.
I asked the critic yesterday whether feedback was of any interest to him since there was no way to link to particular posts and the comment section wasn’t open. He simply told me he was worried about trolls. “I see Gene’s point” former Art Fag City blogger Karen Archey said from the audience, noting that moderation and participation on comment forms can get in the way of producing work. As Archey points out, this is delicate balance, but she moves away from my original point, which is that there are number of ways to cultivate a knowledge base larger than oneself on the web, none of which are being employed. Growth does not occur by merely typing inside a local coffee shop.
Other panelists either not principally concerned with distribution or seeking to limit it included Lance Wakeling, who sends out a monthly PDF called Private Circulation to his mailing list and The Highlights, an web-based publication specializing in artist essays. Both are primarily literary projects that only minimally engage the web so I’m not sure why they’ve been asked twice now to discuss internet distribution.
Net artist Kari Altmann made a little more sense in this respect, though she spent a good deal of time talking about “lubricated transmission”, a concept lifted from an out of date article she bookmarked a few days before by Francis Heylighen, “Complexity and Information Overload in Complex Society”. Written in 2002, the paper describes the increased speed of information exchange, as characterized by instability. So far as I could tell though Altmann was mostly using the term “lubrication” to describe the relative ease with which she wanted her work shared. She then showed some pretty compelling blue images she’d found on the web and transfered onto blue styrofoam, though notably, distribution was the least interesting aspect of the piece.
The young radical of the group, Brad Troemel, disagreed with nearly everyone on the panel at some point, including Altmann. This wasn’t surprising — he disputed the idea that art has a practical purpose and advocated art that reached as many people as possible — a contentious position for many. Altmann specifically challenged Troemel’s belief that art was not as valuable as water, a discussion that prompted a call from audience member Tom Moody. “You belong on a panel called Dialectical Materialism.” Moody told Troemel, noting his unspoken affinity for Karl Marx. That sounded just about right to me.