Author Archives: Corey Boling

Final Post: The Virtual Museum

How does the museum-sphere blend the physical environment with virtual environments via the use of emerging digital technologies?  What is the role of the material vs. the ephemeral in creating meaningful visitor experiences?  How have audience expectations changed and what effect does this have on museums’ methods of curating and delivering content?


Nina Simon
Emily Magnuson, “Virtual Museums,” Frieze Magazine Blog, 3.8.2011.
Discussion in Curator: The Museum Journal. [Overview of issues from a Smithsonian curator.]

André Malraux, “La Musée Imaginaire (The Imaginary Museum)”. 
Overview and excerpts. English translation unfortunately as “The Museum Without Walls”, a chapter in The Voices of Silence, 1951). Further implications of art and culture mediated through photography, and the assumption of a global “art encyclopedia” informing the modern concept of art and art history.

Making Music Matter: A Return to Quality


Ever since the rise of Edison’s wax cylinder in 1877, musical culture has been thrust onto seemingly perpetual unsure-footing. The ensuing debate and dialogue has been filled with extremes, from John Philip Sousa’s prediction that recordings would bring about music’s ultimate demise to Edison’s own proclamation that (as applied to communications more generally) the phonograph would “annihilate time and space, and bottle up for posterity the mere utterance of man,” – an argument often made on behalf of accuracy and preservation. But the birth of recording equipment brought about many unforeseen consequences that populated the middle-ground, changing societal norms, influencing adjacent industries, and providing avenues for seemingly contradictory independently-shared experiences. Highlighting the ways in which recordings led to an increased consumerization of music, Mark Katz argues that the rise of independent listening has paved the way for music to mean new and intriguing things in new and intriguing ways.

But just as Katz argues on behalf of the shared communal experience and the ways in which the commodification of recordings created increased paradoxes, Richard Leppert positions the advent of recordings as a repositioning/redefining of the relationship between the music producer and the music consumer.

Riffing on the positive elements of recording’s insertion into the musical zeitgeist, Katz quotes producer Matt Serletic as he posits that recorded music may actually provide for more honest and passionate preservations and performances.

But much of this is called into question when examining the intersection of electronic music and live performance. Mark Richardson of Pitchfork magazine states that Daft Punk’s most recent album, Random Access Memories “finds them leaving behind the highly influential, riff-heavy EDM they originated to luxuriate in the sounds, styles, and production techniques of the 1970s and early 80s.”  By presenting a curated “mix of disco, soft rock, and prog-pop, along with some Broadway-style pop bombast and even a few pinches of their squelching stadium-dance aesthetic,” Richardson argues that Daft Punk’s central thesis is that something special in music has been lost.

In an internet era defined by quick connections, instant gratification, and “ephemeral pleasures”, Daft Punk seemingly seeks to position itself as a return to a more focused form of media.  Throughout RAM, Daft Punk recorded in the best studios with the highest quality musicians, they completely abandoned samples and instead hired choirs and orchestras when necessary. Daft punk wanted to slow things down and focus on quality. Quality sounds and a quality listening experience. According to Richardson, “most of all, they wanted to create an album-album, a series of songs that could take the listener on a trip, the way LPs were supposedly experienced in another time.” Rolling Stone’s Will Hermes put it another way:


But such a tailored commitment to quality can sometimes register as somewhat elitist approach to creativity.

The internet has brought with it new advertising models and targeted taste-based ads galore. And with it  has come algorithms and theorizing on the linkages between preferences and musical tastes. Daft punk was celarly trying to make an album. A real album.  They were trying to harken back to a time before MTV, CDs, and the Walkman shifted listening experiences from live group performances and high quality vinyl to a lesser quality sound dispersed across a range of media and experienced in varying constellations of people and situations.

Works Cited:

Alex Ross, “The Record Effect,” The New Yorker, June 6, 2005.

Mark Katz, Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010). Excerpts from Chap. 1 and 7.

Photography and the Hierarchy of Legitimacies

Positioning taste as a vehicle for exclusion (Weber 1968, Bourdieu 1984), theorists of elite culture have posited that upper class individuals view outside cultural forms as crude, vulgar or dishonorable and have created a set of circumstances where occupational prestige begets cultural ‘distinction’.  Building on Weber’s assertion that knowledge of such cultural forms as literature, etiquette and fine art act as passkeys into elite social life, music too serves as a medium through which social exclusion – the process of social selection that is based on a previously determined set of cultural criteria and is exercised by people with high levels of income, education, and occupational prestige (Bourdieu and Passeron 1977) – and symbolic exclusion – the source of those previously determined cultural criteria – find traction.

Tastes (i.e., manifested preferences) are the practical affirmation of an inevitable difference. It is no accident that, when they have to be justified, they are asserted purely negatively, by the refusal of other tastes.  In matters of taste more than anywhere else, all determination is negation; and tastes are perhaps first and foremost distastes….The most intolerable thing for those who regard themselves as the possessors of legitimate”highbrow” culture is the sacrilegious reuniting of tastes which taste dictates shall be separated. (Bourdieu 1984:56-57)

Throughout his work The Social Definition of Photography, Bourdieu applies this logic to the realm of photography.  Arguing on behalf of “hierarchy of legitimacies”, Bourdieu makes an attempt to equate cultural urgency with scholarly culture.



However, a quick examination of Bourdieu’s Sphere of Legitimacy, the Legitimizable, and the Arbitrary flies in the face of many of the exhibitions and collections present at today’s Metropolitan Museum of Art – an indicator of an theory that – while rooted in an intriguing truth – is arguably outdated in today’s ever-shifting society.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 1.31.51 AM

Below I have identified 3 exhibitions (Met) where the Sphere of the Arbitrary can be called into question.

SFMoma asked the overarching question – “Is Photography Over” – via a major symposium in 2010. The symposium yielded an wide range of reactions including…

– George Baker

– Corey Keller

Overall, I believe that Bourdieu’s hierarchies were mistakenly defined by issues of access – access to tools, audiences, and training all seemingly dictated which sphere an artist could infiltrate.  The ubiquitous nature of digital technologies has thrust sculpture (3D-printing), painting (Adobe/Blender), etc online and into the hands of millions and relegated many of the “legitimate” forms increasingly arbitrary.  What does it mean to live in a world where everything is arbitrary?  Well, it means that we live, create, and experience art in a world where everything is simultaneously legitimate.

Additionally, I would argue that the rich environments indicative to modern virtual worlds and video games demonstrates a push for high brow art aesthetics amidst what I’m sure Bourdieu would consider a low brow medium.

Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) opened The Art of Video Games

Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) opened The Art of Video Games

MoMA Acquires 14 Video Games for Architecture and Design Collection

Works Cited:

Pierre Bourdieu, Photography: A Middle-Brow Art.  Stanford University Press; 1 edition (March 1, 1996).

Bourdieu P. and Passerson J.C. 1977. Reproduction in Education, society and culture. London: Sage.

Bourdieu, P. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. New York & London: Routeledge.

Weber, Max. [1968] 1978. Economy and Society. Translated by G. Roth and C. Wittich. Berke- ley, CA: University of California Press.

“Is Photography Over?” SFMoma. Symposium. April 2010.

The Future of the Ephemeral: The Inside Out Project & Digital Street Art

Ephemerality is an intriguing notion in an age where the digital has a tendency to immortalize in the form of viral videos, images, and ideas. An artistic work intended for decay now finds itself lingering online year after year after year.  It’s no secret that the act of documenting the the short-lived has been somewhat commonplace since the rise of photography but the internet era has ushered in an entirely new degree of distribution – a degree capable of redefining both purposeful and indirect ephemerality for the foreseeable future.

However, a handful of artists have cleverly embraced the affordances of this digital/ephemeral intersection and created portals for different kinds of experiences.  In October of 2010, a band of “guerrilla artists” illegally “installed” a digital exhibition in the MOMA in NYC.  This exhibition consisted of digital art geotagged to specific GPS coordinated within MOMA’s walls.  And MOMA couldn’t do anything about it. they couldn’t be taken down and the subversive/contextual goals of the digital artists could not be silenced – even by one of the art world’s most iconic and powerful institutions. While these digital installations could only be viewed through augmented reality smartphone application – and were only visible for a limited time – the future of digitally/geolocative tagged images, video, or virtual objects raises some interesting questions about the future of the ephemeral in a digital age.

Notably, acclaimed street artist JR famously redirected the funds awarded him during the 2011 TED Prize in order to flesh out a participatory window into the ephemerality of cultures on the other side of the globe.  In effect, JR’s Inside Out Project is the logical extension of his own work, a way of sharing his preferred form of creativity and handing over the responsibilities – and impact – to those people and communities who are often relegated to the “subject” of his own work.

While JR’s own exhibitions are undoubtedly interesting, I find his founding of the Inside Out Project to be his crowning achievement.  Instead of focusing on the making of street art, he has given the gift of agency to so many who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have it.  Instead of focusing on his own career, he has harnessed commonalities amidst all kinds of cultures to launch much needed dialogue in both high-profile and forgotten parts of the world.  By creating an online framework for others to participate, contribute, and reflect, JR has sparked an ecosystem of cross-cultural exchange on a global scale.

Most striking is JR’s repeated admission that the Inside Out Project is not designed to be any of these things but rather to be purely an artistic act.  It’s not political; it’s just art. It’s not transformative; it’s just creativity. Despite the obviously charged impact of his Women Are Heroes exhibition, JR’s rebuke echoes many of the key elements of the street art movement from whence he came.  He’s not in it for the glory but rather for the expressive nature of the act. It’s ok if the rain washed it away because that’s part of the process. That’s the expectation. ironically, the success of JR’s project has garnered so much attention that HBO Films created a full length documentary feature chronicling his work and the impact it is having around the world.

And much like many of the scenarios depicted throughout the film, what was once intended to be non-permanent is now being documented again and again and again in more and more mediums.  Exponentially compounding, a resounding idea can no longer be as ephemeral as it once could.


Works Cited:

Sander Veenhof and Mark Skwarek. DIT Day: Moma., 2010. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.

JR. “My Wish: Use Art to Turn the World Inside Out.” TED, 2011. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.

Murphy, Heather. “An Artist Who Turns Marginalized Women Into the Stars of Their Communities.” Slate Magazine. Slate Magazine, June 2012. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.

The Inside Out Project. Web. 16 Mar. 2014.


Warhol: Traumatic Realism

What happens when one challenges “the great idiot savant of our time” to turn away from such upbeat/accessible themes and emotions as fame, beauty, and work and instead grapple with the harsh and affecting truth of death?  Well, you get this enlightening quote.

In an attempt to tackle Warhol from a new perspective, Hal Foster utilizes Warhol’s “Death in America” as a window into the artist’s range and as a vehicle for expanding the debate from the simplistic referential vs. simulacral readings of his work. Taking issue with Barthes, Foucault, and Baudrillard attempts to emphasize the superficiality of Pop, the loss of symbolic meaning, and the end of its subversion, Foster is more interested in the object’s “total integration” into the political economy. Similarly, instead of supporting Warholian Pop’s relationship to such themes as fashion, gay subculture, etc., Foster embraces Crowe’s punctuation of “the reality of suffering and death” as critical to a thorough understanding of the artist’s work.

But central to Foster’s argument is the degree to which Warhol’s “Death in America” series allows for a reading of Warhol through the lens of traumatic realism. Seeking to explore the impact of shocked subjectivity – compounded by repetition – Warhol hoped to examine  why repeated exposure to a gruesome event could eventually render the viewer unaffected by its severity. But instead of providing a path for mastering trauma, Foster argues that the Death in America series exemplifies Warhol’s obsessive interest in melancholy-as-object. Warhol’s Sixteen Jackies (1964) or even his Marilyns series speak to a sense of wish fulfillment that conjures up memories of death (and the public’s communal grieving experience).


In effect, Warhol’s reproductions/repetitions are not limited to solely re-producing traumatic effect but rather are entirely capable of producing it. Foster argues:

Wherein Barthes depicts punctum as “what I add to a photograph and what is nonetheless already there”, Foster makes the case that “the punctum in Warhol lies less in details than in his repetitive popping of the image.” From the indifferent passerby to the impaled victim hanging from the telephone pole, the viewer is rendered simultaneously appalled and accommodated. These conflicting reactions speak to the ways in which Warhol re-examined the relationship between depictions of death in widespread circulation and how such a relationship plays an intriguing role in the associations we bring to other non-gruesome images that are closely linked to deathly acts (see Most Wanted Men image).


Works Cited:

Hal Foster, “Death in America,” October 75 (1996).

Modern Equivalents: The Importance of Process

The debate over Lichtenstein’s embrace of the Benday dot and its ensuing relationship and preservation with original processes shines a spotlight on the longevity (or lack there of) of pop art. Upon Lichtenstein’s shift away from comics and re-worked art, the high esteem with which he was originally/commonly associated quickly gave way to a sort of tolerance for increasingly distancing attempts at applying the same tired idea to everything under the sun. This one-trick-pony revelation called into question the tendency for pop art and pop artists to wear out their welcome in their attempts to compound previous successes and commentaries.

“Like many creative figures before and since, Lichtenstein eventually ran his art into the quicksand of a particular style, ending up simply as a mannerist.” – Shanes 41


But how do we react to similar moving image works? How is the implied process behind something as ubiquitous as Legos reminiscent of  both the half-tone Benday dots with the added time consuming complexity of LEGOS+stop motion?

Many of the more interesting chapters of pop art history include the failures and misfirings of many of the movement’s most notable icons. Warhol’s reactionary attempts to purposefully elevate his work to the realm of fine art (in reaction to Johns and Rauschenberg shows in 1958) tend to highlight the degree to which society is/n’t willing to look at itself in the proverbial mirror while also hinting at how the pop art movement lost its perceived purity as it gained more and more traction within mainstream culture. From neo-Dadaism, to sloppy Coke bottles, to a rip off of Lichtenstein’s Benday dot comics, Warhol un/surprisingly struggled with originality while simultaneously embodying an artistic movement built atop associations.

“But if he was a largely associative artist he did possess the rare ability to project huge implications through the mental connections he set in motion (as with the parallels he drew between pictorial repetitiousness and industrial repetitiousness).” – Shanes 44

However, the conundrum of artist originality in an increasingly crowded field (defined by the common) gave rise to an healthy emphasis on (and perhaps newfound respect for) the production process. Perhaps eventually becoming a means of distinguishing one artist from the next, pop art gave rise to a new understanding of industrialized processes and their impacts. The audience’s realization that without knowledge of the processes behind an object’s production ( or even inception) the true meaning of the artwork would be lost, caused audiences to dig a little deeper into the object’s history and simultaneously into their own society’s history.

While much of pop art’s success can be linked to the movement’s insight into greater cultural through-lines, it seems that the use of irony, humorous juxtaposition, and playful critique are key reasons for its original uptake and popularity. However, mass culture is often defined through tragedy and Warhol’s tackling of death and disaster certainly ruffled a few feathers. From his depiction of the FBI’s Most Wanted to the newspaper headline of a recent plane crash, Warhol dominated the headlines in unconventional ways. However, what makes these works resonate in a meaningful manner is the fact that the same artist who was celebrated for his depiction of Cambell soup cans is also the same artist who would depict such somber and ghastly images. It seems that juxtaposition defined much of the pop art movement, not necessarily solely within a single piece but rather across various careers.

Similarly noted in more modern reactions to national tragedy.


Works Cited:

Meslow, Scott. 12 early short films by famous Hollywood directors. The 2013.

Shanes, Eric. Pop Art. New York: Parkstone Int’l.  2009. Print.

Tim’s Vermeer | Optical Technology as a Threat to “Purity”

A product of the transitional time in which we lived, famed philosopher Walter Benjamin had a lot to say about the impact of mechanical reproduction. In a era marked by change, the repercussions of photography inspired musings on similar developments in lithography and other artistic and creative technologies and called into question the degree to which authenticity depended on uniqueness. (Benjamin 1936). Benjamin made the case that an inherent trade off occurred wherein an object’s singular-ness and originality was sacrificed in an effort to distribute the image more broadly to an increasingly diverse audience.

As I pondered these approaches, I found myself contemplating the role of pre-photography image-making and the ways in which quality was assigned to certain types of artists – specifically the great painters whose works now fill the Met, the Louvre, and other renowned art museums. I contemplated historical and modern debates concerning forgeries and the ways in which the international art market’s development of special technologies and skillsets for identifying forgeries continue to unintentionally give rise to ever more sophisticated forgery techniques. Enter the documentary Tim’s Vermeer.

With Rembrandt and Frans Hals, Vermeer is revered as a premier Dutch artist who existed in relative obscurity until the end of the nineteenth century.  Much of Vermeer’s myth is attributed to his mastery over depth and related optical effects and how his masterless and pupil-less career provided no insight into the techniques he used to create trailblazing depictions of reality. However, the Metropolitan Museum of Art defensively ( and perhaps self-preservationally) describes Vermeer’s approach as follows:

“These qualities in Vermeer’s work may have been inspired by an interest in the camera obscura (which projects actual images), but its importance to the artist has been greatly exaggerated. His compositions are mostly invented and exhibit the most discriminating formal relationships, including those of color. In addition, Vermeer’s application of paint reveals extraordinary technical ability and time-consuming care.”

Bringing new meaning to Goldstein’s observation that  “…the image is not only a mirror for the artist’s experience but also for those of the viewer,” (Goldstein 2011) Tim’s Vermeer calls into question the ways in which the inclusion of reproductive technologies taint (according to the Met) the creation of an new piece of art.  As if artists are supposedly pure and unaffected by the world around them, Benjamin’s claim that “in principle, the work of art has always been reproducible” punctuates the degree to which salvage ethnography-esque techniques often introduce technologies that later become associated with devaluing originality. The measured fervor with which the established art world dismisses the idea that technology aided Vermeer’s ability to create such lifelike images echoes the sluggishness and unease exhibited by other large institutions when reconciling the role of technological reproducibility in today’s digital society.



Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Martin Irvine, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

Goldstein, Mark. “How to Convey Meaning in Your Photos” Photography Blog. N.p., 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

Tim’s Vermeer. Dir. Pen & Teller. Sony Classic Films, 2013. Film.


YouTube and Guggenheim: Legitimizing Remix in the Museum

In a cultural industry charged with legitimizing history, legacy, truth, progress, creativity and everything in between, the museum’s relationship with the moving image is certainly in a state of transition. “Applying Lotman’s assertion that “culture is the non-hereditary memory of the community” in the form of encoded artefacts, Irvine argues that “we can’t help but remix in the form of Remix+.”  In 2010, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City embraced this mode of thinking in the form of the Guggenheim YouTube Play Biennial.

It’s not about what’s new…it’s about what’s next,” boasts YouTube Play’s host, pinpointing what most public organizations and institutions seem to continually overlook.  While MoMA’s mission statement emphasizes “that modern and contemporary art transcend national boundaries and involve all forms of visual expression…as well as new forms yet to be developed or understood, that reflect and explore the artistic issues of the era,” the Guggenheim Foundation focuses on “the understanding and appreciation of art, architecture, and other manifestations of visual culture, primarily of the modern and contemporary periods…and strives to engage and educate an increasingly diverse international audience through its unique network of museums and cultural partnerships.”  Just as Irvine argues that “current technologies enable us to implement and automate pre-existing symbolic functions,” wherein we “always dialogically, collectively ‘quote ourselves’ to capture prior states of meaning,” the Guggenheim/YouTube collaboration has seemingly addressed  the question of authorship and remix as a means of facilitating a conversation between what constitutes high and low art and how the museum-sphere may be subverted in an increasingly digital age.

 Check out this video from the Jury Selection.

While YouTube may not seem a straightforward choice for adhering to a museum’s vision, YouTube Play delivers on both pre-eminent institution’s promises.  Is YouTube modern and contemporary?  Does YouTube transcend national boundaries?  Is YouTube a form of visual expression?  Is it yet to be fully developed or understood?  Does it provide a unique framework for exploring this era’s artistic issues?  Of course it does.

And does YouTube promote an appreciation of other manifestations of visual culture?  Does it cater to an international audience?  Has YouTube utilized the power of a unique network of museums and cultural partnerships?  When one considers the Guggenheim’s dominance in New York City, Bilbao, Berlin and Venice, some may say that YouTube Play satisfies a vast majority of many museum’s guiding principles better than the museums themselves.

But what do such shifts mean for the role of authorship within the institutional setting and how does YouTube’s identity crisis reflect broader issues of cultural authority and cultural gate-keeping? Does the Guggenheim’s inclusion/embrace of remixed video legitimize the hybridity within the high art world or is it a simple headline-grabbing, one-off experiment? filmmaker In Everything is A Remix, Kirby Ferguson argues that “creation requires influence … it isn’t magic.” So to what degree does the Guggenheim’s embrace of such clearly adapted and adopted video art argue on behalf of digital remix culture?”

On July 31st, 2010, a team of Guggenheim curators began the daunting task of rifling through over 23,000 video submissions uploaded through Youtube’s online platform.  Acknowledging this paradigm shift in visual culture, YouTube Play hoped to “recognize the current effect of new technologies on creativity by showcasing exceptional talent working in the ever-expanding realm of digital media.”  With submissions from 91 countries,  this flood of creativity was whittled down to a shortlist of 125 submissions from which 25 were ultimately selected by a jury of 11 renown visual artists. Submission criteria simply stated that the video not be longer than ten minutes in length, that it be a non-commercial production created within the last two years – preferably a world premiere – and that all artists be over 18 years old; thus allowing for a great amount of topical and artistic flexibility.  Jurors included acclaimed filmmaker Darren Aranofsky, performance artist Laurie Anderson, Turner Prize-winner Douglas Gordon, photographer Ryan McGinley, hyperrealist Marilyn Minter, Japanese curator Takashi Murakami, Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector.

So what does it mean for authorship if the world’s most renown cultural institutions incorporate highly “quoted” content in their collections? What message is being sent or reflected? Perhaps what is most telling about the Guggenheim Youtube experiment (as the biennial was not repeated in 2012) is the institution and jury’s complete willingness to curate and exhibit a collection wherein over 1/2 of the videos included remixed content. Wonderland Mafia, Auspice, Man with a Movie Camera Remake all topped the Jury’s list. Sound like an endorsement to me.

Works Cited:

“Mission Statement” The Guggenheim Foundation. 2013 edition. Accessed 29-01-2014.< >.

“Mission Statement.” The Museum of Modern Art. 2013 edition. Accessed 29-01-2014.< >.

The Guggenheim Foundation. TGF. 2010 edition. 29-01-2014.< >.

“YouTube Play: A Biennial of Creative Video.” The Guggenheim Museum. 2010 edition. Accessed 29-01-2014. < >.


Irvine, Martin. “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality“. To appear in The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, ed. Eduardo Navas, et al. (NY: Routledge, 2014).

Ferguson, Kirby. “Everything Is a Remix.” Vimeo. N.p., 2011. Web. 03 Feb. 2014.

Lotman and Uspensky, “On the Semiotic Mechanism of Culture,” New Literary History, Vol. 9, No. 2, Soviet Semiotics and Criticism: An Anthology (Winter, 1978), pp. 211-232.


The Film Festival Phenomena and Latour’s Actor Network Theory

In processing this week’s readings, I found myself interpreting each author’s theoretical framework through the lens of the film festival circuit.  I have an extensive history within the film festival universe and currently work for the Tribeca Film Institute in NYC.  In order to better understand the totality of the festival phenomena, I find it a useful exercise to analyze its resemblance to a network of interdependent events.

Latour’s work on Actor Network Theory (ANT) attempts to examine the various relationships between things as well as concepts and ideas, both human and non-human, as seen through the structure of the network. It emphasizes the equal ability of all actors within the network to act, whether individual people or overarching ideas. Focusing on the interaction between the semiotic and the material and their contributions to the formation of a whole (network), Latour rightly emphasizes the principle of generalized symmetry between human and non-human actors. This principle allows for both categories of social actors to operate within the network without any preference given to one group over the other, but rather allowing the particular network to dictate the relations between them. He coins the term act-ants in reference to such actors at work within the network, and stresses the expansive nature of the network as an all-encompassing web of connections where nothing lies outside the network of relations.

ANT also places a high degree of importance on such actors as intermediaries and mediators. Intermediaries represent actors within the network that help to relocate the force of another entity within the network without alteration or transformation. However, mediators play a crucial role within networks, for their ability to enhance, transform, and multiply difference within the network of relations, and it is in this capacity that Latour’s Actor Network Theory stresses the importance of applying agency to non-human actors. And finally, Latour discusses the importance of translation, citing the ways in which social actors attempt to coordinate and agree upon the variables inherent to the building of networks. Within this concept,Latour points to the various problems that arise when actors enter a network and the forms of representation each actor or group constructs in order to best negotiate. Here Latour emphasizes the importance of the primary actors repositioning themselves with in the network as indispensable obligatory points of passage, capable of hosting key sets of negotiations between actors. It is through these points that the conditions of an actor’s involvement within the network are negotiated and the actors adopt their prescribed position and duties within the system.

Attempting to bring together the melting pot of performances, year round presences, and agendas operating within each festival and thus compounded across the festival circuit, Marijke de Valck utilizes ANT’s principles in order to establish a mobile line of inquiry.  ANT allows for a study of the film festival circuit while assuming relational interdependence of both human and non-human actors, straying from hierarchical oppositions between the actors and the network but rather emphasizing the processes of circulating entities.  Mobile agency distinguishes between the festival as an abstraction and the roles of its various participants.  “The sales representatives, film critics, and filmmakers meeting at film festivals are not considered separate from the event, but whose congregations, performances, and products are understood as necessary links that make up the event…” (de Valck 2007: 34)  Here the act-ants are the filmmakers and the media, journalists and systems of accreditation, the audience members and spectacle, printed leaflets and notions of power; both human and non-human with no bias implied in favor of one group over the other.  Rather, the film festival is better understood by analyzing the ways in which the entire range of actors come together to form the network.  From the innocent tourist stumbling through the festival crowd to ideas of race and class, nothing lies outside of the network.  Local street vendors hawking refreshments and thieving pickpockets possess an equal ability to act within the network as a Hollywood star or an international sponsor.  Overall, all the variables within the film festival event contribute to the construction of the network and facilitate the spread of human and non-human agency within the system.

But Henry Jenkins rightly outlines the dramatic shift in the the relationship between media convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence.

“The American media environment is now being shaped by two seemingly contradictory trends: on the one hand, new media technologies have lowered production and distribution costs, expanded the range of available delivery channels, and enabled consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways. At the same time, there has been an alarming concentration of the ownership of mainstream commercial media, with a small handful of multinational media conglomerates dominating all sectors of the entertainment industry. No one seems capable of describing both sets of changes at the same time, let alone showing how they impact each other.” (Jenkins 2008: 29)

In the greater context of the festival circuit, Latour’s notion of obligatory points of passage plays a key role. But in a digital world, how are these points of passage being actively redefined?  Given the fact that the festival hierarchy is full of small, medium, and larger festivals jockeying for position within the network (and are trying to climb the ladder of societal importance), how will such an exhibition-driven side of cinema react to the multi-platform media environment of the future?  Ultimately, each festival is attempting to position itself as a necessary point of passage within the circuit while gaining status and affecting the condition of the greater network, but convergence culture seems to indicate that the film festival circuit runs the risk of quickly losing its relevance. Film festivals’ online/cable counterparts (re: Sundance streaming and The Sundance Channel) and such oddballs as Second Life’s Film Festivals all seem to try to connect the virtual experience to the tangible shared viewing experience in an attempt to dip their toes into proverbial waters.   By framing itself as a critical node with the network, the film festival defends its ability to capitalize on fanfare and social negotiations but the digital age continues to usher in new mobile technologies that operate at a similar (potentially disruptive) intersection.

Also, check out Jenkins’ related TED talk

Works Cited:

De Valck, Marijke. Film Festivals From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007.

Jenkins, Henry. “Introduction to Convergence Culture,” excerpt from Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York, NYU Press, 2008.

Latour, Bruno.  “Networks, Societies, Spheres: Reflections of an Actor-Network Theorist,” International Journal of Communication 5 (2011), 796–810.

The Role of Institutions in the Digital Age

“Sharing is to ownership what the iPod is to the eight-track, what the solar panel is to the coal mine. Sharing is clean, crisp, urbane, postmodern; owning is dull, selfish, timid, backward.” (Levine 2009)

Lessig and Lethem tackle issues relating to the globalizing digital economy in a handful of ways, but throughout all of the dissonance and discussions of copyright, ownership, and collaboration I found myself analyzing how many of these assumptions had become so institutionalized.  After pinballing from one argument to the next, I was reminded of the writings of TED talk fixture Clay Shirky and his thoughts on the future of collaborative creative models.

 “Groups of people are complex, in ways that make those groups hard to form and hard to sustain; much of the shape of traditional institutions is a response to those difficulties.” (Shirky 2008: 25)

In effect, Shirky argues that historical response to such coordination costs has been the creation of institutions. Public and private, for profit or not, the creation of both measly and massive institutions has been the age-old answer to achieving coordinated results. Ribbon cutting ceremonies jumpstart the management of a group’s activities. However, amidst Lessig’s depiction of today’s key players, is this model still relevant in today’s increasingly connected world?

Participatory institution specialist Nina Simon famously outlined five commonly-expressed forms of public dissatisfaction with cultural institutions. Museums can seem irrelevant to visitors’ lives and never seem to change. The authoritative voice of the institution doesn’t always include the visitor’s view or provide context for understanding what’s presented. It isn’t a creative place where visitors can express themselves and contribute to history, science, and art nor is it a comfortable social place for them to talk about ideas with friends and strangers. (Simon 2010: Preface) So this begs the question, how many of these gripes can be directly tied to intuitional mire. Are institutions the answer to many or most of contemporary society’s greater challenges? The facilitation of group communication has certainly proven to be an effective tool in the institution’s tool belt, but at what cost? What is lost through the creation of institutions and how does a globalizing, interconnected network magnify the model’s outdated modes of operation?

The creation of an institution brings with it a management dilemma. Employees must be hired to manage other employees to manage other employees, all the while advocating on behalf of the institution’s goals. Economic and legal frameworks have to be applied and a physical space needs to be secured in which to operate. Famed technologist Clay Shirky goes on to depict institutions as being inherently exclusionary. Organizations can’t hire six billion employees. You can’t recruit everyone. And ultimately, this results in a professional class. Within his work Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organization, Shirky assesses the implications of operating outside of traditional organizational structures. Arguing that the digital age has provided a vast array of dynamic tools allowing people to do things together, Shirky warns of the shortcomings of previous models.

“Every institution lives in a kind of contradiction: it exists to take advantage of group effort, but some of its resources are drained away by directing that effort. Call this the institutional dilemma–because an institution expends resources to manage resources, there is a gap between what those institutions are capable of in theory and in practice, and the larger the institution, the greater those costs.” (Shirky 2008: 21)

Leaving people where they are, such coordination brings the problem to the people instead of bringing the people to the problem. Preparation caves to flexibility. And while losing the ability to firmly shape the actions and activities of a volunteer-driven community, such a system similarly sheds the institutional cost that comprises the institutional dilemma.

Institutions are certainly not a blight on the planet. And Shirky isn’t advocating for the dissolution of institutions across the board. Alternatively, he is proposing intriguing new ways of framing bureaucracy and challenging many of our assumptions about the way things should/have to be. Pointing to such economic theories as power law distribution and the 80/20 rule to differentiate between institution-as-enabler and institution-as obstacle, Shirky is actually a proponent of institutional solutions as long as they best serve the overall objective. However, the digital age has simply upended traditional modes of communication and contribution, routinely exposing the glaring inefficiencies in many of today’s institutional models.

“Welcome to convergence culture, where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways. Convergence culture is the future.” (Jenkins 2006: 259-60)


Works Cited:

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press, 2006.

Mark Levine, NY Times, March 2009.

Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. London: Penguin Group, 2008.

Shirky Clay. Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. London, Penguin Group, 2010.

Simon, Nina. The Participatory Museum. Santa Cruz: Museum 2.0, 2010.