The Center of the Art World

Sarah Valdez writes in In the land of make Believe from Art in America, November 2007, “Antin’s, Hershman’s, and Lake’s challenging agendas and high-quality work make their status as lesser known feminist pioneers bewildering. Perhaps their unjustified lack of recognition stems from the fact that each established herself outside of New York City.”

Reading quotes such as this one, make me wonder if a successful art career (what that means is another 500 posts worth of discussion) is to be had while living on a semi-remote-ish island. Except that the world has changed since then. The Internet gives me the opportunity to share work via my web site and share opinions and ideas through two blogs. Even though I don’t post to them nearly enough. Maybe I don’t physically have to be in New York or Berlin or the next great center of the art world.

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Teachers

This semester promises to be interesting.

Over the past 5 semesters I have had the pleasure (or torture as a few classmates might describe it) of learning from artists who, for the most part, do not have any presence on the Internet. While I acknowledge that this should not indicate their importance as artists (history will tell us that), I think it does speak to a possible lack of vision on their parts. On some level, I think, they want their work and their experience to be shared, that is why they teach. It is possible that they do not see the value of the Internet as a conduit to share their work and ideas. Two instructors who are search-able are Stephanie Aitken and Douglas Senft. One, David Maclean, has a work in the Canada Council Artbank. Others are referenced in school materials.

Currently, I have three classes (12 credits) and am studying with Holly Ward, Kevin Schmidt, and Scott Bowering.

Edited on Feb 8, 2009: I neglected to mention two more, or should I say three. One, who is very interested in the Internet and all it has to offer, and teaches a class on Web 2.0, is invisible upon initial searches. Strange. The other two co-instructors, Hadley+Maxwell, yield a proliferation of links to choose from.

Tools in the Public Sphere

Ah yes, Utopia on earth. It has been discussed, debated and philosophized about for centuries. Personally, I don’t believe that in our present condition that we humans will ever achieve said Utopia. Benkler in The Wealth of Networks also acknowledges that the dream of  utopia through the Internet was a naive notion (215). What we are dealing with now is a maturation.

First, it is important to note that this does not mean that things cannot change for the better. Improvements can come. Benkler discusses two great examples of the ways in which the tools, i.e. the Internet and the tools for use within it’s framework, create a public sphere where change and influence can and does occur. I appreciated the real examples of how this so-called democratization would actually look. I had been struggling with some of the concepts without concrete stories. The first example deals with Sinclair Broadcasting where tools on the Internet were utilized to exert pressure on the network to stop an airing of an apparently biased documentary. The second dealt with Diebold, a manufacturer of electronic voting machines, and the trouble they ran into when internal documentation was found to be accessible to the Internet and the implications of impropriety within those documents. What is significant, I think, about this story is that when threatened with legal action to remove Diebold information, students at Swarthmore College engaged in “electronic civil disobedience. (230)” I am taking notes on how they did that.

Secondly, I think the argument that the Internet could possibly be a great equalizer is misplaced. Benkler acknowledges that “this does not mean that all these statements [ones we make on the Internet] are heard by the relevant others to whom they are addressed. (216)” While we may have computers, connections and tools available to enter and engage in the public sphere as never before, we do not all have the influence, stature, or writing abilities of, for example, Ariana Huffington. I mean, how many people read this post? Benkler then adds that achieving the success of those involved in the Sinclair and Diebold cases had is “something a single committed individual could choose to do. (225)” I’m not sure I agree.

Thirdly, I think it is very interesting in both the examples that the “blogosphere” influenced the mainstream media. There was enough buzz about those issues on the Internet to make the editors take notice and make decisions to run stories, further influencing events. While I have always held the belief that we are responsible for what the media dishes out (I will explain my thinking in the another post…someday), it is heartening to see hope in others that they can have influence over what they read, see, and talk about. Or not.

In closing, I leave you with a Benkler quote.
“Understanding what we will lose if such changes [redesign of computer equipment to make it harder for end users to exchange information] indeed warp the topology of the network, and through it the basic structure of the networked public sphere, is precisely the object of this book as a whole. (261)”

Trouble with Sources & Saying What I Want

Reading assignment number one, for SOCS300, is a few pages from Mark Frauenfelder’s book Rule the Web. Frauenfelder points out that Technorati.com, a blog database, lists over 57 million blogs (13)! While I found that Technorati returned results formatted with too much information for a quick assessment, I did find the Top 100 blogs tab to be very useful. It seems amazing that blogging as a tool for communication did not even begin until 1996 (15), the very same year I purchased my first computer, a Mac Power PC running Mac OS 7.5.3 (it crashed…a lot). Frauenfelder’s excitement rubs off as he explains that anyone with a computer and a “$20 Internet connection” can publish virtually anything to an “audience of a billion people” (22). Truly amazing.

What initially began as light-hearted informative reading became worrying. Frauenfelder relates the story of Zouhair Yahyaoui who was arrested, tortured and died in prison because of a post on a blog (26). I decided to investigate and what I found was troubling and interesting on two levels.

In the first case, I was concerned that this could be happening frequently. Worse yet, it may also be under-reported. Researching at Human Rights Watch I found a few more troubling stories. Such as that of Abd al-Raziq al-Mansuri. Mansuri had been detained and then convicted on October 19, 2005 for illegally possessing a handgun. Apparently, over the previous year he had written approximately 50 articles as a journalist for a UK based web site, which were unflattering to the Libyan government. (I can’t confirm as it is written in Arabic.) Mansuri’s story is just one among others at HRW, such as the plights of Huang Qi, Liu Di, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, Le Chi Quang, Nguyen Khac Toan, and Pham Hong Son.

Also troubling, was the story I initially read about Zouhair Yahyaoui in Rule the Web. Frauenfelder, without citing a source, wrote that Yahyaoui was arrested in 2004 and died in prison in 2005 (26). Reporters Without Borders claims that Yahyaoui was jailed on June 4, 2002 and released from prison on November 18, 2003. HRW confirms Yahyaoui’s release from prison in 2003 and also reports that Yahyaoui died of a heart attack on March 13, 2005 at age 36.

It seems that the free flow of information can cause difficulties on, at the very least, two fronts. It can be a problem for those using “mashed” up information, which has been drawn from multiple resources, as a final reliable source. This leaves me with more questions. For example, what sources can I truly trust? Printed or Digital? Or does it matter?

More importantly, speaking freely can result in fines, arrest, torture and imprisonment for those very individuals who are fighting to keep that right. Will I always have that right? How important is it for me to consider the rights of my society as a whole? How hard will I have to fight to keep it?