Comments on FACT centre and emerging networks

Mark Waugh makes some valuable comments about my post below. He reminds me that my brain is pretty rusty in this area, and that its easy to confuse the general points I wanted to explore with the specific example of the FACT centre. To clarify- I’m interested in what roles infrastructures play in supporting emerging networks, not just in FACT and digital art. I used that as an example as it was oblique to most of the discussions I’m aware of about emergent networks, power laws, etc, and I wanted to think through these arguments in another context. I think it was useful, and I’ll try and link it to these other points in the second part of the essay. In the meantime, I want to pick up on one of Mark’s points:

“I am not without anxiety about the direction of FACT but believe that it illustrates a wider process in the arts, one that comprehends the processes of production are what need communicating to audiences if they are to penetrate the spectacle of consumption.”

Its the last bit that I think creates the ‘glass ceiling’ effect – organisations that were established in the early stages of emerging networks concentrate on supporting process, whereas mainstream cultural organisations focus on spectacle. There are exceptions to this – the performance art historical re-enactments at the Whitechapel were interesting for trying to merge the two, and Artangel have admirably supported work that perfectly mixes process and spectacle, such as Jeremy Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave.

But I think Mark is suggesting that the shift to communicating process is a growing trend, and one that is particularly key to digital art. I’m not so sure. I think it sometimes seems to be so, but I think the dominant spectacle of our mainstream cultural infrastructure will always mitigate against process. White cubes struggle to show process-based emergent art, and after a period of settling in when both sides of the relationship try to get to know each other’s quirks, the white cube normally wins. Video Art is a good example of this – the trend has been to spectacle, not process, as illustrated by the recent works of Bill Viola, which overtly adopt the framing and scale of painting.

Ulimately, fantastic buildings are a spectacle in themselves, so need spectacular work to justify themselves. Organisations that resist the need to create spectacular infrastrcutures are generally better at remaining tactical, flexible and process-orientated. The question is, does this fatally limit their scope and ultimately their contribution to the development, maturation and historicisation of the practises they support?

I’ll get back to this eventually in the second part of this, but not till I’ve drunk lots of free booze in Liverpool. In the meantime, there’s an excellent article on FACT in today’s Guardian, but unfortunately they’ve not bothered to put it on their website. Pity.

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