Saturday, March 1, 2008

Why Assembling (1973), Richard Kostelanetz

As an unreconstructed anarchist, I still must consider the solution of this issue [proprietary control of the media by the tribe of intermediary bureaucrats] easy, easy in theory, easy in practice; if we do not apply it, it is for moral reasons, sluggishness, timidity, getting involved in what is not one’s business, etc. The way to get rid of dummy intermediaries is by direct action.
—Paul Goodman, “The Chance for Popular Culture” (1949)

Assembling grew out of an oppressive crisis in avant-garde literary communication; for while experiments in writing seemed both possible and necessary, genuinely innovative manuscripts found increasing resistance from both book and periodical publishers. Assembling was established in 1970 by Henry James Korn and myself, two young writers who had known each other since childhood. Five years older than Korn, I was already a full-time freelance, hyperactive mostly as an essayist and anthologist. I discovered that, in contrast to my expository prose, my visual poetry and comparably eccentric fiction encountered considerably more difficulty in getting published. Even the best of these pieces seemed to take at least two years to get into any sort of public print (at which point, curiously, a few would be anthologized with remarkable speed); and I had good reason to suspect that, as often as not, the periodical editors accepting them were implicitly honoring, or flattering, my critical-anthological activities. The problem was scarcely personal, however, because other work in such veins, including much that I critically regarded as excellent, was similarly blocked. Korn, on the other hand, had produced some remarkably witty and inventive fictions, only one of which had ever been publicly published; and his work as a museum administrator made him aware of grave problems in cultural communication. I suppose that my own anthological experience also gave me a compiler’s passion for making available a goodly amount of avant-garde literary material that might otherwise be lost.
It also became clear, at the onset of U.S. publishing’s most severe recent depression, that commercial houses were less and less inclined to take risks with any kind of counter-conventional work and/or unestablished authors. Among the principal reasons are not only editorial ignorance and opacity but a gross rise in the costs of book production and the increasing profit-hunger of even the more “enlightened” publishing firms. The best seller has become their all-engrossing ideal, while interest in commercially more modest work, such as anything avant-garde or unknown, had declined dangerously. Only one one-man collection of visual poetry, for instance, has ever been commercially published in the United States, even though “concrete” is reportedly “faddish”; and since that single book, N. H. Pritchard’s The Matrix (1970), was neither reviewed nor touted, it seemed unlikely that any others would ever appear—another example of how the rule of precedent in literary commerce produces de facto censorship. Established literary periodicals, on the other hand, were dying or retrenching, while few of the new ones were open to experimental work. For several reasons, therefore, the future of avant-garde writing seemed increasingly doubtful.
In the preface to our initial issue, I noted:
As young writers of stylistically “different” poetry and prose, we faced not only the inevitable objections to our youth, but also the equally inevitable resistances to our wayward literary purposes. And so we wanted an institution that would publish alternative work by imaginative artists who genuinely believed in what they did. Since rejections often came with the excuse, particularly from those editors pretending to sympathy, that “our printer can’t handle this,” it seemed best to overcome this obstacle by direct action—by becoming one’s own publisher, which is more practicable in this era of photographic reproduction processes; for the oldest truth is that, when other demands are more pressing, the writer must do more than just write.
Somewhat influenced by a beautiful German book called Omnibus (1969), we hit upon what we think is the most appropriate structure for a cooperative self-publishing channel. In brief, Assembling invites writers and artists whom we know to be doing unusual work, which we broadly characterize as “otherwise unpublishable,” to contribute a thousand copies of up to four 8.5- by 11-inch pages of whatever they want to include. Since each contributor is responsible for arranging, by whatever means and funds available, for the production of his own work, he becomes his own sub-self-publisher, so to speak. There is no doubt that writers should usually be paid for what they do; but just as serious poets often give much of their work away gratis, so there are times when every artist feels it worth a few dollars and/or a little effort to put into public print a work that he likes but could not otherwise place. (Indeed, self-publication at such modest cost could stand as an ultimate test of creative seriousness—not just in Russia but in the United States too.) In practice, self-printing turns out to be less forbidding than it initially seems, for not only do academics have access to photocopy machines (and did one writer call upon a family printing business), but recently developed offset and Itek processes can commercially reproduce one side into a thousand sheets for less than ten dollars and both sides for less than fifteen. We advised our invited collaborators to put their names on their work, as we ran no table of contents, and to center their contributions toward the right, leaving at least an inch on the left-hand margin, because Assembling promised to collate the contents alphabetically and then return three bound books to each contributor. The remaining copies would ideally be sold through bookstores and the mails, hopefully defraying the costs of binding, mailing, etc.
Since all copyrights, which are the literary form of “property,” were returned to the contributors, Assembling could make no money from subsequent reprints; and once the thousand copies were gone, it would be impossible to “reprint” the entire issue.
Since both Korn and I were inclined to transcend the boundaries of writing, we opened the book to artists of all sorts. Our form letter invited “poetry, fiction, graphic art, designs, architectural proposals, or any other ideas adaptable to print.” As we were also trying to abolish the restricting prerogatives of editorial authority, we agreed to accept everything contributed by those invited. (Our invitation mentioned our “reserving the right to exclude a contribution for reasons unforeseen or in case of libel.” I was thinking of egregious slander when I wrote that, but it remains an option we have never considered exercising.) We abrogated editorial authority not because we were lazy but because we wanted a structural contrast to the “restrictive, self-serving nature of traditional editorial processes.” Since we are collators rather than true publishers, we customarily refuse requests to handle the printing, for necessity demands that counter-conventional writers learn some essential points about reproduction, such as discovering the method(s) most conducive to their particular work. As a result, each entry ideally represents the best that each contributor can do untouched (or unretouched) by grubby editorial hands. As “compilers” rather than true publishers, we also avoided the editorial pains (or pleasures) of rejecting anything, along with the anxiety of needing to fulfill a predetermined concept; and given the elasticity of our production methods, we never faced the predicament of accepting more material than could be “accommodated by our precious space.”
The only editorial control left to us was the invitation itself, so that just as unfamiliar would-be collaborators were asked to contribute examples of their work (before receiving an invitation), so a few contributors to one Assembling were not invited to the next. The almost paradoxical reason was not that we thought their work “no good,” whatever that might be, or that we wanted to impose a particular style or taste, but that we were obliged, in principle, to keep the medium committed to alternate, otherwise unpublishable imaginative work—a domain that was, to be sure, elastically defined. (None of these unreinvited people ever asked to contribute again, perhaps because of awe or disgust with the rest of the book; and none, to my knowledge, have founded their own collaborative periodicals.) “Don’t hesitate to send material that has made the editorial rounds,” our initial invitation said, “but remember that there’s a difference between manuscripts that are just too freaky to get published elsewhere and those that are simply not one’s own best work.” It continued: “The long-range goal of Assembling is opening the editorial/industrial complex to alternatives and possibilities. The short-range goal is providing the means for unpublished and unpublishable work to see print light, partly to see what kindred spirits and spooks are doing.” We also promised to type and print, at house expense, biographical notes, in part to introduce the contributors to each other.
Large cartons poured into our homes and post-office box during the summer, as our one hundred fifty invitations produced forty responses. Late in August, two months after our announced deadline, Korn and I rented a small panel truck and lugged a half ton of paper to a commercial collator (whose services cost us three hundred dollars). The bound books came back a few weeks later, and contributors’ copies were immediately put into the mail. (The post office remains an innocent collaborator in the development of experimental writing, for it is largely by posted print that most of its creators know each other’s work.) We sent possible reviewers a query, since available copies were so few; and though we honored all requests received, only four reviews appeared, three of them positive—in a Belgian new-poetry journal, a New York undergraduate newspaper, and a Detroit rock magazine. (The single negative notice rather dumbly criticized the absence of editorial authority!)
Our copyright line read: “(c) 1970 for automatic assignment with the printing of this notice to the individual contributors.” However, we subsequently discovered that this was invalid. Since copyrights must be connected to a particular name, it should have said: “(c) 1970 by Assembling Press. All rights reassigned to their respective authors upon request.” We also made the mistake of incorporating (which cost us another hundred), in part to protect against personal liabilities; but we later discovered that this precaution was unnecessary, as long as we published an editorial disclaimer (for “the views expressed herein”) on the title page. Indeed, since we eschewed editorial authority, responsibility for all material definitely belonged to the individual sub-publishers. We disincorporated simply by letting Gnilbmessa, Inc., which is assembling spelled backwards, die of bankruptcy. We also opened a checking account, which was both needlessly expensive and, in practice, rarely used.
The results of such self-publishing license not only confirmed our initial polemical point—both Assembling itself and most of its contents were unlike anything seen before—but the book also showed the possibilities and productivity available to society if artists were granted absolute creative freedom. Some pieces were poetry or fiction, while others were visual graphics or words mixed with pictures. Some contributors resorted to commercial reproductive processes (of varying quality), while a few used handpresses. Scott Hyde contributed an especially elegant multicolored photograph. Ed Ruscha’s contribution must have been individually hand-stained, as the shape of each brown blot was different. The well-known rock critic Richard Meltzer sent us, as he explained, “a thousand pages of all different shit (including the only copy of the only novel I ever wrote) so each one-page thing is gonna be a whole different show-stopper.” Some contributors exploited such anti-editorial opportunity to surpass their earlier work, such as the novelist Nancy Weber, whose handwritten story, “Dear Mother and Dad,” was subsequently anthologized. Others, like the poet David Ignatow, introduced work (an excerpt from his journals) that would later appear in a book. The stipulated page size became an inadvertent constraint, as one writer offered a thousand artistically doctored baseball cards, “each with a literary move.” We were embarrassed to tell him that the available collating machines could not handle such work.
What was most impressive about Assembling was the sheer variety of counter-conventional alternatives, as individual contributions could be roughly characterized as visual poetry, verbal poetry, abstract photography, playlets, minimal poetry, verbal collage, stream-of-consciousness narrative, representational graphics, picture-accompanied words, scenarios for happenings, sculptural documentation, personal journal, esthetic manifesto, etc.; for the hundred flowers blooming here were really different. A few pieces could best be termed “other”; and the only signature on one poem, its face suspiciously turned backwards, read “Richard M. Nixon.” The overall constraint of alphabetical order generated some peculiar juxtapositions that, in turn, made the whole book resemble a loony montage. It struck me afterwards that very few contributors portrayed sexual experience, partly because the liberties that artists now want to take and that are blocked by established channels, deal not with content but concept and form.
The contributions were uneven, to be sure, in both artistry and technology (printing quality), but such discrepancies epitomize Assembling’s characteristic style and integrity, as well as perhaps its charm. “If you don’t turn on to something,” one contributor noted, “all you have to do is turn the page.” Such blatant chaos marked Assembling as a counter-book or anti-book (though not a “non-book”) which nonetheless gains its cohering definition (which is approximately repeatable) from its unprecedented diversity. In my admittedly biased opinion, more than half of the material has been uncommonly interesting, while a few contributions are awesomely extraordinary. It is more important to judge that very few pieces, if any, would have otherwise gotten beyond private musing into public print. (Korn and I also awarded, in total secrecy, a booby prize to “that contribution most likely to have appeared elsewhere” and thus needing Assembling least—a rather fine story by a sometime contributor to the slicks.) Collaborators in the first Assembling included such eminences as the painters Edward Ruscha and Arakawa; the poets Robert Lax, Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop, Vito Acconci, and Bernadette Mayer; the playwright Lee Baxandall; the novelists Marvin Cohen, George Chambers, Arno Karlen, and Raymond Federman; the composer Arthur Layzer; the polyartists Liam O’Gallagher, Dan Graham, and Alan Sondheim; along with a few artist-writers making their initial public appearances.
Most of the contributors were pleased, not only with the collaborative concept but with individual works, so that we decided to do the book again in 1971. Second Assembling, as we called it, materialized out of nothing in response, like its predecessor, to a summer’s correspondence. Many of the same artists and writers joined us a second time—Elizabeth Ginsberg, Tom Ahern, Gay Beste, Jan Herman, Rosalie Frank, and Roni Hoffman; but more than half of the fifty-two contributors were new, including such eminences as the film-maker Stan VanDer Beek (who neglected, however, to send enough copies); the poets Robin Magowan, C. P. Graham, Tom Ockerse, and Ruth Krauss; the fictionists Russell Edson and M. D. Elevitch; and the polyartists Ken Friedman and Bern Porter. Michael Metz, a process-documenting artist who contributed to the first book, took charge of production for the second, not only designing a stunning cover (which, this time, wrapped around the spine), but also joining Korn and me as a “co-compiler.” And its preface became yet more assertive, if not strident, in part because the closure crisis had become more severe, but also because I had spent most of the previous year drafting The End of Intelligent Writing (1973). In the second preface, I said:
Anyone who gets [experimental] writing frequently into print is bombarded with requests for advice: Where can one publish? Who? Why not?
And while one could give specific suggestions before [in the sixties], now the answer is invariably “nowhere,” accompanied by a brief and inevitably bitter analysis of the current predicament .... The terrible point is not that “one can’t get published,” but that nobody is publishing anymore. The fresh fruits we bear are turning into sour grapes, while the only money falling from those trees of dollar bills is counterfeit and/or confederate; and terror of a kind rules the roost. As writers largely lead isolated lives and have excessively sensitive egos, they tend to take rejections as strictly personal; but when nearly everything in certain veins is kept unpublished, the problems are not individual but collective—and, thus, amenable to political, or more specifically literary-political, solutions. Since it would be naïve to solicit help from elsewhere, the initiative in introducing any New Art to the reading public must first of all come from the artists themselves. Our guiding rule in an acclimating task comparable to that confronting Ezra Pound and his allies sixty years ago must be this: WHATEVER NEEDS TO BE DONE, WE, AS WRITERS, SHALL PROBABLY HAVE TO DO OURSELVES.
After years of courting established publishers on behalf of experimental writing—not only my own but that by others—I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that more than half of the consequential literature produced in this country today remains unpublished. The more closely one examines the situation, the clearer it becomes that only temporary idiosyncrasy or lapse can explain the commercial release of such genuinely innovative works as Pritchard’s The Matrix and Eecchhooeess (1971) , Richard Horn’s Encyclopedia (1969), Madeline Gins’s Word Rain (1969), Kenneth Gangemi’s Olt (1969), Raymond Federman’s Double or Nothing (1971), G. S. Gravenson’s The Sweetmeat Saga (1971). Indicatively, most of these consequential novels came from smaller commercial publishers. But it is a more telling fact that some of the past decade’s most important American avant-garde texts were self-published: Edward Ruscha’s widely admired picture books (especially Thirty-Four Parking Lots [1967]), Dick Higgins’ Jefferson’s Birthday/Postface (1964) and Foew&ombwhnw (1969), Russell Edson’s The Brain Kitchen (1965), John Giorno’s Raspberry (1967), Charles Henri Ford’s Spare Parts (1968), Dan Graham’s End Moments (1969), Wally Depew’s Once (1971), Vito Acconci’s Book Four (1968), among others .
“Ahead of us, especially if the censorship presently implicit in the editorial/industrial complex becomes complete,” my second preface concludes, “is a writing situation comparable to that current in Soviet Russia, where nearly everything consequential is Samizdat, which means ‘self-published,’ and circulated from hand to hand. The practice of experimental writing in America is thus coming to resemble private research, like that in science, where new discoveries are first announced on stapled photocopies mailed to one’s professional friends rather than trying to generate a demand for his product.” We did a Third Assembling in 1972 with over ninety contributors, most of whom, once again, had not contributed before; and we expect to do a fourth in 1973.
Assembling has set an initial stone in the implicit edifice of International Cooperative Self-Publishing—a growing, unorganized, artistic movement that includes Dana Atchley’s comparably pioneering Space Atlas (1970,1971), which was done with the help of art students at the University of Victoria, British Columbia; Ely Raman’s 8 x 10 Art Portfolio, which began in lower Manhattan in 1971; and Jerry Bowles’ Art Work, No Commercial Value (Grossman, 1972). Notwithstanding similar concepts in editorial production, these media differ in several crucial respects. Atchley collates his hundred-plus contributions into two hundred fifty loose-leaf clipbooks and sends two apiece back to the contributors, thus having nothing left to sell; and he has recently taken to traveling the country, collecting spare work in one place (usually academic) and then, like Johnny Appleseed, distributing it gratis elsewhere. This extraordinary service implicitly extends his earlier aim of open-ended, unfettered artist-to-artist communication with a different kind of inseminating activity.
Raman’s periodical, which appears sporadically, asks for only two hundred copies of one’s text, returning two cardboard folders apiece to the thirty-or-so contributors and then selling off the rest to subscribers, who are asked to pay what they can. Bowles’ one-shot resembles Raman’s and Atchley’s in favoring graphics over literary (or post-literary) work, and its large loose-leaf binding was issued, to much publicity and after a gallery-sponsored collating party, by a commercial publisher that, even though it minimally reimbursed its paper-producing contributors, expected to make a profit. Thus, Assembling has three clear distinctions: its literary emphasis (in response to an initially literary predicament); its ideological underpinnings (elaborated in the prefaces—a feature indicatively lacking in the others); and its stapled binding, which we feel creates the sense of a fortuitous community united in process, though disparate in style.
What is most important about all these media, in spite of difference, is their common anti-authoritarian structure—quite literally, a participatory democracy that successfully redistributes both initiative and responsibility. In addition to epitomizing the humanist theme of ultimate self-determination, this collaborative concept represents, in my opinion, an important development in literary communication, precisely because it transcends “dummy intermediaries,” and it has a further advantage of easy imitation. (Its commercialization also signals a certain, perhaps dubious success that probably explains why Bowles’ enterprise rejected a duly submitted contribution, albeit an outrageous one, that went instead into Third Assembling.) In the mail recently came Clone, which is comparably produced by students at the Rhode Island School of Design, and another pile of unbound pages from British art students, along with independent invitations to send self-published packets to Holland, Germany, and Italy.
Unless the crisis in literary communications is radically solved, it seems likely that self-publishing, both individually and collaboratively, will continue to be necessary and respectable, and xerography paper may at times become more honorific than letterpress printing. Especially since the means of production have become more accessible, the pressing problem now, for all alternative publishing, is how to distribute the results beyond one’s immediate acquaintances (or mailing list). The best solution is so obvious it remains visionary: a national network of art-conscious wholesalers and retailers capable of handling small, probably slow-moving quantities. At last count, the enterprise has cost us several hundred dollars that we can theoretically recoup.
We were pleased to discover that Assembling has been read, not only by fellow contributors (who comprise a most ideal audience) but by its purchasers; and even those who browse in literary bookstores. The last tell me that they were intrigued by a subtitle that reads, “A Collection of Otherwise Unpublishable Creative Work” and they quickly discovered that the book’s contents are, at minimum, clearly unlike anything they had read/seen before. There are good reasons to believe, as I wrote elsewhere, “that the magazine’s distinctiveness caused it to be enthusiastically possessed, if not securely lodged within the imaginative memories of many readers; for as the anthropologist Edmund Carpenter observed, “It is one of the curiosities of a new medium, a new format, that at the moment it first appears, it’s never valued; but it is believed.’” Most important, in our judgment, is Assembling’s realization, simply by existing, of our initial threefold commitment to individual opportunity, unhindered communication, and creative adventurousness, for both the contents and its structure finally reflect values intended by, and hopefully intrinsic to, the process. Behind such a cordial gathering of genuine idiosyncrasy is a freedom and anarchy I personally find exemplary. “Assembled we stand,” runs our reiterated motto, “disassembled we fall,” and for the Third Assembling I added: “POWER TO THE PEOPLE WHO DO THE WORK.”

Above copied from:

l'Age d'Or, Luis Bunuel. Salvador Dali, 1930

L'Âge d'or (1930, France, 63 mins)

L'Âge d'or: faux-raccord (false match) by Sophy Williams

Prod: Le Vicomte de Noailles, (Pierre Braunberger) Dir: Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dali Photography: Albert Dubergen Editor: Buñuel Art Dir: Schilzneck Music: Buñuel

Cast: Gaston Modot, Lya Lys, Max Ernst, Pierre Prévert, Cardidad de Laberdesque

In this age of so-called prosperity, the social function of L'Âge d'or must be to urge the oppressed to satisfy their hunger for destruction and perhaps even to cater for the masochism of the oppressor.

In spite of all the threats to suppress this film, we believe that it will win out in the end and open new horizons in a sky which can never match in beauty that sky it showed us in a mirror.(1)

As legend has it, Buñuel and production team collected fifty scorpions for the opening sequence of L'Âge d'or, however, they never actually managed to shoot the intended sequence which, on the final version, is made up of 'found footage'. This is taken from a documentary called Le scorpion languedocien, produced by the Éclair Company in 1912.(2) Buñuel had heard that scorpions commit suicide when surrounded by a circle of fire, and a shot of this appears in the original shooting script.(3) As an idea, though, it resonates through the entire film.

L'Âge d'or is a destructive and anarchic response to the strategies of containment and repression of what the surrealist movement of the late 1920s considered the corrupt technological age. The film was so scandalous in its first weeks that a group of incensed members of the League of Patriots and the Anti-Semitic League threw ink at the screen, assaulted members of the audience and destroyed art work by Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst and others on display in the foyer. The film was soon banned. Part brilliant social commentary, part rebellious schoolboy prank, the film leaves us no choice but to pick through the fragments left by its explosive power.

Four bishops decompose on the rocks. The leader of a dilapidated group of bandits (played by Ernst) cries "To arms!" Yet instead of an invading army, subsequent shots reveal a seemingly benign horde of Majorcan civilians in smart street clothes swarming over the rocks like ants. We study humans as an entomologist would study insects. As our sorry band of delirious troops die one by one, the futility of their battle becomes apparent. What need of fighting when their enemy is self-devouring?

On the strength of their surrealist masterpiece, Un Chien Andalou, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí were commissioned by Marie-Laurie and Charles de Noailles in 1929 to make another short film. The Noailles, owners of a private cinema on the Place des États-Unis, had previously helped in the productions of Jacques Manuel, Man Ray and Pierre Chenal.(4) This time they had sound to play with, thanks to Tobis-Klang. The result is a hybrid of silent and sound film, with some extraordinary experimentation. Wagner, Debussy and Mendelssohn are juxtaposed with the Good Friday Drums of Calanda. Buñuel speaks of this drumming in My Last Sigh (5):

When two groups beating two different tempi meet on one of the village streets, they engage in a veritable duel which may last as long as an hour - or at least until the weaker group relents and takes up the victor's rhythm. By the early hours of Saturday morning, the skin on the drums is stained with blood, even though the beating hands belong to hardworking peasants. (21)

Majorcans = corrupt nobility. Drums = working-class sincerity.

The couple, known as 'The Man' and 'The Woman'and played by Gaston Modot and Lya Lys, are torn apart by the Church, bourgeous social codes and dramatic oedipal conflicts within themselves. Throughout the film, the pair are forced to defer the consummation of their passion, which leads to all sorts of erotic displacements. The most famous example of this process of fetishisation is in the scene where Lys performs fellatio on the marble toes of the statue of Venus. However, my personal favorite is the sequence where Modot becomes transfixed by various advertising images in the street. In a Barthesian comedy of errors, these signs of commercial mass-production transform into highly-charged masturbatory images in the mind's eye of our anthropomorphite, Modot.

L'amour fou (crazy love) conflicts with decency.

In a sudden fit of rage, Modot, the frustrated lover, stamps on a humble beetle. Later, this action is mimicked by the passer-by who takes his rage out on a violin. The beetle and the violin are characterised by the carapace, the smashing of which was one of the optimum goals of surrealism. Smash the shell and let the demons spill out, the symptoms of insane logic.

Modot strikes Lys' mother, the Marquess of X, after she spills a drink on his hand. We are reminded of Dalí's 'Sometimes I Spit for Pleasure on my Mother's Portrait'. Freud out of control - misread - celebrated.

The Minister of the Interior's sudden death leaves his body inexplicably plastered to the ceiling. In an orgasmic moment, Lya Lys exclaims "What joy to have murdered our children!" We recall an earlier scene where a Gamekeeper cuddles his son, then following the boys misbehaviour, takes pot shots at him with a revolver.

The 'feudal' drummers hold their duel/ the scorpion devours the rat/Lya Lys-as-praying-mantis destroys Modot. Max Ernst's drawing of a praying mantis appears in the program of the screening at Studio 28.

Buñuel continually manipulates time, space and mise en scène to pervert the logic of narrative continuity (6). His structuring device is the faux raccord, mismatches that produce oneiric, transformed images of reality. However, Hollywood is not far away. In a homage to U.S. silent comedy, a toy giraffe comes flying out of a window, Modot kicks a small dog, who, incidentally, must have survived this trauma, as he remained a family pet at the Buñuels' house. His name, by the way, was 'Dalou'.

L'Âge d'or has shocked, repelled and scandalised cinema-goers for seventy years now. This kind of relentless assault on the repressive social strategies of the bourgeoisie can be seen more recently in films like Dogme 1 - Festen/The Celebration (1998). As we glimpse the beauty of a sky reflected, the film catapults us into the present day. Looking around, such impulses still seem cogent. While l'amour fou does not conquer all in L'age d'or, it is the possibility of this love forever deferred that continues to surface as resistance. Even now.

© Sophy Williams 2000

Sophy Williams has tutored and lectured in Cinema Studies at La Trobe University. She is currently completing a Master of Arts by research.


(1) From the manifesto written and illustrated by the surrealist group included in the original programme of L'Âge d'or. See Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. L'Âge d'or and Un Chien Andalou: Films by Luis Buñuel. Trans. Marianne Alexandre. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968. 8.

(2) Hammond, Paul. L'Âge d'or. London: BFI Publishing, 1997. 7.

(3) Buñuel, Luis and Salvador Dalí. L'Âge d'or and Un Chien Andalou: Films by Luis Buñuel.11.

(4) See Hammond, p. 36.

(5) Buñuel, Luis. My Last Sigh. Trans. Abigail Israel. New York: Vintage Books, 1983.

(6) Lyon, Elisabeth H. "Luis Buñuel: The Process of Dissociation in Three Films." Cinema Journal. 8.1 (1973): 45-8.

Proposals for Creative Research: Introduction to the MyCreativity Reader, Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter

We are pleased to present the MyCreativity Reader on international creative industries research. Our interest in MyCreativity has been to assemble a range of expertise and experiences that signal the diversity of creative industries. It’s been clear to us that – within policy and academic circles at least – creative industries operate as a meme that mobilises expectations. The term provokes an interesting range of human responses, from curiosity to outrage and disgust. Creative industries are not simply an empty signifier that grafts on to anything you please. There are contours and forces that guide the creative industries meme in some directions, and not others. We cannot take for granted what ‘creative industries’ means and consists of.

Creative industries are a contested zone in the making. While policy draws on a set of presuppositions around the borderless nature of cultural and economic flows, situated creativity is anything but global. Concepts are always contextual. The MyCreativity project intends to play an active part in shaping critical trajectories in the field by introducing overlooked aspects to creative practice and research. MyCreativity seeks to articulate creative industries as ‘concrete research’ (Tronti). This requires active invention but we also need to reply to the invitation. Pressing delete does nothing to rebuild and transform prevailing agendas. In this case the decision to ignore can lead to ignorance.

Creative industries has an ambition to hardwire its concepts into infrastructure. Policy leads to urban development, employment conditions, flows of economic investment, border movements, and so on. The macro dimension operating here is simply too big to set aside. You will be affected whether you like to not. So press that delete button, but do so at your own peril. Policy as a genre isn’t exactly bedtime reading. It’s all too easy to ignore for that reason. But like any game, rules can always be broken. Where is the cheat-sheet for creative industries policy?

Governments are slowly acknowledging the human dimension to climatic change, but there is still a remarkable indifference by creative workers to connect their own conditions to the shaping effects of ministerial directives. It seems totally bizarre that many seem to have a non-secular version of working life. No matter how alien it appears, policy does not drift down from the heavens.

Yet so often policy seems to have forgotten its own material constitution and reason of existence. Why, for instance, have the experiences and conditions of creative workers been ignored in the policy realm for so long? This is no accident. Policy formation has been notable for its monopoly of expectations. But it’s the view of MyCreativity that a threefold shift is happening within the creative industries:

1) a policy environment is slowly being forced to address the non-deliverables of incubator investment and corporate welfarism;

2) variable, not homologous, conditions of creative work exist within specific locations, values and geopolitical forces;

3) methodologies arise out of a will to collaborate, despite the many cultural, economic, geographic and in some cases technological obstacles.

In our view, such developments should be supported and further accelerated through policy measures, which for too long now have resulted in research that holds little correlation to the actually existing changes going on in the creative industries. The question is how to intervene in a policy debate? This is the predicament of militant research. Who is listening beyond the ghetto? Activist research requires its own 2.0 model of concept distribution. This is how the space of policy can be penetrated from the margins. (And, it must be said, this is also how the unpaid masses might do the work of policy formation – in the same way that gamer-geeks voluntarily engage the pleasure of game modification for industrial beneficiaries. ) The trick, however, is to speed up the percolation of ideas, issues and politics that inform the practice of not just creative producers but also potential funders, clients, government policy-makers and citizen- consumers. We are not talking about the harmonization of interests among ‘stakeholders’. It is a mistake to not recognize conflictual collaboration as the primary means through which ideas and innovation are generated. The challenge is to build relations and points of connection that enable a plurality of research platforms and small business initiatives that can survive beyond the initial consensus model of three month incubators.

Zero Standards and the Policy Parade
The greatest struggle of policy-making within the creative industries has been to address the crisis of old structures associated with the industrial age. While Marx’s poetic maxim ‘all that is solid melts into air’ described a certain power of Modernity, it is not the case that modern institutions and industries rise phoenix like from the ashes of industrial collapse brought about by just-in-time production associated with the global division of labour and the informatisation of social relations. Who, we might ask, are the stakeholders of creative industries? In the Richard Florida approach it all becomes a question of engineering the right bottom-up climate, infrastructure or conditions for revitalising collapsed cities and regions. In this paradigm, creative industries policy is about creating circumstances conducive to the sign of the knowledge or information economy. In the end, the creative industries formula serves to maintain an artificial stability around a workable definition. In this monopoly of the sign we find a great disjuncture with the actual conditions and needs of the real existing creativity.

What if you do not fit into the statistical regime of governance that determines productivity and conformity to policy within the creative industries? Even if you do fit in, are you aware of this? Do hairdressers in Rotterdam know they are included as a creative sector, but if they are in The Hague they are not? This not only brings any sense of a national creative industries policy into disarray, but it also undermines any coherence of the index-mania across the cool creative cities of the world. Standards simply do not exist. These indices are an attempt to account for local vitality in an age of massive contingency. By making visible the industrial sectors of creativity and their contribution to GDP, policy aims to bootstrap creativity as an economic force in its own right. Creative industries do not follow the multi-national corporate model of locating in places of the cheapest labour. The surplus value of creativity cannot be so easily calculated. Why does Nokia research leave creative Los Angeles for the even more expensive city of London? This is hardly an economic decision. Both are global cities according to Saskia Sassen’s definition. But California has suffered from the restrictions on creative imagination as a result of the post-911 fallout and the trickle down effect of the Bush regime. This should be a clear reminder that we do not yet inhabit a post-national world.

The other key factor at work has to do with the proximity of innovation in California to the materiality of failed business models left over from the dotcom era. The quest for a killer-app business model is simply not there. The peer-to-peer formats of production are fantastic, for sure. But there is no redistribution of absent revenues to creative producers. This contradiction inside digital capitalism is only further accelerating and takes us in to unknown territories. There will be no Hegelian synthesis in which the aspiring billions make money through ‘friends’. The creative industries policy appeals to the rationality of intellectual property regimes as the primary means of profit generation. But again, this does nothing as far as economic benefits for creative producers. There is an economic model for creative workers but it no longer figures around the exchange value of the commodity object. Instead, it is based on creativity as a service model. You go and perform your concerts, you install a company’s IT requirements, you design viral memes, you wait on a restaurant table. There is a logic of equivalence at work here, but it’s not going to make you rich fast. If anything, it’s going to rapidly sap any creative juices out of you.

Who is the Creative Subject?
How to make visible and furnish discursive legitimacy for subjects hitherto not addressed within the majoritarian language of creative industries policy? This is both an economic and a social-political problem. Much like any power game, creative industries discourse is about who is in and who is out. That much is obvious. What is at stake is whether or not creative industries discourse is able to escape the hype reminiscent of the dotcom era and massively redistribute government support to those undertaking real invention and experimentation. No more handouts for Big Media and mediocre consultants.

Corporations and mainstream media are hardly innovators of creativity, yet they remain the primary recipients of government welfare. Despite the ‘victory’ of the incubator model, it is not as though there is a shortage of ‘best practices’ out there. Where is the venture capital for fashion designers? Certainly, biotech holds its attractions on the share-market, but what of the ‘long tail’ of design economies? In other words, what is required are distributive and flexible systems of funding for creative practitioners. In this way, we would begin to see a synergy between the digital technologies of communication and the technics of cultural production. It is clear to us that there is little chance of sustainability in the current system that continues to think that creative economies can be grafted onto modern systems and institutions of governance.

The current institutional arrangements continue to think the docile dog can learn a new trick. Yes, ‘We need to be more creative’. But this agenda is way too convenient. It takes comfort precisely in its refusal to admit disruptive agencies that intervene or straight out ignore bureaucratic directives. This is why creativity cannot be ordered and very often it cannot be incorporated. Deviation has always been a problem of governance. We need a creative subject who is neither a citizen nor a consumer. Web 2.0 makes loud noises about the false synthesis of the so-called ‘prosumer’, but this does not get us very far other than reiterating the logic of individualisation.
There is no subject per se of creative industries. Rather, there is a diverse and continuously modulating culture of self-valorisation and perhaps auto-denigration. There is a celebration of the multiple identity – you are many, and will never have the security of being one. And this often means you are nobody. We wish to retrieve self-valorisation as a productive concept that grants legitimacy and possible stability to collaborative practice. Such a move is necessary, particularly in an institutional environment that shows few signs of departing from the script of modern governance struggling to engage the complexities of knowledge and information economies. This leads to the difficult question of alternative business models outside of government funding.

Free Culture Costs Money
There is no universal recommendation or model for practitioners in the creative industries. Creative practice consists of what Spivak terms ‘irreducible idiomatics’ of expression. One size does not fit all, in other words. You wouldn’t spot this if you limited your reading list to government policy, however. A universal definition does exist within this realm: creative industries consists of ‘the generation and exploitation of intellectual property’. In all seriousness, how many creative practitioners would call themselves producers, let alone financial beneficiaries, of intellectual property? Most probably don’t even know what IP means. We must redefine creative industries outside of IP generation. This is the dead-end of policy. When understood as ‘the generation and exploitation of intellectual property’, creative industries registers the ‘banal evil’ of policy mentalities, and assumes people only create to produce economic value. There needs to be a balance between alternative business models and the freedom to commit senseless acts of creativity. The tension between these two constituent realities is what needs to be investigated.

There are also severe limits to the ‘open cultures’ model that stems from libertarian and open sources cults. The free culture model is essentially a North American libertarian view of the world in its own image. European activists are quick to reproduce this and, in avoiding the question of money trails and connections, also avoid engaging key actors and issues that comprise ‘the political’ of information society and knowledge economies. Taken as a Will to Conformity, free culture serves as a political retreat that parades as radical self-affirmation.
Touching the auto-erotic drive to create without purpose, collaboration and the anarchistic rubric of mutual aid escapes these endless chains of re-appropriation. But they lack suspicion of instrumental intentionalism. These issues were the topic of a recent thread on the MyCreativity mailing list following a posting of a report in Spiegel magazine ranking Berlin as the number one ‘creative class’ city based on classic Floridarian indicators: in this case, what has been termed the ‘3T’s’ – Talent, Technology and Tolerance. The seductive power of such indicators inspires the proliferation of hype-economics, transporting Berlin from a ‘poor but sexy’ city to an economic nirvana populated by cool creative types. But the problem with such index obsession is that it functions through circumscription and the exclusion of a broader range of economic indicators that contradict such scenarios. In its 2007 city-ranking review, WirtschaftsWoche (Economic Weekly) undertook a comparison of 50 German cities according to employment, income, productivity and debt. Berlin came in at number 48. What does this say about Berlin’s 3T’s of creative economy? You can only conclude that the correspondence between indices and material realities are best left for policy fictions – despite all the groovy building sites along the Spree river.

Indicators never end. Any number of permutations is possible. But government policy-makers and corporate beneficiaries are rarely keen to promote a negative future-present. It is precisely these sorts of reasons that necessitate the counter-research advocated by MyCreativity. Media theorist and activist Matteo Pasquinelli proposes an analysis based on a Negative Index:

“Actually what I see is the risk of a ‘Barcelonisation’ of Berlin, named after the touristic turn of Barcelona that transformed its cultural and political heritage into a theme-park for a young rich global class. The legendary Berlin underground is under the process of a slow gentrification (you can gentrify even ‘intangible assets’). ‘Barcelonisation’ means a parasitic economy and not a productive one, an economy based on real-estate speculation and passive exploitation of natural resources (sun and good food for example): is such an economy ‘creative’, productive? Is that a model we can apply to Berlin? Still the most affordable capital of Europe (especially East Berlin), some think that the speculative mentality will never conquer Berliners as they are used to [cheap] rent and live on social housing. Will Berlin’s cultural industries develop a ‘parasitic’ economy based on speculation, local consumption and imported capitals or a productive economy based on production of knowledge/cultural and exportation of immaterial products? And what will be the impact of the Media Spree speculation ( on the East Berlin cultural ecosystem?”

An army of sociologists and cultural researchers is slowly assembling around questions such as these. The creative industries meme dominates research funding calls in the humanities, after all. But don’t expect to read the results too easily – they come at a cost as well, with the vast majority of academics happily transferring their results of state-funded research into commercial publishing houses that charge crazy fees for access to their journals. Organization and management researcher Steffen Böhm responded in reflexive style to Pasquinelli: ‘I think it would be good to understand the process of how activists (like people on this list) and the communicational economy that this list is part of is the very vehicle that helps to create a speculative bubble around certain issues/places/things/symbols. In other words, how is it that critics of the system become the “driver” of the restructuring and transformation of that very system, enabling it to capture new forms of re-production?’.

Böhm attributes an influential power to critics and their capacity to shape the creative economies that is debatable. It is less the case of critics becoming drivers of bubble economies as it is the rise of cheap airlines determining markets for easy consumption. But he is correct to observe that critics and activists are agents within what he elegantly terms the ‘communicational economy’ of creative industries. How, though, to maximise this critical potential in ways that do have concrete impacts on the development of creative industries research and policy formation? As we noted earlier, can there be a 2.0 model for concept generation that goes beyond the easyJet mobility of the commuting class, boozing masses and conference circuits?

MyCreativity is first of all a call for the exchange of ideas, methodologies and collaborative constitution. Efforts at transdisciplinary research are really important here. The collective input of artists, designers, academics, policy-makers and activists is crucial. General concept development and detailed case studies are not a contradiction. Empirics interpenetrates concepts, and vice-versa. Of course we can’t take such research collaboration for granted. Not only are there considerable disciplinary and paradigmatic differences to negotiate, but there are also the banal practicalities of assembling people in a particular place in order to meet. Not everything can happen online. Beyond mailing lists and collaborative blogs, perhaps networked academies and distributed think-tanks are models for accommodating future critical research on creative industries. This reader could become one of many iterations of critical anthologies, just as the MyCreativity event in Amsterdam, November 2006, might register as a node among many similar events.


‘Berlin Tops Germany for “Creative Class”’, Spiegel, 10 October, 2007,,1518,510609,00.html.

‘Die erfolgreichsten Städte Deutschlands’, WirtschaftsWoche, 2007,,pt=self,si=1.html.

Böhm, Steffen. ‘Re: [My-ci] Correction – Berlin Tops Germany for “Creative Class”’, posting to mycreativity mailing list, 18 October, 2007,

Kücklich, Julian. ‘Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry’, Fibreculture Journal 5 (2005),

Pasquinelli, Matteo. ‘Re: [My-ci] Berlin Tops Germany for “Creative Class”’, posting to mycreativity mailing list, 15 October, 2007,

for the full My Creativity Reader see:

The above copied from:

Between representation and social interaction: Fluxus intermedia and dialogic form on the Internet, Carol-Ann Braun

This paper will discuss the appropriateness of the word “intermedia” as it applies to art on Internet. Our approach is grounded in art history and in the social sciences. First popularized by members of the art movement Fluxus, intermedia questions the procedural and conceptual barriers between medium, genre and media practices. In so doing it breaks down the roles
traditionally attributed to author, object and spectator in the production and the reception of works of art. We argue that Fluxus aesthetics set the stage for today’s web artists. The word intermedia, however, resists being applied to a single, networked medium. To understand the contradictory pre-digital and digital uses of the term, we proceed in inter-related steps. We compare the initial context for intermedia with the material parameters that structure art on the Internet. Several examples help understand emerging dialogic forms of representation, which include networks of “wreaders” acting on and authoring shared texts. Thus, we discern the premises for a new post-photographic aesthetic situated at the junction of representation and social interaction.

“Intermedia” is an interesting alternative to the word “multimedia,” implying more than the juxtaposition of materials and art forms within a single work. The term was first used to describe artistic experiments led by a loose-knit group of artists from Europe and America who called themselves “Fluxus.” At its beginnings primarily oriented towards music, intermedia quickly
includes literary, theatrical, and visual elements, evolving into what are known today as “Events” and “Aktions.”

Dick Higgins, one of the founding members of Fluxus, first used the term intermedia in the early sixties. He was adamant about the innovative nature of the term. In a more recent interview, Higgins compares multimedia and intermedia: “To me the difference between intermedia and multimedia is that with intermedia there is a conceptual fusion, and you can’t really separate out the different media in an integral way.” ( Art, Performance, Media, 201) Unlike opera, where music, text and décor can be identified separately, the elements contributing to an intermedial work are inseperable, fused at their very inception. Higgins cites the work of Philip Corner and John Cage, “intermedium between music and philosophy”; or Joe Jones’s self-playing instruments, “ intermedium between music and sculptures”; or the constructed poems of Emmett Williams and Robert Filliou “intermedium between poetry and sculpture.” (Foew&ombwhnw 29) Intermedia—open, in “flux,” and dead-set against the well-known “isms” of the history of art—melds aspects of different disciplines and media. In so doing, intermedia breaks down the roles traditionally attributed to author, object, and spectator in the production and the reception of works of art.

At first, the term intermedia does seem to apply to the medley of interactive forms co-existing on the web: photographs, paintings, music, and videos all share a common digital matrix. But is this “matrix” a medium or a combination of media? For that matter, what is a “digital” medium? On a computer, for example, what we call a digital photograph is not truly a photograph. It is the coded image of a photograph. Nothing can guarantee that it is the product of a single "click of the shutter" and transfer of light onto film. It floats behind a screen, independently of chemistry, paper, surface, and grain. The repercussions of this shift are fundamental. What we continue to call a photograph is in fact just an image, difficult to distinguish from any other image. It is likely to have been assembled seamlessly from scanned fragments "processed" with a software package—the very same software package used to touch up, imperceptibly, various other image- renderings. Photography has been gutted of its material and procedural specificity. It has, to quote Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin, been "re-mediated" and it must be understood in an entirely new context of production and reception.

In order to understand this complex overlapping of past and present media practices, we will proceed in three steps. First, we will define intermedia in its original art historical context. Next, we will relate the term to the Internet’s coded sign-systems via detailed analyses of websites that address issues raised by Fluxus. Indeed, the word requires clarifying—as do the terms at its root, “inter” and “media,” both problematic when applied to networked, digital representations on the Internet. Third, we will analyze the new “dialogic forms” which emerge from the cross between representation and social interaction, so characteristic of the Internet today.

Fluxus: the medium/genre/media dynamic
“I want to locate much of the social implications of what is being done in the arts within the larger, social flow,” writes Higgins (Postface, preamble ii). The questions raised by intermedia concern how works are made, seen, and transmitted. Intermedia addresses the expectations people bring to representation as a whole, addressing issues of audience, distribution, and content in the wake of mass media. Naim June Paik’s TV Clock (1963) consists of twenty-four TV monitors lined up on a gallery floor; each contains images compressed into a single line; each line is rotated to suggest the hands of a clock representing each hour of the day. Here, Paik parodies the idea of distributed content, grouping devices usually seen individually. He upsets the public’s expected reception of a given technology and its standard use. By treating television as a plastic medium, Paik imposes a strictly formal, abstract manner of looking at communication. Higgins qualifies this recombination of media and related practices as the reation of a “super-ordinaire genre.” Intermedia stretches beyond “ordinary” limitations imposed by any single genre in any given medium.

Temporal and spatial dislocations of traditional modes of representation are not new to the art world. When photography first imposed itself as a medium, it not only challenged established notions of "truth" and "beauty,” it also compelled artists to wonder about how to paint and how to sculpt. However thick the brushwork, the impressionist “moment” is influenced by the photographic click of the shutter. More extreme, Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings are one continuous “roll,” blending painterly process and cinematographic temporality. And when the sculptor Richard Serra throws molten lead against the wall of his studio, his “imprinted forms” blend the painterly, the sculptural and the photographic, all in one. Much twentieth-century art combines the roles and procedures of several artistic disciplines within the same given work. In its most extreme form, however, Fluxus intermediality is both unprecedented and difficult to grasp. Strictly speaking, medium and genre are not comparable. A sonnet is not a paper page; a sitcom is not a TV set. Conflating the two means jumbling the factors traditionally associated with the production of any work of art and the factors associated with its distribution and reception. Fluxus brings a priori unrelated notions of gesture, gaze, and process to bear on each other. In an article entitled “What is . . . ? ,” Eric Andersen writes: “Inter Media rejects art and communication as production .” (par. 4) Here, process is not limited to formal and material considerations. On the contrary, it is predicated on the existence of an ideational space independent of any material incarnation. Fluxus intermediality is “supra-medial.”

Systems, scores, and the world at large
A Fluxus event begins with a set of instructions inscribed on paper. The principle is borrowed from music: Fluxus artists write a “score,” to be interpreted; the resulting event is fleeting, impermanent, limited to the length of an “event”. Scores—not bound by specific material constraints—allow for the blending of real, imaginary, and symbolic registers. For example, in Tablet 3 from Gloss for an Unknown Language (Notebooks 1958), the sculptor George Brecht proposes an “image formed by a moving object for the duration of one breath.” (qtd in Antin, par. 2). Here, the artist refrains from any “willful imposition of details” (Foew&ombwhn 47). What sort of object? Moving in what direction? And according to whose breath? “The real innovation lies in the emphasis on the creation of a system,” adds Higgins (Foew&ombwhnw 48). The system, both precise in its structure but open to interpretation, situates itself above any specific material incarnation. “It cannot by definition be categorized as a thing, only as methods.” (Anderson, par 4) In effect, a Fluxus art work is a process caught between “two radical extremes, where the extremity of one position, i.e., the extreme generality of an instruction for an event, by necessity pushes into the opposite position i.e., the extreme specificity of the realization of the instruction” (Ina Blom, qtd. in Clavez 242). Indeed, Fluxus score is both sufficient unto itself yet incomplete, explicitly open to input by the participants of the ensuing event.

Surely conscious of the effect of his words at a time when American formalism was at its peak, Higgins writes that “the specificity which is of value, then, is whatever most efficiently defines the artist’s intentions in as many ways as possible” (Feow&ombwhnw 69). Here, the keyword is “intent.” Intent does not spring whole from the mind of the artist, to be immortalized in bronze. Intent is suspended, floating, indeterminate until performed. With Fluxus, reception is a form of production. Not only is interpretation “active” in the Bakhtinian sense, but it places the spectator center stage, virtually elevating him to the status of co-author. John Cage’s 4’33’’ of silence in the presence of a piano relies on what Higgins’ called “the creative abilities of the participants to fill in the blanks” (Higgins, qtd. in Clavez 52) And as George Brecht wrote in 1959, “for the virtuoso listener, all sound may be music” (qtd. in Clavez 123). Recalling the pragmatics of theater, a score is open to interpretation by a wide variety of individual participants using any combination of media.

Often referred to as a “dynamic,” Fluxus distributes authorship among all those who participate in bringing to life a score/event. “I want to locate much of the social implications of what is being done in the arts within the larger, social flow,” writes Higgins (Postface, Preamble i). Fluxus stretches the aura of the text to include elements quite foreign to it, weaving an
unprecedented heteroglossia that includes bodies as well as signs, material processes as well as social forms. In this, Fluxus is very much in the lineage of Duchamp. In his first Some/thing Else newsletter, on the subject of Duchamp’s ready-mades, Higgins writes, “The ready-made or found object, in a sense an intermedium since it wasn’t intended to conform the pure medium, (….) suggests a location in the field between the general area of art media and those of life media.” (Feow&ombwhnw 12 ). In addition to the spectator (become an author/actor), this includes a whole array of social actors: art dealers, Flux-friends, critics, historians, collectors. The Fluxus dynamic is, at its essence, a network. “We are in open circuits,” writes Naim June Paik (qtd in Clavez 349). “We” is author, “we” is past, present and future spectator, “we” is collector, art historian. The “open circuit” is not only a constellation of media; it is an intangible web linking dialogically situated subjects. It is not just inter-textual, it is multi-polar and multi-modal. As Craig Saper notes, “Fluxus’s most important contribution [is] making networking situations into artworks” (xv).

By disjoining the physical link between author, gesture, object, use, and medium, the “system” opens up the artwork to what lies outside of art, to the linguistic matrix of the world itself. Higgins speculate about a kind of art “consciously . . . placed in the intermedium between painting and shoes” (Feow&ombwhnw 13). One is tempted to say that Fluxus “transforms the
world into discourse,” as Christian Metz once wrote on the subject of cinema (Problems of Denotation, Rosen, 40). If the immersive and virtual aspects of Fluxus aesthetics bring to mind film theory, however, Fluxus artists are at liberty to throw away lens and celluloid and call the shots with brackets of real life. Higgins’ score for Stacked Deck, “in which any event can take place at any time, as long as its cue appears”, is a case in point. (Feow&ombwhnw 16). In its most extreme manifestations, Fluxian intermediality dispenses with media. For Fluxus, reality is the medium, experience the utensil, and language the means of distribution.

Internet: code/sign and gesture/use
In order to determine if (or how much of) intermedia applies to various forms of representation on the Internet, one needs to take into account the specific constraints imposed by the digital sign.

On the Internet, form is largely a function of code, used to create signs that simulate familiar ways of accessing information. Human-computer interface design draws from established modes of producing, distributing and receiving information, re-creating old forms all while mixing its metaphors, so to speak. The Internet offers a new horizon for the convergence of media—in symbolic terms (Fagerjord 294). The material world doesn’t disappear, of course; it is linked, prosthetically, to a virtual world where both surface and depth are illusion. But on the Internet, media survive only as representations of their former selves. Media have disappeared, and yet they linger—in one vast, coded “mono-medium.” On the Internet, code, performance, and event all happen in the same medium and at the same “mediated” time. No emancipation from code is possible here. Whether machine code, programming language, or interactive icon, code is not first “written” in one medium, then performed later in clever intermedial combinations. A coded- sign “runs,” filling the Fluxian gap between intent and gesture, providing a single digital matrix for the Fluxus dynamic.

In France, Yves Jeanneret and Emmanuel Souchier were among the first to define the specificity of the Internet medium from the perspective of the hyper-linked sign. In a seminal article entitled “Les écrits d’Écran,” they coined the term “signes passeurs.” Hyper-linked signs not only have symbolic value subject to interpretation (like an arrow) but use value as well, transforming them into tools (like what it takes to turn a page). They are signs, messengers, and hinges, to be looked at and to be looked through, simultaneously. What was once considered as separate, i.e., “you don’t have to know how to read in order to turn a page,” is now conjoined: in a way, signes passeurs are where hardware and sign-systems meet. They are by nature hybrid. Half-visible, half-hidden, sandwiched between code and gesture, hyper-linked signs determine function, choice and movement. This signes passeurs is at the heart of the Internet medium and potentially, through code, the agent of choice among many genres. Like two sides of the same coin, its back-end is also its front end. Medium and genre exist, through the signes passeurs, as a continuum. It is as if the Internet contained the seeds of intermedial aesthetics at its very core. Assembled into complex interfaces, these signes passeurs stage interactions among people and representations, giving shape to a converging set of rhetorical practices. They impose gestures and rhetoric associated with previous genres and media practices. Hinges between types of activities which they illustrate and organize, both interface and “control panel” to quote Lev Manovich (91), coded representations float between intent and use. They harbor form as well as activity. The relations between author and spectator, production and reception, use and intent, already dismantled by Fluxus forty years ago, are re-mantled within a medium open to endless hybridizations.

Can Fluxus aesthetics survive this re-mediation? A priori, a Fluxus artist would say, “Yes.” Fluxus can use the Internet as it uses any other medium. Conversely, any Internet artist can draw inspiration from past art forms, including Fluxus. The question is not one of imitation but of procedure and attitude: does Fluxus’ dismantling of established media use and expectations pre-figure the production/reception characteristic of different forms of representation on the Internet?

Intermedia intra-medium
Trois fils, a website by Luc Dall’Armellina, includes a scan of a photograph of Rimbaud, programmed to respond, pixel by pixel, to the movements of the cursor. The chain of events triggered by each movement changes the perception of the photograph as a whole. As viewers, we are not staring fixedly at a still photographic image, nor are we swept up in a kinetic
narrative. Hovering at the juncture of pixel and code, our cursor compels parts of the image to move when we move. Every click and roll-over confronts hidden code and pragmatic (mediated) gesture, simultaneously recalling and denying our experience of previous media. Moreover, these coded pixels create an imaginary foil against which we project a relation to Rimbaud’s portrait, whose expression changes depending on what we do. The effect is quite surprising. At first our gestures seem aggressive, like a breach with respect for the image of the author. We then enter into a game of exchanged “gazes” between several different kinds of representations: an absent photograph of an absent, long gone Rimbaud and us, present “in the image” by virtue of our cursor. The experience is eerily intimate and reciprocal, embodied in very different forms that
co-exist on the screen and through our gestures.

Code intrudes on performance by guiding our hand; at the same time, we intrude on the image by shuffling its components. Emancipation from medium or genre is not the issue here. Articulating a unique combination of media-references and genres is, however. A coded-sign links up to the spectator’s gestures, and, in the process, attributes intent to the image being explored. In Agnes de Cailleux’s Your Projection, the coded-sign structures “inter-actions” on another rhetorical level. The wreader has to stroke the window, as if it were skin, in order to conjure up, bit by bit, fragments of images and sounds. The wreader’s relation to this coded-interface is not one of deployment but of a slow, erotic unearthing of potential meaning. Again, the website engages the wreader in an imaginary form of reciprocity, this time not on the scale of pixels buried within a single image, but on the scale of a hidden tree-structure orchestrating facets of multimedia content. Code links author to wreader, who in turn gives form to code and reveals what the author programmed the device to show. On one hand, authorial intent is explicitly mediated by code; on the other hand, the wreader’s gestures give shape to the author’s hidden intent. Code—instrument—also instrumentalizes the wreader, who then “performs” the code. A close analysis of comprehension in digital and networked media shows that meaning springs from a program that is both anticipated by the producer and actualized by the wreader (Davallon et al. 47). One might go so far as to say that the artist is present—in a symbolic, deferred, and virtual sense, of course—to the wreader via a programmed interface and various diverse prosthetic devices which make up for gaps in time and space. The author anticipates, the wreader actualizes, and code is the mechanism that gives shape to this joining of projections and gestures, “open” to each other. In this sense, code resembles the Fluxus “score,” also incomplete until performed and acknowledged by the spectator, become “spect-actor” (Weissberg 118). The dialogic flows contained within digital interfaces, however, remain circumscribed by a single, unifying set of instructions bound to the medium. By comparison, a Fluxus score is much more open to interpretation than any website. It leaves room for what Fluxus artists called “play,”—i.e., jokes, games, and gags, but also free association, leading far a field from pre- scripted paths. Even though code can be written to run random sequences, randomness is not equivalent to freedom of choice—in particular the freedom to mix and match mediums. Code may be indifferent to content, but it does pre-format how a wreader both reads and writes in response to it.

Web-artists have been tempted to de-mystify the buried aspects of code and unveil the languages hidden “intra-medium.” The Whitney Museum’s Codedoc, for example, places the back end of a website on the same level as the work’s front end. It shows how code works behind the “work,” focusing on internal semantic differences among types of computer-code. To disjoin code from its actualization, however, is to neutralize code, to display a simulacrum stripped of its operating value. Indeed, the intelligibility of computer code is in part a function of use. A programmer reading his or her own code is not reading it as s/he would a novel, but in terms of an anticipated presence of another “reader/writer.” S/he has to judge code through the imagined gestures and rhetorical expectations of the eventual wreader of his or her program. S/he’s looking through code to something else which code allows—a mix of medium, genre and media practices woven from assembled hyper-linked signs.

To this extent, the Internet allows for unprecedented independence from established publishing and distribution systems, including of course, those of the art establishment. Artists create, publish, and advertise all within the same medium, without having to negotiate terms with middle-men. There is no better example of this than the website of Fluxus artist Ben Vautier,
otherwise known for white hand-written messages on walls, tee-shirts, posters, and other media, as well as his “living sculpture project,” a boutique in Nice crammed with paraphernalia. His website invites us to explore different facets of his world : “poésie, art, politique, ragots, etc. . . . à vous de faire et refaire votre menu.” His menu: “Disinformation,” “the City of Nice,” “for sale,” “Ben is angry,” “scratch me here” and other menu items mimic the paraphernalia in his boutique. If one scratches where Ben itches, up pops a story by a friend of his, Gibertie. The website is not just about Ben, it is also about his world of friends, his network. Ben the web-artist dons several hats. He’s an artist, a business man, an art historian, an editor, a friend, a publisher, and curator all in one. True, this is not equivalent to Fluxus polyphony. Ben is an actor on his own stage, quoting friends, impersonating a selection of genre, media, and identities within a single medium. But he does address the Fluxus idea that a given art is a constellation of inter-actions that include explicitly non-artistic activities. And he forces us to shift gears right along with him. As he changes his role, we change ours: when he is an art dealer, we are his clients; when he is a critic, we are his engaged readers, no longer simply perusing menus. In each instance we read/write differently.

Natural Selection, by Mongrel, a group of British artists, is a more violent parody of genre, use and hyper-link, bringing each user’s “intent” to bear on the content of the website. Natural Selection is a search engine, mimicking Yahoo, waiting for the user to type a query that will in turn provide a unique constellation of leads. But here the signe passeur is used to subvert social code and break the link between anticipation and actualization. For one, the user’s queries don’t match up with expected results. Innocent key words such as “art” yield pornographic or fascist content. Moreover, by activating these key words, the unsuspecting user is confronted with her share of responsibility for bringing despicable material onto the screen. Third, targeted algorithms, also written by the author of the website, alter the pornographic content into “randomized, prejudiced-packed drivel,” to quote the website’s “about” menu. Again, computer code sabotages social code—behind the screen—and the pornographic genre takes a beating. Although the pictures aren’t scrambled, the text is, and the context completely skewed as a result. Is porn still porn when all the wreader’s expectations can’t put the genre back together again?

Dialogic form on the Internet: practical considerations and prototypes
The Fluxus dynamic, however, is not only about multi-modality, it is also about the synergy of a network of people over time.

In this lineage, and with implicit reference to Fluxus mail art, Marc Amerika explores the potential literary forms contained within e-mail exchanges: “. . . you have an instantaneously delivered multi-linear thread of narrative-potential being practiced as a form of social networking. Is this the story? Is it conceptual? Literary? Performative? What happens when the
conversants agree to let the dialogues go public? Is this an activist recording or archiving of an ultra-contemporary art scene that defies categorization? Who owns it? Who buys it? Perhaps it's a kind of creative mindshare. . . . ” (p0es1s). Indeed, e-mail exchanges among individuals are a unique form of communication. The “medium/media” is not simply meant to transmit a message and to disappear in the background once its mission has been accomplished. The dialogues are typographic, archived on servers, organized into folders. Dialogic threads weave a collectively authored “digital text,” accumulated in time and materially embodied in many different layers of written code.

This brings us back to Fluxus and Peter Frank’s “grand-scale orchestration of giving and receiving” (Clavez 290) accelerated and magnified by the Internet. Here, not only is the space for intermedial play quite vast, so is the potential “virtuoso” audience. Fluxus artist Ben Vautier sends off a weekly e-mails to his appointed audience. “Ca y est, encore une newsletter-poème de Ben” straddles an intermedium between news and poetry. This much said, insofar as it sends out a message with no intent of receiving an answer, Ben’s poetic newsletter matches conventional press more than poetry. It sets an agenda, imposing what is or is not newsworthy. It does not depend on audience participation in order to exist. At stake, a type of reciprocity, which—in real time—oscillates between production and reception. Indeed, by merging both communication and representation, the Internet’s peer-to-peer applications have as yet untapped potential. To quote Saper once again: “When aesthetic and poetic decisions embodied in artworks lead to a heightened or changed social situation, one needs to describe these forms as sociopoetic rather than as artworks within particular social contexts. The social situation is part of a sociopoetic experiment” (xiii). Unless it is a shared experiment, a current event is neither “current” nor an “event” in Fluxus terms, no matter how poetic its content.

To the examples presented above, we would like to add two prototypes of our own. Dick Higgins’ complaint that “paintings do not allow any sense of dialogue . . . “(Foew&ombwhnw 11) is at the core of our research. Behind the screen, object, space, surface, and co-presence all have the same status. All are “representations.” How, in such circumstances, do different points of view fragment virtual space? How can one imagine who is looking at what at any given time? On the Internet, articulating the ways in which representation and dialogue overlap requires placing people’s avatars center-stage. Only then is it possible to begin to organize information according to shared interests and affinities.

City Paradigms is constructed around a linear, accordion-like sound track, punctuated by animated icons over which float the names of all the site’s visitors. One is not “alone” on this website: at a glance, one can spot a crowd and decide to join it. Unlike the instant feedback characteristic of video, however, the screen is not a mirror of self, but a representation of a
relationship. City Paradigms articulates representations of people in relation to the texts being read. It is also a platform for an “event” to happen. If two or more people are interacting with the same animation, a figurine at the bottom of the screen offers them space to chat. The “event” is what people see, do and say together, “sociopoetically.”

Sandscript is another prototype developed with students at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécomunications, Paris. It is an augmented chat space embedded in a graphic environment that evokes a windswept, barren landscape. In contrast to most chat spaces, Sandscript is an interesting exercise in opacity, as close a mix of dialogue and painting that we could muster. Each chatter’s pseudonym is associated with a sound, so that, like crickets in a field, the group creates a shared presence, audible to all. Pre-scripted poetic content is also woven into the spontaneous, real-time dialogue of chatters. Two hundred or so “keywords” lie dormant and inactive until a chatter inadvertently types one in, triggering the appearance of a character or a change in the graphic environment. Each bit of information thus revealed is in turn interactive: simulated dialogs among fictional characters lead to blogs which develop the characters at greater length; animations in the sand lead to fragments of Morse Code or images; bit by bit, facets of a hidden intrigue emerge from the sand. Here dialog is a backbone around which information reveals itself according to what wreaders are discussing among themselves. Instead of an “object” center-stage, dialogue is the backbone of the work. Content is not revealed by a “gaze,” but unearthed from a hidden database by means of the typed exchanges among chatters. Most theatricized chat spaces—however technically innovative—create very conventional representations of real or imaginary worlds; they are not intent on upsetting reception. They seek to make the device as transparent as possible, i.e., apt for use rather than contemplation. Sandscript, however, hangs in the balance between dialogue and fiction. The wreader is indeed reader, writer, and interlocutor, torn between the urge to express herself, plunge into the narrative and exchange banter with fellow wreaders. In an article entitled “Dialogue: a hyper-link to multimedia content,” we discuss how the wreader of Sandscript oscillates between two different postures: on the one hand, the artistic posture of “looking at;” and on the other hand, the tool- oriented stance which “looks through.” Sandscript’s strength lies in this shifting duality, presenting a pictorial space that is both self-sufficient and open to the chatter’s playful banter. At issue in this collective context is the nature of the signe passeur, now meant to manage the field between representation and social interaction. As we have seen, the digital hyper-linked sign straddles several functions: it is a text, a pointer, and a hinge that brings to the screen another text. Pre-programmed, the digital sign anticipates its use, re-casting traditional relations between gesture and intent, shared among author and wreader via code. In the context of an application such as Sandscript, however, the wreader is being asked to do more than participate in revealing intent via a signe passeur. Half of the stage is covered, the other half left “blank,” open to the public. The only way to “fill in the blanks” is to chat, to produce a text that will be projected on the screen, and thus “received” by either another wreader or a program, ready to respond in kind.

Here, authorial intent is revealed through the wreader’s ability to communicate with a mix of real-time interlocutors and fictional characters. More or less aware of this situation, the chatter in Sandscript is—in a single symbolic field—expressing herself in “life” (mediated by the device, of course) all while coaxing “art” from a pre-programmed environment (with the very same device). A new dialogic form is at the heart of this website, closed in by rules and open to play. The over-all effect is an odd mix of opacity and transparency meant to enrich networked representation, transformed into an event as well as a dynamic. Presented at a conference entitled “Le Temps à l’œuvre,” at the ENST, Paris, on the occasion of Fluxus’s 40-year anniversary, Sandscript will soon be adapted to the needs of specific communities and live on as a socio- poetic experiment of its own.

As we have seen, Fluxus’s plunge into “life” jumbled the distribution of roles traditionally attributed to author, art-object, and spectator in the production and the reception of works of art. In so doing, Fluxus paved the way for the rapid appropriation of the Internet by a new generation of artists. Today, web-art has a pre-digital challenge to meet for which it is particularly well-
suited: representation within an explicitly dialogic context. Far from an easy task. In an article re-published for Fluxus’s 40-year reunion, Ken Friedman warns that “. . . the tendency of the artist to focus on technical solutions rather philosophical implications [has] rendered the work both spectacular and shallow . . A failure of philosophy is the problem. Too many artists are entranced with the physical qualities of media and unconscious about ideas. Art is burdened by attention to physical media and plagued by a failure to consider the potential of intermedia. ” (Friedman,1.3, par 26 ). The question is, however, not whether artists are clever enough with new media, but whether a happening is a happening if it’s been programmed and
takes place on-line? If its audience is scattered in space and can’t smell or feel the “Aktion”? If the event is pre-scripted by code while its audience is free to multi-task? Today, pre-determined formalisms structure every gesture, every decision . . . on a micro as well as a macro level. The change is philosophical in scope. Put bluntly, it’s as if the Fluxus shoe were turned into a painting by Van Gogh and Fluxus’s bold link to the outside world severed in the process. With the Internet, the circuit is media, medium and content at the same time.

In sum, Dick Higgins’s original concept of intermedia calls for reformulation. Opposition between art and life just doesn’t have the same impact today as it once did. Retrospectively, one might argue that twentieth-century art has succeeded in fusing the two, starting with futurism and culminating in Fluxus “events.” That paradigm is now over. For intermedia to become a fertile ground for experimentation today, it must free itself of past aesthetic oppositions and situate itself elsewhere, in the field between image-signs, machine code and bodies. In this range of «inter- mediations,” the real space of the wreaders and the fictional space of representations merge, joined by prosthetic devices such as screens, cursors and keyboards. For some, these changes are unwelcome and hamper creativity. For others, they enable new, shared forms of representation and presence, woven, by gesture, in real time and in symbolic space.

Websites Analyzed:
Luc Dall’Armellina, Trois fils, June 2001, <>
Agnès de Cailleux, Your projection, 2004, <>
Whitney Museum Codedoc, Whitney Artport, lauched September 2002,

Ben Vautier, Le site de Ben Vautier, 27/04/2004,’s Natural Selection, 2003,<>
Marc Amerika (among others!), Poetics of Digital Texts, 27-30 September, 2001,

Carol-Ann Braun, City Paradigms, January 2000, <>
Carol-Ann Braun, Sandscript, June 2002,
Timsoft, the company behind augmented chat software:
And… some websites on Fluxus:

Works Cited
Andersen, Eric. “What is…? »…3
International Performance Festival Odense (Program),
Odense, 2001, pp 8-15, <>
Antin, David., Jerome Rothenberg. “Excerpts from Gloss For An Unknown Language, by
George Brecht.” Some/thing Else No. 2, 1965.
Artaud, Antonin. Le Théâtre et son Double. Editions Gallimard, Paris, 1964.
Aumont, Jacques. L’Image. Fernand Nathan, Paris, 1990.
Barton, David, Mary Hamilton, Roz Ivanic. Situated Literacies, Reading and Writing in Context.
Routledge, London, 2000.
Becker, Howard. Art Worlds. University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1982.
Bolter, Jay David, Richard Grusin, Remediation, Understanding New Media. MIT Press,
Cambridge, 2000.
Bourriaud, Nicolas. Formes de vie, L’art et l’Invention de Soi. Denoël. Paris, 1999.
Braun, Carol-Ann. “Dialogic Form”, Proceedings of the International Symposium on
Information and Communication Technologies, Computer Science Press. Trinity College,
Dublin, 2003.
Braun, Carol-Ann, Annie Gentes. “Dialogue: a Hyper-Link to Multimedia Content.” Journal of
Computer Mediation,, September, 2004.
Clavez, Bertrand. Fluxus, l’Histoire, La Théorie, Pour Une Histoire des Evénements
Quelconques. Université de Paris 10, Nanterre, 2003.
Davallon, Jacques, Nathalie Noël-Cadet, Danièle Brochu. “L’Usage dans le Texte : les Traces
d’Usage du site Gallica .” Lire, Ecrire, Récrire. Objets, Signes et Pratiques des Médias
Informatisés. ed. Jeanneret, Y., Souchier, E , Le Marec, J., B.P.I., Paris, 2003.
Fagerjord, Anders. “Rhetorical Convergence, Studying Web Media.” In Digital Media
Revisited, The MIT Press, Cambridge, 2003.
Frank, Peter, Ken Friedman, The Fluxus Years, (manuscript in the possession of the author,
commissioned de Oy Wärtsiliä ab Arabia) Helsinki, 1987.

Friedman,Ken. Forty Years of Fluxus, Texts about Fluxus, art/notart, last updated 18 JUN 03,

An early version of the following was first published in 1989 in as "Fluxus and Company"
(published by Emily Harvey Gallery) and later appeared in 1998 in The Fluxus Reader.
A Spanish version was recently published in Fluxus y Fluxfilms,1962-2002 (published by
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia).
Gentes, Annie. “Am I an author too? Or interactivity as a source of hope and despair on
The Internet,” Internet Research 3.0 Net /work/ theory, Conference of the Association of
Internet Researchers, (AOIR), Maastricht, 2002.
Higgins, Dick. Foew&ombwhnw, a grammar of the mind and a phenomenology of love and a
science of the arts as seen by a stalker of the wild mushroom, Something Else Press,
New York, 1969.
Many of the same ideas can be found in “Synesthesia and Intersenses: Intermedia, written
in 1965, originally published in Something Else Newsletter 1, No 1 (Something else
Press, 1967). Also published as a chapter in Horizons, the Poetics and theory of the
Intermedia (Carbondale, IL , Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1984).
Higgins, Dick. Postface. Something Else Press, New York, Nice, Cologne, 1964
Higgins, Dick. “Intermedia”, The Something Else Press Newsletter, 1966, vol 1, no1, New York.
Higgins, Hannah. Fluxus Experience, University of California Press, California, 2002.
Jeanneret,Yves, Emmanuel Souchier. “Pour Une Poétique de l’Ecrit d’Ecran.” In Xoanna, No 6,,
Paris. 1999.
Krauss, Rosalind. “Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America.” In October Magazine,
Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, New York, 1977.
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press,
Boston, 2001.
Metz, Christian. “ Problems of Denotation in the Fiction Film .” In Narrative, Apparatus
and Ideology, A film theory Reader, ed. Philip Rosen, Columbia University Press, New
York, 1986
Saper Craig. Networked Art. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis., 2001.
Weissberg, Jean-Louis. “L’Auteur en Collectif, Entre l’Individu et l’Indivis,” Les Cahiers du
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Zurbrugg, Nicolas. Art, Performance, Media, 31 Interviews. University of Minnesota Press,
Minneapolis, 2004.

above copied from:

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Conservation Photography: Art Born of Environmental Ethic, Cristina Mittermeier, PhotoMedia Summer 05

Before the demanding process of making images consumed my life, I already was committed to preserving our planetʻs natural resources. For me, there never has been a distinction between these two disciplines; I use photography to promote conservation to make sure that the diversity and beauty of Earth are conserved for my future photographic enjoyment. Although I know that many photographers donʻt see this connection as clearly as I do, I am continuously surprised and inspired by the many others who do. In fact, there are so many such photographers that the time has come to make a distinction and create a new discipline: conservation photography.

Clearly, the similarities with nature photography are many, but the most outstanding difference lies in the fact that conservation photography is born out of purpose. Conservation photography has a long and well established record; from the early achievements of Ansel Adams, who captured the imagination of the American public with his well crafted images of wild America, to the more recent brilliantly executed images made by National Geographicʻs Michael "Nick" Nichols during an epic trek with ecologist J. Michael Fay across the Congo. The work done by Nichols and Fay led to the creation of an entirely new protected area system in Gabon.

Tasmanian Devil

To me, however, the significance of conservation photography was revealed when I first came across the work of Peter Dombrovskis, a Tasmanian photographer who, with his camera, was instrumental in saving the Tasmanian wilderness from massive dam destruction, and whose work represents one of the finest examples of how images can achieve victories for conservation.
Before I encountered Dombrovskisʻ work, most of my photographic education had focused on technique and how to use the endless varieties of equipment that photographers like to haul around. I was making some progress, but felt that my images were lacking something elemental. The discovery of Dombrovskisʻ images during my first trip to Tasmania gave me a clear vision for my own career, not only in terms of craft, but also in terms of mission. His philosophy - that one should take not only images that endure, but images that call for the wild world itself to endure - has become a guiding principle in my career as a photographer, and it is in this idea that the spirit of conservation photography lives.
I first found Dombrovskisʻ genius among the tourist souvenirs of the airport shop in Hobart, Tasmania. His images, like paper jewels, stood out from the surrounding kitschy paraphernalia. But however beautiful his image of a morning-lit outcrop of Cradle Mountain National Park, it didnʻt tell the story of the fierce fight that had been waged just a few years before to save that wild landscape. That story, as it turned out, was just one chapter in the long history of Tasmaniaʻs environmental struggles.

Dam Wars

Tasmania, like most European colonies, has seen its share of ecological and ethnological blunders, some devastating. Its first irreversible loss came in 1876, with the extermination of the last Tasmanian Aborigine, less than a century after Europeans first arrived. Its next major tragedy came in 1936, with the extinction of its largest endemic mammal, the Tasmanian tiger, and was followed by the careless introduction of hundreds of invasive species that, to this day, continue to threaten the delicate native flora and fauna of the island.
It was the 1972 obliteration of Lake Pedder, however, that finally spurred public indignation. The ancient glacial lake was the centerpiece of a national park, and one of Tasmaniaʻs most outstanding natural wonders. It has been said that, had it not been destroyed, Pedder today would occupy as iconic a place as in Australian lore as Ayers Rock and Kakadu.
At the center of the movement to protect Lake Pedder was Lithuanian-born photographer and conservationist Olegas Truchanas, a man who became a mentor and father figure for Peter Dombrovskis, who was a Latvian immigrant himself. Armed with photographs and films of the area, Truchanas took the fight to the government. To raise public awareness, he called public meetings in the Hobart Town Hall and displayed breathtaking images of what was about to disappear forever.
Sadly, despite an impassioned fight, the government succeeded in damming the Huon and Serpentine Rivers and, in doing so, drowned both the cries of the protesters and the exquisite beauty of the wild lake. As devastating as this defeat was, the silver lining came in the birth of a major movement dedicated to using photography for conservation.
The fight over waterpower, however, was not over. Although it occupies less than 1 percent of the land mass of the Australian continent, Tasmania possesses half of the countryʻs hydroelectric potential, much of it in the powerful, free-flowing rivers that surge through the islandʻs rugged western half. Soon after the loss of Lake Pedder, another proposal was released, this time to dam the Franklin River and, thus, flood one of the last great wilderness areas in the world. This time, however, the idea was met with mighty opposition. A well organized protest took the fight to the court of international opinion, with the support of world-class photography.
When Australian Premier Robin Gray declared the wild river "a brown leech-ridden ditch," Peter Dombrovskis, a shy, quiet man, chose to raise his camera instead of raising his voice. As Truchanas had done before him, Dombrovskis headed out into the wilderness to illustrate his disagreement. His intention was not to make campaign images but, inevitably, his images became the center of the campaign to save the river. In the end, the modest beauty and tranquility reflected in his work, still published extensively even years after his death in 1996, was enough to turn public opinion around.
With the dam wars won, the federal government compensated Tasmania for perceived losses. Then, in an enlightened gesture, the government went one step further by creating the Franklin-Gordon Rivers National Park. This new park became the centerpiece of a series of contiguous north-south-running national parks that cover the major portion of Tasmaniaʻs western half.

An Ethic of the Land

I came to understand that the magical quality in Dombrovskisʻ images lay not only in the flawless technical merits of his work, but in his passion for showcasing something that he loved and that was at risk of disappearing. It was the mission behind the work that invested his images with spirit. Peter once said that something of the photographer should be evident in every image; otherwise the photo is just a piece of paper. You can catch glimpses of Dombrovskis in all his photographs: Peter the father, the naturalist, the son, the poet, the gardener, the husband, the conservationist and, yes, the photographer. "An ethic of the land is needed because remaining wilderness is threatened by commercial exploitation that will destroy its value to future generations," wrote Dombrovskis about his beloves Tasmanian wilderness. I couldnʻt agree more.
When asked, Peter would say about his own work, "I am not a photographer; I am just making a statement." Today, other photographers, hikers, adventurers and, indeed, all the inhabitants of Tasmania and the world at large are able to enjoy the beauty of the most pristine Wilderness Heritage Area on the planet. Tasmanians also enjoy the benefits of a thriving ecotourism industry as well as the many ecosystem services provided by the wild lands that cover most of the island. A fine statement indeed.
Can the success of this model be replicated in other regions to protect nature and indigenous peoples? In todayʻs interconnected global society, perhaps the World Wide Web can be the equivalent of the Hobart Town Hall, where images can be displayed to alert people to what is being lost at such rapid pace all over the world.
As conservation challenges continue to grow around us, the need for the kinds of images that touch hearts and change minds also is growing. Photographers of great conviction already have traced the path for us, and it is our job to show the way to the legions of new photographers who are not yet part of the conservation movement. After Dombrovskisʻ death, it was said that it was not so much that he photographed in protected areas, but that protected areas were created where he photographed. This is what nature photography should strive for.
In recognition of the imp0rtance of images for conservation and the growing numbers of professional photographers who specialize in producing those images, the first-ever conservation photography symposium will be convened Oct. 2-6, 2005, in Anchorage, Alaska, during the 8th World Wilderness Congress. (For more on the event, see Conservation-minded photographers from all over the world will assemble, along with scientists, policy-makers, government officials, lawyers, writers, indigenous leaders and others, to participate in discussions of global conservation issues. The intention of the symposium is to give us the opportunity to make the case for the recognition of our craft as an indispensable instrument in the conservation toolbox, and we warmly invite all interested photographers to join us.