Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Art of Curating in the Digital Age

"By our own very nature we filter, forget, hear and see selectively, but that doesn't mean that we have to agree with all the filtering has to be done on our behalf" writes Geert Lovink in his essay "Post-canon or the joy of self-curation" published in the journal of the symposium Me you and everyone we know is a curator (Myaewkiac) organized by the Breda Graphic Design Museum on 19 December in Amsterdam.

Mieke Gerriken, director of the Breda Graphic Design Museum, explains in her introductory speech -and essay that you can read in the very good Myaewkiac journal, that museums will need "to cooperate structurally with digital initiatives." Together with graphic designer Sophie Krier, they have organized this one day programme focused on "quality in an age of visual overload." The title of the symposium, as Krier explains is a tribute to Miranda July's Learningtoloveyoumore blog. Speakers included Bruce Sterling, Andrew Keen, Rick Poynor, Sarah Cook, Aram Bartholl, Julia Noordegraaf, Willem Veethoven and Dagan Cohen.

Instead of analyzing all the speeches and sometimes frighteningly populist ideas I heard at the symposium, like Andrew Keen's obsession with authority and slogans "Curators are gate keepers, they have earned the right to say no!" or "Everything is free [on the internet] because it's what it's worth!" and the audience's enthusiastic response to these, I would focus on the experiences shared by some of the speakers to demonstrate the possibilities and wide range of opportunities digital tools can offer when you find a structured and intelligent way to use it.

In "Performing archival material online," Julia Noordegraaf -assistant Prof and Programme Director of the Master of Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image, dept of Media Studies at UvA, has focused on the digital reproductions of analog objects. She gave as an example, an online film remix competition organized by the Film Museum. Professionals and amateurs were asked to remix cinematographic material from the period between 1917 and 1932 into a new short film with their own soundtrack. This competition took place between April and September 2009. Noordegraaf showed the winning movie as an example, which Keen later called no less than "crap"! Winner Jata Haan explains on the celluloidremix website that "This virtual reflection of Amsterdam not only shows some of the literal changes that have taken place in the city during the last century - but also demonstrates the vast amount of material available online to artists and filmmakers today. Digitisation projects such as "Beelden voor de Toekomst", and Creative Commons endorsing websites such as Flickr and The Freesound Project, have all contributed towards a cultural shift of producing more easily accessible and reusable digital media. As this type of collaborative project becomes more popular, we should see an increasing amount of resources made available in the future."

Willem Velthoven from
Mediamatic has presented an exciting online project called "Mediamatic Travel" as an example of how to explore evolutionary ways to build new structures to create quality content online. This travel project is a network of people working in the arts who are willing to introduce visitors to their local network. At the moment there are 81 cities available on the website (and I'm very happy to see that Istanbul is among these). A good way to monitor quality in this case, explains Velthoven, is with feedback and comment. And for those who are really scared that internet is giving away all expertise for free, therefore killing real expertise (?!), Mediamatic Travel offers the possibility for tailored advice at a fee. For the first hour of a face-to-face consultation with a guide, Mediamatic proposes a basic fee of 45 € . After that, any further relation is to be negotiated between both parties.

Berlin based artist
Aram Bartholl has been exploring online visual culture in physical spaces throughout his work. "In which form does the network data world manifest itself in our everyday life? What returns from cyberspace into physical space? How do digital innovations influence our everyday actions?" are among the many questions his art work is based on and it includes online video games, social networking sites, google maps and more. "Reality is everything we experience," says Bartholl "We shouldn't describe it as digital versus analog."

And last but not least is
Dagan Cohen's Upload Cinema: "Bringing web films to the big screen." Cohen says that 25% of online search is film related and that we are living in the culture of the moving image. Upload Cinema is a film club that takes the best web films to the big screen. Every first Monday of the month they present a fresh program of inspiring and entertaining short movies from the internet. There is a new theme every month and the audience can submit films. The selection is made by an editorial team who then compiles a 90 minutes program to be screened in movie theaters and special venues. In Amsterdam, Upload Cinema has been showing their selection at the wonderful Uitkijk cinema and they are seeking for more spaces in every town they can. This initiative is a great example of bringing the internet to the "real" life, and even giving new life to sometimes forgotten small venues.

So I am definitely one who believes in the indefinite opportunities offered by the internet and the digital tools. Of course there will always be loads of "crap" -to quote Andrew Keen again, but at least I can choose not to watch or read it freely, and I can even share my opinion about it being "crap" if I want to, using the many feedback opportunities. Moreover, I can learn and build myself some expertise I may otherwise have never had. And this by no means excludes the possibilities and the necessity of having people with expertise supporting the makers and the audiences all along the way.

Image: Metahaven