- Mobile Performance
- Electric Speed
- Schematic as Score
- (Re)purposed Clothes
- Collaborative Spaces
- Device Art
- Digital Dub
- Rise of the VJ
- Sample Culture
By Eva Moraga
The term Web 2.0 strongly arouses hate and passion in equal shares. Some people consider it a revolutionary change in social and cultural production, some others do not even believe in its novelty or existence as a concept. But since Web 2.0 apologists and enemies are able to talk about it, there must be some subtle underpinning invisible threads that put together a common agreed basement to start a debate. The term Web 2.0 comprises multiple polymorphic Internet-based platforms, websites and applications, although they have countless and important differences in concept, structure and goals. Blogs, wikis and social Internet-based applications/websites are the main objects of discussion in those endless debates about the relevance of Web 2.0, and their supposed common features have become the main starting point for reflection. Some degree of consensus seems to have emerged about various ideological and formal functions and principles that all Web 2.0 applications1 seem to share and foster2: "Participation, collectivism, virtual communities, amateurism"3, "the architecture of participation"4, "an infrastructure that allows Web users to easily create, share, tag, and connect content and knowledge"5, "sharing, ranking, rating, collective intelligence, empowering, and Social Software".6
Most of these citations stress social and collective aspects of Web 2.0 like participation, collective action (collective content creation, sharing and categorisation/hierarchisation), community generation and socialisation, and that is why some critical voices about the novelty of Web 2.0 have been heard, pointing out that all those features were already inspiring the Internet from its very beginning.7 Nowadays the difference is, in my opinion, that those aspects are not only inspiring visions but real by-products of two factors already mentioned in the previous quotations: architecture and infrastructure. I would like to bring attention to these factors because, in my opinion, they are essential - together with socialisation and collective action - to our reflection on Web 2.0 and curating.
Wikis were conceived as platforms for collaborative Web editing, as "a database for creating, browsing and searching information"8 that can be edited by multiple users. A dynamic functional skeleton is made available to users to aggregate or modify content. Wikis were a tool whose architecture was thought for communities. Communities created wikis and wikis created communities as a typical effect of tell- a-friend actions or attracting people with topics of common interest. Their structure and functioning were potentially and in reality true community generators. Likewise, blogs were only considered to be part of this Web 2.0 sphere when, as Tom Coates and Tim O'Reilly said, they turned from being simple personal websites into "a conversational mess of overlapping communities"9, thanks to tools like "permalinks", RSS and trackbacks10, that allowed users to point to particular comments on other blogs, track blog modifications and updates and know when other blogs refer to their blogs and respond to them.
These reciprocal, circular, multidirectional or looping pointing out (through structural tools such as links, comments, and tracking systems) connected people and created groups around common interests. However, there is a relevant design difference between wikis and blogs. Wikis stressed collaboration and community generation in order to reach a common and pragmatic goal, whereas blogs emphasised communication and individual expression, and cooperation and group creation came as a result or a side effect of looping blogging. Nevertheless, those structural differences in architectural design had a similar underpinning outcome: Web socialisation and community spirit.
Social Internet-based software and websites were a step forward. Their architecture was specifically designed for socialisation and group development. They were offered as unfilled platforms, empty containers where users can aggregate and share content as well as communicate with other users. User participation and communication are encouraged or stimulated through structural interaction mechanisms. These platforms provide an infrastructure, an architectural skeleton in which multiple communication and information sharing tools can be used in numerous and flexible or sometimes not so flexible ways, giving rise to unexpected uses or consequences.
User aggregation of varied content is determined by manifold reasons, and content character shapes the general mood of these platforms. They normally have a common organisation: first, the user has her own space where she can describe herself or her anonymous character, and her interests (enhanced user individuality, visibility and relevance, although in a friendly and pseudo-innocuous way, are key points for success); second, the user can post comments (blogs), upload and share files (text, images, video); third, other users can communicate with her, making comments, sending emails, chatting etc; fourth, people can describe, classify and organise interesting information by adding their own categories, tags; and last but not least, a looping link structure where users link to other users who link to other users who link to other users who link to ... infinitely, but always inside these "bubble" endogamic websites.
Formerly, content, even in the most dynamic websites, was mainly ruled by the owners of the website, although there were tools like forums, public chats and mailing lists that also facilitated socialisation, participation and community creation. Nowadays there is a supposed empowerment of user-generated content philosophy and crowd socialisation coming from the very conception of these Web 2.0 websites. However, the difference now is that these websites are specifically designed to foster those features through a particular architecture/structure in order to become successful businesses. User-aggregated content and collective socialisation are just market strategies for getting an increasing number of users/consumers using certain services.
Wikis and social Internet-based applications (including those that allow create blogs) could therefore be defined as providers of clean and empty infrastructures for collective content-aggregation and socialisation. And this is what I think has been the underpinning leitmotif in some of the most challenging Online Art platforms set up since the early beginning of Internet: curatorial platforms as providers of naked infrastructure. But infrastructure is not equal to context. It is the content aggregated to this infrastructure which creates context. The architecture of these online platforms was thought to serve as metaphorical organic shelves where to place art objects/projects. The bookshelf is not the context. The books placed next to other books are the context. Thus, these online curators would not be context providers for artists who provide contexts, as Trebor Scholz has suggested11, but infrastructure providers for collective context generation, content-aggregation and art community generation. The first Online Art platforms were all very radical statements against traditional curatorship. Projects as "C@C", "Rhizome.org", "Turbulence.org", "mad03.net", "runme.org" or "low-fi Net Art locator" were drawing on programming tools to set up what was progressively called art platforms12, and to challenge ways and models of art production, presentation, curating and distribution. All of them were created before the buzzword Web 2.0 was launched. They all presented themselves as naked skeletons to be filled with art projects by artists, and tried to foster a sense of community between artists working in the Net Art realm.
In 2003 I was one of the eight artist-curators of "!MAD 03 - 2nd International Meeting of Experimental Art" that took place physically in Madrid and virtually on the net. We tried to reflect on and contribute other ways of curating and producing exhibitions. We were trying to put into question the role of all-powerful "guru" curators. As artists and curators of "MAD03" we thought that our mission was not that of offering an a priori interpretation of the presented works, a metaphorical, literary or philosophical context/statement, but of providing an opportunity for art works to present themselves. We were actually challenging what we thought at that time was considered to be the overall predominant role of curators: contextualisation, filtering, legitimation and interpretation. We wanted to be art agitators, art facilitators. We just wanted to offer infrastructure, platforms, for action and creation. The city, shops, screens in the underground and the Web were just starting platforms. And I think this was the common intellectual background behind all these mentioned art platforms above.
I was in charge of "MAD03NET" section, which I described as "a platform for projects", where more than 500 Digital Art projects, from thirty countries of every geographical region in the world, were shown. There were four open calls to which artists could submit their work, uploading information, images and links to their work. Unlike the other lines of work of MAD03, in which the artists (not works) were pre-selected by the artist-curators (although there were no other later content filters or action guidelines at all), I refused to select artists from the beginning, and "MAD03NET" was presented as an area of open participation, meant to serve as loudspeaker for digital artistic creation. The works, together with a description and a link to the art project website, were uploaded into a personal artist webpage as they were sent in by artists, so that anyone who participated experienced the same attention from the public and was aware of level and quality of art proposals presented up to that moment. I wanted participating artists to know at all times about the other participants and works being presented, in order to stimulate the flow of intercommunication between projects and artists. The website pretended to serve as a communication platform for artists. One of "MAD03NET" sections, "MAD03NET ZIN", was even conceived as a platform for platforms; with the intention to provide visibility to those websites specifically set up by groups of artists who work on creating new channels for distribution and viewing of artistic projects websites also conceived as art works in their own right, rather than just exhibition sites. My intention was to foster communication and future collaboration between people working on these platforms. From my point of view, these goals were equally supported by all those mentioned art platforms.
However, apart from these art platforms, most of primary online curatorial projects translated previous conventional curatorial mindsets to the Internet, using the Web as a mere "shop window" or a "virtual gallery space" for selected works and theoretical statements. Due to technology state-of-the-art at that time, most of Online Art exhibitions were just static websites3 with a bunch of links to Online Art works presented under a speculative statement. There was almost no functional difference14 to other websites created by common people (personal websites), commercial companies or other professionals (writers, journalists, musicians ...).
Unfortunately nowadays, in spite of crucial contribution of those mentioned art platforms and despite current Internet evolution through dynamic websites and Social Web philosophy, most of online curatorial proposals still keep this outdated way of being: a technologically sophisticated Online Art paper-like catalogue15. And although a large amount of theoretical texts by prominent curators have talked about online curatorship specificities, highlighting how Internet and other electronic tools (as email, mailing lists ...) have turned our way of working into new collaborative and networked models16, changing curator/curator and curator/artist relationships, transforming the process of filtering, describing and classifying and introducing democracy and public participation in curatorial process17, many online curators are still practising their traditional task of agency, intervention, clarification and interpretation, perpetuating long-established curatorial models without challenging them. All those arguments seem more to be mere siren songs than reality, more beautiful dreams of what can be than what it really is. I can only recognise a few of these characteristics in these mentioned art platforms and in some projects I will mention in relation with Web 2.0 philosophy later. I can hardly see them in most of online exhibitions.