Tuesday, May 27, 2008

An Interview with Christiane Paul, Sheila A. Malone

on Feb 12 2002 SWITCH issue 17

SWITCH's Sheila Malone talks to the Whitney's Christiane Paul about collaborative curation, autonomous identities, and the differences between European and American approaches to the showing of new media works.

SWITCH: As a curator of new media have you ever collaborated with other curators in the curatorial process? If so, what was the nature of this collaboration?

And, was it successful?

If not, do you think curators can collaborate? and what would a model of collaboration look like?

CP: So far, I haven’t had a collaboration with other curators where all responsibilities were shared. I was part of the curatorial team of the 2002 Whitney Biennial but despite our regular meetings and exchanges we were all mainly responsible for our own specific area. I think models for collaborative curation in the new media realm require a constant dialogue between curators and artists and a shared decision-making process when it comes to the presentation of the work, which mostly has no pre-determined physical manifestation. It is always “reinvented” and recontextualized for the physical space. Ultimately, possibilities for a productive collaboration are always a matter of personality and ego -- no medium will ever change that. If the process isn’t about the art itself and is mainly focused on proving one’s own brilliance, a collaboration can hardly be successful

SWITCH: In your opinion, does new media lend itself to a collaborative process/model(in terms of artists?)

CP: When it comes to new media art, a collaborative process and model is almost a necessity. This applies not only to the collaboration between curators and artists but also to collaboration among artists on specific projects. Some pieces require a whole team of programmers, designers, researchers et. al. In other projects, an artist sets certain parameters and collaborators create different (visual) manifestations of the work within these parameters.

SWITCH: Do you consider any kind of shared project collaboration? How is it different from an artist employing or contracting out skills and construction while remaining autonomous? i.e. Christo, Oldenberg....

CP: Personally, I’m most interested in collaboration (I find it boring to work mostly alone and for myself), and the fact that new media art is more participatory is one of the characteristics that attracts me to it. I think that the work process of the artist who “employs” people to build components etc. is very different from the one required for new media works. In some new media projects, artists become “producers” who work with a whole team of collaborators. In most of these cases, the collaborators aren’t playing the role of contractors but are very much involved in aesthetic decisions. New media art is a very hybrid medium and often demands expertise in very different fields, which one individual alone can hardly acquire.

SWITCH: As a curator what do you find is interesting art? (I know this is such a
mundane question, but really...) Are your interests as an individual the same
as your interests as the curator? Does the institution play a part in your

CP: I cannot come up with a definition of what constitutes “interesting art” for me (that would be similar to the endeavor of delivering the ultimate definition of art, which is a fluctuating concept in the first place). When it comes to new media, the works that I find most interesting are making intelligent, surprising, and aesthetically refined use of their medium. My interests as an individual and curator are at least very similar. As an individual, I probably allow myself more of an immediate emotional response to the work; as a curator, I tend to step back more and evaluate a work from as many different points of view as possible. The institution definitely influences my focus but this has a lot to do with the place new media occupies within the art world at this point in time. It is an art form that still hasn’t found an established place in the arts at large. Many people are still scared of computers, technology, and interfaces and do not understand the inherent possibilities of the medium. I could easily curate a show consisting of projects that I find very interesting, and it would turn out to be a complete “geekfest,” entirely inaccessible to a larger art audience. Curating for a museum, I am aware that I’m still introducing many people to this art form, so I strive to strike a certain balance, choosing projects that are accomplished as well as engaging and accessible.

SWITCH: Do you think Europe is more advanced in terms of embracing, developing,
and showing new media? If so, why do you think this is? If not, how is American New Media doing in terms of the gallery and museum?

CP: Europe certainly has more venues (quite a few of them well established) when it comes to showing this art, ranging from Ars Electronica, EMAF, DEAF, Viper and Transmediale (to name just a few) to museums such as ZKM and Kiasma. I don’t think that more of this art is being developed in Europe; the new media scene in the US is quite large and many of the artists have been showing at the venues mentioned above. There are a few galleries in the US that have consistently shown new media art but museums have only fairly recently begun to embrace the medium. In my opinion, this situation is largely due to economics and funding models. So far, there are no established economic models for selling this art, and commercial galleries obviously need to sell in order to survive. There is far more government and state funding in Europe while institutions in the US have to rely mostly on private and foundation support; they are more cautious when it comes to being adventurous and showing art that is hardly established and doesn’t necessarily have a huge box office draw.

SWITCH: Can you describe your personal and professional background in terms of
your current position at the Whitney? I mean what has led you into the art
world and more specifically into the New Media Curation.

CP: My original background is in academia, specifically American literature. I had done a lot of work on poststructuralism, and when hypertext began to catch on in the late 80s, early 90s, it seemed to literalize many of the theories of poststructuralism, so I started working with hypertext software. Hypertext was my entry point into “multimedia” / new media and when the WWW came into being, I was already deeply immersed in the background theory of this practice. I founded a magazine on new media arts called Intelligent Agent in 1995 and have been chronicling this type of art ever since. Before I officially became a curator, I often “consulted” for curators who were interested in new media work but not very familiar with this art practice.

SWITCH: Do you see any trends or movements in New Media in America? in New York?

CP: I’m always very careful when it comes to generalizations and so-called “trends.” Art that uses digital technologies as a medium can take so many different forms (ranging from interactive installations and networked installations to software art or purely Web-based art, among others). Even the term Internet art has become a broad umbrella for multiple forms of artistic expression that often overlap. There is art that has been created for and exists within the browser window; there are telepresence, telerobotics, and streaming media projects that establish telematic connections between remote places; there are performance and time-based projects that take place as actions within a specific time frame during which they can be experienced by Web visitors worldwide; there is hypertext that experiments with the possibilities of non-linear narrative; there are netactivism or “hacktivism” projects that use the network and its possibilities of instant distribution and cloning of information as a staging platform for interventions; there are alternative browsers, and there is software art that doesn’t make use of existing applications but is coded from scratch and distributed over the network. All of these forms are aesthetically very different and to distinguish certain “trends” is almost impossible. However, there are certain prominent themes and narratives within new media, among them data visualization and mapping, database aesthetics, gaming paradigms, agent technology etc. Currently, more and more works are being developed for nomadic devices, PDAs or cellphones, and I would expect that this art will experiment more with network structures that go beyond the static set-up of the CPU, monitor, and keyboard.

Above copied from: http://switch.sjsu.edu/nextswitch/switch_engine/front/front.php?artc=88

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