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What has the internet ever done for art?
Artists talking editor Andrew Bryant reports on the Cultural Conversations event at Project Space Leeds.
Presented by Northern Art Prize, Culture Vulture and Axis, the Cultural Conversations open forum that took place at PSL (Project Space Leeds) on 1 February 2011 was a lively and informative event, and one that threw up more questions than answers. Open forum means there is no hierarchy, so anyone can suggest a topic or question for debate. You can then join in with any of the conversations that are happening at any one time. Topics ranged from 'What is collaboration?' to 'Who cares?' You can't be everywhere at once but it never felt like I was missing out on other conversations because the ones I was in were so good.
The topic of collaboration pivoted on the issue of outcome vs experience: does collaboration happen when an unexpected outcome is reached in and through the coming together of more than one perspective, or is it about enabling - for example a collaboration between an artist and a commercial enterprise to enable the artist to produce new work? In my opinion the latter is not a collaboration, it's facilitation. True, each party gains something they couldn't have without the other, but what's the difference between this and working for a company that pays you to do what you do? Collaboration, we concluded, is an over-used term in the artworld, and one that has the rhetoric of sharing, of involving, of liberal openness and tolerance, but true collaboration, perhaps, is a different thing altogether.
Social networking media as artwork
Another discussion I was in on revolved around the question of if and when social networking media such as Twitter and Facebook can go beyond interpreting work to becoming artworks in their own right. Artist Larna Campbell, whose work is based on dialogue and exchange, believes very much in this potentiality, an assertion that led us to reflect on the apparent lack of longevity of works - and blogs - that exist only in the virtual world and the implications of this for archiving cultural production. You can view Larna's Twitter page here. Self-styled 'social media starlet' Caron Lyon of PCM Creative recorded a snippet of this chat. You can listen to this and others from the day here.
Too shy to go live?
Later I joined a group that were discussing blogs, particularly the question of how to get started with one if you are new to the field. The solution, suggested by Phil Kirby of Culture Vulture (and writer in residence at Temple Works Leeds), is to start a blog and spend a month or two getting used to it, developing it, making mistakes and finding your voice, before publishing it. The added bonus of this is that you can develop a network of other bloggers by following and commenting on their blogs whilst you are honing your own, so that when you do eventually 'go live' you can bring some of those people to your blog and avoid that terrible silence that is the usual response to new blogs.
Twitter: who cares?
Twitter was the final topic of debate I attached myself to, which came up under the provocative question, 'Who cares?' This was a juicy one, with Leeds Art Gallery Director Sarah Brown amongst others, taking part. As is often the case many people felt overwhelmed by Twitter and couldn't see the point of it unless you wanted to promote yourself. Because of its seemingly narcissistic tone (it's a lot of 'I's just 'me'-ing) many artists reject Twitter outright as shallow and commercial. The alternative view point is that rather than see Twitter as a vehicle for self promotion, as a billion baby birds tweeting for attention, it is also a continuously evolving and many-sided conversation, a way of connecting with those you wish to be in contact with and sharing ideas, knowledge and experience.
Appropriately enough, throughout the day myself and others were tweeting live under the hashtag #artconvo. Hundreds of people from all over the world were contributing live to this thread, which is still running, and you can read the latest contributions by going to Twitter and searching for #artconvo. Better hurry though before these ephemeral tweets vanish into the ether.
Andrew Bryant is an artist and curator and Online Editor of Artists talking.
First published: a-n.co.uk February 2011
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