Yesterday I attended one in a series of Cultural Conversations, organised by Emma Bearman (@culturevultures) of Culture Vulture fame, wonderfully facilitated by Mike Chitty (@mikechitty) and bringing together a real range of people from artists, curators and producers, to writers and teachers, to technologists and marketeers.
The day used Open Space methods to get a number of small, participant driven, conversations going about the possibilities for using social media within a contemporary art context.
Due to the unforeseen I only managed to participate in two conversations on the day, both very strongly connected by a question about the possibilities for social media as the medium. Interestingly, this idea seemed to divide the room and draw out some strong voices on either side. On the one hand, there were some who felt that social media platforms, as platforms for something, could only be thought of as a means to an end. On the other hand there were those who seemed excited by the idea that social media could be employed as the context for making valid aesthetic experiences, which engage audiences as the end in themselves.
It is this division, or disjunction, between action (how we use it) and idea (what we use it for), that I have taken away with me; along with a question about how we might begin to reconcile these two positions. Put another way, is the value of social media, in a contemporary art context, only in its use as a communication channel or knowledge sharing tool, or do we want to push it further? Whilst it was clear (and you can see this from a quick review of #artconvo activity) that yesterday's event was a helpful one for many of the folk who attended, I felt the conversation was lacking a dimension because it failed to pursue this line of enquiry.
I should point out immediately that this is not meant as criticism, nor aimed at the organisers or any of the lovely people I spoke to. Rather, this reflection is about trying to understand why us 'arts lot' are so very far behind in our thinking about digital in general.
Before the event @culturevultures tweeted the following: "[w]hich artists (living) would you really like to see on Twitter and why?". My nee-jerk response to this question is that I don't really care which artists are online as long as they have something interesting to say or, even better, something important to show us that will alter the way we think about social media, if only for an instant.
I had attended the event with high hopes that I would hear people speaking about ideas and projects that challenged, pushed or just had fun with social media, as well as hearing from those who champion platforms like Twitter as a valuable tool for communication, promotion, occasional activism, and shameless self-promotion. I wanted to leave feeling a sense of expanded possibility, as well as learning something of the 'how-to-do'. I wanted to think about Twitter and Facebook and Foursquare, and so on, as the means of engaging audiences with art, as art, not just as a means of promoting physical works in physical spaces. In a way, I want social media to help art and ideas find people, not the other way around.
I left last year's Shift Happens event with a similar sense of disappointment about how far we have yet to travel across the digital desert. That event has been going for a number of years now, and it still needed a speaker to spend 20 minutes telling attendees what Creative Commons is. Again, this is not a criticism of an important and well organised event, just a reflection on the distance between our creative community, and others in the design, media and communication industries.
One inspiring thing that sticks with me from Shift Happens 2010, is a provocation made by Andy Field, a director of the Forrest Fringe, who said: "it may be true that no one person can break the internet, but we should all be trying". Field's call wasn't a destructive one; it was a call for us to find the limits, to get radical, in the hope that we might find new and wonder-full ways of making stuff happen. I want the same for all social media.
Perhaps a future Cultural Conversation could learn from Watershed's Theatre Sandbox, we could bring some technology into the space, generate some ideas, and play our part in the conversation about how we take part in the rapid change taking place all around us. Otherwise my fear is that we will miss our chance to be co-creators and innovators, destined only to be users of a system created elsewhere, and for purposes we might one day start to question, seriously.
In the meantime, and as a way of sharing some inspiration, links to a few 'social medium' projects I have found on my travels are included below. Please do send feedback on this post via the comments at the bottom, and if you have other links to projects we should know about please post them there too. Many thanks for reading:
In Now We Are Friends, Robert Fitterman takes on some of the prime features of our intensively-networked present--the broad, continual scatter of personal information thru blogs, databases, and social networking sites. You can find a full synopsis for, or buy a copy of Now We Are Friends here: http://truckbooks.org/cata-fitterman.html. An excerpt from the piece can be found here: http://homepages.nyu.edu/~rmf1/newworks/new_works_now_we_are_friends_37.pdf
Constant Critic) A performative retyping of the recently published original scroll edition of Jack Kerouac’s beat classic, On the Road, Morris’ project first appeared as an ongoing journey through the book, read and re-typed on a Wordpress blog one page per day. The online archive of Getting Inside Jack Kerouac's Head can be found here: http://gettinginsidejackkerouacshead.blogspot.com/. Copies of codex publication of the blog can be purchased here: http://informationasmaterial.com/iam/."is an idea that is a concept that is a blog that is a book that is an object." (
http://www.blasttheory.co.uk/bt/work_ivy4evr.html. After registering your mobile number and email address on the Ivy4Evr website, participants begin to receive SMS messages from Ivy – ranging from quick updates about the minutiae of her life right at that moment, to pleas for help with her dilemmas about friends versus family, college and band commitments. You can reply to Ivy as often as you like, and the more you do, the more you will hear back from her.is an SMS drama for teenagers created by Blast Theory, written by Tony White, author of novels including Foxy-T (Faber), and commissioned by Channel 4 Education. Find out more here:
Post note: I found this article by Ben Davis, and thought I should include a link as part of the article: http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/reviews/davis/art-and-social-media8-4-10.asp