Locating digital archival form and/as content

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 1 How then can we gain a better understanding of art history’s archival form and content correlation? How might we explore the nature of digital art contextual archives? And how should we establish the right parameters within which to analyze digital and new media art? Rather, how can we explore what art history might be beyond the book? Of course these questions are beyond the scope of this project alone. Not only do we remain faithful to a bookish logic in art history, but it is almost impossible to be truly cognizant of our medial epistemological frameworks as we work from within them. Yet, I would like to offer an approach towards producing art historical work that actively engages with the evolving archive and therefore makes a valuable contribution to analyzing it. I began by noting that this article represents a multi-modal and therefore media-aware approach to art history. Arts Future Book – the impetus for this article – is a research project and academic book series that investigates the relation between the form and content of the art history book. It gives authors the opportunity to make their arguments in a variety of experimental and perhaps more appropriate forms. In line with this, this article is both written across formats and partnered with an article-as-artwork called #arthistory. Devised in collaboration with new media artist Rob Myers (with reference to his Sharable Readymades series of 3D printable versions of iconic artworks[i]) #arthistory sets out to re-present the article’s argument while indicating what a media-aware approach to art historical enquiry might look like.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 1 The artwork works to illuminate this article’s argument in a number of ways. #arthistory (2012) is an art project where the visual appearance of the ‘art history’ twitter hashtag[ii] (#arthistory) has been converted into a publicly available source file that can be rendered as a rapid prototype or three dimensional print (3D print). By following this link: http://hasharthistory.net/ you can order your own 3D print of #arthistory which, for a cost-covering fee, will be posted to you to keep (alternatively, if you have one, you can use your own 3D printer or one at your local Hacker Space[iii], or similar, to print the file). The idea is to turn a piece of art history-related text – literally the term ‘art history’ – into an object and therefore consider how the practice of historicizing art relies upon words and phrases to validate objects and yet always materializes these words and phrases in some form or other. It is a simple reversal or, more precisely, an exaggeration of the object-hood of the text itself. It makes us notice the materiality of art historical text – the hashtag becomes our object of study

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 1 The artwork works to make the article even more participative. Once you have your 3D hashtag, you can place it near any other object and, according to the classificatory laws of the Twitter hashtag, that object apparently becomes (ironically or not) art historical. In this sense, it shows how art historical text is an object that makes another object. Yet it is not a sculptor’s chisel but rather the tool never far from an art historian’s hand: text. And given that it provides for anything to be marked as art historical, and for anyone’s proclamations to become part of a large public narrative of art history (as both Tweets about and images of these physically hashtagged/art historical objects are inevitably fed back into Twitter via the use of the typed or virtual hashtag itself[iv] or added to the dedicated Flickr group[v]), it makes this tool widely accessible. In a way it hacks the art historical system and freely offers a method for making art history – albeit a method that creates a Twitter-based art historical narrative that might never be recognized as a legitimate way to make value judgments on art. Yet in making this hashtag project integral to the article, I have somehow embedded the particiaptive logic within the project itself. It isn’t just the object of study, it’s how the project (the article and artwork) is experienced. And for even the most Twitter-illiterate, I’ve encouraged an effort to discover how such forms of digital discussion work.

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5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 1 Both the idea of making an article/artwork project that variously explores print-based and digital archival systems and the staging of my own writing as a publicly-accessible, engaged reading activity locate still further the ways in which meaning is mobilized online. Rather, this project offers direct access to how meaning is stored and transferred in the digital era. Like much online culture, it is made of participation. When Lady Gaga releases a new music video, legions of people respond by putting their own spin on her work. They make their own version of her music video and submit it to the same arena in which the original (and ‘original’ here is moot) resides – namely, YouTube. In this way, a large part of the experience of Lady Gaga’s work resides in this mode of taking part. The same is true of much earlier email–based art discussions lists. Technically, art discussion lists like Nettime and Netbehaviour are controlled by software packages which manage the automatic forwarding of content to all subscribers, with human moderators often authorizing new subscribers or removing inflammatory content. Not only did lists provide a level playing field where anyone could discuss art regardless of career status or geographical location, but they also offered a shared space where people created text-based discussion together in a kind of ‘re-versioning relay’. As one person presented an argument and more became involved, their interpretation of each others’ thoughts were presented in the repeated rewriting of the stakes of the debate. Generally there was no winning of an argument, or final piece of definitive writing (even if some participants claimed otherwise), but a value derived in passing the idea back and forth. Indeed, for much digital culture and newer forms of social media, the ways in which we take part are where meaning is generated. This is not to say the richest of contemplative experiences cannot be acquired by standing in front of a single work of art in a gallery, but that this is not the essence of what happens online – and this is what we need to understand better. It is not just that taking part is a major part of digital culture, but that this is one of the ways meaning is generated. It is the philosophy of ‘ti esrever dna ti pilf nwod gniht ym tup’. This art historical project therefore contains the material and the metaphors that we need to understand if we are also to understand today’s art.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 1 Finally, #arthistory subverts the traditional ways of writing and of illustrating an art historical argument. Over on Twitter, where short bursts of text are marked by both the digital tag itself and digital images of the physical tag, a crowd-sourced, multi-author contemporary art historical tome is constantly being written and rewritten. Meanwhile, in this article, the images of the process of creating the system by which we could make the 3D hashtags as well as images of them, as it were, in use, offer a visual account not just of the artworks that are being discussed but of the fabrication of (a) discourse itself. That is, #arthistory asks after the ways in which the image-and-text and or as object is presented and even remixed through digital media. It looks towards the need for an understanding of the logic of art historical media. For these reasons and more, if it were not altogether too conceptual and beyond the validatory structures of the UK Research Excellence Framework, I should have liked to ‘publish’ the 3D printed hashtag as the entire article itself[vi]. Instead however, and in line with digital media governing systems, I am opening up this article/artwork to public peer review to allow for others to comment on the article text which in a way means they will be writing or even rewriting the argument I present. Meanwhile, I may redraft the paper publicly or before submitting it to a journal demonstrating my own ongoing writing and rewriting of art history. And on top of all of that, the 3D printing hashtag project very literally represents the critical tool that I want this entire body of work to highlight. It is an object of textual materiality, and it is my assertion that textual materiality can be used as a critical tool for analysing art historical/art critical scholarship. In this instance then it is not just a hashtag, or a way of sharing images of art historical entities, it is a method for examining our discipline.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 [i] See my introduction to his Sharable Readymades on the Arts Council England’s website,  http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/what-we-do/our-priorities-2011-15/digital-innovation-and-creative-media/digital-resources/collaboration-and-freedom/projects/balloon-dog/ and find examples of the project at Rob Myers’ website, http://robmyers.org/

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 [ii] A ‘hashtag’ is a searchable classificatory marker used on the social networking site Twitter and employed to denote everything from conferences to memes as well as often used ironically to reify something amusing or ludicrous.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 [iv] Twitter content stream tagged with ‘#arthistory’, https://twitter.com/i/#!/search/%23arthistory

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 [vi] During the period within which the #arthistory hashtag is in most popular use as part of this project I will organise the print publication of a book of #arthistory tweets using the Ether Press twitter publication service which can be found here: http://www.ether-press.com/twitter/

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